A library on your computer - part five

1/8/2007 – When replaying games from a printed source on ChessBase's/Fritz' electronic chessboards, it's sometimes useful to add brief excerpts from an author's commentary to the games. We show you some useful (and time saving) shortcuts for achieving this in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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We'll wrap up this series of ChessBase Workshop articles with the good stuff: putting the meat into the games from your printed source.

There are two key concepts to remember when you're creating an electronic version of a printed annotated game: editing and paraphrasing. Trying to reproduce an author's comments word for word is not only time-consuming, it's counterproductive, and even legally questionable. Unless a book is in the public domain it's not legal to reproduce it in its entirety. And hand-typing the entire text of a book by hand is a boatload of work; it's time better spent actually learning what the author is trying to teach you. If you haven't ever tried putting just the games from a book into a database by hand (never mind the commentary) let me tell you, it's work, work, work. You might think you'll be able to mouse-click a few dozen games in a heartbeat but it's just not so. Back when I was creating electronic versions of chess books in ChessBase format (you Yanks who have been around for a while might remember them from a U.S. ChessBase vendor) I considered it a major feat to get a forty-move game input in three minutes or less; five to seven minutes was more the norm, and that doesn't include the minute or so required to type in the header info.

So the first thing you do is edit. In the present context I'm referring to "editing" as selectively choosing the commentary you want to preserve in the electronic gamescore. The fundamental rule is an easy one: if you already know it, you don't need it, so don't bother adding it. The author might do a creative two-paragraph discourse on how a Knight and Bishop are ganging up on a pawn with one defender; if you saw straight away that this was the case, there's no point in taking the time required to laboriously type two paragraphs which state what's already obvious to you. On the other hand, if the author presents an eight move variation which results in winning a pawn (and which you didn't see), that one you should insert as a variation line. It's fairly quick and no text exposition is needed.

Be selective about what you preserve in a game and you'll save yourself a world of time. You also steer clear of potential legal hassle because what you'll end up with will fall under the doctrine of "Fair Use". Here's an example of Fair Use in action. You're reading a review of a book and the review's author presents a paragraph from the reviewed work to illustrate a point. He's not reproducing the whole work, he's just using a fragment of it. That's "Fair Use". So if you stick using to a few relevant fragments of an annotated chess game (instead of reproducing every danged comment verbatim), you're getting yourself off the hook under "Fair Use" (this also presupposes that you're not distributing your electronic version later, but we've already flogged that particular horse to death in the previous columns in this series).

The other way to save yourself a world of work is to paraphrase what the author says. Let's use the example I just gave a couple of paragraphs back. Instead of two paragraphs of text, shorten the load by paraphrasing down to its simplest component: "The Knight and Bishop are attacking the White pawn which is defended by only a Knight". It's clear, it's simple, and it preserves the author's intent without duplicating his exact words.

There are other ways to "paraphrase", and the easiest method is to use symbolic notation and graphic commentary. Both of these forms are available in both ChessBase and Fritz (although the former gives you a few extra options that the latter doesn't).

A good example is the use of colored arrows and squares to denote threats, controlled squares, and defended pieces. Let's go back to that previous example again. Instead of opening the annotation window and typing in the paraphrased line "The Knight and Bishop are attacking the White pawn which is defended by only a Knight", you can shortcut the process even more by drawing red arrows from the Knight and Bishop to the pawn, drawing a green arrow from the defending Knight to the pawn, and coloring the pawn's square red. It's easy and you can do it in a fraction of the time that it would take you to type even that single paraphrased line.

I'm often asked about how you add these arrows and squares. It's in the Help files for both programs, but let's take a moment and examine it here. First we'll look at what the colors designate:

  • Red -- threats, potential captures
  • Yellow -- control of squares, also a catch-all for designating a particular square being discussed
  • Green -- defense, safe pieces or squares

To color a square, you click on it while holding down a key or combination of them on your keyboard. To draw an arrow, you drag the mouse from a starting square to a destination square while holding down the same key or combination:

  • Red -- ALT + SHIFT
  • Yellow -- ALT + CTRL
  • Green -- ALT

That's all there is to it. Again it's quick and simple, plus it preserves the idea of what the author is saying without the labor of duplicating his words verbatim.

