Mega Database 2005's Superkey

by ChessBase
2/11/2005 – It's not just another key file -- in fact, we called Joachim Zunke's comprehensive new openings key the Superkey for good reason. See what makes this key different and learn how to use ChessBase 9 to navigate it in this week's ChessBase Workshop.

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by Steve Lopez

One of the bonus features of Mega Database 2005 is the comprehensive opening key that accompanies it: the new Superkey by Joachim Zunke. While the opening keys of past master databases have been special in their own right, the Superkey really goes one step beyond. This is made possible by the new ChessBase key format introduced in CB9.

In the past, opening keys were somewhat limited and hampered by the number of characters which could be displayed in a key listing. Eleven years ago I worked on a development project to create a new opening key for Fritz2: one which displayed the English name of an opening alongside its ECO (Encyclopedia of Chess Openings) code, instead of displaying a string of moves along with the alphanumeric code. Upon release of this English language key, users immediately wanted to know if the keys could somehow be combined. Unfortunately, they couldn't -- because the number of allowable characters in a key designation was severely limited.

Another problem with past keys was the nature of the user interface; the user was required to "drill down" through the hierarchy of keys to find the opening line he desired. The user double-clicked on a key to open it; this refreshed the display to show the subkeys that were "under" the previous key in the hierarchy. The user continued to "drill down" through these keys and screens until he found the games. Back in the old DOS days, the only way to display the whole hierarchy of keys was to use a separate utility program to create a textfile of the structure and then print it out in paper form.

Zunke's Superkey is unique in that it shows not only the ECO code of an opening and a string of moves but also shows the name of the opening. But (in my opinion) the biggest advantage to this new key (when used in CB9) is the ability to display the whole key hierarchy directly on the screen. Let's take a look at how this works.

Launch CB9 and double-click on the Mega Database 2005 icon (assuming you own this database, of course) to open the game list in a separate window. You'll see a list of tabs running across the top of the display; select the "Openings" tab from among this list. You'll see a new display, split horizontally. The upper portion above the split shows the keys; the lower portion will display the game (after some are available -- we'll see how this works in a minute).

The upper part of the display will show the "top" level of the key structure; in this case, it's simply the title of the key:

Note the number on the far right side of the display. That's the total number of games in the database. To make the magic work, simply click on the "plus" sign to the left of the key's title. Note that this works in precisely the same way as it does in My Computer or Windows Explorer in your Windows interface:

Now the first thing you'll probably notice is that the openings are not listed in alphanumeric order according to ECO codes. Why not? It's because Zunke has chosen not to structure his opening key according to ECO's really, really screwy non-intuitive classification system. For example, ECO scatters the 1.d4 openings across three volumes (the A, D, and E volumes in the five volume set). While there's a definite logic to this, it's really not intuitive until you've used ECO for a while.

While the variations listed in the key absolutely do correspond to their proper ECO codings, Zunke has opted for a much more intuitive approach in the actual listing (particularly for those users who aren't terribly familiar with ECO's classification system). Have a look at the first move of each of the listed variations:

Note the first entry after "A00-A09": it's just a set of dashes. To understand this entry, we'll need to look farther along in the key. We'll come back to this first entry in a bit.

After "A10" you'll notice the opening move 1.c4. The next five entries in the key show three dots after "1."; this indicates that these openings also start with 1.c4. So we now see that the ECO codes A10 through A19 correspond to the English Opening (1.c4).

Next we come to an entry for 1.e4, followed by additional entries that also display the three dots in lieu of a first move for White. We can correctly infer from this that all of these openings start with the move 1.e4.

Finally we come to a long list of openings which begin with the entry "A40-A44 1.d4" and continues on down to the end of the key listings:

Note that every ECO volume with the exception of B and C is represented somewhere in this part of the list. Now recall what we learned earlier about 1.d4 openings: they're scattered across three volumes of ECO. Zunke's methodology in constructing the Superkey should now be apparent: the openings are listed according to White's first move instead of alphanumerically according to ECO code. This is precisely what makes the Superkey more intuitive than previous keys which relied on a strict alphanumeric ECO listing.

Remember our first key in the list? It was A00-A09 followed by a series of dashes instead of a White opening move. We can infer (correctly) from looking at the rest of the key that all of these openings are ones in which White plays something other than 1.c4, 1.d4, or 1.e4.

Simple, isn't it? So how do we get to some games? This will require a bit of methodology of our own. While it's often interesting (and fun) to simply click on keys to see the subkeys that they contain, opening keys are meant to be used as an index to find games of a specific variation. Ergo, it's assumed that you know what variation you're looking for.

Let's use the Smith-Morra Gambit as an example. The opening moves of the gambit are 1.e4 c5 2.d4. Even if (for some reason) we don't know that this is a variation of the Sicilian Defense, we can use the moves displayed in the key as a means of locating this opening. We'll click on the plus sign next to "B20-B39 1....c5 (2.Nf3 ---) Sicilian" to expand that view of the hierarchy of openings. (A side note is worthwhile here. Whenever you see moves enclosed in parentheses in a key, it means "without this move" -- so in this case, this key represents 1.e4 c5 without 2.Nf3, which certainly fits the bill for the Smith-Morra).

You'll recall that we're looking for the variation 1.e4 c5 2.d4. Scanning the list, lo and behold! -- we see that very move (2.d4) listed along with the English listing "Morra Gambit". (I'll refrain from commenting on the fact that Zunke chose to omit my friend's name, e.g. the late Ken Smith, and move onward)

It's worthwhile to again note the numbers on the far right of the display; these always indicate the total number of games contained within each key. The 1.e4 c5 (without 2.Nf3) level of the key contains 267,498 games total, while the subkey for the Smith-Morra contains 9419 games. This is often a very useful way to determine the frequency/popularity of a particular variation at the tournament level.

Clicking on the plus sign next to 2.d4, we see the following:

And we again see how the key structure, the hierarchy of the opening keys, progresses. Each time you click on a plus sign, you see listing of subkeys which extend the previous variation a bit deeper into the move sequences. Let's click on the plus sign next to 7. ... a6 8.--- (which corresponds to everything after 1.e4 c5 2.d4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 d6 7.0-0 a6 has been played:

Here again we see opening variations that extend fairly deeply into our chosen opening line. But you'll notice something interesting here: none of these variations show the "plus sign" symbol to the left of their listings. This means that there are no further subkeys "buried" within any of these keys. All we need to do to display a list of games is double-click on any of these variations:

And now we finally see a list of games in the lower pane of the horizontally-split display. To play through any of these games just double-click on its listing to open it in a new board window.

Note, too, that this game list's display is configurable in exactly the same manner as examined a couple of articles ago in ChessBase Workshop (right-click on a column header to get a popup list of the various columns that can be included in or excluded from the display).

From this tutorial it should be easy to see the superiority of the Superkey (and the new ChessBase 9 key display) over earlier versions: not only do you see the names of the openings but you also see the complete hierarchy of opening variations in a scrolling display (instead of a separate refreshed display each time you opened a key, which hid the rest of the opening key hierarchy). Now you should be able to more easily browse for and locate your favorite variations just as you browse for folders and files in your Windows Explorer display.

Until next week, have fun!

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

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