ChessBase Workshop Q & A

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1/20/2004 – Even the most expert user cannot discover all the hundreds of features that are built into our program. And beginners usually have a lot of simple things to learn. In this week's ChessBase Workshop, Steve Lopez fields a variety of questions regarding ChessBase 8 and the Fritz family of playing programs. Questions and answers...

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by Steve Lopez

Continuing from last week...

Q: How do I create database texts in ChessBase 8?
A: This question is somewhat related to last week's article, but in this case the topic is the creation of electronic books rather than paper ones. It's a subject near and dear to my heart; I've worked as an e-book consultant for a couple of outfits over the last few years and have written several e-books of my own. I wrote a series of articles on this topic a while back, so have a look here, and here, as well as here.

Q: When I archive a database to .CBV format, should I password-encrypt the file?
A: Not unless you've developed some top-secret opening analysis and you're afraid an unauthorized person is going to somehow steal the file (and your ideas with it). That's mainly what the password encryption feature is for: it's there for GM's who store their homebrew analysis in databases and don't want prying eyes to see it. For most of us, there's no real reason to password encrypt an archived ChessBase database. And there's a very good practical reason for this: if you forget the password later, you have no way to get into that file anymore. In theory, I suppose some very talented/knowledgable person could find a way to hack into the file and retrieve the password, but it's also considered to be (theoretically) impossible. Either way, it'll be a ton of hassle, so your best bet is to not encrypt the database unless there's something totally original in it that no other eyes should see.

Q: How do I create my own opening key in ChessBase?
A: I get asked this question surprisingly often. Again, I'll refer you to a series of previous articles I wrote: look here, and here, and here.

Q: Under what circumstances should I turn off a chess engine's "Permanent brain"?
A: The feature called "Permanent brain" in the Fritz family of chessplaying programs is often known as "Pondering" in many other chess programs. Basically, permanent brain allows the chess engine to "think" (i.e. calculate positions) even when it's not the engine's turn to move; in other words, the engine thinks during its opponent's clock time (just as a human player does). This allows it to consider and store evaluations in anticipation of the opponent's move. Back in the days before I had a PC, I was an avid tabletop chess computer player; I could always tell when I made the move my computer thought was the most likely response (in other words, the one it was expecting) becuase it would move instantly after I made my move.

Offhand, I can think of two reasons why you might want to switch permanent brain "off":

  1. You're playing a gane against the computer and you want to weaken its play, to give yourself more of an edge against it;
  2. In games where one engine is playing against another on the same machine, you'd switch permanent brain "off" so that the two engines aren't fighting over processor cycles. Typically if it's left "on", one engine will tend to hog the processor and this will skew the results of the game/match.

Q: What other ways are there to weaken a chess engine's play?
A: There's a ton of them. There are several such modes built into the program as features (Friend mode, Sparring mode, Handicap and Fun mode). In addition to the aforementioned tweak of turning off the permanent brain function, you can also weaken an engine by reducing the hash table size and denying the engine access to endgame tablebases. Then there's the most lowdown dirty trick possible: play some graphics/processor-intensive shoot-'em-up computer game at the same time you're playing chess against your chess program. The other game will likely take a ton of processor time away from the chess engine and essentially lobotomize it. In fact, this is why I've always recommended that you disable all TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programs (such as anti-virus, crash guard, "Instant Messenger", etc. software) on your machine when you want a chess engine to play its strongest or have it analyze a position or a game: such programs rob the chess engine of processor time and prevent it from doing the best job possible. So there are a lot of ways to weaken a chess engine -- and not all of them are "in-program" tweaks.

Q: Why does my chess program lose games online?
A: Man, how I hate this question. The possible reasons are near-infinite:

  1. You've configured your program improperly (hash table size too large/small, turned off pondering or tablebase access, etc.);
  2. You have other programs running in the background on your machine;
  3. Your opponent has a better chess engine;
  4. Your opponent has a faster computer;
  5. Your opponent has Garry Kasparov sitting beside him dictating moves which your opponent is entering manually;
  6. Your opponent is Garry Kasparov, masquerading as a computer;
  7. Your opponent is using a Ouija board to contact Mikhail Tal, who is providing moves to him;
  8. etc.

When you buy a strong chess program, you're not buying what a friend once called "God on a disk". You're buying a strong chess program. "Strong" does not equate to "infallible" or "unbeatable", and chess programs are just like people: they do lose occasionally, particularly when playing against other chess computers. There's no way to determine exactly why your chess program lost a specific online game, since it's not a "controlled test" -- you don't know for sure what program your opponent used, what hardware he ran it on, etc. All you can do is accept the fact that your computer will lose sometimes.

Q: But I spent over $4,000 on a top-end machine! It should never lose!
A: And thirty-three guys spent a lot more than that on their cars in last year's Indianapolis 500; thirty-two of those guys lost.

A year ago, I presented a rant on my personal homepage on the "gearhead mentality" that's suddenly infested computer chess. Nothing's changed in the last twelve months, so maybe I should trot it out again as a future ChessBase Workshop article. It'll get a lot of people severely hacked off at me, but there was a lot of truth in it regardless...

Q: Why haven't you previewed the new ChessBase DVDs in ChessBase Workshop?
A: I didn't have a DVD drive in my machine until a few days ago, so my next order of Workshop business in the coming weeks will be to take a look at the new DVD offerings. (I honestly had no foreknowledge that ChessBase would be releasing any material on DVD, otherwise I'd have upgraded my box a long time ago).

Q: Fritz always resigns when I'm beating it and I want to be able to practice checkmating my opponent. How do I change this?
A: You can keep Fritz from resigning by going to the Tools menu, choosing "Options", clicking on the "Game" tab, and selecting "Never" from the "Resign" portion of the dialogue. You can also tweak the likelihood that Fritz will accept your draw offers by making a selection in the "Draw" portion of the same dialogue.

Q: I don't like the arrow Fritz uses to display the last move made. How do I get rid of it?
A: Here again, you'll go to Tools/Options/Game and uncheck the box next to "Mark Move With Arrow".

Next week we'll start looking at the new ChessBase DVD offerings. Until then, have fun!

© 2004, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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