ChessBase and Correspondence chess -- part 7

5/3/2007 – Our continuing ChessBase Workshop series on correspondence chess continues with a practical example of opening analysis from an actual game, in which you'll also learn some clever shortcuts for entering your own analysis into a gamescore and changing the hierarchy of variations. Read more about it here. Workshop...

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Now that we've looked at the preparatory procedures that figure into competitve correspondence play, it's time to look at a practical example. We've used this example game off and on over the last several installments of ChessBase Workshop; it's a 1998 correspondence game in which I played the White pieces and used ChessBase extensively in my decision-making process.

Note that I said "my decision-making process". This is a key point and I can't possibly stress it enough. ChessBase isn't going to make decisions for you; it's not going to tell you what to play. That's not its purpose, and never was such. ChessBase is simply an information storage and retrieval system. Sure, it has some neat tools for organizing and presenting the information it stores and retrieves (the Opening Report being just one of them), but it's not going to make your chess decisions for you. It's not an oracle or a magic answer machine; it's simply a very fast way to access a whole lot of stored information.

Let's look at the moves so far: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5

And at this point I think it's safe to say that this is going to remain a pure Alekhine's Defense, so I just construct a database of games marked with ECO codes B02 through B05 inclusive, then I create a tree from these games. Note that I'm doing some work here while I'm waiting for my opponent's move to arrive in the mail -- there's always a good use for the "down time" in correspondence chess. After you put a card in the mailbox or fire off an e-mail, the time spent waiting for the opponent's reply is valuable analysis time -- it's "free time" that doesn't count against your allotment of thirty days for your first ten moves. So use it! In this case I've created a database and designated it as my "reference database". I then open the tree I created from that database, play the moves so far, and see that 2...Nd5 is almost a dead certainty for my opponent's response:


While it's certainly possible that my opponent might play a different move, I don't think it's a terribly worthwhile use of my time to go chasing any wild geese by exploring these longshot possibilities. So I'm reasonably certain that 2...Nd5 will be his next move.

I already know what my next move is going to be, even without looking at the tree or any database games: 3.c4. That might surprise you, since the "book" move (at least the one usually recommended) is 3.d4. So why am I going to play 3.c4 instead? This is a purely personal preference, but I like it better than advancing the d-pawn because it's a more forcing move; it requires Black to do something with his d5-Knight right away. It also sidesteps the pile of "book" lines that arise after 3.d4 d6.

Now that I've decided on a candidate move, let's use the tree to double-check my idea. Note the difference here -- instead of blindly following the statistical numbers provided by a tree, I'm instead using the tree as a tool to check the viability of my idea. After 2...Nd5 we see:


The move 3.c4 is played much less often than 3.d4; White enjoys a 57% success rate with the latter move, while playing my preferred move makes the game a 50/50 shot (at least statistically). If you look at the bar graph information at the bottom of the tree for each of these moves, the news looks even worse. for 3.d4, the numbers look like this:


While after 3.c4, the bars appear this way:


So why would I even consider playing 3.c4 here? On the basis of the numbers, 3.d4 is the better move. So why 3.c4?

Simply put, I'm playing it on the merits of various "intangibles". I have numerous print sources on Alekhine's Defense and several of them actually recommend 3.c4 due to the forcing nature of the move. Because of this, 3.c4 is the way I first learned to play this opening, ergo it's the variation/move order with which I'm most comfortable. After 3.c4, Black only has three possible moves (unless he just wants to lose the Knight outright):


  • 3...Nb6
  • 3...Nb4
  • 3...Nf4
whereas after 3.d4 there are a lot more Black candidate moves which must be considered. Realistically, there's not much for Black to consider after 3.c4: his best move is 3...Nb6, since the other two moves will allow me to keep kicking the Knight around (i.e. 3...Nb4 4.a3 or 3...Nf4 4.d4 Ng6 and I get a really sweet pawn center). And while 3.c4 isn't as good statistically as 3.d4, it's certainly not a bad move by any means.

Look at where we're at right now: the last move actually played was 2.e5 and I'm already considering what I'm going to play after 2...Nd5 3.c4 Nb6, all because I chose a forcing move for my third move.

Now let's hold up here for a minute while I give you a really neat trick for doing opening book work. Open the game from your correspondence analysis database and click on the last move you mailed out (in this case it would be 2.e5). Now click on the Openings Book tab at the top of the Notation pane. Look at the name of the opening book (located right under the picture of a tree in the upper lert corner of the pane); it's not likely to be the name of your special opening book, but that of some other book instead. Right-click in an empty spot in the pane and select the command "Close book file" from the popup menu. You'll see the tree's moves disappear and be replaced by a button that reads "Load book". Click on this button and use the Windows dialogue to navigate to the folder in which you saved the opening book for this game's opening, then load that book.

Now here's the great part: as you work back and forth through the tree, examining moves and variations, all of those moves will automatically be made in your game. In the example we've been using, here's what my Notation pane looked like before I loaded and used the special opening book:


But after playing back and forth through many moves and variations in the opening tree, I get this in my game notation:


And now I can use "Replace game" to save all of these variations into the gamescore. What could be easier??

But you may have spotted a fly in the ointment. I said that I've already decided on 3.c4 as the move I'll play if my opponent opts for 2...Nd5 (as he almost certainly will) -- but 3.d4 is in the game as the "main line" move while 3.c4 appears as a variation. Can we fix this?

You bet! Right-click on the variation move 3.c4 and select "Promote variation" from the popup menu:


and after you do so, you'll see that 3.c4 has been "bumped up" to main line status, while the former main move, 3.d4, has been demoted to a variation:


This is an enormously significant ChessBase feature, not just for correspondence analysis but for all game input and replacement uses! You can promote variations upward by using this command, "swapping" a variation line with the line on the level immediately above it; this works for nested subvariations just as well as it does for a "main line/top level varaiation swap".

Play around with this feature to get the hang of it; I guarantee that you will use it again and again for all sorts of game input purposes in ChessBase.

So now we've learned two tricks: shotgunning moves into our game notation by using the Opening Tree, and then moving those variations around by using the "Promote Variation" command. But we're not finished yet. I'm pretty sure that we have a little more time left before my opponent replies, so we'll look at another useful opening analysis tool in next week's ChessBase Workshop. 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.

© 2006, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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