The new ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia 2004 has arrived!

by ChessBase
12/11/2003 – In this week's ChessBase Workshop, rip open the shrinkwrap to discover what's included in this 2-CD package and learn some tips for using the database to increase your opening knowledge. Workshop

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previewed by Steve Lopez

Has it been two years already?

A new edition of the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia is released biannually; the last release seems like it happened such a short time ago. But I checked: it has been two years and the new version has been released right on schedule.

The ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia (hereafter referred to as CBOE) is not the same thing as the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (usually referred to as ECO). ECO, in its print form, is a huge collection of opening variations which end in evaluations (provided using symbolic commentary), and has been a standard reference for chessplayers since the 1980's. But ECO lacks complete games; although game citations (players, tournament, year) are provided for most of the variations in ECO, complete games are absent.

This is what makes CBOE very different from ECO -- CBOE contains surveys with variations and their evaluations, and complete games so that you can see the transitions from the opening to the middlegame and from the middlegame to endgame. You'll see how games form a complete whole and you'll come to appreciate how the choice of opening can often affect the later strategic course of the game. This, in fact, provides the key to devising a method for using CBOE. We'll examine that in a moment, but first we'll do the obligatory bean counting.

The new 2004 version of the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia comes in a package of two CDs. The first CD contains the main database as well as numerous supplementary databases (more on these in a moment). The second CD contains an opening book compiled from the main CBOE database.

The main database (the Encyclopedia itself) contains over 1,800,000 games from the days of Philidor up through the year 2003. Over 70,000 of these games contain variations or commentary, and over 3200 of these are the "heart and soul" of the database: the survey games. Each survey game provides an overview of an opening (or a specific set of related variations within an opening system). For example, lesser-played offbeat openings might have just one survey in the database (or several such openings might be "bundled together" into a single survey). On the other hand, the more extensive openings have many such surveys available (there are, for example, nearly 400 surveys on the Caro-Kann Defense).

We'll look at ways to use the surveys a bit later. Right now we need to look more deeply at the CBOE CDs. In addition to the Encyclopedia itself, CD #1 also includes two folders of additional info. The first is called "Theory old" and contains "opening theoreticals" from issues 55 through 73 of ChessBase Magazine. Each theoretical is a mini-database which zooms in on an interesting or topical opening variation; each is akin to a "mini-book" or treatise on that variation. The second folder is called "Theory" and contains theoreticals from more recent issues of CBM. There are 67 of these newer theoreticals included here; among them is an interesting two-parter called "Inventors of Modern Chess".

The second CD contains a massive opening tree made up of the games in the main CBOE database. You can use this tree as a study aid (looking at the statistics for individual moves in the game tree) or as an opening book for the Fritz family of playing programs. I'm not kidding when I say this tree is huge -- it contains over 7.5 million unique positions.

The CBOE is a reference, not a basic tutorial work on the gamut of chess openings. You're not going to find the basic principles of the Sicilian Dragon given in twenty-five words or less -- you still need Reuben Fine for that. The CBOE is a reference for the more experienced player. Conversely this doesn't mean that it's just for titled players. I'm an average untitled player and I've gotten tons of use out of the CBOE since its introduction in 1997. I use it extensively in correspondence play and it's a very valuable resource when I'm learning a new chess opening. You might remember my previous series of articles awhile back on that process of adding a new opening to your chess arsenal; in a nutshell what I said in the series is that I learn the basic ideas of a particular opening from a book, a magazine, an online source, a CD, or some other tutorial, then I dive into my databases (especially CBOE) for further information.

Let's look at an example method for using the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia. Note that this isn't the only way to use it; it's simply an example of a way that it can be used.

For an example, let's say that I'm perusing a general book on the openings and I come across an interesting line in the Najdorf Sicilian:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0

So I decide to do a search for this position in the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia. I open up a new board window in ChessBase 8 and input the moves. Then I bring the database window back up on top, right-click on CBOE's icon, and select "Search" from the popup menu. I click the "Position" tab in the Search mask and click the "Get board" button. Now this next step is critical: I also make sure I've checked the box for "Include lines in search" -- this causes CB8 to search not only the main moves of each game, but also any variations the games contain. Then I click "OK".

After a minute or two I get my search results. The position appears in 2211 games. Four of them are opening surveys, 113 are annotated games, and the remainder are unannotated. So how do I use this wealth of material?

The obvious first step is to look at the survey games -- that's what they're for. The opening surveys are "overviews" of the opening, so this is the best "jump off" point for examining an opening. Quickly perusing these surveys, I see that White has two recommended possibilities here: 9.Be3 (given in the first survey) and 9.Kh1(given as a variation in the first survey and as the main move in the remaining three). So I already know that 9.Kh1 is where I'll want to devote most of my attention.

Quickly flipping through the four surveys, the third leaps off the screen at me: Hjartarson has annotated his survey in English (the others use primarily symbolic commentary to relate the ideas, although the second also has a fair little bit of English commentary as the opening progresses) -- this, too, should be an area of special interest for me.

Now keep in mind that this process is not "become an expert on any opening in 15 minutes or less". I plan on spending at least an evening on just the survey games alone. Once I've played through the surveys a few times, read the commentary, and thought about the analysis and ideas, I'm ready to move on to the next step: fixing those ideas in my mind by looking at the practical application of them. In other words, I'm ready to move on from the openings in theory (as provided in the surveys) and look at them in practice (as given in the annotated games).

Now, granted, 113 annotated games is a lot of material. How does one decide what games to play through? I use several criteria to decide this. The biggest is player names -- I look for players I'm familiar with. I also look at the names of the annotators; there area a few chess writers whose work I really admire and know from past experience that I benefit from (Lubomir Ftacnik is a particular favorite). I might also look at game length, result, or when they were played. But my primary criteria are players and annotators. As always, though, your mileage may vary.

Here again, we're talking about a lengthy process of study: it'll take me several evenings to play through enough annotated games to fix the important ideas in my mind. Then I can play some games against Fritz -- I can just load a game from the CBOE into Fritz, click on the position after 8...0-0 and start playing. My results in these practice games will likely send me back to the database for more study, perhaps to the unannotated games to see some more middlegame and endgame ideas that result from this opening variation.

As I said, this isn't the only way to use the CBOE, but it's the way I've found works best for me. To summarize:

  1. Start with the survey games, to learn the main variations and see the ideas behind them;
  2. Move on to the annotated games from actual tournament practice, to see what's been played in the opening and to read some high-level commentary on the games;
  3. Once the ideas are firmly fixed in your mind, use the unannotated games for more ideas (and to "fly solo", to see if you really understand the ideas of your chosen opening).

We might throw in an additional step: using the opening tree (on Disk #2) to go to the position after 8...0-0 and look at what's been played from that position. You can even use some opening book tools (such as "Critical line") to point out the key areas you should study.

Hopefully I've shed some light on the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia and perhaps demonstrated what a valuable tool it can be in your chess study. It's not just a "big batch of variations". The CD gives complete games, and they're included to give you an idea of what happens after you've gained that "slight edge" advantage the survey games say a variation provides.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2003, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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