by Steve Lopez

I have received an avalanche of e-mail lately! Please be patient while I do my best to cover all of the requested topics. The most-requested topic by and large has been the dreaded Section 11 of the ChessBase 7 Upgrade Manual: The Repertoire Database. The letters have reflected varying degrees of user confusion. A few even suggested that I do "something for the strong chessplayers for a change" (which I didn't take personally. I know I'm a fish).

I've decided to rise to the challenge and write about something that I previously knew nothing about (never having used the function). After playing with this feature I've come to the conclusion that this is the most complex topic I've written about since last summer's series on how to learn a new opening. Strap yourself in -- it's going to be a fun ride!

The first step in the process is to create a repertoire database. This is a lot more difficult and time consuming than it sounds. You will first need to create a brand-new empty database (if you don't know how to do this, go to the back of the class and reread some back issues of Electronic T-Notes until you master the procedure). Make this database the active one by selecting it in the Database window and clicking on the icon that looks like a pencil and paper. The icon for your new database will turn red. Any games you save will now be saved into this database.

Right-click on the icon for this database. Select "Properties" from the menu. Check off the box next to "Repertoire database". You'll now see a new symbol appear as part of your database icon. It's a picture of a hand holding something, but I'll be danged if I can figure out what that "something" is. What the symbols means is that this is now your repertoire database.

Now comes the hard part. You need to add all of the opening lines you normally play into this database. This is some serious grunt work, my friend.

It's time to take a side trip (we'll come back to the grunt work later). We have a few questions that need to be answered and terms that need to be defined before we proceed with the "how-to" portion of our program.

What exactly is an "opening repertoire", anyway? Entire books have been written on this topic, so don't expect an easy definitive answer. Very simply put, your opening repertoire is everything you've prepared to play in the opening against everything your opponent throws at you. Note the use of the word "prepared"; by this I mean openings you've actually studied, ones in which you have a firm grasp of the general concepts. For example, I've studied the Ruy Lopez Worrall Attack a great deal (even having ghostwritten a book on it for someone who will remain unidentified). I have a pretty good idea of what's going on in that opening and what I want to play when I have the chance to use it. However, I once played 1.e4 in a tournament and saw my opponent respond 1...g5. I had never seen this opening before, ever, so responses to it were not part of my repertoire (including the response of laughing out loud which, sad to say, I did). Forget the Worrall here -- there was no chance of ever using it in that game!

Developing an opening repertoire is not an overnight process and serious players spend years at it. In fact, it's an ongoing process that never ends. Most players have a core repertoire (the lines they prefer to play) and a general repertoire (sidelines they're somewhat familiar with and play when their opponent veers off from the core repertoire). The core repertoire doesn't change very frequently but the general repertoire is constantly being added to and modified.

Here's an example. I'm basically a lazy chessplayer. I don't want to have to learn a ton of opening lines. Early in my chess career, I was finding that by playing double-King-pawn openings as Black (1.e4 e5) I was running into a huge variety of openings. I didn't want to make learning openings a lifetime profession, so I realized that I was going to have to limit my opponent's options from the very first move.

After consulting a couple of general books on openings I decided to play the Caro-Kann Defense as Black (1.e4 c6). This was a good choice for me for a lot of reasons: it's solid, it's usually not very tactical, it offers good drawing chances against stronger opposition (I was rated something like 1150 at the time), and class-level players quite often have no idea how to play against it as White.

I started with the Classical Line: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 etc. I got by with this for awhile until the day an opponent played 3.e5 (the Advance Variation). I learned a thing or two about the Advance and got by for awhile longer. In fact, this gradually became almost the only response to the Caro-Kann that I saw in casual or tournament play down here in the fishpond for many years.

Consequently, as I learned more about it, the Caro-Kann Advance Variation became a part of my core repertoire (as both White and Black) for a long time. Recently, however, I'm seeing a lot of Exchange Variations and Panov Attacks being played by my White opponents. These two openings have now crept into my general repertoire (since I've had to do a bit of light study on them). If I should continue to see a lot of these played and find myself devoting a lot of study time to them, they will probably worm their way into my core repertoire. And what of the original variation I learned (the Classical Line)? I still see it occasionally but it's now a part of my (very) general repertoire.

