by Steve Lopez

More on the Players Encyclopedia
Battle Royale
Tournament preparation

I just spent the past week beating my brains out over the final installments of Battle Royale (more on that below). My head hurts, my desk and walls are dented, so I think I'll go easy on myself this week and provide some miscellaneous info and a peek into the mailbag.


A couple of people have called and written with problems in opening the Player Encyclopedia in ChessBase 8. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so it took me a while to figure out what was going on. When you go to the File menu, select "Open", and then "Players Encyclopedia", you get the Windows file select dialogue, which you then use to go to the Playbase folder on the CD and select the file playbase.plh. After you've selected it, nothing happens -- at least, nothing appears to happen. This is normal. All you've done here is tell the program where the PE is located. This was covered in ETN in the Dec. 24, 2000 issue. Once this is accomplished, you can access the PE itself in a couple of ways.

The first way was mentioned in the same ETN -- by going to the Edit menu and selecting "Search player". This displays the following dialogue:

Just type the player's last name into the "Last name" field. When you get to the fifth character of the last name, the program will do a search and give all PE entries that meet this criteria. For players with short last names (like Tal, for example), just type in the whole thing and click the "Search" button.

There are some criteria you can set before typing in a player name that will refine or limit the search:

You can combine these criteria and even use them without typing in a player name. For example, you could do a search for up-and-coming teenaged French (the country, not the opening) players by setting the "Age" fields to "13" and "19", selecting "FRA" from the pulldown menu next to "Nation", and checking "Riser". Then click "Search". Afterwards you can run down to your chess club and start raving about this young phenom named Sebastian Plantet. Keep harping on it and if Plantet winds up making it big someday, your friends will stand in awe of your astounding Kreskin-like abilities. If Plantet doesn't become famous, don't worry -- no one will remember anyway.

After the search is completed, you can click the "Details" button to see the ID Card for that player, the "Elo" button to get the Elo graph for the player, and "Dossier" to create a player dossier (all of which were described in the ETN article for Jan. 7, 2001).

Another way to use the PE was described last week in ETN (Jan. 7, 2001), by clicking on a player's picture in the Photo pane in a CB8 game window.

But the big thing to remember here is that File/Open/Players Encyclopedia doesn't get you into the PE -- it just tells CB8 where to find the files.


The danged thing is finally finished. Nearly four years after it first hit the 'Net (and 8.5 years after it was started), you can finally read the last installments of Battle Royale here. My apologies for the delay, and a sincere thank you to everyone who waited patiently for the final installments as I struggled and contemplated taking cyanide as a viable alternative to having to annotate one more chess game.


My friend Cyril Josephs sent me an interesting e-mail early this week, which he graciously allowed me to excerpt here in ETN:

You mentioned the CD with a marvellous collection of studies by van der Heijden. I have the earlier version which I put on my hard disk ages ago from a floppy. I thoroughly endorse your comments on the joy and surprise experienced from analysing these delightful and brilliant endings. I don't spend enough time with them (there are always so many other things to do, aren't there?) and I can never solve them. But this does not detract from the sheer pleasure of understanding the solutions.

I especially wanted to mention the influence of one A.J. Roycroft on the Chess Study. He wrote two of the best chapters on Chess I have ever read, in a little paperback book called "Chess Treasury of the Air". Having devoured these , I just had to get his famous book "The Chess Endgame Study", a book which earned him international renown. In my view, this is easily the best book written on the "Chess Study" and is a constant source of delight. With understanding comes increased pleasure and this book certainly helps understanding. I write at length because it is just possible that you may not know of this clever man's work...I am good at name-dropping and am proud to boast that I can now regard John Roycroft as a friend since I met him once some years ago and we communicate occasionally.

No problem with the name-dropping thing, Cyril, as I'm often guilty of that myself. As you confirmed in our e-mails, Roycroft was also one of the inventors of a special form of chess notation, called the Roycroft-Guy-Blandford Code (or RGB Code, for short). This code is used automatically in ChessBase 8 whenever you enter a board position and save it into a database. If you don't enter a name for the Black player, a bunch of weird characters appear in that field in the game list. Those characters don't signify a corrupted database -- they're the RGB code for that position and it's a handy way to find a specific position without having to open the game in a board window.

The format of the code is as follows:


The # entry indicates the type of endgame problem. + means that it's the moving side to win, = means that it's the moving side to draw, and # followed by a number means that it's mate in that number of moves.

The next fields before the dot are a numeric representation of the material balance. White pieces count as one, Black pieces count as three (and this has nothing to do with the numeric values of the pieces). For example, if a position has a two White Queens vs. a Black Queen and Rook, the numeric fields would read as 5300 -- the "5" in the Queen field comes from White Queen (1) + White Queen (1) + Black Queen (3), ergo 1=1=3=5, while the "3" in the Rook field comes from the single Black Rook.

