ChessBase 9 tips

by ChessBase
1/26/2005 – What has two eyes, four typing fingers, and a head that's pounding like a jackhammer? ChessBase Workshop columnist Steve Lopez somehow managed to squeeze writing a new article into a hectic holiday week. Included are some ChessBase 9 tips, a few reader comments on previous columns, and another of his boring linguistics lessons. Check it all out in the latest Workshop.

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by Steve Lopez

Happy 2005! It may look like I'm a bit late with my New Years' greeting but there's a bit of a lag between the time I write a column and the time you see it -- the new year is just four days old as I type this. And my holiday season was a bit more merry than usual; it was "go, go, go!" for over a week -- basically, I'm exhausted. So this week I'm offering some odds and ends that fell off the page at various points, stuff that ought to be mentioned but doesn't warrant a full column for each topic. It'll be fast, furious, and probably rude, but I feel like I've been hit in the head with a hammer (and I haven't even been drinking); I'm not up for writing a detailed explanation of a program feature this week. Besides, my friends over at Chessville love this stuff...

We open the festivities with an easy question I received via e-mail. Michael Dorfman from Norway asks if there's an easy way to perform a search across multiple databases in ChessBase 9 (and admits that he could probably have found this himself, but he hasn't installed the program yet). I loved that last bit, truly, and wished that Michael could have asked it in person over a pint of ale; I'd have answered, "Yeah, I've discovered that it helps to get it on the hard drive first," as I laughed and bought him another round (and, for what it's worth, I do the same thing -- I'm always mentally asking myself a thousand questions about a new program on the drive home from the software store, so I've been there. That's why I laughed so hard when I read your message).

Michael, my friend, yes there is indeed a way to search across multiple databases. Hold down the CTRL key as you single-click on each database that you want to include in the search. Then fire up the Search mask (using any of the multiple methods provided), enter your search criteria, and click "OK". The program will then provide a combined list of all the search results from the various databases.

As for your observations regarding Bangiev's Squares Strategy, I really can't address them. I find it difficult and unpleasant to argue aesthetics. In fact, I find it difficult and unpleasant to even spell aesthetics.

Next on the agenda are the "When are you gonna preview _____________?" e-mails (please fill in the blank with the name of your favorite unpreviewed ChessBase product).

I have a confession to make: I find writing previews to be harder than spelling "aesthetics". Writing previews (or reviews) is a thankless task and I have a world of respect for those writers who can do it well. Chief among these folks is John Watson whose reviews are well-written, informative, informed, and a joy to read (even for products in which I have no interest). The other side of the coin is that crabby old schoolmarm Edward Winter whose reviews generally consist of a catalogue of misspellings, grammatical errors, and historical mistakes he finds within a book's pages. Winter needs to take a cue from John Watson; nobody gives a damn how "smart" the reviewer is -- all they want to know is whether or not "Winning With the Salma Hayek Gambit" is gonna be worth their $24.95 U.S.

Then, of course, there's me -- arguably one of the duller knives in the drawer, so the "smart" issue isn't even a factor. I don't write "reviews" -- I write previews. You and I both know who's footing the bill for these columns, so my partiality as a "reviewer" is instantly and justifiably in question. So I preview products instead -- I tell you what you're going to find once you've torn off the shrink wrap and popped a disk into your computer's drive tray. It's up to you to decide whether or not a product is something you're going to find useful; I'm just telling you what to expect if/when you buy it.

But I will tell you a little secret: I don't preview products I don't like. And there has been just one ChessBase product ever which fits that description. Not only have I never previewed it -- I don't think I've even mentioned it in my column. 'Nuff said -- onward...

A very close friend of mine who is also my second-toughest critic (right behind moi) recently observed that ChessBase Workshop has sort of become a "Product of the Week" column; as usual, she's right. ChessBase is cranking out new training CDs and playing programs at a hair-raising clip, and I'm discovering that I'm not going to be able to continue devoting entire columns to each individual release. So I'm going to start writing "capsule" previews, several of these to a column, giving you the "bare bones nitty-gritty" of what you'll find on a given disk. The previews will resume once I decide on a specific format for them. Of course, I then run the risk of having the previews regarded as "superficial", but so it goes. You can't please everybody. Often you can't please anybody. So please to pass me another beer.

A regular concern on the chess message boards has been how to add a post-game variation to a ChessBase 9 game when the variation starts with the same move as the final move in the game. Here's an example: you're replaying a game that ends with 27...Rxf6 and you'd like to add a variation which starts with ...Rxf6 to illustrate why White resigned. In older versions of ChessBase you just hit the T key and played ...Rxf6 again; the software then added a variation line which started with the Rook capture. But it doesn't work that way in CB9 -- if you hit T and replay the move, you get the main line move highlighted.

