A library on your computer - part one

12/18/2006 – If you're a ChessBase user, you don't need to go to the library; you have one on your computer right now. Steve Lopez runs with the library analogy, riding the bookmobile until the wheels come off, in his latest Workshop column.

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Time for a pop quiz. What's a database?

If you've been following my columns in print and online for more than a decade, you already have the answer; I've mentioned it often enough. A "database" is a collection or assemblage of information. Your telephone book is a database; so's your e-mail address book. A dictionary is a database, as is an encyclopedia. And, bumping the definition up to a grand scale, a library is a database.

The trick to traditional databases is all in the organization; you have to be able to find the information you need or else the database is no good. Alphabetization is a good organizational tool, especially in smaller or limited collections of print information. Libraries traditionally use the Dewey decimal system for organizational purposes (with alphabetization being a sub-tool within specific categories).

The coolest thing about digital/computer databases is that organization of the data doesn't matter, just as long as tools are available that allow you to find and access the information relatively easily. Take the Internet as an example, arguably the largest database ever, but also the most disorganized. That's why the digital gods created search engines; the 'Net doesn't have to be organized -- search engines will generally find what you need as long as you've entered relevant search terms. (Of course, filtering the information is another story -- you still need to find the few kernels of information hidden amongst all the dreck...)

A few years ago, when I was in this business full-time and was working for a national ChessBase vendor, my employer ran an ad encouraging people to call me on the phone and ask "What can ChessBase do for me?" The question was fair enough but was far too broad for my taste; different people use ChessBase in different ways. Some people use it for personal game storage (especially true for correspondence chessplayers). Some use it as nothing more than a game viewer. Some use it as a research tool. Some use it for desktop or electronic publishing. There's no "wrong" way to use it, short of using the disks as drink coasters or skeet, or not using the program at all; it's really a matter of one's own individual needs and goals.

Ultimately, though, at its core ChessBase is a library (and that's the "short" answer I'd usually give to people who demanded a "twenty-five word or less" response). The program allows you to find and use the information you need (in this case stored chess games) from amongst thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of entries. There are a ton of other cool features, too, which help you manage and manipulate the data in all kinds of ways, but cutting things right to the bare bone, ChessBase is a library.

And a danged fine one at that. The amount of data you accumulate is limited only by the amount of storage space you have available (right now, boys and girls, I have over four million chess games stored and it doesn't even put a dent in my total hard drive space). Best of all, you can find the games you need pretty quickly and easily; if I want, say, all of Mikhail Tal's wins on the White side of any ECO "D" Volume openings in under 40 moves, I can easily put this info in ChessBase's search mask and have the answer in just a couple of minutes (which would be way faster if my computer's processor was up to date). Try that with a library of standard print books. See you in a few months.

You, however, doubtless know all of this already, although you may not have thought of the "library" analogy before. So where are we headed with this? We're going to devote a few ChessBase Workshop columns to our "library" analogy and illustrate a few related tricks and tips.

More than a few of us like to "browse" chess games. We maybe go back and play through the games of a great player from the past, or view the collected games from this year's Linares event after we've downloaded them. I know more than a few people who've played through every World Championship game in order, reliving the events through the collected games.

Sometimes we come across a game that really knocks our socks off. A player throws a really unexpected move out there which turns out to be a game winner. Or maybe there's a brilliant combination which we want to remember and replay later. The problem is that unless you have the memory of an elephant, it's really hard to remember the game citation (players, event, year) if you want to find it later. With print books it's easy -- you just slip a piece of paper between the pages as a bookmark (or, if you're one of those hateful souls who's really hard on their books, you fold down an upper page corner -- shame on you!). But how do you "bookmark" games in an electronic database?

ChessBase has us covered here, and it's an oft-overlooked feature that's staring you right in the face. You use medals to bookmark your games.

