PLAYER OPENING BOOKS FOR FRITZ

by Steve Lopez

A few weeks ago we took a look at creating Fritz books covering a specific opening. But did you know that you can also create Fritz books that cover a specific player?

We did this on our original ChessBase University disks (CBU-100 & CBU-101). In that set, you'll find opening books that allow Fritz to play the opening in the style of specific great players from the Americas (Fischer, Capablanca, Marshall, and others). Back in those days, we used a DOS program called Gamma to make these books. It used limited memory and could thus only create opening files of limited size. But the advent of Windows-based ChessBase programs allows anyone to create huge opening files for Fritz's use.

Here's how it's done (and it's ridiculously simple). First, you need to do a ChessBase search for all the games of a certain player as he or she plays a particular color. For the sake of our example, I'm going to create a couple of opening books for Wilhelm Steinitz.

The first step is to search out Steinitz's games. After popping the Classic Database CD into the drive, click on the database icon for it and then click on the "binoculars" button to open up the search mask. Type "Steinitz" in the blank for "Players". Then click on the button with the large arrow to the right of the "Players" field. You'll see several choices there. In this case, click on "White". This will pull up a list of all the games in the database in which Steinitz played the White pieces.

Once ChessBase has performed the search and provided you a list on the Clipboard (125 games, for those interested in such things), click once on the first game to highlight it. Then hit [SHIFT-CTRL-END] to highlight all the games on the list. The next step is to click on the "chessboard" button in the lower left corner of the Clipboard window. This will merge all 125 games into a single game. This won't take long (about three seconds on my computer).

Scrolling down the game tree, we notice that there are some games here that are not played by Steinitz! These are variations that were included in the annotated games from the Clipboard. There are two ways to eliminate these:

1) Just hack them out by hand, by highlighting the first move of the variation and then clicking on the button that looks like a fork with a "x" through one of the tines;

2) After doing the initial search, dump the games into a temporary database, open each game marked as annotated in the game list, and use [SHIFT-CTRL-Q] to eliminate all the commentary and variations from the game, then use "Replace game" to save the changes.

The latter method is probably best, as it will also remove commentary symbols ("?", "!", "?!", etc.) from the games. These symbols will affect Fritz's play as shown on page 27 of the Fritz4 manual. Basically, Fritz won't play anything with a question mark after it and will only play moves with other markings under specific circumstances. Eliminating all symbols ensures that Fritz will select from the player's full repertoire when choosing moves.

Once you've dealt with the commentary however you see fit, it's time to work with your merged game tree. Click on the command "Structure repertoire" (in the "Game" menu). This will reorganize the tree into a more logical, less haphazard framework.

Now you're ready to create the opening book. With your merged game open, click on "Save Fritz book" (in the "Game" menu of ChessBase 6, in the "Technical" menu of earlier versions). You can select a directory in which to save your new book and name it whatever you want. It's a good idea to put "w" or "b" somewhere in the file name, so you'll know whether the file represents the player as White or as Black. In this case, name it something like "stein_w".

Then simply repeat the process for Steinitz as the Black player, and you'll have the full set for his style of play.

Once you've created these files, it's time to fire up Fritz and give them a whirl. By the way, the following instructions concern the use of Fritz4, because I, like you, have not received my copy of Fritz5 yet. (As I start the program, I see Fritz4 saying "Ah, it's Steve, looking for a rumble". Shut up, Fritz).

Click on the "Levels" icon and go to the "Load bok" command. Click "Remove" to take out whatever is in there. Next click "Load". Find the drive and directory where you stored your new FBK files and click on the one you want. If you're going to be playing with the Black pieces, you'll want to click on "stein_w.fbk" to ensure that Fritz plays as Steinitz with the White pieces. Don't bug out if the main screen doesn't immediately say "stein_w.fbk"; the display will change as soon as you make your first move.

Another tweak you might want to make in also in the "Levels" menu under "Book options". If you didn't chop out the commentary symbols from your merged game, you'll want to select "General book" here, otherwise Using "Tournament" is OK. Regardless, you'll want to deselect everything in the "Powerbooks" section of this box.

As long as you stay in Steinitz's "book" (that is, as long as you play moves that Steinitz actually faced in the games from your database), Fritz will respond with moves from Steinitz's real-life repertoire. As soon as you play something that Steinitz didn't see in real life, the program will begin "thinking", generating moves of its own, and providing analysis of the position. This is how you can tell that you've left the book -- as soon as Fritz starts "thinking", you're in uncharted territory as far as Wilhelm Steinitz is concerned.

For example, playing Black against "Steinitz", he opened with 1.d4. I reposted with 1...Nf6, to which Steinitz answered 2.c4. Peering into the opening book, I see that my only "book" choice here is 2...c5. Steinitz evidently never faced the King's Indian Defense (not surprising, considering the era in which he played). If I play 2...g6 (as I had intended) I'll wind up playing Fritz's brain instead of Steinitz's repertoire.

Any way you slice it, you will eventually run out of book moves. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure what Steinitz would have played in a given position if it's not one found in the historical record. So how does one make Fritz play in the style of a famous player?

There are some things you can do here, but it will require some tweaking and a certain amount of knowledge about the player's style.

Continuing with Steinitz as an example, I would probably opt to change engines for a game against him. As Steinitz was the father of positional chess, it would be a good idea to use a positional style engine to represent his play. In this case, I would select Hiarcs6 as the engine for Fritz to use to play as Steinitz. If I was trying to simulate the play of someone like Mikhail Tal (a master of tactics), I would prefer one of the later Fritz engines (version 3 up).

You might try horsing around with some of the settings under "Handicap and fun" as well. For example, for a wildman like Tal, you might try setting "Playing direction" for a higher "Forward" setting, and crank up "King's attack" a few notches as well. Set "Playing strength" as high as you can, set "Blunder range" to a low setting.

If you're trying to simulate the play of someone a bit less pyrotechnic, such as Petrosian (OK, a lot less pyrotechnic), set "King's attack" to a low level, "King's defense" to a high level, crank up the "Piece trading" setting, "Playing direction" a bit to the "backward" side, knock the "Blunder range" down to zero and crank up the "Playing strength" to full bore. You might try using the Hiarcs6 engine here as well.

If you know a player had a fondness for certain pieces, try changing the "Piece play" settings as well, though this may distort the play a bit (I need to experiment with this some more). For example, I'd probably select "Pawn" for Steinitz.

Make a few notes about your settings, to, as Fritz4 doesn't allow you to save them. If you use the arrows at each end of the sliders to move the buttons and count the number of times you clicked them, you should have no trouble resetting to your favorite levels.

You might also try using this feature to simulate the play of some of your regular real-life opponents. I've been very successful at doing this and some of these simulations are so much like the real-life players they represent that it's frightening. (Years ago, right after I bought a computer, I set up Chessmaster 3000 to play like a bratty kid from the chess club. After a few weeks with this simulated opponent, I was cleaning the precocious little one's clock with amazing regularity).

I hope you have a ball with this feature of ChessBase and Fritz. I've been creating these files for years and have whiled away many happy hours facing off against simulations of many famous (and not-so-famous) players.

Until next week, have fun!

I want to hear from you! Please post comments to our ChessBase Users Group or e-mail me directly.