Finding variations on training disks - part 2

by ChessBase
5/22/2005 – In the second and final installment of a short ChessBase Workshop series, we take a look at two additional ways to isolate specific variations from a ChessBase opening CD using ChessBase 9. Workshop...

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by Steve Lopez

You'll recall that in the last ChessBase Workshop I described how a poster to The Chess Exchange Forum asked for a quick way to find a particular variation on a ChessBase opening training CD. I listed four means of doing this and described two of them in the previous column. This time around we'll look at the other two. But first I'll sidestep to an observation that occurred to me along the way.

The Chess Exchange poster specified that he was looking for a "quick" way to find the games of a particular variation, and the use of that word kind of spooked me. I did ChessBase tech support for years and I still recall a (very) few phone conversations in which any method I gave for attaining a particular goal seemed to be "too slow" or "too difficult" for the caller's liking. This was always the source of a bit of frustration for both of us.

You see, I go back a ways with this game of ours; I've been playing chess for more than forty years (though, in my defense, I was barely out of diapers when I learned how the pieces move). I vividly recall the time when finding a particular game in a traditional paper chess library could mean an afternoon's work; finding all the games of a particular variation could take literally days.

Let's jump ahead to the mid-1990's when ChessBase for Windows was released (the first version that let you search for board positions without the use of outside utilities). I was running CBWin on a creaky old 386 computer back then. If I wanted to search for all the games which contained a specific board position in a database of about 100,000 games, I'd start the process and go get a cup of coffee, watch a little TV, play with my kids a bit, and come back to find the process almost done. It took more than an hour to do such a search on that old machine -- and I was thrilled. It was way faster than looking through piles of chess books.

These days I'm running a Pentium III 800 MHz machine (and, yes, I'll likely buy a new box sometime this year) and can do a position search on a database of over two million games in just a few seconds. That seems to me to be plenty fast enough. "Speed" is a relative term and certainly resides in the eye of the beholder.

However, searching for a particular variation does take a little doing to set up the search. There's no getting around that. If a user is still frustrated with that, I can understand it completely. I'm a game freak -- I used to buy a ridiculous number of games to play on my computer. I don't play as many new games as I once did and there's a reason for that -- it's a grind to learn how to use a new game's interface. The steps might not be that hard, but it's the learning curve that throws me a bit. See, a software program is stupid and can't read your mind -- it can only do what you tell it to. The trick is in learning how to order your program around. I might be playing a Civil War game and want Hood's Texas Brigade to charge hell-for-leather into the Cornfield at Antietam, but I first need to learn what to click on to make this happen; otherwise I'll see that damned Yankee artillery tearing big gaps in my lines. So it's either learn the interface or else hope that my brigade has a lot of file closers.

So that's why I write ChessBase Workshop: to try to make your learning curve a bit less steep. I wish I could give a magic shortcut to let you use the program without you needing to click on things -- but it just doesn't work that way. So I'll tell you what I know as simply as I can and the rest is up to you.

Finding a variation on an opening CD isn't hard, but the search won't perform itself. You have to set it up. Last time around we looked at two ways to do this, both of which involved opening keys. This time we'll look at two ways to do a traditional database search. Both are related and both require a bit of preparation.

To use either of the following two methods you'll need to designate the opening CD's database as your "reference database". We covered this recently in ChessBase Workshop, but I'll toss in this brief refresher. Right-click on the icon for your opening CD's main database (the one that has the most games in it), select "Properties" from the popup menu, and put a check in the box next to "Reference DB". Then click the "OK" button. You've just told ChessBase that you want this database to be the "reference" one, i.e. the one used for your default searches.

Making a database your reference database isn't a permanent thing -- you can freely designate a different database as the reference one just by following the same steps I just gave you. Remember, though, that you can't have more than one reference database at a time.

You'll recall from the last column that we were using the Caro-Kann Panov Attack training CD and the variation we're hunting is this: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qd7. With that in mind, and having designated the CD's main database as our reference database, we'll barrel through to our remaining two means of locating the games of a particular variation.


We've covered this a pile of times over the years, but let's do it again for the new folks just joining us. You can do a search for any position in a ChessBase database pretty easily -- and an opening position search is easier than most. Open a new board window (by clicking on the little black-and-white chessboard button at the top of the database window) and manually enter the moves 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qd7:


(Here's a sneaky shortcut for you if you have the Caro-Kann CD and want to follow along using the same variation. Highlight the moves I just gave in your browser and hit CTRL-C. Then open a new board window in ChessBase and hit CTRL-V -- it'll paste the moves into the window and you'll see the position on the on-screen chessboard).

After you've entered the moves to get to the position after 7...Qd7, right-click in the Notation pane and you'll see the following popup dialogue:


Check out the first command in this dialogue: "Find Position in Caro-Kann B13-B14". That's the one you want. Single-click it and ChessBase will open a new pane and produce a list of games in which the position after 7...Qd7 appeared:


Just double-click on a game from the scrollable game list to open it and play through it.

As a side note, you can right-click on any of the column headers at the top of the game list to reconfigure the information the list displays (which we covered some time back in ChessBase Workshop).

Note that a separate pane above the game list shows White's responses to 7...Qd7; these responses are derived from the games contained in the database. Single-clicking on one of these moves will cause ChessBase to make that move on the chessboard and then do a new search for all the games in which that move was played. There's also some nice statistical data listed which gives you an idea of how each of these moves fared in recorded practical play. You'll recall from the last column that we found more than 500 games in which 7...Qd7 was played; this statistical data will give you some good information to use as a guidepost in determining what subvariations to examine more closely.

And that leads us directly to:


ChessBase opening training CDs contain an opening book which you can use with Fritz (or our other playing programs) to force the chess engine to play nothing but that particular opening. But there's another use for the opening book (or "tree"; the terms are interchangeable): as a source of statistical data based on how well or poorly particular moves fared.

Make sure that you've designated the CD's main database (the one with the most games) as the reference database (as described above). Then double-click on the CD's opening tree (listed as a CTG file, with a little icon of a tree, in the database window) to open up the tree. Click directly on moves listed in the tree to make them on the chessboard and "step through" the tree. Follow the moves of your desired variation -- in this case 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qd7 -- and you'll reach your desired board position and get a display something like this:


In this case we see a list of White's replies to 7...Qd7 and some statistical information on how well (or poorly) each of these replies did based on the games contained in the CD's database. I won't go into the "nuts and bolts" of reading this display -- it's all been covered in some of my previous columns, so just do a search of this site to round them up. Suffice to say that you can use this information to narrow down your choice of what moves to study.

In our last column we decided on an examination of 8.Nd2 g6, so we'll click on those moves in the tree to make them on the chessboard. Now just click the "Reference" tab at the top of the Notation pane, and ChessBase will display a list of the six games in which those moves were played:


As always, just double-click on a game to load and replay it.

And now for the grand finale: another shortcut. You can actually combine Methods Three and Four. After you've played through the moves of your variation in a board window, click the "Openings book" tab at the top of the Notation pane. You'll likely get a button asking you to load a book; click it and use the dialogue to navigate to your CD to select the opening book on it. The notation pane will change to display the opening book -- in this case it'll show White's replies to 7...Qd7 as well as the relevant statistical data. Then you can select further moves and click the "Reference" tab as described in Method Four above.

As we've seen over the last two columns, there's usually more than one way to skin a cat using ChessBase. You just need to know how to tell the program what you're looking for -- and then be amazed by the results.

Until next week, have fun!

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

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