After the dot come two fields: "Pp". The capital P represents the field for White pawns, while the lowercase p is the field for Black pawns. So, going back to our last example, if it was two White Queens and three White pawns vs. a Black Queen, Rook, and five pawns, the notation would read 5300.35

The last two fields (xx and yy) give the King positions -- xx being that of the White King and yy being that of the Black. So, in our example, if the White King was on g1 and the Black King on b7, the RGB code would be 5300.35g1b7

Finally, putting it all together, if the problem is a mate in three in our example, the complete code would be #35300.35g1b7

It looks complicated, but it's really quite simple. After it was explained to me, it only took a couple of minutes for me to grasp it. You can use RGB code to do searches for positions in ChessBase 8 or Fritz (assuming that the game headers contain these fields, of course). For example, you remember a really cool endgame composition in which each side had two Queens and a Rook, but you don't remember any other details or the name of the endgame's composer. Just do a Black player search for "84". When you get the results, just look at the headers for games that have 84 in the proper position (i.e. -84--.------) and you can easily find the endgame you want.

Pretty clever, this Roycroft fellow! Thanks for the information, Cyril, and please do be sure to thank Mr. Roycroft for all of us the next time you correspond or speak with him.


Finally, I received another interesting e-mail just this morning, from Randy Coleman, an excerpt from which appears below:

Do you have any advice for a novice who is about to participate in a USCF-sanctioned chess tournament? Are there books on the subject of the day's activities, lessons learned in tournament competition, etc? One of my sons and I have been playing in a local chess club for some time now. We read many books on the subjects of openings, tactics, strategies, endgames, etc., and we have been using Fritz to help us improve our game. (Absolutely wonderful software!) But, without having experienced that first big tournament, we are obviously nervous about our preparation, and the psychology behind tournament competition. Any insights in one of your weekly columns would be great!

You got it, Randy! First of all, a caveat -- I'm not a titled player, I'm not a rip-roaring success at tournament chess, and I've not played in a rated over-the-board event in several years. But I was a very active tournament player for about six years and I can certainly pass along some tips I've learned -- some the hard way. I could probably write a book on this topic; I'll just hit a few high points here.

First of all, don't approach a tournament like you're cramming for a test. I used to do this and it completely screwed up my performance until I learned my lesson and cut it out. I used to hit the books hot and heavy for a solid week before a tournament -- trying to learn and memorize new opening variations, trying to memorize middlegame and endgame maxims, etc. All that did was fill my head with useless junk. My basic rule of thumb is if I don't know something a week before a tournament, I'm not going to know it at a tournament. A lot of what passes for chess knowledge is actually chess experience. You can read a book chapter on handling isolated d-pawn positions, but nothing will hammer that knowledge home like actually experiencing those positions yourself. So what most people typically do is learn a concept from a book, training CD, website, magazine article, etc. and then master that concept by practicing it themselves. This takes time and you can't learn it in the week before a tournament.

If you're going to do any study in the week before an event, just review what you already know. Go over a few variations from your "tried and true" openings. Solve some tactics problems. Review a few King and pawn endgame positions. Just go over stuff that you're already familiar with, as a refresher, instead of trying to learn everything you can about chess overnight. I've tried the latter approach and, trust me, it doesn't work -- it hurts you more than helps you.

Play some chess in the week before a tournament, but don't overdo it. Don't play 900 blitz games against Fritz. Just play a few games (some at the same time control as the tournament, if possible). Write down your moves as you play -- you'll need to record your moves at the tournament. If you want to go whole hog, set up a chess clock next to the computer and get used to giving that thing a whack everytime you make a move -- that's part of tournament chess as well.

If it's a Saturday event, don't play any chess at all on Friday. Watch a movie, read a book, go for a walk in the park, play some ball in the backyard. Relax. A chess tournament is competitive, but it's not life and death. I've found that relaxing the day before a tournament and staying away from chess helps me go into the event with a clearer head (as clear as mine ever gets, anyway, which ain't very). If you're the kind of guy who experiences severe withdrawal if you go a day without chess, just play a game or two on the computer. Play against Fritz or another program if you do -- don't play online. If you lose a game or the jerk you're playing against starts calling you a patzer if you're losing, that'll just mess with your head.

When you get to the event, some idiot will invariably ask you to play some blitz between rounds. I always avoid this (unless it's a friendly game with a close pal); I don't want to burn myself out for the games that actually count. I'll play skittles with friends, but I don't play against strangers (see the commentary about online chess in the previous paragraph).

Motivation has a lot to do with your results. You have to want to win, but there's a fine line drawn on a slippery slope between getting yourself motivated and working yourself into near-hysteria. Everyone's personal line is different, so this is a tough call. I used to motivate myself by watching a video of the PBS coverage of the 1987 World Championship match (with Shelby Lyman and Edmar Mednis) two or three days before a tournament. It reminded me that chess is competitive, that it's a serious thing, but the analysis they offered didn't strain my brain. I watched it more for atmosphere than anything else. Another motivational method is to read a "chess for enjoyment" (as opposed to "instruction") book or a biography of one of your favorite players during the week before an event. Even reading a few of Andy Soltis' columns in back issues of Chess Life might do this for you. The idea is to psyche yourself up to go play some good chess. But you want to do this without making yourself crazy. It's chess, not pro-wrestling.

