Into the mailbag

9/12/2006 – Our resident military historian and ChessBase Workshop columnist is about to take some sorely needed time off to go hike around a famous battlefield. But before he strapped on the backpack, gathered up his maps, and headed out the door, Steve Lopez left us with a collection of interesting e-mails that have recently hit his box. Dip into the mailbag in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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It's late June as I write this column. I've mentioned before that I'm an American Civil War historian; one of my favorite things in life is visiting a battlefield site on the battle's anniversary. It really lets you "get into the moment", visiting a piece of ground on the same day (often the same hour or minute) that an action occurred -- with luck you even get the same weather conditions as on the historical date in question. I've learned so very much from walking the ground, being on the site where it all happened; it provides a wealth of insight that you just can't get from books and maps. If you're up on your Civil War history, you already know where I'll be this weekend -- Gettysburg, site of the largest land battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. It's my annual "three day vacation", a chance to reflect, renew, and, above all, learn. A close friend who knows me well tells me that I'm more "me" on a historical battlefield than I am anywhere else, and I guess there's some logic to that.

Of course, you can't just walk into the thing cold. I spend a few weeks before an anniversary reading, studying maps, and getting ready to "put myself into the moment". This tends to put a serious crimp in my time during that period -- and that's why you're reading letters in this week's ChessBase Workshop. Besides, you readers are at least ten times smarter than I am and it's a pleasure to step aside from time to time and let a few of you have the soapbox. As usual, my comments are in italics.

So, without further ado, let's get started...

Here's a question, A question came up recently, is it possible to have triple check? I figured that Megabase would have it but couldn't figure out how to build the query.

Mike Grant

That's a stumper, Mike. I don't think there's a way to do that kind of search in ChessBase, so I'll just have to rely on my noggin (uh-oh).

Let's break this down into a logical framework. You need a position in which there's no check to start (the rules of the game make this a requirement -- your opponent's King can't possibly be in check already when it's your turn to move). Double-check's an easy one to figure out: a piece moves and gives check, uncovering a check by a second piece. But a triple check? That would require a piece to move and give check while uncovering two simultaneous checks by two other pieces. I just don't see how that's possible. You couldn't uncover two checks, one on a diagonal and one on a file/rank, simultaneously (those danged laws of physics -- the King can't be on two squares at once). And if both of the other two pieces are on the same diagonal or rank/file, one of them has to be behind the other -- that's a battery and thus the rearward piece isn't giving check. I tried to work out a triple check involving a pawn promotion but couldn't come up with anything.

So I'm pretty sure that a triple check isn't possible. But if a reader has such a position at hand, do send it to me. Here's what I'll need from you:

  1. The starting position (FEN notation will do nicely, if you must send a graphic, please don't send a humongous .bmp or .tif file);
  2. The move which creates the triple check;
  3. And make sure that the starting position is legal and that the move follows the standard laws of chess (no Helpmate, Selfmate, or other odd composition stuff, and no "Fairy Chess", "Knightmare Chess", or other non-standard variants).

Thanks for the puzzle, Mike! I'll be scratching my head over that one for a while. -- SL

Timisoara open 1995 deserves a look:

Sentici - Zubavicius
Grunberg - Sebestyen

Were the organizers short of queens?

Sarah Regan

Sarah's writing in response to my column on "chess weirdness". OK, let's have a look:

Sentici, Valentin - Zubavicius, K
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Nf3 Bd6 6. Bd3 Bg4 7. h3 Bh5 8. O-O Nd7 9. Re1+ Ne7 10. Bg5 f6 11. Bh4 Qc7 12. Qe2 O-O-O 13. a4 Rde8 14. Qd1 g5 15. Bg3 Bxg3 16. fxg3 Qxg3 17. a5 Ng6 18. Rf1 Nh4 19. Rf2 Bxf3 20. Qf1 Bxg2 21. Rxg2 Nxg2 22. Qxg2 Qxg2+ 23. Kxg2 h5 24. Rf1 Kd8 25. Bf5 Re7 26. b4 Re3 27. Rf3 Rxf3 28. Kxf3 Nb8 29. b5 cxb5 30. Nxd5 Nc6 31. c3 Rf8 32. Bg6 h4 33. Bf5 Nxa5 34. Bd3 Nc4 35. Nb4 f5 36. d5 Kc7 37. Nc2 Ne5+ 38. Ke3 Nxd3 39. Kxd3 Kd6 40. Kd4 Re8 41. Ne3 Rxe3 42. Kxe3 Kxd5 43. Kd3 a5 44. Kc2 a4 45. Kb2 f4 46. Kc2 Kc4 47. Kb2 f3 48. Kc2 f2 49. Kb2 f1=N 50. Kc2 Ne3+ 51. Kb2 Nd1+ 52. Kc2 Nxc3 53. Kb2 b4 54. Kc2 a3 55. Kc1 b3 56. Kd2 a2 57. Ke3 a1=N 58. Kd2 b2 59. Ke1 b1=N 60. Kf2 b5 61. Kf3 Kd4 62. Kg4 Ne4 63. Kf3 Nbc3 64. Kg4 b4 65. Kf3 b3 66. Kg4 b2 67. Kf3 b1=N 68. Kg4 Nbd2 69. Kf5 Nab3 70. Kg4 Nbc5 71. Kf5 Nb7 72. Kg4 Nbd6 73. Kh5 Nd5 74. Kg4 Ndf6# 0-1

Oh, that's hilarious! Four, count 'em, four Knight underpromotions by Black. That's killer! Maybe White was afraid of accidental stalemate...

