by Steve Lopez

In last week's ETN we learned how to add variations to a gamescore. But variations by themselves are sometimes uninformative without some additional commentary. This week we'll look at ways to add commentary (both verbal and symbolic) to a game.

First, though, we need to get our font situation straightened out. To be able to view symbolic commentary (i.e. Informant symbols) in your games, you'll need to have the proper font selected. In both ChessBase and Fritz, right-click in the Notation pane and pick "Choose font" from the popup menu. Scroll down the list of fonts to the fonts that start with "F" and pick a font that starts with the word "Figurine". Then click "OK" and you'll be set up to use a figurine font. Note that this does not mean that you're forced to use figurines in place of letters for the piece designations in the Notation pane; all you've done is allow the programs to correctly display any symbolic notation that you choose to add to the game. You can still use letters instead of figurines for the piece designations if that's your preference.

If you plan to do any printing of games, you'll also need to set up special fonts for your printer to use. In both ChessBase and Fritz, go to the File menu, select "Print", then "Page setup" from the submenu. Click the "Fonts" tab. Click the "Notation" button and choose a font that starts with the word "Figurine" (as described above) and click "OK". Then click on the "Diagrams" button and select a font that starts with the word "Diagram". Then click "OK". Your programs will now be set up to use figurine and diagram fonts for printing purposes.

To add verbal commentary to a move, you first click on the move you'd like to comment on. Then you have multiple ways to open the Annotation window (where you'll actually type in your moves). Here are the ways to open the Annotation window:

  1. Right-click on a move and select "Text Before Move" or "Text After Move" from the popup menu;
  2. Invoke the commands from a pulldown menu. In Fritz, go to the Insert menu and select either "Text Before Move" or "Text After Move". In ChessBase, go to the Game menu, select "Annotation", and then either "Text Before Move" or "Text After Move" from the submenu;
  3. Use a keyboard shortcut. In both ChessBase and Fritz, SHIFT-CTRL-A lets you enter an annotation that will appear before the move, while CTRL-A lets you enter an annotation after the move.
  4. Open the Annotation Palette (View/Annotation palette or CTRL-ALT-S), go to the "Text" section of the palette, and click "Text Before Move" or "Text After Move".

The difference between "Text Before Move" and "Text After Move" should be pretty intuitive, but here's an example. Let's say you click on 1.e4 in the Notation pane and select "Text Before Move". Any text you add will appear immediately prior to the move 1.e4 in the Notation pane. If you choose "Text After Move", the text commentary you add will be visible after 1.e4 in the Notation pane.

When you choose either of these "Text" commands, you'll see the following dialogue appear:

This is really easy to use. You just type in your verbal commentary in the white window; it works just like a word processor or text editor. When you finish typing your comment, click "OK" and you'll immediately see your commentary appear in the gamescore.

I'm frequently asked what the tabs at the top of this dialogue represent. These are various languages. No, ChessBase and Fritz do not translate commentary from one language to another. These tabs work in conjunction with the user's "Language" settings to enable that user to see or mask commentary in various languages. It's a seldom-used and very underutilized feature of the program. The best way to describe how it works is to use an example.

In both ChessBase and Fritz, the programs let the user select up to two languages that he'd like to see displayed (Tools menu/Options/Language tab). Let's say that I choose to see commentary in both English and German. If I load a game from a database that's annotated in both languages (and some are), I'll see both English and German comments after any annotated moves of this game. But if I find this too distracting, I can return to Tools/Options/Language, select just "English", and when I reopen that game I'll see only the English comments; anything in German will be masked.

What allows this to happen is that the annotator typed his English comments in the box under the "Eng" tab in the Annotation window and his German comments in the box under the "Deu" (for Deutsch, i.e. German) tab. By selecting only "Eng", I'll see any commentary typed under the "ALL" or "Eng" tab, but commentary typed under any of the other tabs will be hidden from me. This feature was designed for use in ChessBase Magazine, for cases in which a game is annotated in multiple languages. For example, a game might be annotated by Joel Lautier in both English and French. If I have "English" selected as a language, but not "French", I'll see only the English commentary. A French user who doesn't have "English" selected as a second language will see only the French commentary, while the English commentary will be masked to him.

This brings up the first of my annotation tips: when you add commentary, make sure you have the proper tab selected. Typically, this will mean either the tab for the language in which you're writing or else the ALL tab. Anything you type under the ALL tab will be visible to all users, regardless of what language(s) they've selected under Options (so "ALL" is typically what I use but, as always, your mileage may vary).

Another "stupid text trick" that I've learned: indentation at the start of paragraphs doesn't work well when annotating games in ChessBase/Fritz; even though you've indented, these gaps aren't always apparent when the text appears in a block in a chess game on the screen. If your notes to a particular move will run more than one paragraph, it's best to leave a one line gap between paragraphs (just as you're seeing on this web page). This is easy to do in the Annotation window. When you finish your first paragraph, hit the ENTER key to start a new line. Hit the spacebar once, then hit ENTER again to start a second line. Start your new paragraph on this second line. This works wonderfully well when you see the annotations appear in the Notation window; there will be a one line space between your paragraphs.