Developing a repertoire takes time and it takes experience. You need to decide what works best for you against various openings your opponent might throw at you. This was a major part of the series "Learning a New Opening" in Electronic T-Notes back in the summer of 1997. The last several installments in that series told the story of how I was forced to learn to play as White against the Pirc due to its sudden popularity with my usual opponents. I had no intention of learning the Pirc except as a matter of necessity, but now that it's a part of my general repertoire I no longer fear it.

You'll need to sit down and decide what you normally would like to play. If you're a 1.e4 player you'll need to decide what you want to play against the Sicilian Defense, the Caro-Kann, the Pirc, the French, and the host of 1...e5 2.Nf3 openings (the Petroff, the Latvian, your preferred responses to 2...Nc6, etc). And of course you'll need to look at a veritable world of material as Black.

Now we'll return to the "grunt work". You need to input the lines that you normally play and save them into your repertoire database. The technique that I prefer is to input everything that I play as separate lines. This is a big old stinking pile of work and is not for the fainthearted.

To illustrate: in the Caro-Kann Advance Variation (as Black) I normally see one of two lines:

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nc3; and
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3.

How do I enter these into a repertoire database? I input them as separate "games". When I save the first one, I type "Caro-Kann Advance 4.Nc3" for the name of the White player and "as Black" for the name of the Black player. This is a handy convention to use: variation name for the White player and "as [color]" for the Black player. You can easily pick each line out of the Game List this way.

There's a good shortcut to remember when you're adding multiple branches of the same basic line. After you've saved the first line into the database, don't close the game window. Just click on the move before the new variation and make the new move on the board. Using my Caro-Kann example, I would click on 3...Bf5 to jump to that position and then play 4.Nf3 (instead of 4.Nc3). When the dialog box appears I would just click on "overwrite". Then I'd simply save it as a new game. The "Save game" window will contain the information from the last game I saved. I would just do a minor edit on the header info (changing "4.Nc3" to "4.Nf3") before saving it.

If you really want to get fancy, you can use the ALT-[letter] combinations to place figurines in the headers instead of just capital letters for the piece names (using ALT-N to get a horsey head instead of a capital letter N, in the example from the last paragraph).

Creating a database like this can take a long time (especially so for more experienced players) so don't expect to get the whole thing done in an evening. Just take it slow and easy and remember to do only one line per game.

"Why only one variation line per game?" I can hear you asking. "Why not a complete variation tree for each opening?" This is quite obviously a matter of personal preference. However, once you've done a few repertoire scans you'll find that even a single-variation "seed" game has produced a pretty extensively annotated game. If you started with a whole variation tree you'd wind up with information overload in short order.

Another example for clarity's sake. Going back to the Pirc Austrian Attack after 5.e5 (1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4 Nf6 5.e5), Black has three main responses: 5...Nfd7, 5...dxe5, and 5...Ng4. Each of these moves will require a different plan and set of responses from White. Studying the game from White's perspective, it's way easier for me to take Black's responses one at a time; I'll have a much better time of learning my plans for each individual response if they're separated. So I would save them in the database as three separate lines: "Austrian Attack 5...Nfd7 as White", etc.

When you're finished you'll have a repertoire database full of individual lines that you play. A very basic one I created looks like this:

Now comes the fun part...

Prior to ChessBase 7, players receiving a batch of new games had to do searches through the new database by using the Search Mask to find study material relevant to the openings they play. ChessBase 7 now will go into the database and find that material for you, quickly and easily, by comparing what you have in your repertoire database to what's in the new database, even generating a list of the relevant games for you. The ability to use this automatic search is the entire point to creating a repertoire database.

Use "Open" in the Database menu to add an icon for your database of the latest games (ChessBase Magazine, The Week in Chess, etc.). Left-click once on it to highlight it and then right-click once on it to get a menu of commands. Select "Repertoire scan" from the list of commands and let 'er rip!

