Material searches in ChessBase 9 – part two

8/10/2005 – ChessBase's material search feature is a valuable tool for researching specific material balances (and, more importantly, imbalances). Here's a detailed explanation of this feature in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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by Steve Lopez

In last week's ChessBase Workshop we began a discussion of ChessBase 9's Material Search dialogue:

We learned how to set the basic numerical values for each piece or pawn on the board. This time around we're going to start looking at some of the toggles you can use to further modify your specific search criteria.

Let's start with the "Minor pieces" and "Total" values. As with the toggles for specific pieces you're going to set a range of values, from a minimum to a maximum, for each category.

"Minor pieces" means just that -- a range of minors (Knights and Bishops) for each player without regard to whether the specific pieces are Knights or Bishops. Let's start with a basic example: two minor pieces for each player. You'd set the dialogue as shown below:

The "Minor piece" values for the first player have been set for "2" and "2", meaning that the player must have exactly two minor pieces on the board. We did the same for the second player. When we click "OK" we're going to get a list of games with that exact criterion -- two minor pieces for both players. It'll be two Bishops versus two Knights, or maybe a Knight and Bishop versus two Knights, or a Knight and Bishop versus two Bishops. All of these endgame types will be included in the search results.

Note that we didn't set values for Knights or Bishops using the toggles for those specific pieces -- that would make no sense here. You set the "Minor piece" values only when you don't care about the specific types of minors; otherwise you'd just go ahead and use the toggles for the Knights and Bishops (as shown in our first example in the previous ChessBase Workshop column).

The "Minor piece" toggle is a great shortcut when used with the toggles for specific major pieces and pawns. Let's say that you want to see endgames in which each player has a Rook and one minor piece (regardless of whether the minor is a Knight or Bishop), along with any number of pawns. You'd set the dialogue this way:

And you'll notice that I included the "Ignore colors" box in the illustration. We discussed this important toggle last week; this was just my way of reminding you of it. However it really doesn't matter in this illustration, since both players have the same material anyway. But let's say that we want to see endgames in which White has a Rook and either one or two minors versus Black's Rook and one minor (regardless of the number of pawns). We'd need to set the dialogue this way:

Now with "Ignore colors" unchecked, the specific parameters we've set are that White must have one Rook and one or two minor pieces against Black's Rook and one minor.

We can get even more specific in our search for this endgame by designating a range of pawns for each player (using the toggles next to the pawn buttons), but I'm sure you get the idea. You use the "Minor piece" values only when you don't care about the specific identities of the minors, just their quantities.

If you've read the previous column and have closely followed along so far, you may have noticed a word that's been coming up repeatedly: endgame. That's because the material search feature is primarily geared toward looking for specific endgames. It's certainly not limited to that -- you could conceivably do a search in which both players have all of their pieces on the board and have lost just a single pawn each (which would pull up a lot of games). But most of the time you're going to be using the material search function for late-middlegame or endgame searches.

There's a reason why I'm bringing this observation up at this point and it has to do with the "Total" value toggles. The "Total" toggles refer to the total number of pieces (not pawns) which a player has on the board, but it's a bit quirky and requires us to make a quick detour elsewhere in the dialogue:

Note the two large buttons at the bottom of the display: "Any pieces" and "No pieces". You must click one of these buttons before setting values for "Total", otherwise the "Total" values won't work. Keep this in mind before we proceed. Click "Any pieces" first (at which point the "Total" values for both players will jump to "1" and "16"), then we'll set the "Total" values for both White and Black to "4" and "4" as shown below:

Click "OK" to do the search. When it's complete, click on one of the games in the search results list. You might find something curious: each player has just three pieces on the board instead of the desired four. What gives?

It goes back to two factors: that the material search function is designed primarily to search out endgames and that the "Total" toggles are used to designate the total number of pieces on the board. When doing a search for "Total" pieces, the King counts as a piece.

Why is this? Any decent book on the endgame will give you the answer (and, quite frankly, I'm surprised at how few players are aware of it). When playing an endgame, the King becomes a valuable attacking piece -- that's why endgame books and disks recommend that you try getting your King to the center of the board in the late middlegame/early endgame. The King comes in pretty handy when you're trying to block the advance of enemy pawns and is really useful for gobbling up enemy pawns. In fact Yasser Seirawan (in one of his Winning Chess books) estimates that the King is valued as equivalent to about three pawns in the endgame.

So that's why you'll see the King counted as a piece when you do a search for "Total" material.

OK, so we've covered the "Minor piece" and "Total" toggles. Now it's going to get a bit confusing, but bear with me and all will become clear. We're going to look more closely at the "Any pieces" and "No pieces" buttons.

If you click the "No pieces" button, you'll see the "Total" values automatically set for "1" through "9" for each player. This is because the "No pieces" button sets a "hidden" parameter: clicking "No pieces" specifies that neither player can have any major or minor pieces on the board, just Kings and pawns. So by setting the value to "1" (meaning that the player can have just a lone King) to "9" (meaning that the player can have a King and up to all of his eight pawns), ChessBase is setting up a shortcut to show you games containing pure King and pawn endgames.

You can reset the values to anything between "1" and "9". For example, setting a player's values to "4" and "4" means that you'll get games in which the player had just a King and three pawns on the board. Setting the values to "2" and "5" means that you'll get endgames in which a player had a King and anywhere between one and four pawns. So, for example, if we set the dialogue this way (after first clicking "No pieces"):

we'll get nothing but games in which a player had a King and three pawns versus his opponent's King and two pawns.

And, as illustrated earlier, "Any pieces" works conversely. Click "Any pieces" and the number of pawns will be ignored while the King counts as a piece. (And the reason why the upper default value is "16" is to take into account that all eight of a player's pawns could conceivably promote to a piece. It's more likely that the Earth will be hit tomorrow by a rogue asteroid, but it is [theoretically] possible).

Don't forget that with any of the above toggles you need to be mindful of the "Ignore colors" box; clicking this "on" or "off" gives you a huge amount of control over your specific search parameters and the end result of your search.

Here again we've come to a stopping point. It might look like we didn't cover much this time around, but we've actually hit on a lot of points. That gives you some idea of how flexible and useful the Material Search feature can be.

Until next week, have fun!

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

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