by Steve Lopez

In every chess game we hit a point in which the opening becomes clearly defined. For example, after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 we have to wonder what variation of the Caro Kann we're going to be playing. Will the opponent choose to play 3.e5 to make it an Advance Variation or will he opt for the more classical treatment 3.Nc3? Maybe he'll go for the Maroczy/Fantasy variation with 3.f3...

No matter what is played the game should eventually wind up at a classifiable position. It's at this point that ChessBase becomes an especially valuable research tool. It's easy to use ChessBase to find possibilities in the opening that you might otherwise overlook.

The first decision you need to make concerns whether or not to start a new database for games of the opening you're playing. This depends entirely on the way your data is organized. Players who are blessed with the Hard Drive That Ate Toledo are quite content to have a single master database containing all of the games they've accumulated. If this is coupled with an extremely fast processor (for lightning searches) secondary databases aren't needed.

Those of us who are less technologically advanced (i.e. owners of slower computers with hard drives that are cluttered with old e-mail and our children's games) have much of our data stored on other media, such as CDs. In this case, a new database is mandatory. With an hour's "grunt work" we can be ready to get on to the more important task of figuring out what the heck we're going to play against the move that our correspondence opponent just threw at us. Another advantage of using a smaller database for correspondence games is that functions used repeatedly in correspondence chess (such as position searches and creation/access of trees) takes much less time on a smaller database.

The initial step is to create the new database. This is simple: just go to the "Database" menu and select "New". Figure out what folder you want the database to be stored in, name it (ChessBase 7 now supports long file names of over eight characters), and click "Save". Back in the Database window, click once on your new database's icon to highlight it, click the "Information" button at the bottom of the window (the one that looks like the letter "i" inside of a blue dot), and set the appearance of your icon (the picture that's displayed in it and the description of the database).

Next you'll want to figure out the ECO (Encyclopedia of Chess Openings) classification of your game. Just open up a board window, input the moves, and click "Save" in the "Game" menu. Note the entry in the "ECO" field in the "Save game" window that appears. Make a note of this code on a piece of scrap paper. Next click "Cancel" (this way the game won't be saved into the active database). Close your game window (clicking "OK" in the "Game not saved" warning box). Of course, if you've been using ChessBase as a correspondence recorder and saving each move as it's been played, you'll already have this information handy.

For example, let's look at the game I started a few weeks ago in our last correspondence chess installment. The opening moves were 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4 Nf6 5.Nf3. By playing these on a board window and clicking "Save", we discover that the opening is classified as "B09".

Please note that the opening may later transpose to another code entirely. There's no easy solution to this; transpositions have been the bane of chessplayers for centuries. The best bet is to keep an eye on the ECO field when you record the moves of your game and use "Replace game" to update the game after each move. If the ECO classification changes, you know you've transposed into another opening.

You'll next want to do a search of all of your databases to locate games of this opening. This is another simple process. Just highlight the icon of the database you want to search, click the "Search" button at the bottom of the Database window (the button that looks like a set of binoculars), click "Reset all" (to get rid of any previous search criteria), and type in the ECO code into both boxes at the "ECO" field in the Search mask. Click "OK" and all of the games of that ECO code are sent to the Clipboard. Click on the Clipboard icon in the Database window and hold down the left mouse button. You'll see the mouse cursor change from an arrow into an arrow pointing at a stack of papers. Move the cursor over the icon for your new database and release the left mouse button (this is known as "drag and drop"). All of the games from the Clipboard will be copied into your new database.

This brings up another point: how to handle duplicate games that might exist in different "master" databases. First you should determine what database you want to begin copying from, selecting it and your other databases in order of how much (or little) you trust the source of the data contained therein. For example, I always do a search of the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia first. This is because I want the Survey games from that CD to be the first games in the Move List of my new database. Next I'll search the Informant CD, then my later Informants that aren't on the CD. After that I'll search the BigBase CD, followed by the database on my hard drive that contains the ChessBase Magazine and Express issues that aren't part of BigBase. Then I'll search the rest of my ChessBase CDs. After that, I do searches of data from my other sources.

An easy way to eliminate a lot of duplicate games is to do it before they even enter the database. When you use "drag and drop" to copy the Clipboard to your new database a window appears that allows you to select copying options. If you check the box labeled "Don't copy single doubles" the program will screen out any games that are exact duplicates of ones you already have in the database. It will, however, still copy annotated games that are duplicates. You can take care of this problem later.

Once you've found all of the games of the opening, you should eliminate doubles from your database. No duplicate elimination system is foolproof. If you have Viktor Korchnoi's games in your database under a variety of spellings ("Kortchnoi", "Korchnoi", "Kortchnoj", "Kortchnoy", etc. ad infinitum), no duplicate killer can wipe them all out. Your computer is pretty stupid; it can't read. It only manipulates symbols instead of interpreting them.

When you go to kill doubles in your database, you'll see a new "Kill doubles" window that looks like this:

This allows you to determine how radically you want the doubles to be ripped from the database. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution. I use "Exact" in all three fields for my first pass through the database. I also check "Always delete second game" (this is why I told you to seach your databases in order of how much you trust the data they contain; if you search databases you trust first and select "Always delete second game", the games from "junk" databases will be the first to go). Never select "delete annotated games"! If you do anything with them at all, merge them instead of deleting them. "Ignore year" is optional; I prefer to leave this box unchecked.

However, if you're really annoyed by doubles, you might want to try using the "Similar" settings instead. You'll probably wind up deleting a few games that aren't actually doubles, though.

For more information on these settings, check out Section 14 (page 23) of the upgrade manual. There you'll find a lot of additional useful information regarding this feature.

"Kill doubles" only marks games as duplicates. To actually eliminate them from the database, use "Physical deletions" in the "Technical" menu.

Once you've knocked out the doubles, you might want to go into the Player Index for the database and manually look for variant spellings of players' names (as in the Korchnoi example above). You can edit players' names right in the list with ChessBase 7. Just highlight the name in the Player Index and click on the "edit" button at the bottom of the screen. Just remember that these changes are permanent and can't be reversed!

After you've standardized the player names, do another "Kill doubles" and "Physical deletions".

Next you'll probably want to attach an opening key to your new database. This is easy. Highlight the database and click the "key" button at the bottom of the "Database" window. A dialog box appears that asks if you want to copy a key or create an empty one. Go ahead and create an empty one. Then make sure the new database is highlighted in red by making it the active database in the database window. Next, go to one of your large ChessBase database CDs (like BigBase or the ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia) and open up the list for the opening key. Highlight the ECO code for the opening you're playing in your correspondence game (this would be "B09" in our example). Click on the "key tools" button at the bottom of the Key window. Click on "Transfer". A box will appear telling you what database the key will be copied to. If you've done everything properly, it will be the name of your new database. If so, click "OK". The key (and all of its subkeys) will be copied to your new database and ChessBase will classify the games.

If you don't have one of the large databases on CD with their detailed opening keys, you can have ChessBase create a new key for you based on the contents of the games in the database. Just create an empty key (as described in the last paragraph). Then, in the "Technical " menu select "Refine", followed by "Whole database" from the submenu appears. It will ask you the minimum number of games that should be used to create a key. Anything from six to the default ten is a good number. In general, the larger the database, the larger a number you should use. ChessBase will now perform a statistical sampling of the games and create an opening key for you, sorting the games into their proper classification.

Now we have a brand spanking new database on the opening we're playing. What the heck do we do with it? That's the question we'll answer in next week's Electronic T-Notes. Until then, have fun!

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