by Steve Lopez

I've had my copy of ChessBase 8 for about a week now and I'm discovering new features and new procedures all over the place. We'll be examining these in ETN over the coming weeks, but there are two that I find particularly significant and want to mention in this week's issue.

The first is, in my opinion, the single most important new feature of ChessBase. I'm an avid e-mail chessplayer (and play in an occasional snail mail event as well); consequently, I do a lot of opening research. One of my biggest frustrations over the years has been my inability to do a position search in the variations of a game. The ChessBase Opening Encyclopedia is a wonderful reference, but I've always felt a bit hamstrung in using it. There are a ton of opening theoreticals on the CD but a valuable lot of information is located in the variations contained in these theoreticals. There was previously no way to get to this info, except manually (double-clicking on a game and playing through variations to see if the position I was researching was in there somewhere). You see, prior versions of ChessBase only searched main lines in databased games, not any of the variation lines.

ChessBase 8 has taken care of that problem. It can do a position search through the variations of annotated games, but there's a tiny catch -- you have to be sure to activate it first.

It's pretty easy to do, but also pretty easy to miss. Bring up the search mask in CB8 and click the "Position" tab. Set up your board position (or just click "get board" to automatically load the last board position you were viewing):

Look just above the "OK" button in the graphic. There's a check box marked "Include lines in search". This activates CB8's ability to search for the designated board position in the variation lines as well as in the main lines of games in the database. You must check this box in order for CB8 to look at the variation lines as it's searching.

Why isn't this activated automatically? There are a number of reasons for this:

1) It slows down the search, simply because the program must examine variations as well as main lines. Naturally this involves many more positions and consequently takes longer (On a slower Pentium I, searching a very large, very heavily-annotated database, will remind you of the old 386 days -- go grab a smoke outside and come back in a few minutes. On a fast Pentium III, though, the difference between searching main lines or including variations will be noticable, but only to the degree of adding a minute or so to the search).

2) The individual user may not want to search the variations. Most annotated games do contain plenty of opening references, but many times this might be an annotator showing inferior lines of play ("Here's what would have happened had White played the natural-looking, but inferior, 6.Qe2", for example). Some users may not want these alternate lines to be displayed in the search results.

3) If your database is fairly complete (snicker, snicker, cough -- you'll never have every top level game ever played. Trust me. I collect a few obscure [occasionally foreign] publications and very often find master games that aren't in my databases. In fact, this is particularly true for games played in the USA -- but that's a whole other rant that I'll eventually get to as soon as my soapbox comes back from being repaired at the carpentry shop), you might not want to take the time to find annotation references to games you already have stored as individual (separate) database entries.

I could probably come up with a few more reasons, but I'm still on my first cup of coffee today. I'm sure you get the idea. Reason 1 above is the big reason. If you're in a hurry, you might just want to see what was played in actual games rather than some theoretical stuff.

If you start your search from within a database's game list, you'll get an abbreviated game list that shows just the games matching your search criteria while masking games that don't match. Double-click on a game to open it and when the game loads CB8 will jump you right to the spot in which your designated board position occurred.

If you do your search from the Database window (right-click on a database icon and select "Search"), you'll get a different window that looks like this:

My apologies for the somewhat grainy quality of the screen shot, but since I'm running a screen resolution of 1024x768, I had to shrink it somewhat so that you could see all of it.

There are two panes and a board on this screen (called the "search results" screen). The right-hand pane provides a game list of all the games that matched your search. Just click on a game in this list and you'll see the game's notation appear in the lower left pane. The game will be loaded to the proper position and the position will be displayed on the chessboard in the upper left.

Isn't that sweet? I have to tell you, friend, that this feature alone is worth the price of admission in upgrading/purchasing ChessBase 8, in my opinion. The ability to search variations has already saved me literally hours of time that I'd have spent browsing through theoreticals which might (but probably don't) contain the weirdo lines that I play. To me, this is the big new feature of CB8, one from which I've already gotten a lot of mileage in just the last week.

The other feature I want to call to your attention is the annotation palette, your "one stop shop for all your annotation needs" (thanks, Richie!). As related previously in this article, I'm an absolute hound for older obscure chess books, particularly ones that contain tournament reports and opening theoreticals from the past. Now that CB8 searches annotations, it's well worth my time to add these games (and notes) to my electronic database collection. While adding notes and Informant-style analysis symbols was pretty easy in CB7, I'd sometimes get confused as to which button had the link to a certain symbol. Which of the three had "Zeitnot" in it? Man, I still can't tell you that off the top of my head.

With ChessBase 8, you can bring up a window that contains all of the annotation functions in one easy to use package. When you have a game open on the screen, go to the View menu and select "Annotation palette". You'll see the following window appear in the lower right of your screen:

You can drag this to any part of the screen by grabbing the blue bar with the mouse cursor and pulling it to where you want it.

This little gem has all of the annotation symbols and functions gathered on a single panel. If you want to add an evaluation symbol to a move, just click on that move (in the notation pane) to highlight it and then click the symbol's button on the annotation palette. BOOM! It's right there in the gamescore. (The "None" button is provided for doofuses like me who sometimes highlight the wrong move and need to remove the attached symbol).