Don't eat a huge breakfast the morning of a tournament. This is just simple science -- if more blood goes to your digestive system, less blood goes to your brain. I'm not a nutritionist, so I won't give specifics on what you should eat. But avoid heavy greasy foods at breakfast and don't smother your pancakes with syrup. That stuff'll sit like a rock in your stomach all day.

At the tournament during a game, drinking juice is better than drinking soda. Don't snack at the board, though -- this is just common courtesy to your opponent. (One of these days, I'll add a page to my chess site with bizarre tournament anecdotes about things I've witnessed or experienced -- a lot of them involve food).

If you have a set and clock, bring them, but be leery of lending them out to strangers who don't have their own. It's pretty rare to find a game in which neither player brought a clock; if they need one, they can ask the tournament director. It's unlikely that anybody's out to deliberately rip you off, but chess equipment does have a way of going missing at tournaments. On the subject of sets, don't take your $250 board and piece set to the tournament; that's just a voice crying "steal me!"; if it doesn't get stolen, it's certain to get damaged sooner or later. If possible, take a Staunton design set that's a bit different from the standard USCF set to keep your pieces from getting mixed up with someone else's (see the warning two paragraphs from now). I use either a cheap $30 sheeshamwood set or a plastic set from Toys'R'Us. Every We B Toys has it -- it's called "Master Chess" and costs about $12 the last time I checked. The cardboard board stinks (you'll still need a USCF rollup vinyl mat) but the pieces, although unfelted, are excellent. They're tournament sized, solid plastic, and come in light tan and dark brown. I used mine at literally dozens of events and never had anyone object to its use -- in fact, many people asked where I'd bought it.

Now we come to the fun part: a tournament game itself. There's a whole slew of psychological stuff that goes into this and I won't even try to cover it all. Here are just a few pointers and things to expect.

And I guess that's the best advice -- have fun and enjoy yourself. It's competitive, but it's essentially recreation. Relax! Keep that in mind and you'll do OK.

If you're interested in books about tournament play, I'm familiar with these. The first two are probably out of print, but don't kill yourself looking for them -- they're not worth selling your soul to those e-bay bloodsuckers. I'd not pay more than $8 for a used copy of any of these books:

Guide to Tournament Chess by William Lombardy and David Daniels [David McKay Co. 1978 ISBN 0-679-14041-7]. Some of the material might be dated, since the USCF Rules of Chess have been revised three times since its publication. It's mostly about the "nuts and bolts" of tournaments: wall charts, pairings, rules of conduct, etc. But there's some nice stuff here on how to get ready for a tournament, how to learn from your losses, etc.

How to be a Complete Tournament Player by Edmar Mednis [Maxwell Macmillan Chess, 1991 ISBN 185744-018-8]. This book is 100% about tournament preparation, how to develop an opening repertoire, preparing to play a tournament game, and what goes on in your head while you play. It's mostly for higher-level players, but there's some valuable info here for the "weekend warrior", primarily on the psychological aspects.

Chess for Tigers, 2nd Edition by Simon Webb [Pergamon Chess, 1990 ISBN 0-08-037788-2]. Written for the average player, this is a real "love it or hate it" book. Most players love it. 98% of the material is absolutely crucial for weekend tournament players, but the other 2% is why some players hate the book: Webb provides some cheap tricks to help you win games and at least one of them is completely illegal according to tournament rules. This is why you'll also need the next book:

US Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess, 4th Edition edited by Goichberg, et al. [David McKay Co. 1993 ISBN 0-8129-2217-4] Oh, Lord, where do I start? The good side: you need to read this book so that you know your rights, responsibilities, and obligations as a tournament player. The bad part: it's an incomprehensible mess. Poorly organized and badly indexed, it's nearly impossible to find a specific rule in this book when you need it -- in fact, this book's one of the primary reasons I gave up directing tournaments (and there's a whole separate rant here, too, that I've delivered in the chess newgroups a number of times). The main problem is that the authors try to cover every possible weirdo event that can occur in a tournament -- like what happens if a player sneezes on his opponent's Queenside Rook on the third Sunday in April after 3 PM when the lights have just gone out in the playing hall and the TD has left the room to go find the fusebox -- is it touch-move and if so, who qualifies as having touched the piece? (I prefer the "gunslinger" approach -- both players go for their Kleenex and the fastest draw gets to keep the piece). But you need to read this book, as horrible as the experience might be. At least carry a copy to the tournament -- that way, if a dispute arises, you can have a race with the TD to see who can archeologically excavate the relevant rule citation first (sort of a "Tortoise vs. Tortoise" deal).

Anyway, Randy, I'm sure that all of this qualifies as way too much information (and the sad part is that it's just the tip of the iceberg). My main point is that you should just try to relax, enjoy the experience, and as I always say at the end of ETN, have fun!

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