MegaDataBase 2004 - review

2/9/2004 – In the last of a series of previews of the new ChessBase DVDs, we rip the shrinkwrap off of Mega Database 2004 and look at not just the database but the other goodies included on this DVD. Steve Lopez supplies the details in the latest edition of his ChessBase Workshop...

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previewed by Steve Lopez

Over the last couple of weeks we've previewed several new ChessBase DVD releases. In our final entry in the series, we'll take a look at the new Mega Database 2004.

Once again, I found myself asking the question, "Why a DVD? Surely the new database can't be that big!" In this case, I was right -- the database itself could fit on a CD. It's the extras that come with the package which take up much of the room. We'll get to those in a moment.

The first order of business, though, is the Mega Database itself. This is the closest thing you're likely to find to a complete historical record of top-level chess play over more than 400 years. The Mega Database contains 2,607,013 games spanning the years (circa) 1560 to 2003. If you're a chess historian or just someone who loves good chess, the Mega Database is the most valuable reference tool you can use to quickly and easily find the games you want to view.

Note that the Mega Database can be used with the Fritz family of playing programs as well as with ChessBase, but you'll need one of these commercial programs to be able to access all of the database's games; ChessBase Reader has a built-in limitation on the number of games in a single database, so the Reader'll do you no good here. Let's also dispel a commonly-held, but fallacious, notion: Fritz (and its "sister" chessplaying programs) do not access a database when deciding what moves to play -- so if you're a computer vs. computer Internet player who's looking for an "edge" for your program, Mega Database isn't going to help you.

The Mega Database will help improving chessplayers, writers, and students of the game. The database is fully searchable using the Search mask options in ChessBase and the playing programs. You can combine the search parameters in almost infinite combinations to ferret out just the information you want. Do you want all of Mikhail Botvinnik's d-pawn openings as White between 1955 and 1960? It'll take you a minute or so to set up the search and no more than another couple of minutes for the program to find all of the games in Mega Database which qualify (the winning number is 35, for those scoring at home). Chess historians can find all of a particular player's important games. Correspondence players can locate a position within the database and see what's been played from that position in top-level games. The typical club player can easily find all the games of a particular opening or variation.

And a large number of the games are annotated: over 56,000 games contain variations and/or commentary by top players: Leko, Shirov, Kasparov, Nunn, Short, Yudasin, and scores of others have contributed their thoughts and ideas in annotations in the Mega Database's games.

Speaking from personal experience (as a writer and a chessplayer), I find the Mega Database to be the single most valuable information resource in my chess library. It really can't be any easier to locate and use information than it is with the Mega Database. A few years ago, I wrote biographical sketches of great players (from the Golden Age, 1850-1930) for an online chess publication. The deadlines were, um, shall we say, flexible? In other words, I never knew when they were coming: I'd get a frantic e-mail from an editor asking me to send in a new article as fast as possible. I'd get an e-mail around 10 AM, spend an hour researching details of the player's life using the many (print) books in my collection, and then come to the part of the article in which I wanted to include a few sample games. I'd fire up ChessBase, pull up all of that player's games from the Mega Database, and play through them (right on the screen!) until I found two or three that really caught my attention. I'd lightly annotate the games, export them to text, include them in my article, and have the whole shebang in to my editor by 3 PM the same day. That's a far cry from the days when I'd have to locate the games in a huge stack of chess books and then spend several evenings playing though them by hand using a standard (i.e. "real") board and pieces.

The labor-saving angle ought to be enough to sell any chessplayer on the idea of using the Mega Database as a reference tool. But there are some extras included on the DVD as well. One is a new, updated ECO Key which can be used with any database. You just attach the key to the database, have the program sort that database's games into the proper keys, and then use the master key's hierarchal system to "drill down" through the variations until you find just the games you want.

Another major bonus on the Mega Database DVD is an updated Playbase -- a player encyclopedia -- for use with ChessBase 8. It contains updated photos and statistical information (birth/death dates, country of origin, highest title achieved, Elo graphs) for literally thousands of players. With just a few mouse clicks you can use the Playbase to get pictures of a player, see a graph of how his or her Elo rating has gone up or down over the years, and even generate a dossier on the openings that player prefers.

These extras are what made the use of a DVD necessary. The Mega Database itself would just squeeze on a CD: 663 MB. The ECO Key adds only another 13 MB to the total. But the new Playbase is the kicker: it takes up over a half-gig of storage space, due to the more than 17,000 pictures it contains. (So be aware of these sizes if you're planning to copy these components to your hard drive, but also be aware that the Mega Database and the Playbase can be accessed directly from the DVD if your empty hard disk space is tight).

I can't stress this enough: if you're serious about your chess and find yourself spending significant amounts of time in chess study and learning from the games of great players, the Mega Database could well be the single best investment you can make. It allows you to access over 400 years of chess history in just minutes, and that will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend in information gathering -- which will give you a lot more time to use for learning. It's a major reference library on a disk and it's something that was completely unheard of a mere couple of decades ago.

We do live in interesting times...

Until next week, have fun!

© 2004, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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