Position setup

by ChessBase
4/22/2004 – "Position setup" has been a basic standard feature of ChessBase/Fritz software for many years. In this week's ChessBase Workshop we examine the bare-bones basics of how to setup and save a chess position for new users and provide a few tips that even the "old hands" might not know. Workshop...

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by Steve Lopez

This week's ChessBase Workshop examines a pretty basic feature of ChessBase and our various playing programs. Although the feature has itself remained virtually unchanged since the days of our old DOS software, it still seems to cause a bit of confusion among newer users. So let's clear things up a bit by taking a look at the "Position setup" feature found in ChessBase software.

To get to the position setup dialogue in ChessBase 8, hit the "S" key on your keyboard or else use the menu command found under File/New/Position. In the Fritz family of playing programs you can also hit the "S" key or else go to File/New/Position setup. In both cases you should see the following dialogue appear:

We won't be looking at the various import/export options in this article, just the bare-bones basics of how to set up a position. Your first step will typically be to clear the chessboard of all pieces; unless the position is from an opening variation, it's easiest to just place pieces on a blank board instead of trying to rearrange the standard starting position. Click the "Clear board" button to wipe all of the pieces from the board:

Now you're ready to start setting up the position. Notice the double columns of pieces to the right of the board; think of these as a box of real chesspieces sitting next to an empty real-life board. Just click on the piece (or pawn) you want to place, then click on a square to place the piece or pawn there. For example, to place a White King on g1, click on the White King button and then click on g1:

There are a few shortcuts to help you with this process. Right-clicking on a square (instead of left-clicking) will place a piece of the opposite color on that square; for example, you can click on the White King button, left-click on g1 (to get a White King), right-click on g8 (to get a Black King), and place both Kings at one go without having to return to your "virtual box of chesspieces" to the right of the board:

If you've placed the White King (for example) on the board and realize that you placed it on the wrong square, just click on it again -- it will vanish from that square and now you can put a White King in the proper place.

Taking a quick detour, note the box labelled "Side to move" on the far righthand side of this dialogue. Make sure that you've clicked the radio button next to the proper color depending on which side is to move in that position. You can do this before you start placing pieces or at any time during the process. Just be sure to do this before saving the position into a database.

The reason I'm bring that point up here is because there are several rules/limitations to what you can do with the position setup dialogue; all of them basically boil down to a single rule -- you must set up a legal chess position:

  1. You must place both a Black King and White King on the board;
  2. You can't place a pawn on the eight rank;
  3. You can't set up a position in which one side's King is in check and the other side is to move (otherwise it's a position in which mate has already been delivered);
  4. You can't set up a position in which a side has more than one King or more than eight pawns;
I'm sure there are other circumstances that I haven't presented, but you get the idea. The position you set up has to be a legal chess position. If the position isn't legal, you'll notice that the "OK" button goes to half-tone (it's "greyed out") -- the program won't allow you to save the position.

There are some other toggles (besides "Side to move") in this dialogue which help you in setting up positions. "Castling" allows you to specify whether castling is possible and on which side of the board (King- or Queenside) for both players. This is usually self-evident in most chess positions (so you shouldn't have a problem setting these values), but if you're recreating a position from a game in which you have the full gamescore available you'll want to double-check the score to make sure you're setting these properly.

The "En passant" box allows you to specify whether en passant capture is available to the moving side. Here again you'll want to double-check the gamescore when you're setting up a position from an actual game. To use this part of the dialogue, type the letter of the file on which the capture can be made (not the file on which the capturing pawn presently rests).

"Move number" is extremely useful for positions that come from actual games. For instance, if it's White to move at move 26 from an actual game, just type "26" into the "Move number" box. When you save the game into a database, the first move in the notation pane will be numbered "26". If you don't set a value in this field, the default value is (the obvious) "1" and the move numbering in the notation pane will start with "1". As a side rant here (you know me -- I'm one of the world's foremost ranters), far too many chess books take the lazy way out and always start position numbering with "1" even when the position is from an actual game. You see a position from, say, a Capablanca-Alekhine game from their world championship match with the game number and even the date dutifully noted in the game header -- but then the author starts the numbering with "1". This makes it a real pain in the patootie to look up the referenced position in another book or a database. If the author gives the proper move number, you can easily do a simple header search in a database to pull up that game and then click on the proper move number in the notation to get to the position. But if the numbering starts with "1", you need to do a more laborious position search combined with a header search to get to the right spot, or else do the header search and blast though the moves until you find the right position. In my humble opinion it's just a matter of common courtesy to provide the proper move number. So if you're setting up a position from an actual game for use in either a print book or an electronic publication, please do the rest of us a favor and use the proper move numbering. Onward...

We've already seen the use of the "Clear board" button -- it wipes all of the pieces off of the chessboard. The "Reset" button is just the opposite: it replaces all of the pieces on the board in the starting position for a game.

Now that we've seen how the dialogue works, here are a few practical tips. Setting up board positions can be a tedious pain, but you can make it somewhat quicker and less tedious by adopting a methodology for placing the pieces on the board. I've known too many players who set up positions by starting at a8, working across (White's) eighth rank, dropping down to a7, moving across the seventh rank, etc. Believe me, this takes forever.

My first ChessBase project (back in 1992) was the licensed electronic version of Lou Hays' book Combination Challenge, a book of tactical problems. I had to input all of the 500+ positions from that book by hand into a database. I quickly developed a methodology to help speed up the process. I placed the Kings on the board first (clicking on the White King button, left-clicking to place the White King, then right-clicking to place the Black King). Then I placed all of the pawns on the board the same way, to set up the position's "pawn skeleton" -- this provided handy orientation points for the placement of the remaining pieces. Next I placed the Queens, then the Rooks, then the minor pieces. This method might not work for you, but give it a try -- I found it to be at least ten times faster than going back and forth from the piece buttons to the board once for each unit on the chessboard.

The Combination Challenge electronic book gave each position twice -- the first time as just the position (with no moves) and the second time as the solution (with all moves provided). I learned that you don't have to set up the position by hand twice to do this. Just set up the position, save it into a database, then make the solution moves on the chessboard and use "Save game" again. This will save the position into the database a second time, but with the moves you just entered included in the game.

This brings us to a final tip -- how do you format the game headers for saved positions? For positions from actual games, that's easy: just give the regular game header (players, tournament, year, etc.). You'll always be able to tell that it's a game that starts from a position by looking at the rightmost column of the game list -- you'll see a capital "P" (for "Position") in that column.

But a more frequent use for the position setup feature is to save chess problems (typically tactics or endgames) into a database. I usually give each position twice in the database. I'll set up the position, save it, and use some header like "Tactical Position #xxx" for the name of the White player, and something like "Question" or "Problem" in the field for the name of the Black player. Then I'll make the moves of the solution, use "Save game" again, retain the "White player" info (which should automatically be there by default) and replace the wording in the "Black" field with "Answer" or "Solution". As for the moving side (White or Black to move) you can specify this either as a text annotation (using the "Text before move" command) or in the "Tournament" header field.

Until next week, have fun!

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

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