Another great tool is the Annotation Palette. I've written about it at length in previous columns, so we'll just mention it here. You'll find the command for it in the View menu in both ChessBase and Fritz. Clicking on this command will bring up the following dialogue:

You just click on a symbol to append it to the currently-highlighted move in the gamescore. If you're not familiar with these symbols, they're called "Informant notation", introduced in the 1960's in a publication called Chess Informant. The symbols were devised to allow authors to provide textless commentary for an international audience who spoke numerous different languages. A key, providing the text of what each symbol means in over a dozen languages, was (and still is) provided at the beginning of each issue.

Note that I said "textless commentary"; a bell should be going off in your head right about now. Instead of typing the author's three sentences describing the fact that one side has an advantage in development after a particular move, you just click the symbol for "development advantage", it appears immediately after that move in the gamescore, and you're off and running on to the next move.

The most common use for symbolic notation is one you're likely familiar with: positional evaluations ("White is slightly ahead" or "Black has a winning advantage"). If an author just mentions the fact that one side or the other has some sort of advantage (or that the position is dead even), just use the commentary symbol to denote the fact instead of hand-typing all of that text. That's exactly why symbolic commentary was developed: as a universal shorthand for such evaluations.

Note, too, that there are a lot of symbolic comments available for use in ChessBase and Fritz that don't appear on the Annotation Palette. You can use these by opening the annotation window (CTRL-A) and hitting various keystroke combinations to make them appear. Check your program's Help file for a list of symbols and the keystrokes required.

Sometimes (in fact frequently) an author will expound upon a point at great length (maybe even multiple paragraphs) that's not easily shown using a symbol or graphic notation form, and can't be easily paraphrased either. I dang sure don't want to type all of this into a gamescore. So I'll shortcut by just typing a single character into the annotation window. I'll typically use an asterisk (*) but any punctuation symbol will do nicely just as long as you remember what it signifies (and, when you get right down to it, this is just a "homebrew" form of symbolic notation). What the asterisk is telling me is that the author has something very important and useful -- but lengthy -- to say at that point. That's my cue to pull the original book down off of the shelf and look the passage up.

You can even key this to a specific work. In the past couple of columns I mentioned Bruce Pandolfini's book Russian Chess for my examples. Part of what makes this book brilliant in my estimation is that Bruce alerts the reader to key concepts by doing a very obvious and simple thing: he uses the word CONCEPT in big ol' honkin' bold type and then he lays the info on you in short, easily digestible form. That's sooooo simple and effective, which I presume is exactly why it's not done more often.

But Bruce's CONCEPTS often run longer than a single line and often aren't paraphrasable into symbolic/graphic commentary -- and I'm trying to use ChessBase/Fritz to replay the game more quickly than I can with a physical chess set, plus make notes on important points for later use. I don't want to type all of that text, so what do I do? I hit CTRL-A to open the annotation window and type CONCEPT into the text box. That's all I need. If I don't remember the concept when I'm reviewing the game later and need a refresher, I can look it up. The word alerts me to the presence of the concept, while the book gives me the specifics.

If you use symbolic commentary, finding specific positions is a breeze. The Search masks of both programs allow you to search for specific symbols by typing them in the box provided under the "Annotations" tab (here again refer to your Help file for the keystroke combinations required to type in the symbols). And if you're using "homebrew" designations (such as my asterisk or the word CONCEPT as described above) you can type those in the "Text" boxes to find them.

The key ideas in this column are to add the author's important concepts while not taking an inordinate amount of time to do so. The main line and variations are simple -- you just make the moves on the board. The text can be boiled down to manageable levels by omitting what you don't need and using shortcuts to denote the stuff you do. Of course, you may still want to include a few of the author's text comments verbatim when they're really significant and there's no reason why you can't -- just keep it to a few and you're covered under "Fair Use".

And, for crying out loud, don't forget to use "Replace game" when you're finished or else you'll lose your work when you close the game window!

The purpose of this series of articles is not to offer a "crash course" on how to pirate copyrighted works; I think I've made that more than just "clear". The point is to help people use their printed books and software together to play through printed games more quickly and insert mnemonic notes to an author's important concepts.

But in case anybody missed it, I'll say it once again: if you didn't write it, don't distribute it. It's only fair.

Until next week, 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.


Topics: ChessBase 9
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