ChessBase and Correspondence chess -- part 6

4/16/2007 – Our ongoing series on ChessBase and correspondence chess continues with an overview of the important points covered in the series' first several installments; think of it as a checklist you should use when starting a new correspondence chess game. Read the details in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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Over the last several installments of ChessBase Workshop we've looked at quite a bit of procedural material: how to set up a correspondence "record" database, a twin version of said database to store the analysis of your games, how to create an opening report, and how to create an opening tree. It was a fair little bit of information with a lot of nuts and bolts procedures thrown in (especially on the topic of special correspondence notation forms in ChessBase). It's possible that we may have missed the woods for the trees, so this week I'd like to take a step back and review what we've already examined. This will be a sort of checklist of things you should do when starting a correspondence tournament or match. While this will be a bit more general than the previous installments in this series, I'll also throw in a little bit of procedural info that didn't fit well with our previous discussions. This procedural checklist is the one I use when playing in a correspondence event.

When you start a correspondence event, you'll likely receive a letter or e-mail containing a starting date for the event as well as the names of your opponents (and the color of pieces you'll be playing in each game).

1. Create a new database for the actual moves from your correspondence games
We examined this in detail in a previous column. Create a new database, then create and save a new game for each of your scheduled games; be sure to enter the correspondence header information for each (otherwise the correspondence timekeeping features of ChessBase won't work).

2. Create a second database to hold your personal analysis
Create a second new database with saved games for each game you're playing in the event. You won't need to duplicate the correspondence header info from the other database (unless you want to do so).

3. Whenever you send or receive a move, record it in both databases and be sure to enter the relevant special correspondence annotations.
The special correspondence move annotation dialogue was discussed in considerable detail in a previous column in this series. We'll have a bit more about analysis in a later column.

4. After the opening has become defined, create a separate database of games which use that opening.
This is a time-saving device and I want to discuss this in a bit more detail.

I've been a longtime advocate of keeping numerous independent databases, one for each opening I play regularly. I've discussed the numerous reasons at length in past columns; if I didn't mention correspondence chess play as one of these reasons previously, please allow me to correct that oversight now. If you have a separate database on a particular opening that's part of your repertoire and you've kept that database current (with games you've added from Internet sources, ChessBase Magazines, analysis/commentary from print sources which you've entered manually, etc.), you possess a monster weapon as part of your correspondence chess arsenal. It's an absolutely lethal one if your opponent isn't similarly prepared. I've won between 20% and 25% of my correspondence games in the first twenty moves and I attribute that high percentage of "miniatures" to the databases I maintain on my "pet" openings. Everything I can find goes into these databases -- even those cheesy "traps" you see in a lot of gimmicky opening books; you never know when an opponent is going to stumble into one of these lines.

But what if your opponent has steered you into an unfamiliar opening, one for which you don't already have a separate database? In that case, now's the time to create one from scratch. In fact, you're definitely more in need of a personal database when you're foundering in unfamiliar waters -- such a database could well save your skin.

There's a pattern I follow when creating a new database on an unfamiliar opening (or a new opening I'm adding to my repertoire). After creating an empty database, the first games I copy into it are the relevant ones from the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia. There's a very pragmatic reason for this: due to the way in which the Encyclopedia database is structured, most of the opening overviews/surveys appear at the start of the database. After I do a position search (or perform a header search for the proper ECO code[s]) and copy the games into my new database, the new game list will start with these survey games (and their valuable analysis) at the top of the new database's game list. Next I'll add games from the Mega Database (due to the fact that some of them are likely to be annotated). I'll next move on to other ChessBase-produced sources (like the Correspondence Database and perhaps some older sources like the Gambit Lexicon if applicable), as well as my updated ChessBase Magazine database. I'll next add in games from a couple of non-ChessBase disks whose sources I trust, and finally I'll add games from The Week in Chess and some other online sources. After killing doubles, I'll then cut and paste the relevant key section from Mega Database's master opening key into my new database and then run a sort function on the database to sort the games into the proper index keys. (You can read more about this in my 2001 series about learning a new opening in the "Support" section of this site.) This sounds like a lot of work but it's actually not too bad -- even with the key transfer and sorting, it'll likely take less than a half-hour. And it'll save you time in the long run compared to the time you'd spend searching a huge master database repeatedly each time a new move arrives in your mailbox.

Now comes the big question -- when should you create a new separate database? Note that I earlier said "After the opening has become defined". That statement's not terribly specific, but it's the best we can do. For example, after the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6, it's pretty clear that this is a Ruy Lopez Exchange, plain and simple, and it's not likely to transpose later into something else. At this point you could pretty safely create a database of games which use ECO codes C68 and C69 and be reasonably sure that you have all of the relevant material. On the other hand, after 1.d4 Nf6 there's a lot of territory that can still be covered; even after an additional 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 you'll still have to wait before creating a database to find out which of the forty ECO codes covering the King's Indian Defense will apply to your game.

So the timing of creating a database will definitely depend on the moves played in your correspondence game. As a general rule of thumb, as soon as you're reasonably confident that the game's opening isn't going to transpose into a different one, go ahead and create a separate database.

Should you add games to this database after it's been created and while your game is in progress? Definitely. In fact, you may want to keep and maintain this database well after your game is finished; I have a Ruy Lopez Steinitz database which I still maintain and which was created as a direct result of a correspondence game I played.

5. Create a tree using one of the methods discussed in last week's ChessBase Workshop.
Last week we considered several methods for tree creation. "On the fly" (i.e. temporary trees) are excellent for the early stages of a game, in which the opening hasn't yet become defined and you haven't yet created a database of games. After the opening becomes defined (with little to no chance of transposition into a different opening) and you've created a game database on that opening, go ahead and create an opening tree for it on your hard drive. Remember the caveat from last week, though: if you add games to your database later, you'll want to delete the tree entirely and create a new one from scratch, since there's no way to determine if games added directly to a tree later are duplicates (and might therefore skew your tree's statistics).

There you have it: a basic checklist of what we've covered in the first five installments of this series, eliminating the "nuts and bolts" instruction and giving you a general overview of what we've covered. Next time we're going to start looking at an actual correspondence game and how we might use ChessBase to help us decide what moves to play. Until then, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. All responses will be read, and sending an e-mail to this address grants us permission to use it in a future column. No tech support questions, please.

© 2007, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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