Opening Encyclopaedia 2014: the ultimate reference

by Albert Silver
7/2/2014 – For years, no player could do without an opening encyclopedia, to provide quick and comprehensive answers on any and every opening line. Welcome to the Opening Encyclopedia 2014. In it you will find a massive 4.9 million game database, more commented games than Mega Database, thousands of surveys and hundred of articles. It may have no equal in terms of bang for the buck.

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I can still remember when I bought my first copy of the BCO, a magnificent palatable one-volume opening encyclopedia with a stamp of approval from Garry Kasparov himself. At the time, the wet dream of all students of the game was the massive five-volume ECO, a hard cover collection that was as intimidating as it was admired, and then there was the cost. These volumes were updated at a rate of once every five to ten years (seriously) but remained the cornerstone of many a chess library. Of course there have been many follow-ups to them such as the NCO, MCO, and so forth, each purporting to be the ultimate solution to your openings questions. Want to try a new opening, or study up on a line you ran across at the club? These were where you started.

Nowadays the one-volume print books such as these have mostly fallen into disuse for obvious reasons: theory evolves too fast, and computers make it possible to get so much more for so much less. ChessBase's Openings Encyclopedia really comes as the epitome of this reality. Although I have spent considerable time examining it, there is simply no way I can claim to give a complete overview, so I will share the numbers from the description, and my impressions as a user.

• over 4.9 million games, all featuring ECO codes, with more than 83 000 of them annotated
• over 5500 opening surveys, many of which have been brought up to date
• access to the games via the large opening key
• 799 specialized theory databases
• large opening book of all the games to give you a quick overview and statistics
• the new ChessBase Reader 2013 to access the entire DVD's contents

You will find an article or survey on every opening in the ECO

The first line really made me sit up, and here is why: although Mega Database 2014 contains more games (5.7 million), this is still huge, and most likely just means it is missing less interesting games such as youth championships, or weak under-1800 opens for example. Thus the smaller size might be a blessing in disguise. However, Mega Database only touts 67 thousand commented games, and here there are 83 thousand. So what's going on? Was ChessBase holding out on Mega buyers? No, not at all.

I did a quick look for commented games I had reviewed in Mega, but that could not be considered purely theoretical games no matter how you looked at them. An example would be the many games commented by Garry Kasparov in his preview of his magnum opus series "My Great Predecessors". ChessBase Magazine ran a number of these, all fully commented by Kasparov, such as Euwe-Alekhine (1937), or Pillsbury-Lasker (1895), a personal favorite. And needless to say they are all here as well. Another example would be the games commented by Magnus Carlsen for ChessBase Magazine, with painstakingly detailed analysis and commentary, which were also stars of Mega Database. You'll find them here too. So if you wanted a less expensive alternative to the endless commented games of Mega, this is it. But what are the extra 16000 games then? The answer turned out to be fairly obvious: each openings survey by an author includes not only the opening study, but a collection of sample games chosen and commented by the authors.

Not only are there thousands of articles and survey, but every commented game from Mega

So what about these openings surveys and articles? According to the description, every single opening article ever published in ChessBase Magazine is there, 10 years worth, and a neat 799 of them. To be honest, this is probably not 100% accurate, but nor is it meant as trickery. ChessBase Magazine publishes fascinating openings articles in every issue, and these are all there, at least the ones I checked were, but CBM does not stop there, not even for openings. CBM is justly famous for the multimedia articles and commented games, and many issues have included video presentations on openings by top grandmasters. Since I saw no video material here, I must conclude they were not considered as 'articles' (fair enough), or possibly just the 'printed' material was included.

Each of the icons above leads to a full written article on said opening, with commented games

The openings articles are fascinating, and one can easily get lost perusing them: aside from the obvious main line openings such as the Gruenfelds, Sicilians, Petroff, and more, you will find detailed articles and surveys on every gambit or sideline under the sun.

Want an expert's lowdown on the Elephant Gambit? No problem,
there are eight articles awaiting you!

No opening, no matter how offbeat is too good. 1.a3 or 1.Nh3? They are there, worry not. I even found a couple of pretty interesting reads with two articles by GM Curt Hansen called "Inventors of Modern Chess". All in all, great stuff, and if you enjoy just strolling down to see what tickles your fancy, you will be served. I remember spending hours just flipping through my copy of the BCO, randomly stopping to read up on one line or other, and the impression here was much the same as I clicked on one survey or another. This is an endless source of surprise weapons for online or club play.

Another important resource in the Opening Encyclopedia is the monster opening book. This tree of statistics is the kind that is used by engines, but is also a valuable resource for instant statistics without needing to run a full search for each and every move. It provides the number of games played for each move, the percentage of success, and the average ratings with relative Elo peformance. Though actual analysis is more important than statistics, knowing which moves have given the most trouble is always useful. After all, chess is about solving problems at the board, not just the objective mathematical truth.

The massive Opening tree is based on the 4.9 million games in the database, and gives instant stats

Finally, even if you don't own a copy of ChessBase or Fritz to read the files, the package comes with ChessBase Reader 2013, the latest edition of the free reader, which will allow you to read through any of the files with no issues.

As a single encyclopedic answer to openings questions, it seems pretty clear that this is as good as it gets. Thousands of surveys, hundreds of expert articles, many by top grandmasters, and a giant database with all the commented games ChessBase has to offer, including annotators such as Carlsen, Aronian, Anand, Kasparov, and more. What's not to like? It might not be the cheapest item in the ChessBase stable, but it is probably unequaled in terms of bang for the buck.

Opening Encyclopaedia 2014 can be bought in the ChessBase shop

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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