Getting the most out of ChessBase 15: a step-by-step guide #9 – Backups

by Nick Murphy
8/3/2020 – One thing is certain – if you work with computers, data loss is not a matter of IF, but WHEN. However careful you are, there is no way to guarantee that you are safe. The answer is simple - back up your work. Or as we say in chess – “back up your chess databases”. This week Nick Murphy takes you through the thrilling world of backing up in ChessBase 15.

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Backups

This week Nick Murphy takes you through the thrilling world of backing up in ChessBase 15

I flatter myself that I keep my computer in particularly good running order. I update regularly, I have a good antivirus program, I maintain my files and folders in tip-top shape. In short, I am a computer geek.

However, working with computers for over 20 years, even I have experienced lost or corrupted computer data. In fact, if you do anything with computers, it is not a question of if it will happen, it's a matter of when. I’ve lost data to power-cuts. I’ve lost data to static-shock sparks. I’ve even lost data to an over-excited but very loving Staffordshire Bull Terrier (called Sam). 

The one time I lost data that I couldn’t afford to lose, I had no choice but to seek out a professional data-recovery service, who opened my computer hard-drive up in a dust-free lab and scanned the surface of the spinning disk itself, to recover my data the best they could. And all for the bargain price of £2000 inc VAT. As I handed over my credit card with a wince, I resolved never again to go without a backup. 

It seems so simple, back-ups mitigate data loss. It should be as obvious as wearing seat belts in a moving car, or wearing a crash helmet while riding a motorbike. So why do so many computer users STILL fail to backup regularly. Well, the obvious answer is that it’s DULL. There’s nothing sexy about regular backups, which is why there’s such a huge market these days for programs that back up your data automatically.

Popular apps like Dropbox, OneDrive etc, are useful, but not ideal. They’re not really proper backups, as if the data corrupts in your main copy, then the corrupted data will copy itself too. Specialised services like Backblazeor Carbonite are much better, though they usually cost money. Even if it’s generally money well spent.

Why backup chess databases?

Well — for the reasons I’ve just said. But seriously, if you have analysed and annotated chess games, then saved them into chess databases, that data is as at risk of loss as anything else on your computer. Hours, days, or potentially years of work could be lost in the blink of an eye. There is no secret feature of ChessBase or Fritz that will restore corrupted data. When it's gone, it's gone.

So what about ChessBase?

ChessBase 15 has a couple of great built-in functions to mitigate data loss. The first one is called “Game History”. Game History stores every game you load and enter. This helps you to find material you looked at a couple of days before. But more importantly, Game History creates an automatic backup of your analysis work. In the folder pane of the main ChessBase 15 screen, you will find a new entry for the month in progress. A click gives you access to the games you have looked at and worked on previously in that month. There is one database for everyday you worked on them.

Of course, the game history databases are as susceptible to data corruption as anything else, so the second feature that ChessBase 15 includes, is backing up chess databases, called Archive Database. 

Why not just copy the “.cbh” file to somewhere else, won’t that back it up? 

A “.cbh” file is NOT an entire database. A ChessBase database consists of up to twenty files, every one of which is necessary. If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: a .CBH file by itself can NOT be opened by ChessBase. 

Using the Archive Database feature rounds up all of the various database files and compresses them into a single “.cbv” file for easy storage. Archive database is the best and simplest way to make back-ups of all your hard work and analysis.

Backup in ChessBase 15

Go to the main Chessbase window, and the Database pane, and right-click on the database that you’d like to backup.

On the menu that pops up, select Tools => Backup Database

The first thing you will see is a box asking if you want to save the database as "Encrypted" or "Unencrypted". 

For 99.9% of the players reading this, you do not need to select "Encrypted". This is aimed at Professional Players who may be carrying around their databases of secret opening preparation. Basically, unless you are about to play in a candidate match for the world championship, stick with Unencrypted. 

If you do encrypt your database, ChessBase 15 will ask if you want to delete the original database files.

If you do this, and then forget your password, there is NO WAY TO RECOVER THAT DATABASE. Neither me, nor the Lord High Emperor of ChessBase has a secret “back door” into your data, so make sure you do not forget your password. Or better still, just don’t encrypt it in the first place.

If you select an unencrypted backup, you will then be presented with a Windows explorer window, where you will need to specify a location to save the database. Please DO not save it to the same location that the original database is in. It is better to save it to a separate folder. Better still to save it to an external drive. Best is to save it to the cloud, where it will sit safely waiting for you in the event of fire, flood, or meteor impact!

Now, if your original database DOES get corrupted, you can go back to your saved “.cbv” file, copy it to a safe location on your computer, and go to File => Open => Database and locate your file. 

When you click “Open”, the “.cbv” file will automatically expand into the multiple database files from which it was created, overwriting any files with the same-names currently in the folder. The “.cbv” file is then automatically deleted.

The “.cbv” always expands into same folder in which it resides, so make sure you don’t open it in a folder that contains an uncorrupted database of the same name, as your current database will be overwritten by your backup, meaning that you’ll lose any work you added since the backup. That’s why I always recommend saving “.cbv” files in a different folders to their original location.

The safest backup strategy

Whatever you are backing up, I always recommend you follow the “3-2-1” backup strategy. 
That means that you should:

  • Keep at least three copies of your data. That includes the original copy and at least two backups.
  • Keep the backed-up data on two different storage types. (e.g. flash drive / external hard drive / NAS drive etc)
  • Keep at least one copy of the data offsite. The cloud backup services I mentioned earlier would work. Or you could even just email a copy of your backed-up data to a friend for safe keeping. 

How often should you backup a database? 

Strictly speaking, there's no such thing as "too often. Basically, the more often you add to or alter the contents of a database, the more often you should back up your data. I recommend backing up after doing any appreciable amount of new work.

And yes, I know from experience that discussing backup strategies can be used as an excellent cure for insomnia. But I can’t count the number of friend and chess professionals who have contacted me in the past in the hope that I can recover some of their treasured analysis, only to explain that they were too busy to back up, and that they’d “meant to do it last week, but never got around to it”. In which case, there is nothing I or anyone else can do to help. Other than to recommend backing-up properly next time, after they’ve manually redone all the work. 

It really is that simple.

And for those of you that are worried, I’m happy to confirm that Sam the Staffy and I were rapidly reconciled.

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Nick Murphy is an actor, chess enthusiast, and an acknowledged chess-software expert. Living in London; he has co-authored three DVDs for ChessBase alongside International Master Lorin D'Costa. As well as authoring hundreds of videos on how to get the most from your ChessBase software.
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