Making your own playbook

by ChessBase
4/22/2005 – A recent column by Mig Greengard on Garry Kasparov's "opening playbook" has our readers clamouring for information on how to build such a database of their own. We're happy to oblige with a three part ChessBase Workshop series; you'll find Part One here.

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by Steve Lopez

You might recall the bit of controversy ChessBase Workshop created a month or so ago and the volume of e-mail it generated. What you don't know about is the controversy within the controversy.

You'll remember that I wrote a column composed largely of reader responses to a prior column. After that column hit the Web, one of the people quoted said that he wanted his name removed from the column. No problem -- we handled that in short order. But I want to call your attention to a disclaimer at the bottom of the page you get when you click the "Feedback" link to respond to a ChessBase column or news item:

Comments on the ChessBase news reports or puzzles are welcome. Please give your full name and place of residence. Your email address is required, but it will not be collected or used for any commercial purposes.

We reserve the right to quote your commentary, in full or abridged, with your name and place of residence given. If you supply information on your professional status that might also be used.

Please note that we cannot answer all messages personally.

The emphasis on the second paragraph is mine. Now I'm well aware that I'm writing for an international audience and that things don't work everywhere the way they do in the U.S. But over here it's assumed when you write to a columnist with commentary on one of his articles or pen a Letter to the Editor that you're granting permission to quote your words and attribute them to you. I operated under that assumption when I wrote the column of reader responses. The one person who objected wasn't from the U.S., so perhaps he's used to a different set of circumstances/assumptions.

So I'll tell you what -- I'll meet you halfway. I can't speak for any other ChessBase columnist or reporter, but here's what I'll do if you choose to send in a response to one of my ChessBase Workshop columns:

  1. If you don't want any part of your message quoted or your name/town of residence used, please state those facts in your message;
  2. If you don't mind being quoted, but want your name/town of residence withheld, please state that in your message;
  3. Otherwise please understand that the above disclaimer from the ChessBase site allows me to quote your message and use your name/town of residence in a future column.

I think that's fair and clear enough. It's not my intent to cause misunderstandings or hurt feelings with my columns (that's what public message boards are for), and I think this clarification will go a long way to heading off at the pass any unintentional acrimony.

Making your own playbook

by Steve Lopez

Mig Greengard wrote an interesting column recently on the "legendary Garrybase": Garry Kasparov's database of homebrew analysis and how he keeps it updated. Hot on the heels of this column came an e-mail to my box, forwarded by the powers that be at ChessBase. The original message came to them from Carl Lumma of Berkeley, California (US) and read:

If Steve Lopez would write a beginners' article on how to configure CB9 like this it would be wonderful.

OK, Carl, this column's for you. How about a series instead?

The neat part about such a series is that it will tie together a bunch of ChessBase features, many of which I've mentioned before. I'll also give you a couple of tips that Garry might not be using (or that Mig may not have mentioned), which is one reason why this topic will be covered in a short series.

I've written in the past about the database I call my "playbook" -- it contains opening lines that I play regularly. Now I'm no ex-World Champion, but I've had a playbook for years before I learned of Garry K's -- in fact, it was one of the first databases I created back when I got my first copy of Fritz back in 1992.

So the (obvious) first step is to create a new database in which you'll store your preferred opening lines (and subsequent additional analysis and commentary). Fire up CB9, go to the File menu, select "New", and then "Database". This'll bring up the Windows File Select dialogue; use it to choose the folder into which you want to store your database (it doesn't matter where you put it on your hard drive; ChessBase will work with databases in any number of folder locations) and name your database (I called mine "playbook.cbh"). Click "OK" and you'll see a new icon appear in your list of databases. If you right-click on this icon and select "Properties" from the popup menu, you'll get a dialogue which lets you select an icon for the database and a box that lets you set the manner in which its name will appear in your database list.

Double-click on this icon; you'll get an empty game list. That's because you haven't saved any games into it yet (and that's what we'll do next).

