Thursday, December 4, 2014

Using databases

"Preparation is half of the work" was written by guest-writer Hypekiller5000 in the previous article. In other words, a good opening has a not negligible influence on the final result of the game. Even on my modest level I already showed 2 years ago that such effect is visible, see study chess-openings. It is not a surprise that players, knowing me better, try to avoid the bigger mainstreams against me as e.g. Tom Piceu leads Bruges through 1st division or just recently in Open Gent when afterwards my opponent confessed to read my blog. This is a disadvantage of writing this blog which I accept. In the end also my opponent takes a gamble of playing something which he doesn't know very well and of which he can't be sure that I haven't analyzed it already, see the boomerang.

If players are less familiar or ignore my preparation then I have often a significant higher chance to profit from a superior opening-knowledge. The most striking examples on my blog are described in the article the list of strength. After the umpteenth example on my blog I got the comment from MNb that I am pretty good in preparing games. Later he clarified this statement: there is creativity needed. Well in this article I will explain that creativity is often minimal and every player is able to arrive to the same conclusions. Much more important than creativity is discipline, organisation and a good methodology.

The title already betrays that I use intensively databases or also called plugging in jargon. A good book about plugging doesn't exist (a.f.a.i.k.) yet. There exists documentation about how chessbase functions but no guide about which steps you need to follow to optimize your chances in a short timeframe of preparing successfully. Besides I was struck by how many players were almost completely uneducated about how to use databases. So it looks appropriate to write an article in which I will present by means of screenshots a step by step approach how I prepare.

In the last round of Open Gent I was paired against the Belgian FM Marc Lacrosse. The pairings were announced around midnight while the game started at 11 AM. I am not a robot so I need some night-rest. If we deduct another hour for driving with the car from home to the tournamenthall then it is evident that little time remains to prepare. On top Marc answers my Spanish with the Open Spanish variation of which he is a big expert. 51 games played between 1987 till 2013 I found from him in the megadatabase as you can check in the screenshot below.
51 games Open Spanish of Marc in the database
Few professionals have such big collection of games in this opening. By the way I don't have any illusions about the fact Marc very likely played a multiple of games with this opening so his knowledge of the opening is much more than what the database shows us. On the other hand I played only 4 standard games in this opening. 3 of them continued with 9.c3 permitting the Dilworth attack and which I don't consider interesting anymore today, see for the reason why at my article copycats. In 2008 I played for the first time the mainline with 9.Nbd2 but only against a 1700 elo. In short I hadn't looked at the Open Spanish for many years and my ready knowledge was therefore very limited.

What to do when you have 150 points more than the opponent, little time to prepare, playing the standard repertoire is jeopardizing the winning chances and the final rankings + prizes are at stake? Well obviously you deviate but this doesn't fit in the scientific approach. Now I also don't like to be slaughtered. Next I try to describe how I mitigated the risks and even succeeded to transform the disadvantage into an advantage.

More than a decade ago I prepared myself for tournaments by repeating homemade analysis. However not only was this increasingly difficult due to the ever growing number of games but also I experienced a ridiculous low return. I spent a lot of time at repeating lines but it was rare that I could use something during a tournament. Recent years my tournament-preparations look very differently. If I played not much chess in advance then a few days before the tournament starts, I do tactics at chess tactics server. I don't look at anything else or don't practice anything special but I do spend at least an hour to update my databases.
- Twic in which tournament-games played in countless locations can be downloaded till 1 week ago.
- Enginegames of 3 sites: Ccrl, Sddf and Tcec
- Correspondence-games of ICCF but for that I contact a friend. As mentioned in an earlier article their database is still inaccessible for the public. I did discover a few days ago that it is possible to access it via Openingmaster but against payment.
So I can collect all material for free. In addition to updating the databases, I also update my engine openingbook, see how this works in the article green moves. If this is combined with a good engine like Houdini and/or Stockfish running on a modern portable then you are very well armed for preparing games during the tournament.

It has little sense to do those efforts if there is insufficient time to prepare. Well if the first part is about organisation then the second is mainly discipline. You don't sleep out but put the alarm at 6 AM. Breakfast happens during plugging. Only for the shower, an interruption is necessary but I anyway need a break during 4 hours plugging. My lovely wife prepares some food so I can also eat something during the game (play is during lunchtime). Discipline of course is closely connected to motivation/ ambitions which I don't lack yet at contrary to many other players (of my age).

4 hours to challenge an expert in the opening of which he has 25 years experience, is still very little. In such short time-frame it is impossible to make profound analysis so it is a matter of using a good methodology. Hereby I employ 3 tools which I manage via the Fritzinterface:
- the database with tournamentgames to define the moves of my opponent.
- the engine openingbook to define my moves and the ones of my opponent.
- the correspondence database to define my own moves.
So no expensive Chessbase interface as you don't need that at all. The premium package of Chessbase costs today 370 euro. It seems some players are paying this amount as otherwise the price would be lower but this is just exploiting the monopoly-position.