Grunberg, Florin - Sebestyen, E.
1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 Nf6 3. g3 Bg4 4. Bg2 e6 5. Qb3 b6 6. Nc3 c6 7. d4 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Rd1 Qc7 10. Bf4 Qc8 11. Rac1 Rd8 12. Ne5 Bd6 13. Nxg4 Nxg4 14. Bxd6 Rxd6 15. cxd5 exd5 16. Nxd5 Rxd5 17. Bxd5 Qf5 18. Bf3 h6 19. Bxg4 Qxg4 20. d5 cxd5 21. Qxd5 Nc6 22. Rxc6 Rf8 23. Qd7 Qxe2 24. Rc8 Qxd1+ 25. Qxd1 Rxc8 26. Qd7 Ra8 27. Qb7 Re8 28. Qxa7 Re1+ 29. Kg2 Re2 30. Qxb6 Rc2 31. a4 Rc8 32. a5 Rf8 33. a6 Ra8 34. a7 Rf8 35. Qb8 g6 36. Qxf8+ Kxf8 37. b4 Ke7 38. b5 Ke6 39. b6 h5 40. b7 Kf6 41. Kf3 Kg7 42. Ke4 Kh6 43. Ke5 Kg7 44. f4 f6+ 45. Ke6 Kh6 46. Kxf6 Kh7 47. f5 gxf5 48. Kxf5 Kh6 49. h4 Kg7 50. Kg5 Kh7 51. Kxh5 Kg7 52. a8=B Kf7 53. b8=B Ke6 54. g4 Kf6 55. g5+ Kf5 56. Kh6 Kg4 57. g6 Kf5 58. g7 Kf6 59. g8=B Ke7 60. Kg7 Ke8 61. h5 Ke7 62. h6 Ke8 63. h7 Ke7 64. h8=B Kd7 65. Bh1 Ke8 66. Bh2 Kd7 67. Ba2 Ke7 68. Kg6 Ke8 69. Bb2 Ke7 70. Ba3+ Kd7 71. Bb3 Ke8 72. Be5 Kd8 73. Be4 Ke8 74. Bf5 Kd8 75. Bd5 Ke8 76. Bc5 Kd8 77. Bf6+ Kc7 78. Kf7 Kb8 79. Be5# 1-0

And here we see the same theme, only with Bishop underpromotions (I'm not sure how I managed to miss this one in my column on Bishop underpromotions a few years ago).

I don't know, Sarah -- I'm starting to smell a hoax here. Not by you, of course; the games are easily retrievable from ChessBase's Big/Mega Databases. The only "logical" thing I can think of here (barring the hoax theory) is a pre-tournament bar bet by the players involved: "I'll bet you can't underpromote a game in this tournament and still beat the guy." "OK, you're on!" And then after the first guy wins, he says, "I'll give you a chance to win back your money -- if you can do it too, we'll call it even." The second guy replicates it (using the other minor piece) and the players square up.

If anybody knows the real story (and can somehow verify it), I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks, Sarah, for a really cool e-mail! -- SL

I have a question, how do I force Fritz 9, Junior 9, Hiarcs 10, Shredder 10 ect. to play certian opening s as black and certian openings as white on I mean like how do I have a "black" and "white" opening book, where when it is black, it will play opening abc and when black it will play dfg ect. (you get the picture).

Jonathan Soo Hoo

You just create two separate books and name them accordingly, each containing the opening variations you want your engine to play. Just remember that if your engine's opponent plays a move that's not in the opening book, your engine will begin calculating from that point (since it'll be "out of book"). So, for example, after 1.e4 a White book would have to have responses to all the major things Black could toss at you in response. But you could limit the variations to certain subsystems. For instance, after 1.e4 c5, you could have 2.c3 as the only White response and thus limit your engine to just the Alapin.

As for the physical process of book creation, that's been covered in my previous columns on the ChessBase website (archived, at least through 2003, under "Support"). You could edit an existing opening book by adding or removing variations. You could build a book from database games by "dumping" your selections into the opening book. Or you could even do the labor-intensive work of building a book by hand, manually entering the variations you want (in which case building the book will be much like building a personal repertoire).

You just have to remember to manually switch books between games when your engine switches colors; there's no way to automatically do this. -- SL

[You offered] an interesting article on the rating system.

I just had one small thing to add. What I have found from the last 18+ months of using ChessMaster and Fritz is that, they are simply not programmed for playing at anything but their highest strength.

