Material searches in ChessBase 9 - Part one

8/5/2005 – In his previous ChessBase Workshop columns, Steve Lopez has somehow managed to overlook a valuable ChessBase 9 tool for researching endgame positions: the material search. In the latest column he rectifies this oversight by beginning a comprehensive examination of this feature. You can read Part One of this series in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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MATERIAL SEARCHES IN CHESSBASE 9 -- PART ONE

by Steve Lopez

Going back over more than eight years of weekly columns I was surprised to discover that I've never covered a particular major feature of ChessBase: the material search. I guess it's because I don't use it nearly as often as I use header, position, or maneuver searches; it's not because the material search is a bad feature (quite the contrary!), but because the other searches have been more useful to me as a writer. But as a player -- well, I've finished a couple of correspondence games nicely because of information I've derived from the material search feature.

Fire up your ChessBase 9 (and users of prior Windows-based ChessBase versions will be able to follow this column as well, though perhaps some of the tweaks and toggles may be absent depending on the specific ChessBase version). Right-click on the icon for one of your databases and select "Search", then choose the "Material" tab at the top of the Search mask. You'll see the following dialogue:

This is the Material search dialogue, in which you'll set the parameters for your specific material search. There's a lot here, so it'll require more than one column to cover everything. But this dialogue is easy to use and not nearly as complicated as it looks once you understand what the myriad buttons and toggles do.

Let's start with the basic "meat" of this dialogue -- the section in which you set the number of the various specific pieces:

This part is pretty straightforward. You'll see the White and Black pieces displayed, along with numerical boxes next to each. You simply use the arrow buttons to toggle the numbers for how many of each piece you want. Why are there two boxes after each piece? Because you're going to set a range of values, from a minimum to a maximum, specifying how many of each piece needs to be on the board. Let's try an example. Say you want to find all games in which neither player had any major pieces, one player had two Knights against the other player's two Bishops, and it doesn't matter how many pawns were on the board for either player. You'd set up the dialogue like this:

Don't worry about the "Minor Pieces" and "Total" fields right now -- they don't matter here and we'll get to them later. Notice what we've done here. The "range" of values for Knights is "2" and "2", meaning that one player has a minimum of two Knights and a maximum of two Knights; in other words, one player has to have two Knights, no more, no less. We've done the same thing for Bishops for the other player. All of the remaining pieces are set to "0" and "0", meaning that there can't be any other pieces on the board. And the pawn values are "0" and "8", which means that either player can have any number of pawns (or no pawns) on the board.

At this point you just click "OK" at the bottom of the Search mask dialogue and ChessBase will open a new window displaying its search results. It'll find any games in which one player has two Knights against the other player's two Bishops: 2N vs. 2B endgames with any number of pawns on the board. Please note that, as is the case with position and maneuver searches, this search will take more time to complete than a simple header search; ChessBase has to look at every move of every game in the database in order to locate games containing the desired material balance. You can see the program's progress in the bar at the bottom of the search results window's game list:

It goes without saying (though I'll say it anyway) that the faster your computer's processor and the smaller the database, the quicker the search.

When the search is complete, you can single-click on a game and replay it right there in the search results window. Note, too, that the display will jump right to the first position in the game to which your specified material search criteria applies. If you double-click on a game in the list, it'll load the game in a new board window.

Let's look at a few more simple examples. Say you want to find all games in which one player has one or two Knights against the other player's one or two Bishops. You'd set the dialogue this way:

You'll see that Knights have been set to a range of "1" to "2", and the opponent's Bishops have likewise been set to the same range. Now when you click "OK" you'll get all games in which a player has one or two Knights against the opponent's one or two Bishops.

Now let's try a Rook and pawn endgame. We'll find all games in which a player has a Rook and five pawns against the opponent's Rook and four pawns:

Notice that we've set the range of Rooks for both players to "1" and "1", meaning that neither player can have more than a single Rook (nor less than one Rook). The range of pawns for one player has been set to "5" and "5", which means that one player must have exactly five pawns on the board. The other player's pawn range has been set to "4" for both values, meaning that he must have exactly four pawns on the board, no more, no less. Click "OK" and ChessBase will pull up a list of games containing this precise endgame material imbalance.

You've doubtless noticed that I've expanded the above graphic this time around to show some of the "toggles" to the right of the piece displays. This is to illustrate an important toggle, one which you'll use a lot: "Ignore colors". If you leave this box checked, ChessBase won't care about the colors you've selected when you set up the number of pieces/pawns on the board. In the above example, we set up White to have the Rook and five pawns. If "Ignore colors" is checked on, your search results will also include games in which Black had the extra pawn (in other words, Black has R+5P vs. White's R+4P).

But if you uncheck "Ignore colors" and do the same search, you'll get only games in which White had a Rook and five pawns versus Black's Rook and four pawns -- in other words just the games matching the exact color and material combination you've specified. So "Ignore colors" is an important toggle and one to which you'll need to pay close attention, otherwise you'll miss games you want or get games you don't need.

When setting up your piece and pawn quantities there are a couple of other neat ways to do it. The pictures of the White and Black pieces are actually buttons. If you click on one of them, you'll notice that the range of values is automatically set to "1" and "1"; this is a handy shortcut to use when you want only one of the desired piece to appear on the board. Also you can type numbers directly in the range boxes instead of using the arrow buttons; this can save you time when you're setting the number of pawns in a given position.

And, before I let you off the hook for another week, let's talk about the two different "Reset" buttons. This is skipping ahead a bit but there are times when you might want to combine different search types (say a header search with a material search; for example, all of Capablanca's games which contain particular endgame material, so you'd have Capa's name typed in the "Player" field under "Game data" before clicking on the "Material" tab to set up the material [im]balance). If you find you've messed up something when setting up the material range values (or made any other mistake in the "Material" dialogue) you can reset all the values in the dialogue to their defaults by clicking the "Reset" button shown in the following illustration:

If you click on the other "Reset" button (the one between the Help and Cancel buttons at the bottom of the Search mask display), you'll reset the entire Search mask -- all of the dialogues (Game data, Position, etc.) will be erased and reset to their defaults. So be sure to click the correct Reset button when doing combined searches. If you're just searching for material and are using none of the other search types it doesn't matter which Reset button you use (but I try to stay in the habit of using the "correct" one, otherwise I'm bound to slip up one day and become extremely embittered).

We'll cover more of the Material search dialogue next time around, but we've seen plenty for now. Go ahead and play around with what you've learned so far; you can't "break" anything, so feel free to experiment!

Until next week, have fun!


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


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