by Steve Lopez

Last week we looked at how to do some basic database searches using Fritz6. There are a lot of additional goodies available in the database screen and we'll look at a few of them here.

You'll notice a set of file tabes at the top of the game list:

These allow you to access something called keys. These are pre-generated indexes (much like an index in the back of a chess book) that will let you find games pretty quickly, often completely bypassing the search mask. Most of the separate databases and training CDs we offer contain one or more of these additional keys. These are created using ChessBase 7.

Go ahead and load the database that comes with Fritz6 and we'll look at how to use the keys that are attached to this database.

By far the most commonly used key is the opening key. To access it, you just click the "Openings" tab. You'll see five entries, labelled A through E. These correspond to the five volumes of the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings. If you already know the ECO code for the opening you want to study, you can easily step through the hierarchy of keys to get to where you want to go. For example, if you know that you're looking for games of the Ruy Lopez Steinitz Defense (which is ECO code C62) you'd start by double-clicking on the "C" line. In the next screen, you'd double-click on the line "C6". Then you'd double-click on "C62" and get a list of all the games in the database which use that opening. You can double-click on any of these games to load it and play through it on the chessboard in Fritz6's main screen.

Let's say that you know a set of opening moves but have no idea what the ECO code is for that opening. There's an easy way to find out the code. Just go into the main chessboard screen of Fritz6, then to the Tools menu, and select "Options". Then click the "Multimedia" tab and put a check in the box next to "Chatter (messages)". Note that this has nothing to do with Fritz' audio comments. "Chatter" refers to the text comments displayed on the screen.

Next hit ALT-F2 to start "Infinite analysis" (so that Fritz won't respond when you move pieces on the board), and then make the moves of the variation in which you're interested. When you're done, take a look at thetext box on the screen (this will be either the bar at the bottom of the screen or else the "Chatter" pane if you have that selected under "Window/Panes"). The ECO code for the variation will be displayed there.

Another file tab reads "Themes". This is rather vaguely defined. A ChessBase 7 user can define a theme key as pretty much anything he or she wants. The Fritz6 database uses the Theme header as a catch-all for any games that contain any of ChessBase 7's special annotation functions. For example, you could go to "06 -- Critical positions", then select "Middlegame" and get a list of all the games in the database in which the annotator marked a middlegame position as being a critical position. Just double-click on one to load the game

Yet another tab is the "Tactics" tab, in which a variety of common tactical themes is listed. The "Strategy" tab gives you a list of common strategic themes, while the "Endgames" tab brings up a list of common endgames. Double-click on any of these theme descriptions to get a list of games in which that theme applies. As always, double-click on a game to load it and play through it.

The database window contains some pretty handy shortcuts. One of these is a database selector that lists all of the databases that have previously been loaded:

This selector is located in the upper right-hand corner of the database window. Just click on the arrow button to pull down this menu (as I've done in the graphic above) to get a list of the databases you've previously loaded/viewed. Click on any entry in this list to close the current database and load the one you've just selected from the list. This is a really handy shortcut to use when you want to switch between databases quickly and easily. Note, however, that a database on a CD won't be listed unless that CD is currently in the CD drive. So, for example, if you had the Fritz6 database (from the program CD) loaded when you last exited Fritz6 and you later start the program without the Fritz6 CD in the drive, you won't see Fritz6.cbh listed in this window (and you won't get a game list when you go to the database window). If you've copied the database to your hard drive, you won't see this problem occur.

Also available is a set of buttons at the top of the database window:

These buttons provide shortcuts to the commonly-used features of the database window. Working from left to right, these functions are:

We'll look at some of these functions in detail later on as we get to them in the course of learning about Fritz.

But now we come to the big question: why use a database at all?

In every hobby, sport, game, or pasttime there's a certain amount of history that builds up over time. Soccer players and fans are still interested in the exploits of the great Pele. Baseball fans will argue endlessly about the relative merits of their favorite teams from the past. Heck, when I was an amateur astronomer we used to argue about whether it was luck or skill that caused Clyde Tombaugh to discover the planet Pluto.

But chess is the only pasttime I can think of in which you can put yourself into the shoes of the actual historical players. I can't know what it was like to be a quarterback being blitzed by the 1950's Chicago defense, but I can sure feel the embitterment of being one of Paul Morphy's victims getting smacked down hard in an 1850's US Chess Congress -- I can just open a book and play through the moves.

As chessplayers, we're pretty hung up on what has gone before. We play through hundreds of past games, trying to get into the heads of the players, trying to unlock all of their secrets. And this isn't a bad thing - one of the best ways to improve your own chess skills is to study the games of great players from the past. There are lessons to be learned, mistakes to be avoided, and techniques to emulate.

That's why a database is such a handy tool -- it's useful for digging out and replaying these gems from the past in an effort to increase our own abilities. We can search for games by our favorite players, ones that used our preferred openings, even every game from a complete tournament. The more chess you see, the more you understand. And in the unlikely event that you never learn a thing from these games, it's still a lot of fun to watch them played out right in front of you and imagine yourself as one of the combatants.

Here's a neat tip you'll find enjoyable. When you're playing through a game from a database and you see an obviously bad move by one of the players, your usual first reaction is to say, "Dang! I could play better than that!" OK, let's try it out. The next time you say that when reviewing a game from a database, set a time level in Fritz6, go back to the previous move and then make a move different from the one the player made. The "input new move" window will pop up. Click "New variation" and the move you made will become a variation line in the game you're studying. And guess what? Fritz (or whatever engine you currently have loaded) will make a move in reply. Now you can really see whether or not you're playing better than the guy in the game you were reviewing. Play it out and see if you can improve on the original player's result.

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.