ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia 2006 - Part 2

8/19/2006 – In the second of two ChessBase Workshop columns, we examine some possible methods for using the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia 2006 to help you sharpen your opening play. More information...

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I don't need to open this column with a complete compendium of why you'd want to do opening research (as if such a list was even possible). You might be trying to learn a new opening to freshen up your repertoire. You may have been shelled at the chess club last night when your opponent tossed out a seventh move that you've never seen before. You might be in a correspondence game in which you want to look at what other players have previously done in the position that just hit your mailbox like a two ton brick.

Likewise this column won't be a complete listing of every possible way you can use The ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia 2006, which also isn't possible to provide: every player is different and I'm contantly amazed by our customers' ingenuity. I get e-mails all the time expressing new uses for our software tools that I've not encounted or dreamed up even after nearly a decade and a half in this biz.

What I will provide is an example or two, which should show you that ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia 2006 is a useful and valuable weapon in your electronic arsenal (yes, I said "weapon" -- chess is war at heart, which doesn't mean you shouldn't be one of the "good guys". It just means that winning is sweet and the alternative sucks).

Here's a good example of why you'd need something like ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia. Digging back into my book collection, I found an oldie but goodie called The Batsford Guide to Chess Openings, originally published back in the 1970's. It's a sort of repertoire book, providing an overview of several major openings (along with explanations of the ideas) and suggesting some (then) little-known sidelines; it's the book from which I first learned the Ruy Lopez Worrall back around 1990 or '91 (before the English kid started playing it and the Worrall wound up catching on big for a year or two).

The problem with this book (good as it is) is that it doesn't provide complete games, just variations with explanations and evaluations. So let's say that I want to investigate the Open French Tarrasch (for any of the reasons given at the start of this column). The Batsford Guide provides the following variation as its "main line":

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 exd5 5. Ngf3 Nc6 6. Bb5 Bd6 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8.O-O Nge7 9. Nb3 Bd6 10. Bg5 O-O 11. Re1 Qc7 12. c3 Bg4

So now I'm curious. Is this line still good three decades after the book's publication?

The first step is to fire up ChessBase 9 and select the Opening Encyclopedia's database as the Reference database (right-click on that database's icon and put a check next to "Reference DB"). Then I just double-click on the opening tree provided on the DVD and step through the moves until I reach the position after 12...Bg4:

And at the bottom of the tree I see:

which shows the stats after White's 13.h3

And that's about the time I started getting spooked. Black doesn't fare all that wonderfully well (now there's an understatement!) in this variation, so why would a potential opponent be playing it? Clicking on the "Reference" tab at the top of the tree window will perform a database search on the Opening Encyclopedia and bring up a list of games in which this position appears. I get a list of games and only one is annotated (and that just consists of a "=" at the end of a drawn game). It doesn't hurt to go ahead and play through these games to try to get an idea why Black fares so badly. But it's already apparent that an opponent who knows this opening well isn't going to want to go anywhere near this position.

Here's a side tip: on older computers, it's best to wait for the Reference search to complete before opening and playing through a second game. I have an older processor and graphics card which weren't too fond of my opening a new game while the search was still going on (and having a text editor, a graphics program, and several TSRs running at the same time didn't help things much).

My next option is to go back through the tree to try to find the "break point": the spot at which Black found something better (at least statistically). Kicking back through the moves I find that it's not a case of Black finding something better so much as it is a case of White having a pretty good line all along. But I did spot something interesting at White's tenth move. Instead of 10.Bg5 0-0 11.Re1 (as given above), I found a spot in which White plays Re1 at move ten, and does so more frequently (by about fifty games) than he does the Bishop move. Not only that, but White scores 10% higher on his success rate (65% to 55%) with the earlier Rook move.

Back we go to the Reference tab. And we get a nice long list of games, including several annotated versions (and one of them's even a opening survey). Curt Hansen's survey was pretty instructive, showing me several things that Black could do after a further 10...0-0 11.Bd3 h6 12.h3. So I've already learned a few things here. While the Batsford Guide is still an excellent resource for explanations of moves and ideas, the exact lines recommended are sometimes outdated (not surprising for a book three decades old). But instead of just fumbling around wondering why the book's line isn't up to date, I was able to discover a better way to tackle this opening (and with just a few minutes' work).

Let's look at another example of how we could tackle this opening. A different way to do it would be to use Joachim Zunke's "Superkey" which is attached to the Opening Encyclopedia. Double-click on the Encyclopedia's database icon to open the game list and then click on the "Openings" tab at the top of the list. You'll get a hierarchal breakdown of the openings. If (like me) you were paying attention when you did the tree-based search above, you'll already know that the ECO code for this opening is C09. But if you weren't, no sweat -- just visually go down through the moves to get to the same place. We already know that it's a French Defense (1.e4 e6) so that takes us to the first part of the C volume's listings (and I'll highlight our selections as we go along in the graphics provided):

Now we just click on the plus sign to the left of this listing to expand our view to display the next level of subkeys. Looking down through them and following the next set of moves (2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.[any]) brings us here:

Here again we see a plus sign to the left of the listing, so we can now get a further set of subkeys by clicking on it. We continue to follow the moves of our chosen variation to get here:

Now here we find something odd: our seventh move for White wasn't 7.0-0. So what do we do now? Noticing that 7.0-0 is enclosed in parentheses we click on the plus sign to the left to expand the view:

And we get our desired 7.dxc5 Bxc5.

You'll note, though, that there are only twelve games contained in this key, while our "tree" method of hunting for games turned up a much higher number. This is because a tree is transpositional, while the keys index games by precise single positions (by working backward through the games' moves until it hits a position represented by a key and then files the game within that key). So what does this tell us? In this specific case, we now know that there are a variety of transpositional possibilities to get to our original position (the one which ended with 10. Bg5 O-O 11. Re1 Qc7 12. c3 Bg4). That's why we saw this in our tree view:

It showed us that there were two other move orders (12...Qc7 and 12...Bg4) which got us to the same identical position. And since we're looking at a much earlier position when using the opening keys, it's safe to assume that there are a lot of other transpositional "break points" as well.

Consequently, here's another couple of tips. The "tree" method of researching openings is best used when you're interested in a particular position several moves into an opening. The "key" method is often better when you're browsing for ideas, looking for alternative variations to what you've been playing or perhaps even when searching for something new to add to your repertoire.

This article has just scratched the surface of things you can do with ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia 2006. I never mentioned using the "Best book line" pane in ChessBase 9 for additional guidance (including the "Critical line" and "Variation board" commands), or firing up a chess engine to get its opinion of the best line of play. I barely touched on the statistical tree functions. Or using the "Extra book pane" to open the tree while keeping the game notation visible. Or merging batches of games together into a "megagame" and then using the Table notation view to get an ECO-style view of the myriad variations. I never even mentioned clicking on "Go to Fritz" to pass a position over to your chessplaying program so that you can practice that position against your favorite electronic opponent. I could mention them, but then we'd both be up all night.

As Eastwood said, a man's got to know his limitations.

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.

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