Thursday, June 30, 2022 10:31

Tools of the Trade, Part 9 (Database!)

Finally, I get to talk about a major tool for players: Your database.

Databases are systematized collections of data. Usually, the system selected converts the collection from data into information. They aren’t limited to computers: A recipe file box, for example, is a database in manual form. You can take the data (ingredients and directions,) set them into recipes organized by category, find and select certain recipes, and make a meal from the collective information presented.

You can manually systematize your chess games, if you have recorded them. You could sort them by opponent, opening (if you have written the opening or code,) result, etc. Before computers top players actually did this.

But you can also use a computer to create a database of your games. One in digital form, you can: replay them, determine alternate moves that would have worked better, analyze them with a playing program, develop a functional opening repertoire, examine games of Grandmasters, play back games from books and magazines, search for games that meet certain positions and conditions, see if your position has been played before, and more.

I am not going to be able to give the subject its due justice. I won’t really be getting into features and what distinguishes the programs, mostly. They’re all good, in different ways. But I will outline what’s out there. There are two main commercial alternatives, and two freeware alternatives.

First, freeware! SCID (Shane’s Chess Information Database.) It has the distinction of being able to run in Windows, Unix/Linux, and Mac. I have used it a little bit for evaluation on Linux, but not much. It uses the PGN file standard. Seems to be very solid.

The other freeware alternative is the somewhat-dated XBoard/Winboard. I don’t think XBoard was ever intended to be as fully functional a database as the other alternatives here. But XBoard/Winboard has since been expanded to cover: Chess, Chinese chess (Xiangqi,) Japanese chess (Shogi,) and also supports chess variants (Losers Chess, Crazyhouse, Fischer Random, and Capablanca Chess.) It is usable to load and save PGN format games. An Old-School alternative that still has relevance today. It is available in Windows (Winboard,) and Unix/Linux (XBoard) versions. (I started out with Winboard some years ago.)

Now that the “free” is out of the way, paid versions offer additional features and flexibility that the free versions can’t quite match. Before getting into them: Both alternatives offer “light” versions for free download. They are sufficient to get to know the programs a little. But both have restrictions, either in database size or inability to save new games. Someday I’ll try to detail the differences between them.

First, I’ll cover Chess Assistant, published by Convekta, Ltd.. $79.98 at USCF Sales. It is a very good program. I’ve used the trial version on Linux – it seems to run OK under the Wine compatibility layer. I’ve used it a little, but not much. The “light” version can be downloaded here.

And it’s main competitor, ChessBase, published by ChessBase gmbH. It will be hard for me to not write a lot about ChessBase – it is the software I use regularly. But in fairness to the other good programs, I won’t go into detail now. (I will note that the diagrams I put up here, and the game replays I offer, are all created through ChessBase.)

Price on ChessBase is a little harder. Usually I plug the USCF Sales as much as I can. But the “Basic” version of ChessBase is listed as $199.99. And there is a cheaper alternative. The “Light” version of CB can be upgraded for about $72.00 direct from ChessBase, turning it into “Light Premium 2009.” This is the option I chose – ChessBase Light Premium (2007.) The differences between the various CB offerings are here – with Light Premium mostly you don’t get the huge Master/GM databases.

ChessBase also allows one to play online at their server. I won’t get into that at the moment, though. A future Tools will look at online play.

If you’re wondering why I went with ChessBase…. Back in the day, ChessBase Light Free did allow you to save games with a database restriciton of a few thousand games. (This was before “Light Premium.”) I’ve been a ChessBase user since version 6. And once you head down the path of using either CB or CA, you tend to stay with that choice.

I think that’s it for now. The best advice I can give you: Download one (or more!) of the packages and try them out a little – see if you find one that really works well for you. A database is not absolutely essential, but is helpful in more ways than can be listed. And it’s a great way to expand the ability to

Enjoy your Chess!

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