by Steve Lopez

Last week, we considered some sources for information on opening ideas. This week we'll look at the initial steps for learning the opening you've selected.

It's important to remember to start small. Almost all opening books will give you a suggested "main line", that is, the main variation of the opening in question. Different authors will make their main line selections for different reasons: the line might be very illustrative of the basic ideas of that opening, it might be one that leads to an equal position with chances for both sides, or, if the book is written from the viewpoint of either the White or Black player, it might lead to a slight advantage for one of the two players. If you're blessed with a decent chess library, you might look in different sources and find that the writers agree on a main line. This line is a good starting point. If various authors disagree on the choice of a main variation, pick one that looks interesting to you (or at least looks sound); the ultimate goal at this point isn't to learn the "best" line of play right from the start -- the goal is to develop a "skeleton" of opening variations upon which to hang the ideas you're going to learn. So, if you have more than one source, pick one and stay with it for the time being until you have a chance to learn the opening ideas.

Your next step is to create a "work" database and manually input the main line you've selected. To create a new database in ChessBase 8, start at the main database window (the one with icons for all of your databases). Go to the File menu, select "New", and then "Database" from the submenu. This brings up the Windows file select dialogue. Use it to go to the folder where you want to store this database, then change the default name from "New database.cbh" to something a bit more relevant to you (for example, I named mine "analysis"); you don't even have to add the .cbh extension -- CB8 will do this for you automatically. Click "Save" and you'll see a new icon appear in your database window. If you'd like to change the picture on this icon, right-click on it and select "Properties" from the popup menu. You'll see a list of different database types from which you can select a picture for your new icon.

Double-click on this icon to get the game list for this database; obviously, you'll see "No games found" in this window because you've not put anything into this database yet.. Click on the button to open a new game window. In this new window, manually make the moves for your selected main line variation. After you've input them all, go to the File menu. You'll see a command there for saving it into your newly created database (in my case, the command reads "Save -> 'Analysis'"); click on this command and you'll get the dialogue that lets you enter the game information.

You can type the header fields any way you like. I simply put the name of the opening in the "White" field and typed "Analysis" in the tournament field, but you can set this up anyway you want, as long as you can look at a game list and easily spot it later. Click "OK" when you're done and the game will be saved into your newly-created work database.

For the purpose of an example for this article, I've decided to look at the Queen's Gambit Accepted. I consulted a couple of the sources mentioned in last week's article and decided on the following main line as my starting point:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.a4 Nc6 8.Qe2 cxd4 9.Rd1 Be7 10.exd4 0-0 11.Nc3 Nd5

There are basically two things you should do with this main line at this point, both of which involve using the annotation palette. Go to the View menu and select "Annotation palette" to bring it up on the screen (the palette was described in the ETN issue for November 5, 2000). Once you have the palette on the screen, you're ready to annotate the opening moves.

As stated in the last paragraph, there are two ways to tackle this. One way is to just type in the text annotations from the book you're using. Don't put in any variation lines at this point -- you're only interested in the ideas of the single variation you've entered. To enter the text commentary, just click on the "Before move" or "After move" buttons on the palette to bring up a text entry box. Type in a text annotation and click "OK"; you'll then see the commentary appear in the gamescore before or after the highlighted move (depending on which button you selected). After you're finished, go to the File menu and select "Replace game", which replaces the original unannotated version of the game with your freshly-annotated version.

Another method (and one which I believe is more instructive and useful) is to annotate the game yourself, before putting in commentary from books. Doing the annotations this way makes you think about the opening moves, why they're played, what the point is for each move. You don't have to annotate every move, but do type in your thoughts on as many of the moves as you deem necessary. This seems like extra work -- it is, but it'll pay dividends later. Annotation an opening variation in this way makes you think about the opening's ideas and actually aids in retention of these ideas for later use. You might want to pay particular attention to the final position of your variation and type in your thoughts about the middlegame plans for both players. After you've completed annotating the game, go back to your book(s) and look at the commentary contained therein and pay particular attention to moves where the author's commentary differs from your own. In such cases, go back and reannotate your game, either by replacing your commentary with the author's or adding his comments to yours. Be sure to use "Replace game" afterwards.

Going back to my example, here's how I annotated my main line of the QGA:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 White offers to gambit a pawn to gain a central advantage (by drawing away a Black pawn from the center over to the flank). 2...dxc4 Black accepts the gambit pawn. He can't hold onto the pawn, so it won't result in a material advantage. But he hopes to get good development squares for his pieces and maybe even pick up a tempo. 3.Nf3 Simple development to a good center-controlling square. 3...Nf6 Black is going to want to play ...Nc6 at some point, but d4-d5 will simply drive the Knight off of c6. The f6-Knight controls d5 and prevents the d-pawn's advance. 4.e3 Preparing for Bxc4. 4...e6 Establishes further control of d5 and allows the dark-squared Bishop to develop. 5.Bxc4 Regaining the gambit pawn. 5...c5 Black looks to exchange pawns on d4, giving White an isolated pawn. White shouldn't swap pawns on c5 because of the resulting exchange of Queens and the forced recapture on d1 which will prevent him from castling. 6.0-0 a6 Denying b5 to White -- no surprise checks! So Qa4+ is discouraged because of ...b7-b5. 7.a4 Keeps Black from playing ...b7-b5 to kick the Bishop, but b3 and b4 are now permanently weak. 7...Nc6 Gunning for ...Nb4. 8.Qe2 Avoiding the possible Queen swap, making a central pawn exchange possible. 8...cxd4 The time is right to isolate that White pawn. 9.Rd1 Preventing ...dxe3 and piling up on d4 (the White pawn will be overprotected after exd4). 9...Be7 Black wants to get the King out of the center. There's no terribly useful square for this Bishop yet, so Black moves it here to clear the way for castling Kingside. 10.exd4 0-0 11.Nc3 Nd5 Blockading the isolated pawn.

Looking through the commentary in my various opening books, I see that I've pretty much nailed it. There are a couple of subtle nuances that I missed, but I can later add these in as additional commentary.

The next step is to drill these key ideas into your head. Switch the display mode of your notation pane to "Training" mode by clicking on the "Training" tab at the top of the pane. Use the VCR buttons below the chessboard (if you've opted to display them) to jump back to the initial position of the game. Now you play "predict a move": look at the position and mentally pick the next move. But as you do this, also think about why that move is a good one. Then click the VCR button to make the next move to see if you were right. Right or wrong, be sure to read the text commentary that accompanies the move, to reinforce the idea behind it. Repeat the process until you're getting most of the moves right and have the ideas firmly in your mind (and here the ideas are more important than the moves -- but you'll discover that, when you have the ideas down, the moves practically play themselves).

As a side note, here's a neat trick: you can make the commentary appear in a different color than the main moves in the game notation in ChessBase 8. Go to the Tools menu and select "Options". Click on the "Notation" tab and then on the button marked "Text color". You'll get the standard Windows Color Palette, which will let you choose a color for the text in your notation pane.

Next week, we'll look at the next step in our "building block" approach. Until then, have fun!

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