Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Chessbase 15 part 2

Using CB15: some first experiences

First I must say that I came from CB12 (and before CB7) so probably I will like some features which a lot of readers already are used to. I also have Fritz 12 and 13 so this will not always be the best comparison with the latest Fritz-GUI. I am already a customer of Chessbase since Fritz5.32 and a reasonable early version of Chessbase (with dongle-security - how long ago was that). Before I had already Fritz2 which I used quite regularly and liked very much. After that I worked with Chess Genius 3 (very strong), Rebel 6, and many other good and less good DOS-chessprograms. I also still possess a Big/Megadatabase (1980-1994) with no less than … 215.000 games. In other words I saw practically the complete rise of computer-chess.

Anyway this review is personal as everybody has other preferences. Something which I find interesting will be disregarded by somebody else and vice versa. I am not going to talk about the most obvious things here of CB15. Neither will I try to cover everything. I want to discuss some things which impressed me good or bad in my daily usage of the software. On the internet you can find other reviews of CB15 so this is my contribution based on service pack 7.

First CB15 has improved one of their old features. I remember in the old CB-releases (and still in the Fritz-Gui) it is not easy to filter a database with positions to get only white (or black) to move despite this was already available in the 90ties by Nicbase. I see they solved this issue in CB15: in the search-mask you click next to maneuvers white (or) black. See the next figure in which I tapped on “B” (black). It is a pity that not everything in the window has been translated to Dutch. If other languages are offered then you would expect the translation in release 15 is done more professional.
OK, so that is one thing which I like about the new search-mask. Still Chessbase has not yet included Chess Query Language (CQL) contrary to their concurrent Chess Assistant. In Chessbase you can only use what has been programmed. That is a lot as you can see in the window above. If you click on examples then you can find 10 extra themes - see picture below. Only 10 yet so there are still a lot of other things to develop in the next releases: e.g. what about different sacrifices or exchanges?
Let us try the next search-task (*) “queen decoys into fork”. That gives 10 hits in my database of Belgian games. Funny if I use the search-task “rook double check” then I get the same 10 hits (so wrong obviously), for which I sent a mail to Chessbase. With that filter (*) I found below interesting game from my period in the liga of West-Flanders. White messed up after move 17 but that makes it just more juicy to replay the game.
[Event "Liga WVA9900"] [Date "1999.??.??"] [White "Van Coppenolle, Kurt"] [Black "Dhooghe, Frank"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B33"] [WhiteElo "2141"] [BlackElo "2089"] [PlyCount "111"] [Round "?"] [Site "?"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bf4 e5 8.Bg5 a6 9.Na3 b5 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 11.Nd5 Qd8 12.c4 b4 13.Qa4 Bd7 14.Nb5 axb5 { (And now we get the theme of the search-task.) } 15.Qxa8 Qxa8 16.Nc7+ Kd8 17.Nxa8 Nd4 18.cxb5 Nc2+ 19.Kd2 Nxa1 20.Bc4 f5 21.f3 g6 22.Rxa1 Bh6+ 23.Ke1 Be3 24.a4 fxe4 25.fxe4 Rf8 26.Ke2 Bd4 27.Rf1 Bg4+ 28.Kd2 Rxf1 29.Bxf1 Be6 30.a5 Bxb2 31.b6 Bd4 32.a6 b3 33.a7 b2 34.Bd3 Bc8 35.Nc7 Bb7 36.a8=Q+ Bxa8 37.Nxa8 Kc8 38.Nc7 Bxb6 39.Nb5 Bc5 40.Kc2 Kb7 41.Kxb2 Kc6 42.Nc3 Bg1 43.h3 Bf2 44.Nd5 Bh4 45.Kc3 Bd8 46.Kc4 Kd7 47.Kb5 Bh4 48.Kb6 Bd8+ 49.Kb7 Ke6 50.Kc6 Ba5 51.Ba6 Be1 52.Bc8+ Kf7 53.Kxd6 Bg3 54.Be6+ Kg7 55.Ne3 h5 56.Nf1 1-0

For those not knowing CQL, Tim Krabbé wrote a good article about it, and you can also read about it on wikipedia. The advantage of CQL is that you can create some very detailed search-masks like "white rooks sacrifices itself, starts from a white square, after that the white king runs from h1 to a8 in the rest of the game". This doesn't work in Chessbase but can be done with CQL. Of course who needs such searches besides Tim Krabbé J.