Lets start with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. 0-0 Nxe4 which is the start-position of the Open Spanish. To define what white should play, I use in first instance my (self-made) engine openingbook. For positions of which many games can be found in the database and there is a clear distinction between the candidate-moves, this is by far the quickest and most efficient tool. With a simple click on the button "F11" I get the result so quicker does not exist. Pay attention that I very often use keyboard shortcuts so it is important to know some of them. This seems not something obvious as in Open Gent a +2100 player attentively watched how I was plugging and asked how I could get the output like in the first screenshot. Well for such output you need twice to press "ALT+Q". This keyboard shortcut permits to switch between 3 outputs: description of the games, list of the moves of the games and mix of short description + some moves of the games.
Openingbook for whites 8th move
Above screenshot nicely demonstrates that dxe5 is the critical move in the position so I also select it. Now some attentive readers will notice (looking at the first screenshot) that Marc played a move earlier also Be7 instead of d5. This is correct. In 1995-1996 Marc chose 4 times for Be7. However in all the other games d5 was chosen. So it is logical to give priority to d5 and if some time is left then we return to Be7. It is not redundant to also look at old lines of somebodies repertoire because if a player smells a rat then sometimes an old love is chosen. By the way Marc admitted that he was considering this option as he knew me from a few years interclub when we were playing together for Lille EDN.

From move 9 onward I switch from the engine openingbook to the correspondence database to quickly detect the critical mainline. The engine openingbook doesn't give a clear distinction anymore between the candidates but this is quickly solved by using a filter on the correspondence database. With the shortcut "F12" we open the database and with the combination "CTRL+F" we open the filter. The filter which I use is a selection of the won games by white in the last 4 years. Below a screenshot of the data which I entered besides of course the position.
Input filter correspondence-database
The result of such filter can be viewed below. Well that is not fully correct as I first change the output via the keyboard shortcut "ALT+Q" so a list of the moves is shown.
Output filter correspondence-database for whites 9th move
In a glance we notice that 9.Nbd2 is today considered as the most important line as most games are won with that move in correspondence-chess. Because engines are excessively used in correspondence and the games are played on a very slow pace, it is safe to state that those are the highest quality games. I repeat this process for each of my moves and I try immediately to memorize them.

Meanwhile I define the answers of my opponent by watching the earlier games he played. I notice he answered 9.Nbd2, 7x with Bc5 in the period 1987-2001; 2x with Nc5 in 2010 and 10x with Be7 in the period 2003-2013. All this can be deducted from the first screenshot but often it is handy to just run a new filter on the tournament-database but then specifically on the position after 9.Nbd2 and Marc Lacrosse as playing with black.

So I give priority to 9..., Be7 but again I don't forget to look at the other moves when there is time left. 10.c3 seems to be the critical move for white so we look again how Marc replied in earlier games. After 10.c3 he played, 3x Qd7 in the period 2003-2004, 5x 0-0 in the period 2008-2012 and 2x Nc5 in 2013. Despite 0-0 was played more often, I still will give priority to Nc5 as it was played more recently. We again repeat this process for move 11 so after 11 moves we are for now having as mainline:1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nbd2 Be7 10.c3 Nc5 11.Bc2 d4

If we now apply the earlier described filter on the correspondence database then we notice that the harvest becomes small but is still usable.
Output filter correspondence-database for whites 12th move
Only 13 games but in 10 of them 12. Nb3 was played so I select that move. Now we have a problem as there are no more games in the database from Marc with 12.Nb3. How can we guess what black will play. Well for that I use again the engine openingbook in which all relevant tournament-games are included. Somebody playing 25 years the same opening will likely be aware about what top-players play in this position.
Openingbook for blacks 12th move
12...d3 seems to be the preferred choice by most top-players (the engine-book is only built with games of strong players). I again give priority to 12...d3 but I don't forget to look at alternatives when some time is left. For whites 13th move I again use the filter on my correspondence database. The output tells us that 7x Bb1 is chosen against 3x Nxc5 in the won games for white. So 13.Bb1 is selected. A move earlier no more games could be found from Marc in the tournament-database so I use again the opening-book. I repeat this process till whites 26th move !! The complete critical mainline is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nbd2 Be7 10.c3 Nc5 11.Bc2 d4 12. Nb3 d3 13.Bb1 Nxb3 14.axb3 Bf5 15.Be3 0-0 16.Re1 Qd5 17.Bd4 d2 18.Re2 Bxb1 19.Rxb1 Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Bg5 21.g3 c5 22.Nf5 Qd3 23.Nd6 Qg6 24.h4 Bxh4 25.Rxd2 Be7 26.Ra1

The last white move seems only known in correspondence-chess so not earlier played in tournament-chess or at least there are no references in my tournament-database. So it is impossible to further predict what black will play but that is not anymore necessary. Even if the complete line appears on the board then you still have a position in which games were won by white in correspondence-chess. Very likely black will not be aware of this information or otherwise he deviated earlier. It must be sufficient now to replay the remaining correspondence-games to get an idea how the game can further develop.