Medals are those colored bars which you often see in the game lists of ChessBase Magazine databases or other databases you've purchased from ChessBase:

Professional annotators use medals as a means of alerting you to the presence of significant games within a database. Each medal is a different color and stands for a different event or concept of significance (we'll come back to this latter point after a bit). An annotator may see that the game is, say, a good example of strategic play and will mark it accordingly with the corresponding medal.

That's a great tool. And if it's good enough for the "big boys" to use, why can't average players use it too? To tell the truth, there's no reason for you not to mark games with medals -- it's an excellent way to "bookmark" games within a database.

To set a medal within a game, start by right-clicking on a move in the Notation pane while you're viewing a game. Select "Special annotation" from the popup menu, then the command "Set medal" from the submenu which appears. You'll get the following dialogue:

This will let you select medals for a variety of concepts or events that can occur within a game. For example, we might try clicking the box next to "Defense" and see this:

The box at the top of this dialogue changes from dark gray to silver to show the color of the medal we've selected (and this is why you don't need to remember what the colors signify -- I've been using this feature for years and I still have trouble keeping the "color translations" straight. But all I have to do is open this dialogue and try different boxes until I see the color I'm looking for; then I know what it means).

You can even assign multiple medals to a single move. Let's click on "Pawn structure" too and see what we get:

And now we have a two-tone medal (green and silver). Here's what it looks like in the gamescore in the Notation pane:

You can see the medals marking 3...a6 in this image (Note, though, that this is just an example of how medals work -- the specific medals I selected have nothing to do with the move in the actual game. It's just an illustration.)

Many annotators set medals at the start of a game instead of attaching them to a specific move. Here's how it appears in the game Igor Stohl annotated (from the game list in the first illustration above):

There's a very specific method you must use to do this; right-clicking doesn't work in this instance (or else the medals will appear after White's first move). At the start of the game (before any moves have been made) you have to hit the quotation marks on your keyboard (the " symbol or, if we want to be overly descriptive, SHIFT-'); any medals you set will now appear prior to White's first move.

If we want to know what Stohl's medals mean (assuming we don't have the colors memorized), we can hit " to get the medal dialogue and see immediately which ones he's selected:

That's why I say you don't need to memorize the colors. It's great if you can remember them, but not a requirement.

How you use medals, either at the start of a game or marking specific moves, is ultimately up to you (and they'll be displayed the same in the game list either way). Some medals (such as the "blunder" medals) are especially useful for marking individual moves, while others (such as "Strategy") are well suited for inclusion at a game's start, since they refer to the overall character of the game. But it's your pick -- whatever works best for you.

If you set medals in a game, don't forget to use "Replace game" (from the File menu) to save these changes; otherwise they're lost when you exit the game.

Medals are a cool bookmarking system. If you're replaying, say, a Karpov game in which he denies freedom of action to his opponent's pieces, slowly squeezing the vise tighter until he strangles the opponent's position (what's often called a "python-like crush" in reference to a lot of Karpov's games), you can set something like the "Strategy" medal to bookmark the game for later retrieval. The same medal could be used for anything involving positional or strategic play: a protracted struggle for a key square, a blockading d-pawn which both players rush to attack or defend, a Bishop holding a long diagonal with devastating effect.

Likewise you could use the "Sacrifice" medal to mark a pile of Alexi Shirov's or Mikhail Tal's games. "Piece play"? How about the plethora of Alekhine games in which his well-coordinated Knights pirouette around the board, but still always somehow seem to be supporting each other?

The whole trick is to use medals which are of significance to you, ones which relate directly to whatever impressed you about that individual game and made it worth "bookmarking" in the first place. You don't have to go "medal crazy", either, by bookmarking a game with five or six (or more!) medals. Too much is too much; overusing medals devalues their significance. Use them to bookmark games which really blew you away and which you want to find later, and use four (or preferrably fewer) medals to mark a game, otherwise they really don't mean much in the overall scheme of things.

Next time out we'll look at some other "bookmarking" features (as well as a couple of other tips) when we continue our look at databases as a libraries. 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.

Topics: ChessBase 9
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