Also annoying is that CB15 always creates a search-accelerator after each search - the best to get rid of the complaints is just to accept it. Better would be that the program creates one in the background autonomously or not at all. These searches should be something basic for a programmer to develop. Chess Assistant is very fast so why isn't Chessbase? Is this linked to the messy structure of the database? Some bugs of the formatting are well-known. Today these bugs are sometimes called features (before you could therefore enter illegal moves in CB). An example of inefficient coding is a search on the won games of Michael Adams, played between 2015 and 2018, against opponents higher rated than 2600 elo in the Big database 2019. We see Chessbase checks the complete database while it is already chronologically ordered. A big improvement of the speed would be just to check the last 1.100.000 games or so. It seems to me that the search can be much faster.

A positive thing is that when you search for a theme (e.g. sacrifice on h7) then all the games start from the position where the sacrifices happens so making it much more efficient. On the other hand CB15 is often very slow and stopping a long search isn't always easy. Often it takes quite a while before the program reacts and sometimes you even get the window below:

I would expect some more stability for the 15th edition of the program but maybe my hardware plays a role here too (hint: my old HP desktop is not very stable with a new Windows). When I wanted to start using CB15 then I first needed to install service pack 5 as I couldn't save any games in any database. You would wonder if anybody tests Chessbase before releasing. Also after the necessary service pack updates, my version still crashes sometimes but ok this can maybe be caused by my computer.

Let us return to the filter (*) after the move-sequence Qxa8 Qxa8 Nc7+, for which there is no need of a specific search in the filter. You can also use a more common method to find such themes. Go to the position in which the theme occurs, click "report" and "similar moves". This immediately generates a list of games with the same theme and similar pawnstructure. It seems Kurt used something which happened already in a game of Lerner-Tseitlin played in 1973. You could even state that because of the popularity of the theme that it is a rather common trap. The advantage of this second method is that you also get other sacrifices than Qa8: like the one happened in the game Sorgic-Petrovic with Ra8.
Another plus of the search-window: if you ask Fritz to give you the won games of a player than you have to select separately white and black. In CB you can do it with one click: "only won games" and "ignore colors". This is useful but what about "only lost games"?

Searching, filtering this everybody can do but why is CB15 special? What makes a new release of MS Office, Fritz or any program again better? Well "replay training" and "planexplorer" look nice but I don't use it a lot. It are nice ideas especially for <2000, having troubles to make a good plan or to find the right squares for the pieces. The replay-training offers the possibility to guess the next moves by showing a diagram of how the position looks 3 moves later. The plan-explorer tells you which moves occur the most often in a position and what most likely should happen with your pieces in the future. Anyway this is only useful for the opening when there are still grandmaster-games in the database. Once you left theory then you can't compare anymore. So these 2 features exist for the player willing to work at chess. I doubt this is the best way to do as I learned more from the video's of Herman Grooten.

Another positive thing is -when I wanted to erase some variation and I accidentally erased everything - that I could use in CB15 ctrl+z”: which put everything back just like Word. If I want to copy a game (I often do from BB2019 or any other big database when I added comments as that would demand that BB2019 to be indexed again - read slowing down) then it is now much easier as I can just choose from a list of databases. Also nice is that you don't get anymore a popup window when adding a new line (main/side-line/ overwrite/ cancel or other stuff), as CB15 immediately inserts the new move as a new line which saves time.

So the search-tasks are fun but what else is possible? Statistics is the other great pillar of CB15. We know already for a longtime statistics of one player but now you can also find out the probability to where a piece will be played (can be useful to know in an opening where the queen-knight should normally be). You best use such statistic on a limited database of openings like www.pgnmentor.com – as a general search in BigBase2019, won't be useful). You can also ask the "surviving-probability" of a piece in a specific opening. That will tell you which pieces are normally exchanged. This is of course pretty similar to how Alpha Zero is playing chess. Sometimes more information is also too much information.