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that you already know what you want to put into this database, that you have a set of preferred openings that you play -- otherwise this whole exercise becomes moot. Back in my pre-computer days I used to keep my preferred openings in a "little black book" (and this was quite literal -- it was small and black and still sits on a nearby shelf as I write this. That's lucky, too -- it was actually stolen a couple of times by friends who thought they were going to cop a few babes' telephone numbers out of it. Sorry, I keep those in another [non-black] book. The chess "black book" would always mysteriously reappear after a short absence. Heh). When I created my first playbook, I manually transferred these opening lines into a ChessBase database.

Go to File/New/Board and enter the moves manually. The trick here is knowing when to stop adding moves to a particular line. In general, any point at which you or your opponent has more than one serious option is a point at which you can stop adding moves and save the work. Use a bit of judgement here. For example, I could create just two lines for the Budapest Defense (which I play as Black) after 4.Nf3 and 4.Bf4 (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Bf4 or 4.Nf3) but that's not going to be really useful. I'll need to create multiple database entries for each of these two variations based on later divergences that my opponent may make.

Here's a very basic roadmap of the base variations I might enter for 4.Bf4, each of which will appear as a separate game in my playbook database:

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Bf4
4...g5 5.Bg3
4...g5 5.Bd2
4...Nc6 5.Nf3 Bb4+

...and so on. Doing the initial work for your playbook is a serious matter and not a trivial one. There's some labor involved here and, while you can always go back and create additional entries later for the same opening lines, taking your time and doing it right the first time will save you some later effort.

I'll give you a tip as well as show you a shortcut for entering and saving moves. Using the above set of variations, I would input 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Bf4 first and save it. When you save a variation into a database, you'll want to give it a precise designation in the game header so that you can find it later and not confuse it with other variations. In the case of this first variation, I'd save it with "Budapest Defense" as the name of the White player and "4.Bf4" as the name of the Black player. That's clear enough -- it'll appear in the game list as "Budapest Defense - 4.Bf4"

That's the tip. Here's the shortcut. After you enter and save a variation (using File/Save in playbook), don't close the game window. Just add your extra move(s) to the existing game and save the game again, but be sure to modify the game header accordingly. It'll save the modified game as a new entry in the database (as long as you use "Save" and not "Replace").

Here's another example. I entered the variation 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Bf4 and saved it into my database a couple of paragraphs ago. Now I want to add the further move 4...g5 as a separate line in the database. So after saving the game after 4.Bf4, I'd just keep the game window open, make the move 4...g5, click "Save", and modify the entry for Black to read "4.Bg4 g5".

Next I'll add 5.Bg3 and save the line the same way, again modifying the entry for Black. But my next variation is another White fifth move: 5.Bd2 -- how do I enter this? It's easy: just use the red "takeback" VCR button and make the alternate move 5.Bd2, then save the game with a modified header.

Ultimately we're going to run out of room for moves in the Black player field. That's where the "Tournament" field comes in. We'll just continue the variation and put the additional moves in the "Tournament field".

Just keep on banging in variations; ultimately you'll wind up with something like this in your playbook's game list:

If the number of moves in the variations gets too long, you can omit moves and replace them with something like "//". For example, since two of the variations above use the moves 5.Nf3 and 5...Bb4+ prior to White's sixth move choices, I could create Black entries that say "4...Nc6//6.Nc3" and "4...Nc6//6.Nbd2" instead.

The point here is to create a playbook, enter your preferred variations, and make sure you can distinguish them from each other later.

There are other ways to get variations into your playbook. You could conceivably find games from your master database which contain your preferred variations, copy them into your playbook, and then delete the moves which come after the "break points" we talked about. You could also open up an opening book and step through the moves; they'll be entered in the Notation pane and you could just save them. That's fine -- there's no reason why you can't do it either way. But I greatly prefer the "old school" method of entering the moves manually. You make the moves by hand and that reinforces the moves in your mind. A little drill never heard anyone.

Go ahead and get started on creating your playbook. Next time around we'll look at what to do with it once it's created -- how to add analysis to your preferred lines. And that's the part where we'll talk about some stuff that Garry might not have thought of.

Until next week, have fun!

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

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