by Steve Lopez

I'm a chess computer freak -- I admit it. No, I don't run endless engine vs. engine matches in my machines; I actually play the danged things myself. Even after vowing to never buy another dedicated chess computer, I broke down the other night and ponied up the bucks for the latest handheld model that everyone's raving about. I'm too scared to count the number of chessplaying PC programs I own, but it's probably pushing 200 by now. Every program has its own "personality" -- its own style of play, strengths and weaknesses, and that indefinable something that I call "character". It's similar to playing two different 1800 players at the chess club. One guy may be a tactical player, the other guy may be a strong defender -- same rating, two different styles of play.

The Fritz "family" alone currently consists of over seventy engines (and that doesn't include using the Winboard adapter to add third-party engines to the list). It's great to hit F3 in Fritz6 and get a huge selection of opponents to play against, as well as the same large variety of potential analysts and kibitzers.

But in ChessBase 7, it was a different story. You clicked on a button to bring up the engine list and you got twenty entries -- period. These were always in alphabetical order, so if I wanted to use multiple versions of Crafty over in Fritz6, my engine list in CB7 would always stop somewhere around Fritz4. Of course, there was the workaround of going to the Status menu, clicking "Select analysis engine" and changing the ALT-F key designations to enable the more "alphabetically disadvantaged" engines, but this only provided five keystroke combinations. So I was always moving engines to a different folder to save them while getting them out of the CB7 engines list, and it limited me to just a single version (or perhaps two) of the most popular engines from my collection.

One of the terrific new features of ChessBase 8 is the addition of a Fritz-style engine selection dialogue. Now you can keep your entire engine collection in one folder and be able to access any of them for analysis in CB8. While viewing a game in CB8, just hit F3 on the keyboard to bring up the dialogue:

The illustration shows just a portion of my complete engines list (seventy-two engines as of this writing). It's a scrolling list, so you can use the scroll bar to go up and down the list to find the engine you want. Click once on the engine name to highlight it, click OK, and you're in business -- the engine will begin analyzing the current board position..

This window also lets you set the hash table size. For a full explanation of hash tables and their use, please see the ETN issue for Sept. 27, 1998. Some of that information (regarding time controls) isn't applicable for ChessBase 8 -- you're not playing a game against the engine in ChessBase and the engine analysis will run until you stop it. However, the higher you set the RAM value for your hash tables, the longer it will take the engine to initialize and start analyzing.

A brand-new feature in ChessBase 8 is the ability to use engine parameters to alter the way an engine views the position. Not all engines offer tweakable parameters; of the ones that do offer them, different engines offer various options for tweakable settings (which are different from engine to engine). For a look at Fritz' engine parameters, see the ETN issue for March 7, 1999. The issue for June 4, 2000 discusses the piece value settings in Nimzo7.32's engine parameters.

There's a slight hitch here you'll need to know about (that also applies to Fritz6): ChessBase 8 doesn't "remember" changes to the engine parameters after you've exited the program. This is done on purpose. You might change an engine parameter as an experiment to see how it affects the analysis, exit the program, and forget that you've changed the parameters the next time you use the engine (and then wonder why the analysis is skewed).

There's another engine feature that only appears in CB8 if you've performed an online upgrade of the program (Help menu/Online upgrade). When in a game window, you'll see "Engine management" in the Window menu. If you're finding that your list of engines has grown too long, you can "deactivate" some of them without actually removing the files from the Engines folder on your hard drive. "Deactivating" an engine just masks its presence from view when using the F3 engines menu; you can always reactivate it later to get it to reappear in the engine list.

Also remember that you can have more than one engine analyze a position simultaneously in CB8. Simply go to the Window menu and select "Add analysis engine"; this will bring up the engine list and you can select another engine which will anaylze the position simultaneously with the other engine(s) currently running. You can run as many engines as your computer's system resources (processor and RAM) can handle. Keep in mind, though, that each time you add an engine, it slows down the analysis of all of the engines currently running.

To stop an engine's analysis, just click the "Stop" button in the engine pane. To remove the pane from the screen, right-click in the engine pane and select "Close".

If you want to copy an engine's analysis into the game as a replayable variation, just right-click in the engine pane and select "Copy all to notation". If you'd like to keep that analysis as part of the game score in the database, don't forget to use "Save game" or "Replace game".

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.