Chessmaster 9000 for Macintosh

UbiSoft; Mac version by Feral Interactive $30

Computerized chess programs have long since proven that they can beat Grandmasters. So the problem for a desktop chess game is not to produce a program that can wallop the best competition but to produce one that can give an ordinary player a challenging and fun game. My experience with previous chess programs, including some earlier versions of ChessMaster, is that I—an intermediate player— couldn’t find a way to get a playable game out of the computer. Even my best efforts seemed to send me down to inevitable, and thus discouraging, defeat.

ChessMaster 9000 has solved this problem. This new version is designed to sense the level at which you’re playing and can offer you what the menu bar describes as a “New Game at My Level”—you play against one of 150 “personalities,” each of whom has a particular playing strength and style. Most of the time, these days, I’m playing speed chess (5 minute time limit each) against “Tasha” (chess rating 1565) and winning about half the time, though I sometimes exceed my time limit (the game keeps going) and sometimes can’t resist the urge to undo my dumber moves. Tasha has a definite style—sacrificing material to gain an early attack, then trying to catch me in a mistake before I can cash in on my material advantage. I’m already learning better, more precise defensive play as a result. Soon I’ll be playing new personalities, and maybe some day I’ll graduate to a new level.

Another way ChessMaster 9000 teaches chess is through the wide range of excellent tutorials it offers at a variety of levels. My daughter Emily, a beginner, likes the interactive quality of the tutorials at the beginner level which teach the moves and instruct in the tactical basics. I find the intermediate tutorials—presented in the form of interesting practical problems— both fun and instructive, and the lessons are repeatable. Maybe someday I’ll graduate to some of the more advanced tutorials. This is a chess application that gives you a feeling that you can make progress, rather than convincing you that your chess future is hopeless.

Aside from playable chess action at a variety of levels and instructive tutorials, ChessMaster 9000 offers a lot of nifty accessories and features. Some of the more practical of these are a library of famous chess games, a “blunder alert” feature, “quick advice” and “move mentoring” options, and the indispensable “take-back move” function. And, of course, there’s an online play option if you want to test your skill against human players. ChessMaster 9000 also offers an amazing range of eye-candy chess sets and boards in varying hues and textures, but I’ve reverted to a nice 2-D wood-grain board that gains in legibility what it lacks in visual allure. Sometimes, even in the new millennium, less is more.

Overall, I’d highly recommend ChessMaster 9000 for any player at any level who enjoys chess and wants to improve his or her play of this classic game.

– Thomas Travisano

Chessmaster 9000 for Macintosh
Minimum requirements: 700 MHz PowerPC® G3 and later; Mac OS® X 10.2 and later; 256 MB RAM, 1.3 MB available disk space; 16 MB graphics card, DVD drive.
Recommended: Mac OS 10.3 or higher, 1 GHz, 512 RAM.

Copyright ©2006 by Thomas Travisano. This review appeared in the October 2006 issue ofNewsbreak, the newsletter of MUG ONE - Macintosh User Group of Oneonta, NY.