by Steve Lopez

I just came back from vacation (it was great, thanks for asking! It was my first trip outside the U.S. and I discovered that the War of 1812 was a lot more interesting than I'd previously thought) and, as always occurs when one returns from a trip, I found a pile of work waiting for me when I got back. I had a few dozen e-mails to answer, news to catch up on, a huge ChessBase project that needed to be completed, and I had ideas for a large research project that I wanted to start. Consequently, my writing time this week has been severely curtailed (and, with their usual uncanny and unerring accuracy, my children entered my office moments ago, not ten seconds after I fired up my text editing program to start this article). The subject material I wanted to cover has thus been split into two parts. We'll do the easy stuff this week and get into the more involved instructions in the next issue.

About three years ago, I wrote an issue on how to force Fritz into a specific opening. The program's interface has undergone a major revision since then and, presumably since the article is so old (and thus harder to find in the table of contents list), I've been asked the question a lot lately -- how do you force Fritz to play a particular opening?

There are actually three ways to do this (possibly more, but there are three that I've thought of). The method you choose will depend mainly on how ambitious you are and in what level of detail you're interested. Keep in mind, too, that all of these techniques will also work with the other playing programs ChessBase offers: Hiarcs, Junior, Chess Tiger, etc.

The easiest method is to just use an existing opening book (the one that came with the program or a larger book such as Powerbook 2002; in fact, the latter is particularly good for this). Click on the "New Game" button to set up the board at the starting position for a game. In the Notation pane, click on the "Openings book" tab. You'll see a list of the opening moves for White. Just click on moves in the list until you reach the desired opening position (or use the cursor keys on your keyboard to accomplish the same thing -- the up and down arrows go up and down the moves in the list, while the right arrow key makes the highlighted move and the left arrow key takes back a move).

I'm sometimes asked why Fritz7 doesn't have a pulldown menu of openings to select from, in the manner that a few "other" chess programs do. The answers are pretty simple. The opening book display allows you to step through the full game tree (of all the openings) to get to a position you want, so a pulldown menu of opening choices really isn't needed. And, as another factor, many of these competing programs are either too general or too specific in their opening choices, while the Fritz program allows you much more flexibility. As an example, one particular program lets you pick very general openings, such as "Ruy Lopez" or "Petroff Defense". Let's say you pick the Ruy -- the pre-programmed opening selection might end after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 and allow the engine to select its own move after that. The problem is that engines tend to play the same things over and over when left to their own devices in the opening, so you won't get the full range of Black responses to 3.Bb5. Another program I've played gives you quite specific opening choices, that is, particular subvariations of the major openings, such as "Ruy Lopez Schliemann Defense" or "Petroff Defense Cochrane Gambit". That's fine, but if you're (again) interested in a wide range of responses (like those after 3.Bb5 in the Ruy), specific opening variations are actually too limiting -- you get that one subvariation you picked with no other options open to the program.

Let's look at an example of how this works using an existing Fritz opening book, in this case Powerbook 2002. If I'm interested in playing the full range of responses to the Ruy (for example, if I'm preparing for a chess tournament), I'd start by opening Powerbook 2002 (by loading it [File menu/Open/Openings Book]) and clicking on the "Openings Book" tab in the Notation pane. I'd then go to the Game menu and click "Infinite analysis" -- this makes sure that Fritz won't reply when I click on a move from the opening book. Next, in the opening book tree, I'd select the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 by either of the two methods discussed two paragraphs ago. I'd then select "Infinite analysis" a second time from the Game menu to turn it off -- this allows Fritz to now make moves in response to what I play. If I want Fritz to make a move as Black at this point, I'd just hit the spacebar on my keyboard, or else select "Move now" from the Game menu. Fritz will consult the opening book (providing me with the opportunity to play against the full range of Ruy responses in this and future games) and make a move as Black; it will thereafter respond to the moves I make on the chessboard. And if I don't want to see any more opening moves from the book (after all, we're not allowed to consult ECO or MCO during tournament games; hiding the book's contents provides a more realistic training experience), I'd just click on the "Notation" tab in the Notation pane to hide the opening book and to display the moves that have been played in my game so far.