As you use the Annotation window, you'll learn a lot of other neat tricks. Here are a few suggestions, tips, and caveats:

That last point allows me to make a nice segué into our next topic: symbolic chess notation. This notational form was developed in the 1960's for use in the Chess Informant and the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, European publications which are distributed worldwide. A few brainy mugs figured out a neat way to bypass the hassles (and expense) of printing multiple editions in different languages: create a form of notation in which symbols take the place of common chess terms and concepts. This allowed them to publish books which were essentially languageless -- other than the game citations (players/tournament/year), the only text appears at the start of the book, in which the symbols are listed with their meanings given in a dozen different languages. If you're playing through a game and come across a symbol you don't understand, you flip to the front of the book, look it up, and see what it means. This also had the benefit of saving space: instead of "White is slightly ahead" (23 characters, if you count the spaces), you can say the same thing with just a single character.

Over the years, this symbolic notation has become the standard language of chess worldwide. It doesn't matter whether you're from Missouri or Moldavia, the symbol with a little plus sign over an equal sign means that White is slightly ahead in the position.

Now I can already hear a few people groaning: "But I don't want to have to learn those symbols!" Do you want to have access to the full range of available chess annotations? Do you want to try to become a better player? Then learn 'em. Period. Learning to tie your shoes when you were five years old was a real grind, too, but you learned -- and it's second nature to you now. Symbolic chess notation's exactly the same. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long shot, but I learned 'em. Oh, once in a great while I have to look one up here and there, but I know most of them by heart. If I can do it, you can do it.

And, believe it or not, the proper use of symbolic notation by an annotator is almost an art in itself. I'll freely admit that I've seen lots of games annotated in symbolic form that didn't teach me a danged thing -- but it's the annotator's fault, not an inherent flaw in the concept itself. Do you want to know who was the absolute freaking king of the symbolic annotators? Miguel Najdorf, that's who. That guy could teach you more with a dozen or so symbols sprinkled through a game than some people can with eight pages of verbal commentary. If you've got an old copy of The Chess Player #2 lying around, for example, check out some of the games Najdorf annotated using nothing but symbolic notation. I was positively blown away by them. Sometimes less really is more.

All right, let's get down to work. To find the list of symbols and what they mean in the Help files, just follow the instructions given earlier in this article. Print them out and keep them handy. Over time (and it really won't take as long as you might think it will) these symbols will become second nature to you.

Let's have another look at the Annotation palette (introduced in last week's ETN):

Open this palette as described earlier in this article. Note that the bulk of this palette consists of buttons for the various commentary symbols. You can attach these directly to a move without opening the text annotation window: click on the move to which you want to attach a symbol, then click on the button for that symbol in the palette. You'll see the symbol appear in the gamescore, either righnt before or after the move (whichever is appropriate for that symbol).

Note, though, that you can't go hog-wild by using multiple symbols for the same move. At best, you'll be able to use three symbols for a particular move: one diacritical symbol (the ! and ? symbols for "good move", "bad move", etc.), one other symbol after the move (like an evaluation symbol for "Black is winning"), and one symbol before the move (such as the "better is" symbol). If you need to use a bunch of commentary symbols after a move, open the text annotation window and insert the symbols using the keyboard shortcuts.

Any replayable move (see last week's ETN), regardless of whether it's a main line move or a variation, can be annotated using these symbols.

A quick note regarding two of the buttons on the Annotation palette. "None" is a quick way to remove all symbols from a particular move. This is handy for when you screw up and insert the wrong symbols, or just plain change your mind. Note that this button removes all symbolic commentary from a move, not just the last one you clicked on. If you accidentally choose the wrong symbol by clicking on the wrong button, just click on the symbol you really want -- the incorrect one will be replaced by the right one. "None" is for those cases when you louse up and slap a symbol onto White's 15th move when you meant to attach it to Black's 15th. The "RR" button is a dinosaur. "RR" is the symbol for "editorial comment"; commentary symbols are by definition editorial comments, so I really don't see the point. It would be like saying "Heads up! I'm gonna comment now!" The only reason for using it (as far as I can see) is to clearly delineate added variations from the main line moves if you're going to be using the commented game in print form and are going to be printing everything in a "block" instead of starting a new line for variations or comments (and starting a new line is the standard form in most print publications).

You can also right-click on a move to bring up a popup menu. Three commands in this menu will display submenus for the various commentary symbols; click on one to add it to the selected move. Note that these three commands correspond to the three "categories" of symbols I alluded to above -- you can select a maximum of one symbol from each of these three categories, but no more.

Now we're getting somewhere! We can now add variations, commentary, and symbolic notation to a gamescore. But there are a lot of other forms of non-verbal commentary that we can add to a game. We'll look at these in next week's ETN. Until then, have fun!

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