After the 11 moves of the game Belkadi – O’Kelly I checked which endgames occur in a standard-position of the Caro-Kann. Left-below you see the probabilities of the different type of endgames B vs N, N vs N or R vs R. That can be useful to know which endgames can occur in an opening. The figure right shows the same search after 6.f4 in the Sicilian Dragon: so mainly rook-endgames. Be careful as only endgames with pieces are shown and no pawn-endgames (because of double counting). It could give you an extra incentive to study rookendgames or also that you will exchange the queens and lighter pieces quicker. But again this more sounds like statistical chess.
The tab "players" in the database-window is the place to be when you want to prepare for an opponent. I wonder why they put the search-window for the name below (would've been better at the top) but ok it works. Not much changes since last releases. I still don't like that the 3-part-window of "player statistics" see picture below is still very small. It can not be very difficult today to increase the resolution and to enlarge the pop-up window so you don't need the scrollbar. The buttons below the windows (“N”, “A-Z”, “Result”, “Date”, …) should be working in both directions like Explorer in Windows: 1 click on the button (Aà Z) sorts alphabetically while a second click is the revert order  (Z à A).
And why are the sequence of the pictures in the ID-card of a player from "most recent" to "oldest". Ok maybe people are more interested in the most recent picture of an opponent so it is a detail.

CB15 clearly puts more emphasis on statistics. It is no surprise as we live today with Alpha Zero and data-mining. Eventually CB1 gave Kasparov the tool to take a sweet revenge against the team of Hamburg in his second simul. It is logical that Chessbase has chosen this path as there is still a lot to develop in that domain. The strength of a novelty can be shown by the performance (typically very good at the beginning but after some games it drops as good anti-dotes were found - when this happens fast then it mostly indicates the weakness of a novelty).

The 3rd pillar of Chessbase is publishing. Chessbase has adapted to the modern world: publishing to the internet (connection to facebook): one click. Publishing to gif which replays the game automatically (e.g. to publish on twitter): one click. Or just copy/paste to Word is still possible. Chessbase has all the modern tools so that is good. To copy paste a diagram to Word can be done in different ways: you can use the diagram in figurine font but also as bitmap with the more beautiful look and feel of CB15 (something which is also possible in Fritz).

Another good thing of the game-window is the bar with read- and evaluation symbols. Also fun is that Chessbase now immediately adds an evaluation of the moves when you upload a game so you see instantly how well the game was played. By the way this feature existed before in Fritz.

First I thought that “ctrl+shift+r” doesn't work which is something I liked a lot. Automatically some games are added to a game in which the same opening was played. It was very easy to check which master-game you followed the most moves. There is now a standard button (Novelty Comment) in the ribbon "Report". The tab "Reference" in the game-window looks similar but then you have to select yourself the right position and hope not too many games are existing (not too many but also preferably played by masters). "Opening-report" is also something similar but it is a different report and I want to have it in the game popping up. "The reference search-window" is part of the same family (drag&drop could be used in my game-window) but it is not done automatically. So I decided to consult the help-function (that small circle with “?” above right) but the following page popped up (still not corrected in CB15 sp7).

In the end I downloaded the very complete Dutch manual from their support page. A pdf of 691 pages! In that manual I found the command “shift+f6”, but that result looked very similar to above option "reference search-window". It seems they replaced the automatic reference till I discovered some new options when clicking right at the board. One of them was "search novelty" but also I noticed "novelty comment: Maj+ctrl+R”: that was the command I was searching. It was still there but only we are used to shift+ctrl+r and not maj+ctrl+r). For those wanting to know what I was talking about see the next picture: that command searches the most relevant games in the reference-database, so the ones matching your played opening.

I also want to add that I very much appreciate the support from Chessbase. They answer all your questions in a polite way and yes they also play chess. The support-pages of Chessbase are also good and on the chessbase-wiki many questions are answered already.