But let's say that I want to practice a specific Ruy variation, like the Schliemann (for example, if I was preparing for a chess club meeting and anticipated facing a regular who always plays the Schliemann as his response to the Ruy). In this case, I'd follow the same instructions as above, but instead of stopping after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5, I'd take it another step and click 3...f4 before turning off Infinite analysis and starting the game. If I was interested in taking it farther into a specific Schliemann continuation, I could keep selecting moves from the book until I reached the position after 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Nxe5 dxe4 7.Nxc6 Qg5 8.Nd4+ c6 and begin my game there.

The point here is that you have much more flexibility with this approach than you would with a pre-programmed pulldown menu of opening choices. You're in control of the process; you determine how deeply you want to go into an opening variation before starting the game, rather than being forced into choices that some programmer has made for you.

By the way, you can set time controls either before starting this process or at the time you reach the position at which you want to start. "But doesn't the latter method give both players more time on the clock?" I can hear you asking. Yes, but only marginally. The assumption here is that you're familiar with the moves leading up to the point at which you want to start practicing so, in an actual game against another human, you'll be able to bang out these moves more or less automatically. Fritz, meanwhile, does bang out opening book moves automatically (I've often seen games in which Fritz cranked out the first fifteen or twenty moves straight from the book in a total of one or two seconds off its clock), so the extra few seconds won't matter much (unless you're practicing at blitz or bullet time controls).

Another "tweak" is to set Fritz' opening book parameters (Edit menu/Openings Book/Book Options or else just hit F4 on the keyboard) before you start the game. For a greater variety of play, turn down the two "Learning" sliders and crank up the "Variety of play" slider. Also, uncheck "Tournament book" and set the "Number of games" figure to one or two. These tweaks will allow Fritz to play a greater variety of moves from the opening book. However, if you'd prefer that Fritz play only the "best" moves from Master practice, click the "Optimize" button and Fritz will stick to the "tried and true" main variations and skip the oddball sublines. I typically use the former option; I'm a club-level player (not a Master) and I play a lot of oddballs (and I mean that in the best possible way -- heh).

But I can already hear the squawking: "Do you mean I have to step though a bunch of moves in an opening tree every time I want to play a specific opening?" Remember I said that there are three ways to force Fritz into an opening? Method #2 is a shortcut (and is related to Method #1). You can input a set of opening moves and save them into a database, then just load the last move of the variation when you want to start a game. It's easy and there are a number of ways to accomplish it.

Start by opening a database into which you want to save the opening variation (or create a new database for this purpose) -- hit F12 to open the game list window and then use either "New/Database" or "Open/Database" in the File menu. Then return to the main chessboard screen, click the "New Game" button, and put Fritz into Infinite analysis mode as described above. Then just make the opening moves on the chessboard. When you hit the end of your preferred variation, click the "Save game" button or go to the File menu and click "Save". A dialogue appears that lets you type in the header information. I typically use the name of the main opening system or variation as the name of the White player and type any subvariation info for Black's name. To illustrate this, let's use the three examples I described above:

This is done so that you can easily spot at a glance which variation is which when you look at a game list. Once the variation is saved as a game in the database, you can load the position quickly. Double-click on the game in the list to load it in the main chessboard screen. Then just single-click on the last move in the Notation pane to jump to that position, set your time controls, and start playing.

Note that it's possible, but not advisable, to save just the desired position into a database, rather than the whole opening variation. Why do I say "not advisable"? When the game is finished, it'll be saved automatically into the Autosave database. If you start the game from a pre-saved variation (as described above), it'll be saved into the database as a complete game (right from the normal starting position for a game of chess). If the pre-saved database entry you load is just a position (rather than a series of moves), the Autosaved game will begin from that position, be saved from that position, and will have the letter "P" visible in the right-hand column of the game list (denoting an incomplete game that starts from a position other than the standard opening position for a game of chess).

An even easier way to set up your desired opening positions in a database is to use part of Method #1 -- step through the opening book until you reach the position you want, and then save that variation into a database as described for Method #2. When you want that position later, just choose it from the game list and click on the final position in the Notation pane.

And, by the way, when you start a game after getting to your desired position (either Method #1 or Method #2), Fritz will continue to use the opening book for any of its future moves from that point (assuming that any such continuations exist in the presently-loaded opening book).

These two methods are almost ridiculously easy and should suffice for most purposes of making Fritz play a desired opening. However, there's yet a third possible method for forcing Fritz into an opening: creating a separate book on just that opening alone. This is a bit more involved than the first two methods and will be the subject of next week's article. Until then, have fun!

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© 2002, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.