But the palette doesn't stop there. Let's say you're adding annotations and the writer has included a variation on White's ninth move. Just highlight White's ninth in the game notation and click the "Start" button under "Variation". The position will return to Black's eighth move. The next White move you make on the board will be added as a variation to the game. Keep mousing in the moves until you reach the end of the variation, add your evaluation symbol, then click the "End Variation" button to jump back to the main line at the last "fork in the road". It's that simple. And don't forget that you can add sublines to your variation lines -- "End variation" always returns you to the previous branch at the point where the subvariation occurred.

If you start to put in a variation and accidentally make the wrong move, no problem -- highlight the move and click "Delete" to remove the bum variation. And if you want to reorder the variations by moving a subvariation one level up in the notation tree, just use the "Promote" button.

Adding text notes to a game is ridiculously easy, too. "Before move" opens the text window. Type in what you want and click "OK" -- the text will appear before the highlighted move in the notation. Using "After move" places your text immediately after the highlighted move.

I've found the annotation palette to be a major timesaver. It cuts the time I spend entering analysis by at least half, possibly more. And if you have the number of chess books I have, this is a critical concern -- believe me.

There are a lot of other new features in CB8 and we'll look at them in future ETNs. For now, play around with these two and I'm sure you'll be as impressed by the results as I've been.


by Steve Lopez

The ETN column two weeks ago has resulted in a (predictable) avalanche of e-mail (which has all been quite civil so far -- thank you!). There have been a few links called to my attention and I've realized that I left a lot out of the article. Some were links to pages of friends of mine and I apologize for the omissions, some of which I will correct here.

The first is an obvious one that I overlooked. For some reason, when ChessBase USA's web site got redesigned, the link to Battle Royale got omitted. I'd like to think that this is not a reflection on the quality of my work, but merely an oversight. At any rate, I get a few requests via e-mail every week for the link so I'm providing it here. It's almost finished -- I have one game, plus all of the post-tournament wrap ups to write. Unfortunately, I've had a few other pressing projects to work on, but I hope to have the final four or five installments available soon.

My friend Bob Pawlak writes an excellent web page devoted to chess software reviews. Bob's as impartial as they come; he buys all of the stuff he reviews, so he's not obligated to anybody. He's purchased and written about an incredible number and variety of programs -- his site is a terrific resource for all of us chess software fanatics.

A lot of players use software to analyze chess positions (conducting opening research, for example, to see how good a new novelty really is). This site shows you how to do it. (You can find a more elaborate take on this in ETN, in the issues for August 1 and August 8, 1999 -- two issues that I'm danged proud of, by the way).

Much has been made of the infamous Deep Blue log printouts, the ones Kasparov was so hot to see during his 1997 match against the infernal device. You can download them in two versions -- the ones straight out of the machine or edited versions that are more "human friendly". Now we all have the chance to see what the shouting was about. Cheating or tempest in a teapot? You be the judge.

While we're on the subject, IBM's refusal of a rematch has been debated endlessly. Feng-hsiung Hsu, one of Deep Blue's programmers, provides the inside scoop.

I get a lot of calls asking if ChessBase is a step-by-step tutorial on the game of chess. It's not, but Chess Mentor is. Yes, it's a commercial site, but I'm asked about it frequently enough that it warrants inclusion here.

Franz Morsch is the programmer of Fritz' chess engine; you can read an interesting interview with him at The Hindu, an online newspaper from India.

SmartChess Online is one of the best online chess magazines on the Web. The fact that I write a regular column (as well as review videos) for them doesn't hurt, either (chuckle, guffaw). Actually, despite my ramblings on their pages, it's a great mag and I encourage you to have a look. Irina Krush and Ron Henley are their regular analysts and they provide a ton of free annotated games at the site.

Capablanca vs. Nimzovich has become something of a cult classic among 'Net chess freaks. Very funny stuff. Also very demented -- imagine Ed Wood directing a chess movie a la Rocky and you'll have an idea of what this thing is like.

I received a lot of e-mail saying, "Steve, you're a gambit freak! Why didn't you mention Thomas Stock's gambit page??!!??" You're right -- I screwed up. It's a great page with tournaments, discussions, downloads, and more.

While we're talking about gambits, Chess Compufact is an amazing resource for gambit players. It includes an online gambit encyclopedia that's not to be missed. If you're a gambit nut, click that link NOW!

About a year ago, Yasser Seirawan stopped publishing Inside Chess as a print publication and went totally electronic with it. He went from publishing the world's best chess magazine to publishing a pretty good digital magazine. It's a step down (in my opinion), but I understand totally why he did it -- plus having a "pretty good" online chess mag still puts the site head and shoulders above 99% of the chess sites on the Web. Please do check it out.

That'll do for right now, but I'll likely be doing another installment sometime in the future. Thanks to everyone who sent me links and reminded me that I missed a lot the first time around.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes. If you love gambits and sacrificial play, stop by my Chess Kamikaze Home Page and the Yahoo Chess Kamikazes Club.