LEARNING A NEW OPENING

PART 7

by Steve Lopez

Now that you have a pretty firm grasp of the basics of your new opening and (hopefully) understand some of the themes involved, it's time to move on to more advanced studies. It's time to go get another book.

There are hundreds of books in print on various opening and dozens more are published every year. More books are devoted to the opening than to any other facet of the game of chess. There's a reason for this: opening manuals are phenominally easy to write and it's much easier to get away with writing a crappy opening book than it is to, say, get away with writing a bad book on the endgame.

A few years ago, I was involved in a heated discussion with a chess publisher. He disagreed with my assertion that many opening books were junk. I made him a dare: he could select any opening and I, a class level player, would write a book on it that would be at least as successful as anything on the market and probably more successful than most. He could even get a master of grandmaster to put his name on the book if he wished (as long as I collected the royalties, of course). He could even make up a name, calling my alter ego an obscure Eastern European IM. Of course, he refused to put his money where his mouth was, and didn't take me up on the dare.

The point is simply this: if you're going to buy a copy of "Winning with the _________" or "How to Play the __________" you're much better off if you can actually see and flip through the book before you buy it. Look for lots of text explanations of what's going on in the games, instead of variation heaped upon variation. You don't want to spend $16.95 on what is essentially your database dumped out to a printer. You already have a database; what you want now is more ideas.

Don't let my caveat put you off. There are a lot of really good opening books out there; the trick is to find them.

Once you've found a worthwhile opening book, read it and play over the games using ChessBase instead of a standard chessboard. If it's a book that presents its ideas in complete games rather than just variation lines, do a database search for each game. If it turns up, add the variations and text commentary to it and use "Replace game" to add it to your database. If the game isn't in your database already, enter it by hand and then save it by using "Save game". A good idea either way is to use the "Annotator" line in the "save game" window to type in the commentator's name and possibly an abbreviated book title.

If a game is already in your database in annotated form, you can either add the new commentary to the existing game (placing the second annotator's initials at the end of each of his comments) or else just put the game in your database a second time to keep the commentary separate. I'm partial to the latter method; I'm not bothered by having a game in the database more than once as long as it's annotated each time (and by different people!). If I need to do some sort of statistical survey, I can always create a copy of the database and eliminate the duplicate games to allow a true statistical picture to emerge.

As you're reading the book, keep an eye out for new themes and strategies to add to your theme keys, and add them as you go along.

You've probably never thought of your database as a book, but that's exactly what it is. It contains games, annotations, diagrams (one for every move!), indices -- all of which are things contained in a book. The only thing a book has that an electronic database lacks is structure; the games in your database are in no particular order (but this is why we have keys and a search mask -- you can create your own structure as you go).

One huge advantage to a database is that, unlike a book, it need never stop growing. As tournaments are held and games are played, they can be added to a database quickly and easily.

In previous Electronic T-Notes issues (6/8/97 and 6/15/97) we discussed data reliability, so we won't beat that particular deceased equus anymore. However, I do want to mention an important point. Annotated games have value beyond the notes provided. They can keep you abreast of important novelties in the openings.

Both ChessBase Magazine and the Chess Informant will use a symbol ("N") to alert you to a novelty in the opening. When you come across one of these, you can use ChessBase to update your opening keys to reflect this change. It's really quite simple: just click on the position where the "N" appears, then bring either the Game List window or the Databases window back up on top (using the "Window" menu, remember?). Click on the "yellow key" icon. Find the place in the keys where you want the new key to appear (which will probably be the hardest part of the process, what with transpositions and all), and highlight the existing key above the spot where you want the new key to be inserted. Hit the [Insert] key. A window will appear and show you the position you have highlighted in the game window (the novelty position). Click "OK" and you will see the (by now) familar narrow window that will let you edit the way your new classification key appears in the window. When you're done editing it, click "OK". Voila! Your new key appears in the key list. Be sure to reclassify the games after you've added a key!

UNDOCUMENTED FEATURE ALERT: Screw up? Make a mistake? Highlight the key that's incorrect and hit the [Delete] key. After you get through the standard "second chance/are you sure?" box, the key will be gone.

Being able to update your opening keys gives a database a huge advantage over conventional books. With a book, you have to wait for a second edition to appear (assuming one ever does) for novelties to be reported and changes in the opening considered. With a database, every two to three months you can have a "new edition" with novelties added and changes reported.

By the way, if, after many months, you still see only one game in a new opening key you've created (i.e. the game that contained the novelty), you may consider that novelty a successful "bust" of that particular line.

This brings up pretty much to the end of the line as far as practical instruction is concerned. However, we will continue this series next week with my own personal account of how I used ChessBase to prepare an opening against one particular opponent (just like the big boys do!). A caveat -- we will enter into this account in a somewhat twisted manner. Next week, the Electronic T-Notes you've been waiting for: no instruction or practical advice whatsoever, and a content that will probably get me fired as editor of this publication.

Halloween comes early in next week's ETN. 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.