So how do you add a post-game variation that starts with ...Rxf6? Highlight that move, hit T (to take it back), then make the move ...Rxf6 while holding down the CTRL key. Try it -- it works like a charm. And full props here to that crazy Dutchman Jeroen van Dorp for figuring it out. Yeah, Jim's crazy, but he sure ain't stupid.

It's a truism that if the written word can be misunderstood, it will be misunderstood.

I wrote a ChessBase Workshop rant a while back about people who spend buckets of ducats to soup up their computers in order to have their copy of Fritz tear the figurative head off everyone else's copy of Fritz on the Interrant chess servers. Feel free to go back and read it again if you like (but it's not like it was even worth reading once). The column was a "reprint" of a rant I'd written for my (now defunct) personal web site back in 2003; the main thrust of the piece was my inability to comprehend why anyone would spend quite literally thousands of dollars on hardware just to get "bragging rights" for a computer chess program that he'd purchased rather than written himself.

The response on Interrant message boards was nothing short of hilarious. Among the ways that the column was misinterpreted:

  1. I was slagging off people who play computer vs. computer chess as a hobby
  2. I was slagging off programmers who test their chess programs on chess servers
  3. I was encouraging using computers to cheat against human players
  4. I was discouraging using computers to play chess on the Interrant
  5. I was secretly sabotaging ChessBase sales by making fun of computer chess

And so on.

Now I'll certainly say "mea culpa" here if the piece was so poorly-written that the point of the piece was lost. But I've gone back and re-read it a few times and I honestly don't see how the point could possibly have been misinterpreted. In fact, numerous associates in the chess software world as well as many personal friends commented on how much they enjoyed the rant and how hard they laughed. So I really don't think it was me.

But in the interest of clarity (as well as in the interest of some cheap chuckles), I'll address the aforementioned misinterpretations one by one:

  1. Computer vs. computer chess as a hobby pursuit is nothing new. In fact, I'd rank the introduction of modular engines and engine vs. engine play as two of the most significant improvements to the Fritz interface over the years. There's no way I'm going to slag this off as a hobby; while it's not my primary use for a chessplaying program, I've certainly run a large number of engine vs. engine matches and tournaments as a means of evaluating the playing strengths and styles of various programs.
  2. Head-to-head competition is an extremely valuable means of testing and getting feedback for programmers who write their own chess engines; I don't see how anyone can write a reasonable chess engine without doing this. But there's a world of difference between Hannibal's programmer testing his treasured brainchild in online play and some guy dropping five grand on a multiprocessor workstation just to watch Franz Morsch's baby beat up on the identical piece of software running on a Pentium III. The former case is certainly easy to comprehend. The latter case? Man, I just don't get it.
  3. That particular misinterpretation was a deliberate one spread by a notorious online message board troller (see below for another of my boring linguistics lessons). If anyone can show me an instance in which I explictly advocate using a computer program to cheat against human players, I'll eat my Fritz8 CD unsalted. In fact, I once cut off technical support to a Fritz user who admitted that his main use for the program was to rip online players off for their hard-earned rating points. A few of us held a seance at Halloween and contacted Dante's spirit, who assured us that he was rewriting The Inferno to include a new circle of Hell reserved for online chess cheats. Good on him -- I'll be first in line to buy a copy of the revised edition.
  4. That one's so dumb that I don't even know how to respond to it. Anyone who can read that into my column can doubtless read a Jerry Falwell website and conclude that he's an ardent Darwinist.
  5. That's even dumber than the last one. I have a lot of esoteric hobbies, but cutting off my nose to spite my face isn't on the list.

What I did say in the column in question, quite simply, was that I don't understand why anyone would spend any kind of serious long green just to get the top rating on a computer vs. computer chess site and see his nickname at the top of the list for using a program that he didn't even write. Now if that's your thing, great -- have fun! Seriously. I'm not censuring you. I just don't get it. That's all.

And, in the interim, I've had several webmasters ask me for permission to "reprint" the column -- so I guess somebody understood it.

This doesn't have a dang thing to do with chess, but it's one of my favorite rants and it dovetails nicely into the previous section.

I always laugh like mad whenever I see somebody trolling an Interrant message board and get flamed by hordes of people calling him a "troll" and telling him to "get back under the bridge". Pardon me while I switch to "Edward Winter mode" here -- while I heartily condone and support the sentiments of these folks, their terminological usage is sadly lacking.

Properly speaking, someone who posts to an Interrant message board with the express intent to get flamed isn't a "troll"; he or she is a "troller". And the term has nothing to do with the Three Billy Goats Gruff -- it's a fishing term.

