ChessBase and Correspondence chess -- part 8

5/8/2007 – Our ongoing exploration of the use of ChessBase in correspondence chess continues with the revelation of a "secret weapon" -- a commonly overlooked ChessBase feature which can save you literally hours of work. What is this feature? Find out in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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Our moves so far: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5

In the last ChessBase Workshop we decided that my opponent was most likely to play 2...Nd5 (the usual response here). My reply to that will be 3.c4 and his most likely reponse will be 3...Nb6. So what do I do now?

Let's go back to the opening tree and have a look at what the numbers say:

There's a fair number of alternatives here. The move 4.d4 is played most often, but 4.c5 scores a hair better. The odd move 4.f4 scores best of all, but it's not been played often enough to get a reliable statistical sampling.

Remember a couple of columns ago when we discussed creating a small database on your game's opening and then designating it as your reference database? Here's where it pays off. After clicking on 4.f4 in the tree to make that move on the chessboard, I can right-click in the opening book pane and select "Search games" from the popup menu:

ChessBase will now search the reference database (my small database of Alekhine Defense games) and pull up the four games in which the move 4.f4 was played:

Note that the choice of tab at the top of the pane has changed -- "Openings book" is no longer selected. The "Reference" tab is now the chosen tab at the top of the pane; ChessBase has made this switch automatically. This gives us an important clue to identifying a handy shortcut: clicking on the "Reference" tab will cause ChessBase to automatically search the reference database for the current board position.

We can play through these four games to see how they went (and hopefully make a determination as to whether or not to play 4.f4 in this position).

While I'm pondering such an eventuality, my opponent's next move arrives in the mail. He has indeed played 2...Nd5. You'll recall that I already decided to play 3.c4, so I write out my postcard with that move and mail it. I also update my database with the moves and the postmark dates to keep everything current.

So here is the current gamescore: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4

I've already figured that my opponent will play the natural 3...Nb6, so what will I play in reply? After looking at the four games in which 4.f4 was played, I decide to reject that move and just play the old safe and sound 4.d4. What could I expect from him in reply?

I think it's fairly safe to assume that he'll play 4...d6 in reply to my planned 4.d4. So what might come next?

Wow -- there's a lot to consider here. Let's reject all but the top three moves out of hand -- none of those moves have appeared in enough games to get a meaningful statistical sampling of their results. The move 5.Nf3 scores badly. That leaves a choice between 5.f4 and 5.exd6. How do we decide?

I don't like to simply play moves right from the opening book without "playing ahead" several moves to see what might happen. But the game tree is starting to really branch out now; it's going to be tough to look at all of the possibilities.

There's a great shortcut here, too, and it's a tremendous "secret weapon" -- a very commonly overlooked feature of ChessBase. Go to the Window menu, select "Panes", and then "Best book line". A new pane will appear and, after a few moments, you'll see it become populated with variations and percentages:

ChessBase has "looked ahead" into the opening book and created a list of the most common variations played from the current board position. And, although this bears a slight resemblance to the engine analysis pane, no chess engine is being used -- ChessBase is just "bean counting", so the use of this feature is legal for correspondence play.

But the magic doesn't stop there. Right-click in the "Best book line" pane to get a popup menu:

If you select "Copy to notation", the single variation that's highlighted will get copied to your game notation. If you select "Copy all to notation", every variation in the "Best book line" pane will be copied into your game notation. If you followed my suggestion from last week and have the game from your analysis database open, you can just paste the whole magilla into your game notation, save it by using "Replace game", and have it all preserved for your perusal.

You can also select "Variation board" which will add a small chessboard to the "Best book line" display:

The "VCR buttons" below this chessboard allow you to play forwards and backwards through the variation highlighted in the "Best book line" pane without disturbing the main chessboard on your screen. The buttons with doubled arrows jump you to the beginning or end of the highlighted variation. Right-click and select "Variation board" again if you want to turn this feature "off".

Right-clicking and selecting "Critical line" from the popup menu causes a variation of special interest (because both White and Black play the statistically "best" moves) to appear in red at the bottom of the "Best book line" pane:

By the way, you can limit the number of variations displayed in the "Best book line" pane; right-click and select "Min %" from the popup menu and you'll be prompted for a number -- variations which score lower than the number you typed will be excluded from appearing in the pane.

Even with this great shortcut tool, nothing beats looking at actual games. And the reason I offered a specific order for sources when creating a database of games on a specific opening (in a previous column) will become apparent in the following illustration. After highlighting 5.f4 in the opening tree, I click the "Reference" tab and get the following search results:

Because I began by adding games from the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia to the database, I get those games first on my game list. Note that all of the games visible on the list are annotated and that the very first game is a "Survey" game (i.e. opening theoretical) from the Opening Encyclopedia. There's a lot of useful information listed right away and I don't have to go scrolling down for it or create a more refined specific search to get it.

I'm still pondering what to do when my opponent's card arrives in the mail. He's played the expected 3...Nb6, and since I've already decided to play 4.d4 I can dash that move off in reply without any extra reflection time. I update my databases with the current position and my main database with the times used.

Notice that I've been keeping a move or two ahead of the current position, trying to anticipate what my opponent will play -- in other words, I'm doing most of my thinking on his time and during "transit time" (while cards are being handled by the postal service). As a result, after the moves 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.d4, I've used just three days total reflection time while my opponent has used seven days (for one less move, too).

More next time -- 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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