Does this process take a lot of time? No with pen and paper in the hand, you can quickly make notes of the selected moves. Using some keyboard shortcuts reduces the process for 1 single line to a few minutes. Another few minutes to better understand the final position and you can switch to another line. In 4 hours it is possible by using this methodology to check a lot of variations. In any case Marc was impressed by what I showed in the post-mortem.

And how about the opening of the actual game? Well it is no surprise anymore that the critical mainline popped up as otherwise I wouldn't have an article. Of course Marc somewhere deviates but for the rest of the story I refer to the viewer. The annotations were added afterwards.
[Event "Open Gent 9de ronde"] [Date "2014"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Lacrosse, M."] [Result "*"] [ECO "C83"] [WhiteElo "2333"] [BlackElo "2182"] [PlyCount "41"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Nbd2 Be7 10. c3 Nc5 11. Bc2 d4 {(In the club-championship of Deurne 2008 I had once 0-0 on the board. D4 was new for my practice but of course no surprise as I had noticed in my preparation that Marc played it recently several times.)} 12. Nb3 {(Cxd4 was played successfully previous year by Peter Leko, a former world champion finalist so it is surely an interesting continuation.)} d3 13. Bb1 {(Nxc5 is sufficient for a minimal plus without any risk for white. On the highest level black in most cases draws without too much effort.)} Nxb3 14. axb3 Bf5 15. Be3 {(Nowadays the focus starts to shift to Re1, b4 and Bf4. Black has no light task to achieve equality.)} (15. Re1 $5 {(In april played by Caruana.)} Qd5 $1 {(Nakamura continued with 0-0 but after h3 I have doubts if black can get equality.)} 16. b4 O-O 17. h3 $5 Qd7 18. Bf4 Kh8 $1 19. g4 Bg6 20. Bg3 Qd5 21. h4 $13) (15. b4 $5 O-O 16. Re1 Bg6 $1 17. e6 $5 fxe6 18. Rxe6 Qd7 19. Re3 Rfd8 $13) 15... O-O 16. Re1 Qd5 17. Bd4 d2 18. Re2 Bxb1 19. Rxb1 Nxd4 20. Nxd4 c5 $6 {(Marc rarely or never gets the mainline on the board and here mixed up the sequence. First Bg5 and then c5 is playable but also in that line I had something prepared.)} (20... Bg5 $1 21. g3 c5 22. Nf5 Qd3 23. Nd6 Qg6 24. h4 Bxh4 25. Rxd2 Be7 26. Ra1 { (Marc told me afterwards that he still knew Caruana - L Ami of 2012 which continued with Rd5 but Ra1 is an interesting and dangerous alternative which I extracted from the correspondence-chess.)} Qe6 (26... f6 27. Qf3 fxe5 28. Qd5 Kh8 29. Qxe5 Bxd6 30. Qxd6 Qxd6 31. Rxd6 Rae8 {(This double rook-endgame is slightly better for white but in correspondence-chess it was demonstrated that black can defend.)}) 27. Rd5 $1 f6 28. Rxc5 fxe5 29. Qd5 Qxd5 30. Rxd5 Rad8 31. Rad1 Bxd6 32. Rxd6 Rxd6 33. Rxd6 Rf6 34. Rxf6 gxf6 35. b4 {(After the game I showed this pawn-endgame to Marc which I hoped to obtain and is completely lost for black.)} Kf7 36. b3 {(Biedermann,Kyle - Kogeler,Aart 1 - 0 played in 2013.)}) 21. Nf3 {(Now black loses a pawn. Marc already considered here resignation but that is far too pessimistic as black has still excellent chances to draw due to whites poor pawn-structure. In the game I only got a decisive advantage at move 36.)} *
Coincidence or there is something valid in my usage of databases? The truth probably is somewhere in the middle. I believe in the approach as I see results. This year again 7/9 in Gent but with a significant higher TPR of 2383 elo.

So little creativity but organisation, discipline and methodology are the keys. Now I don't claim that anything everywhere can be solved with it. There are still many positions which can't be answered with this method and which still demand a lot of extra analyzing. There also exist some traps which I will describe in another article. The reader must understand the article as a guide to solve a huge number of opening-problems in a very short time-span.



  1. Was it me, that player in Gent? ;-)

  2. I assume you refer to "or just recently in Open Gent when afterwards my opponent confessed to read my blog." Yes you guessed right. :)

    I am bit surprised that you reply on the English blog and not on the Dutch as this blog is only a translation of the Dutch articles which I believe can interest a more broader audience.