There's a particular form of fishing performed from a boat. You bait the hook, toss the line over the stern, pay out a lot of line (to put some distance between the boat and the bait), and slowly row or motor the boat along through the water, dragging the baited hook out behind. You're using the boat's momentum to move the bait through the water, hoping to get a hit. This form of fishing is known as "trolling" (and, in the days of my misspent youth, I used to suggest to my friends that we tie a couple of bottles of Thunderbird to a car's door handles and drive really slow through downtown to go "trolling for winos". But the less said about that the better...)

When a person posts a deliberately idiotic message to Usenet or another message board in the hope of stirring up a flamewar, he's "trolling for flames". That's the bona fide original terminology from back in the day when the Interrant was just a bunch of cans tied together with strings (and whoever first came up with the term "trolling" was a true genius; it's startling in its clarity and in its ability to evoke just the right metaphorical image). The word "troll" doesn't refer to the person -- it refers to the act (it's a verb, not a noun). So the person is a "troller", not a "troll".

But, somewhere along the line, all those damned city folk who never ever fished in their lives came along and twisted the usage into something totally different. Now a "troller" has become a "troll", some horrible monster who lives under a bridge and only comes out to disrupt the placid, peaceful existence of a message board's residents.

Does it matter? Nah. But it's a cool story and I'm feeling especially pedagogical tonight.

I'll make another comment here that's sure to kick up a fuss.

Computer chess cheating (a player using a chess engine to play a game of chess under the guise of being a human player) has been a concern of online chessplayers for years. I've been involved in a lot of discussions (and even some flamewars) on the topic. It's a legitimate concern; I've talked to a few Fritz & Family users who state plainly that they use their programs to cheat online to get a higher Elo rating, and I've even caught one cheater myself who used Fritz to win games on a correspondence chess server (I was able to reproduce over 90% of his moves with Fritz set to a particular ply depth).

What will be the ultimate effect of this practice? I'll likely state the case at length in a future column, but in my opinion I think computer cheating (as well as the verbal abuse that far too often accompanies online games) will drive players back to "real life" (i.e. face to face) chess clubs. I'm not talking about any kind of death knell for online chess -- it'll always be around. But I'm already starting to see the trend. More later...

Another frequently asked question from the message boards: "Can I edit ChessBase's Player Encyclopedia?"

Nope. Well, I guess you could, maybe with a hex editor and some hacking around to discover the secrets of the proprietary format the Encyclopedia uses. But that seems like an awful lot of work. In short, though, no there's not a way to edit it from within ChessBase.

However, you can edit the pictures in the Encyclopedia if you want -- they're just standard graphics files and all you need is a good graphics editing program. I'm a staunch Nimzovichian, so I wanted to edit Siegbert Tarrasch's pics to give him glasses and a mustache. Then I remembered that he already had glasses and a mustache, which took all the fun out of the thing by rendering the whole exercise moot. But the shiny devil horns looked really cool once I nailed the lighting effects down...

This next item is big -- I really should have started this column with it. ChessBase users (particularly new ones) have been mentioning for years how cool it would be to have a video instruction manual for ChessBase. Well this has been almost a secret but there is such a video "quick start" manual already -- it's one of the reasons why ChessBase 9 ships on DVD instead of CD.

Put your CB9 DVD in the proper drive and launch the program. In the initial database screen, click the little "plus" sign next to "Drives", then the plus sign next to the letter of your DVD drive. You'll see a group of folders appear below the drive designation. Single-click the "Instructions" folder and you'll see am entry appear in the database window; it'll read "VideoManual". Click it and you'll see "Video Manual" appear in the game list. If you double-click this, you'll get an index screen which displays the contents of the Video Manual. It's a series of ten .wmv files which can be played in Windows Media Player (as long as you have Media Player Version 9 or later).

In these videos, my good friend and ChessBase programmer Matthias "2T" Wullenweber talks you through the basic functions of ChessBase 9 as well as some of the features which are new to this program. Now dang near every time I mention to a customer that he should contact ChessBase GmbH for help with a problem I can't solve, I get some wiseacre question about "whether or not they speak English". Matthias speaks better, more precise, English than either you or I; in fact, regular readers of this column will likely find his proper usage of the English language to be quite refreshing.

Note, too, that you can open and view the video files directly (without launching CB9 first) right from your Windows Explorer. Just open the folder [drive letter]\Instructions\Video Manual.avi\ and you'll see the ten .wmv files -- just double-click on one to start viewing it in Media Player. (And never mind the fact that the folder says ".avi"; these are indeed .wmv files).

Another big feature of CB9 (and another reason why it ships on DVD) is the inclusion of Big Database 2004 right on the disk -- there's no separate disk as in the past. To access the database, follow the same instructions as above, except this time you'll go to the \Database folder on the DVD instead and click on the "Big Database 2004" entry.

Well, that's it. I'm going to bang out the next column and then go get some much-needed sleep -- it was a very hectic holiday season for yours truly. I hope you had a very happy holiday! Until next week, have fun!

© 2005, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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