In a few seconds, ChessBase has scanned through the database and created a report of all of the games that match variations you normally play (from your repertoire). You'll get the name of the variation, the defining board position, and a list of links to the specific games:

Clicking on one of the game links will load that game with the defining board position for that variation highlighted and on the chessboard. This allows you to play through the game and see if you want to add it to your repertoire database. If you do, right-click over the chessboard and select "Add to repertoire". A dialog box appears and gives you the choice to either add the game to the database as a complete new game or merge it as a variation of one of your repertoire lines.

Let's look at merging it with an existing line. Once you've done this, go back to your repertoire database and load the game in question. You'll see something that looks like this:

Notice that 4.Nf3 appears as both the main move and as a variation move. How do we remedy this? It's easy: click on the start of the 4.Nf3 variation to highlight it. Then click on the button at the bottom of the screen for promoting a variation line (it's the one to the left of the button you use to save games). Click on this button and select "Promote variation". The 4.Nf3 variation and the moves that follow it are now the main line, while there is now a new variation line of 4.Nf3 with no moves following it. The two lines have just switched places in the gamescore:

Then just click on the new single-move variation, click on the button for deleting a variation, and get rid of it. Remember to use "replace game" to save the changes.

Going through the games and adding them to your repertoire game one at a time has a couple of advantages: it allows you to merge into your repertoire game only those new games that you find significant, plus it allows you to save the really important or interesting games as a separate game in your database (it will be tacked onto the end of your repertoire database as a complete game).

Why do I recommend doing the merging manually? Take a look at this:

This is a look at part of the game created by merging a mere six games from ChessBase Magazine 65 into my original four move repertoire line! There are an additional three games on the CD that I didn't even merge into it. As you can see, there is a mass of material here. How does one deal with all of this?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old cliche goes. It's best to play through a game before merging it into your repertoire database to determine if there's anything there worth saving. You can eliminate quite a few games this way before you ever merge them into your repertoire lines (short draws or variations you're already familiar with, for example).

You'll also note that the gamescores are merged well past the twentieth move. Most class-level players will never even get that far into the opening before there's a divergence into uncharted territory. Stronger players (and correspondence players) may well need this depth of information. You'll need to go into these repertoire entries later, play through them, decide what you need, and use the scissors icon to hack out any uneeded material. After a bit of judicious hackage, I came up with something a bit more manageable than what we saw in the last illustration:

This should give you the basics of using a repertoire database. As a bit of alternative methodology, I submit to you that you don't even need to use the merging function if you don't want to. Just put your favorite opening lines into a repertoire database (as we discussed earlier) and use the "Repertoire scan" function to make ChessBase sniff out the games of interest to you. Use the links in the ChessBase-generated text to jump quickly and easily to the interesting games that apply to what you normally play. You can then play through the latest games of your favorite openings without neccessarily merging them with your repertoire lines. This way you can keep a "clean" copy of a very basic repertoire selection without cluttering it up with endless piles of variations.

That's the beauty of ChessBase: there are enough functions in the program to allow you to tailor the program's use to what best suits you, not what some programmer thinks will suit you.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes.

It would also be swell of you to check out my two new home pages. I've started a "club" on the Yahoo! club server. The club is called Chess Kamikazes , which I've described on Usenet as a page for hard-drinking, pawn-sacking, wild-eyed, Tal-like madmen. It's just a little corner of the Web for those of us who appreciate gambits and sacrifices to share ideas. Just look at it as a sort of skittles room down at the pub. It has a message board and chat room, so have fun posting!

I have another Web page (under construction): The Chess Kamikaze Homepage. It started out as an adjunct to the Yahoo! club page, but I can already see that it's going to end up being much more than a spinoff. I intend to have some gambit theoreticals on the page, book and video reviews, a little bit about software (since I'm not the most unbiased guy around), and some downloads in ChessBase and PGN formats (possibly some stuff for Bookup, too). Right now there's a guestbook in which you can tell visitors about your chess preferences and some links to other pages. Stop by and check it out.

Both of these pages are less than a week old, so check back occasionally and give me a little time for development before slagging them off (please, please, please!)