One other critic I have but not on CB15, but on Fritz interface: when you add a diagram where an interesting move is played, then this should be done after the previous half move (the diagram is shown in the move after move "x"). In CB15 this logic is used but not in Fritz and co as when you copy it to Word then the diagram pops up before the previous half move so ("x-1") even if you work the same way as in CB15, so putting the sign "#" after the move. It is very annoying when you mix Fritz and Chessbase for the same article so I sent another mail to Chessbase.

Maybe somebody wonders how you can have a diagram in CB15 before the first move of a game. Well you click on the first move and type “ctrl+shift+a” (= comment before the first move) and add [#] in the window. The next figure shows a diagram before and after the first move (if somebody wants to practice tactics then what do you play (after Qf6-f5) to win?). Also nice is that you don't see the diagram as “#” in the notation on the screen but like a real diagram which is easier to remember ("where did I put that diagram again") but also the layout is better, you want a diagram visible to show the actions, but also not too often diagrams.
I do consider it weird that the colored arrows and squares are not available as a ribbon command in the tab "insert", and only are possible with a combination of keys and mouse. I had to search but I found them (press alt / alt+shift / alt+ctrl and use the mouse). We are now talking about graphics which can be used also as a search-criterion. It is a bit lame but possible. Maybe some people analyze their games and like to use this search-mask to find those games. The Chessbase help-pdf also offers the possibility to add medals to your own games to find them back quicker.

I didn't cover in this article how to create and adapt openingbooks (OB) which is rather something belonging to Fritz as it is more simple there. Sure CB15 allows you to make a much more selective filter of games like games played by +2700 players between 2000 and 2015 which include exchange-sacrifices but I do wonder if an openingbook will benefit of such filters. An openingbook should preferably contain a large spectrum of variations played in the openings.

Yes, Chessbase is a good program and it is much easier to use than Chess Assistant which is maybe more efficient for users very intensively working with databases, publications, research and preparations. Only the look and feel of Chess Assistant is very different. Chessbase feels more familiar, it is like MS Office of Chess, while the Chess Assistant is more like the Star or Open Office: similar but just a little less familiar. You start up Chessbase and 90% of the features are very intuitively.

It is clear some imperfections are still to be solved so the work is not yet done. But for million of players in the world, this database-program is the only big investment you have to do - the return is for years. The small defects feel like you bought a new car and then you find out that the media-system doesn't allow you to play mp3's or the windows in the back are not electric. Fact is that CB15 offers many possibilities and in this release the developers really looked to how you can improve your chess, but every user still needs to check what is useful for him/ her.

Those who only use Fritz & co for their games, do they miss something? Yes the maintenance of the databases is much easier with DB, you have more options to filter and search in CB. You just work quicker with CB, you maintain a better overview. CB15 has many features which Fritz doesn't have so you have an edge compared to your opponent during the preparation.

Do you miss a lot? No not that much - maybe 20-30% of the features in Chessbase I miss in Fritz but the rest is for me not very useful. I was e.g. not waiting for a 3D-raytraced board. If I would ask 3 extensions of Fritz to bring it closer to CB (kind of intermediate solution between Fritz and Chessbase) then those are:
  • The more expanded search-features of Chessbase: not all of them but certainly some more
  • The usage of multiple (game-) windows in Fritz
  • And of course my ctrl-shift-r please
A Fritz "CB" with those features would be the birth of an extra product in the portfolio of Chessbase ... does somebody in Hamburg read this review....? Nobody interested in a "real" Chessbase Light (so not the junk which is limited to about 8000 games)?

The other way around, what would I like to have in CB15 which is now only in Fritz? The cr-analysis which is automatic now, but maybe I would prefer to define the parameters. And the database-keys (middlegame, tactic, endgame) which Fritz has, are also nice. But for the rest no, the Fritz-Gui is a Mercedes SL roadster, a luxurious two-seater racemachine – who can drive well, will get along with it quickly but it has some limitations. CB15 is a Mercedes GLS SUV: a very versatile car, which you can use for different purposes: sportive, multifaceted, chic; something you use for years without getting the feeling that you miss something.


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