For example, even if you select 1674 as the Fritz rating that you want to play against in a rated game, I have found that the chess playing softwares know the first 10-15 book moves for almost every opening that I tried. This is highly unlikely to happen if you are playing against a human rated 1674. And even with a relatively low rating selected, they play with high level of precision and tactics. Would you agree?

Sundar Rajan

Man, I ain't going there again! Sundar, you probably missed our series of columns on "Intelligent mistakes"; doing a text search for that phrase on should scare up the original column and the several "sequels" which offered reader responses. In short, I mainly agree, and the readers and I kicked around a lot of suggestions for ways to limit a chess engine's playing strength. Have a look when you have a chance; I'm sure you'll find the discussion lively and interesting. -- SL

I have read your article and I found it quite interesting. However, there is one issue I feel you overlooked, and I believe that only clarifying it would give a complete answer. The example I will give refers to playing against Fritz 8, but it applies to virtually any chess software or internet play.

What if I deliberately choose opponents so that my rating is not inflated and my risk is comparable to real life chess?! Say I lose against a 1600 player and my new rating will be something like 1585. Then I choose to play a virtual player 50 points (or 20, for that matter) lower than my new rating. If the scenario repeats again, I go down another 50 points; otherwise I go up, and so forth. I am still picking opponents all right, but I peak them from a reasonable, adaptable rating range. My rating will “fine tune” itself over time and the risk of losing 10 points is comparable to the chance of gaining as much. Please correct me if I am wrong up to this point. Now, please imagine that I also choose reasonable time controls ( between 30 min/game and 90 min/game) and I stick to them from game to game, that I alternate colors (with Fritz, as you mentioned, you are forced to do it anyway).

Finally, let me reformulate the old question. Under these circumstances, how my Fritz rating would (approximately) translate into real life, OTB chess?

Alin Fecioru

It won't. Your Fritz rating is your rating against Fritz, while your OTB rating is your rating against OTB opponents. While it's absolutely possible that the two ratings will end up close to each other, there's no guarantee that the ratings will match up, any more than your Playchess rating will match your OTB rating or Fritz rating or any other rating. Although I'm now inactive as an OTB player, I still have a number kicking around out there somewhere, as well as a USCF correspondence rating (also inactive), and ratings from a dozen chess sites. There's a 500+ point spread between my lowest and highest, even though I've taken pains to alternate colors between games and to vary my level of opposition.

In short, any Elo rating is just a measure of your past success and probability of success against a particular future opponent (with points awarded or debited on that basis) within that closed pool of players. Elo ratings aren't absolutes that transfer from pool to pool -- they're a benchmark measurement for the pool on which they're derived. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. -- SL

My Windows files show database files but when I access these I keep getting a "Cannot access database" dialog box. I assume the files are empty and need additional software. Is this the correct assumption?

Is the idea to build up Fritz 9 with accessory software? The Training Modes I read about on are very interesting if I can get them operating.

Suggestion: Put up a Fritz 9 manual for download. (Also: are you planning to have Fritz 9 upgrades for downloading?)

Brian Elfman

To open the database, put your Fritz9 disk in the drive. Hit F12 to open the game list window, then go to File/Open/Database. Use the dialogue to navigate to your DVD drive and open the \Database folder. The database is called database.cbh; double-click to open it.

You don't absolutely need additional software with Fritz9 -- the program is complete as is. However there are a lot of training and accessory disks available -- most of them have been previewed in my previous columns, and there's other info available elsewhere on this site too.

Fritz9 ships with a print manual and there's one available in PDF format in the \Manual folder on the DVD. For a short tutorial, see my "Guide to Fritz6" series (which is totally applicable to Fritz9) on this site. Click the "Support" link, then "T-Notes 2000" in the lefthand menu, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and have fun reading!

Fritz9 upgrades are available by logging into the Playchess server. Click on the "" link in Fritz9's splash screen, then (after you've logged on) go to Help/Query upgrade. -- SL

That's it for the letters right now; we'll have more after I get back from Gettysburg. But while we're on the subject of e-mails, there seems to be a bit of confusion regarding what constitutes a "tech support" request. I don't answer "How do I...?" questions or "Help, my program is crashing!" requests via e-mail through the link given below; those are tech support requests, and that's just not my gig at anymore (in fact, all of my various chess-related jobs are now just part-time ventures). If you have those kind of questions, your best bet is to contact ChessBase through their Support/Contact/Mail to Support link, or else contact your local ChessBase vendor (if that's where you bought the software), or even a chess message board if you see a lot of ChessBase-related commentary there. But if you write a support question to me at the address below, I might use your question in a future column, but there's a several month lag between the time you write and the time you'd see an answer here (and I use just a small fraction of the total e-mails I receive). So if you need an answer quickly, please do use one of the methods I mentioned above. You'll get a quicker answer that way.

However, feedback about the contents of this column, ideas for what you want to see discussed in future columns, high praise, "Steve's an idiot" brickbats, dirty jokes, beer recommendations, and links to Texas/Oklahoma music sites are always welcomed and appreciated. No Britney Spears nude photos, though -- they're fakes anyway; I did the research.

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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