LEARNING A NEW OPENING

PART 4

by Steve Lopez

In our last ETN, we learned how to put together a database of games on a new opening we're learning. Now that the database is assembled, it's time to look at ways to use it to increase our knowledge of the selected opening.

You'll remember the first step was to create a repertoire tree for the chosen opening. My example was for the Scotch Opening and the main variation looked like this:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d5 8.exd5 cxd5 9.0-0 0-0 10.Bg5 c6 11.Qf3 Be7 12.Rae1 Rb8 13.Nd1 Re8 14.h3 Be6

I'm curious to see what the ChessBase Openings Encyclopedia has to say about this line. My first step is to load the analysis game from my "Analysis" database, bring the "Databases" window back up on top, highlight the "Scotch" database I constructed in last week's ETN, bring the Analysis game back to the top, click on the move 14...Be6 (the last move of the main variation), and click "Opening classification" in the "Game" menu.

ChessBase now classifies the game according to the opening key for my Scotch database and displays a list of all the games corresponding to that key. I see that the opening key's classification ("index") position is the one after 12.Rae1. There are 10 games on the list ChessBase displays. Unfortunately, none of them are Survey games and only one reaches the position of my Analysis game after 14...Be6.

The next step to take is to highlight 14...Be6 in my Analysis game and then click on "Find Novelty" in the "Game" menu. This will call up another list of games. The games displayed at the top of the list are games that contain exact matches to the highlighted position in the Analysis game. The games that follow on the list will be games that are "close" to that position (ones that varied only a few moves before).

I again get a list of 10 games (most likely the same 10 from running "Openings classification"), but this time they're in order of similarity to my Analysis game. I'm looking for annotated material. I see that the last game on the list is annotated. Opening up that game, I see that the main game varies with 12...h6, but that 12...Rb8 is given as the start of a variation line, with some text annotation following.

Going to the "Window" menu, I click on "Compare notation". This will open the annotated game's notation box and my Analysis game's notation box side-by-side. I click on the variation starting with 12...Rb8 from the new game, hold the left mouse button down, and drag the variation over to my Analysis game's box. Once the cursor is over the notation box for my Analysis game, I release the left mouse button. The variation is now part of my Analysis game. I then click on the notation box for my Analysis game (making sure the title bar at the top is highlighted in blue) and click on "Replace..." in the "Game" menu. I click on the "OK" button in each of the 2 boxes that appear afterward, and now that variation line is saved permanently as a part of my Analysis game.

Next I close all the windows except for my Analysis game and the "Databases" window. In the notation box for my Analysis game, I click on the button that lets me select a board size; I want to show my board position and game notation side-by-side as usual.

So the first two steps in locating a Survey game that matches your Analysis line are "Opening classification" (in the "Game" menu, please) and "Find Novelty". But what if you (like me) are striking out in finding such a Survey game in the Openings Encyclopedia?

Never fear; where there's a will, there's a way. In CBWin, highlight your new opening database, click on the "binoculars" icon to open the Search Mask, click on the white box next to the "+", and click "OK". In ChessBase 6, do the same thing to open the Search Mask, then click on the "Medals" button. In the window that appears, click the box next to "User" and then click "OK". Click "OK" back in the Search Mask as well.

Either of these procedures (depending on your ChessBase version) will bring up a list of nothing but Survey games. Click on the button marked "1.Nf3" at the bottom of the Clipboard window. You'll see the list change to display the main moves of each of the Survey games. Just look down the list until you see one that comes close to the Analysis game you studied.

For example, I go down the list and see a game that begins 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5 3.Nf3 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 (reaching my Analysis game by transposition). I click on it to open it up and bullseye! There is a note saying that 5.Nc3 is analyzed in the C47 Survey games. Going back to the Clipboard, I click on the button marked "Cap-Al" to return the list to the normal verbal display. I see three Survey games for C47.

Now here's where I get stymied. None of the Survey games list the move 5.Nc3 (the continuation from my Analysis game). Now what?

First of all, I'm not terribly surprised. After all, the ChessBase Openings Encyclopedia is a newer work than the books from which I got my Analysis game; theory has certainly changed. To find out what the current thinking is on 5.Nc3, I bring the "Databases" window back up on top, make sure my "Scotch" database is highlighted, bring my Analysis game window back on top, and click once on 5.Nc3 to highlight it.

Then I just hit [SHIFT-F7], which will give me a list of all the games in which the board position after 5.Nc3 appears. Guess what? There's a Survey game! How is this possible?

Taking a closer look, we see that the move order for the Survey game was different then the one from my Analysis game:

Analysis game (from Reuben Fine): 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3;

Survey game (from Encyclopedia): 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4

Identical position, different move order. These are the kinds of things that drive chessplayers crazy.

Before you start tearing your hair out, let's review the different ways to locate a Survey game on your chosen opening line:

1) "Opening classification" from the "Game" menu;

2) "Find novelty" from the "Game" menu;

3) Visual scan of main-line variations in the Survey games;

4) [SHIFT-F7] position search for the point at which your Analysis game varies from the Survey games.

And now that I have found a Survey game for the opening line I learned, I can just drag and drop it into my Analysis game and save it there using "Replace..." (as I did earlier).

Bringing the Clipboard back on top, I notice that the [SHIFT-F7] search turned up a pile of annotated games as well. It's now obviously a good idea to play through some of these games to get some commentary on what's going on. The games to look for are the ones with a capital "C" in the right-hand column of the Clipboard. These are the ones that will have the largest amount of text annotation.

It's basically up to you as to how much of this stuff to drag and drop into your Analysis game. If you can add a bunch of it to the game without getting confused, more power to you. The main thing you're trying to accomplish here is to learn by osmosis: you play through a lot of games, reading the commentary and using an analysis module (as described in a previous ETN) to help you learn the ideas contained within your chosen opening. Osmosis, as opposed to memorization.

Why not memorization? This may come as a shock to you, but rote memorization of opening moves is a complete waste of your time if you're below U.S.C.F. Expert level. The vast majority of games that you'll play against people rated under 2000 won't stay "in book" past move 10.

So why bother learning the openings at all? The answer is simple: the more you know about the ideas behind your chosen openings, the better equipped you'll be to spot and punish your opponent's mistakes. So don't memorize lines -- instead learn the ideas and recurring patterns in the openings and you'll see your openings performance (and perhaps your rating) climb.

Here's a handy tip for you if you're going to drag-and-drop variations into your Analysis game: use the command "Structure repertoire" in the "Game" menu often. Frequently, as you add variations and commentary, you'll find that "blocks" of sublines accumulate that are actually more extensive than your main variation. "Structure repertoire" looks at how often a move is played (in other words, how many variations follow that move) and bump the move up or down the game tree hierarchy accordingly. After you've done this a few times, you may find that your original analysis "main line" has been relegated to subline status within the tree. This is a good thing, as you'll soon discover that other variations besides your original main variation are more frequently played and are consequently more important. This will help you determine what you should study.

For now, just spend some time with the Survey game that most closely matched the Analysis game you'd previously prepared. Next week, we'll branch out into other Survey games and look at some training tips using Fritz. Until then, have fun!

I'm very interested in reading your opinion of this (or any other) issue of ElectronicT-Notes, as well as my book Battle Royale. I invite you to post comments to our ChessBase Users Group or else you can e-mail me directly.