Jon R. Edwards, ChessBase Complete: Chess in the Digital Age (Russell Enterprises, 2014). 350 pp., $34.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Once upon a time most chess players didn’t have enough information. Some of us can even remember that time, but now it’s in the distant past. Nowadays there’s an information glut. On average there are between two and three thousand new games available for download each week from TWIC, and that doesn’t even count what’s going on in correspondence chess. Being able to process all that information would be impossible without a computer and a database program like ChessBase, but even with them it’s a great challenge. And what if one doesn’t know how to use ChessBase, or doesn’t know how to use it very effectively?
Enter Jon Edwards’ new book, ChessBase Complete: Chess in the Digital Age (henceforth abbreviated as CBC, while ChessBase [the program, not the company] will be abbreviated as CB). While not commissioned by ChessBase, it’s liable to do them a lot of good, as the book is immeasurably more helpful than their manuals or help files. CBC very methodically tells the beginner all he needs to know about CB, and even very experienced CB users (like yours truly) picked up a few useful tips about the program. Computer-savvy CB users may not need the book – though I’d recommend that they at least have a look at it when they get a chance – but everyone else who uses CB or is thinking of doing so ought to consider picking up a copy. At $35 CBC isn’t cheap, but it’s worth the investment if you’re spending at least a couple of hundred dollars on CB and one or more big databases (especially the MegaBase).
The book has 14 chapters (called “Scenarios”) and five appendices, plus a foreword by Karsten Mueller, an introduction, the table of contents, a short page about the author and an index. The materials pretty well runs the gamut of everything you can do with ChessBase, from researching with pre-existing databases, creating one’s own material, using the analysis engines, and doing various things on their PlayChess server (playing, watching games, and giving/taking lessons). Let’s elaborate on the contents:
Chapter 1 offers a very quick overview of some fun and useful search functions – how to create your own “book” of Bobby Fischer’s games, for example.
Chapter 2 is a short chapter whose main idea is simply this: don’t add your own games to the MegaDatabase! I did glean one neat tidbit of which I was completely unaware, and it’s that one can search CB’s Online Database for players or rating ranges and not just as a sort of opening book tab.
Chapter 3 discusses basic database management (opening databases, opening games, entering games, copying and pasting from one database to another, editing games, save vs. replace, etc.). This will all be very familiar to experienced users, but new users without a great deal of familiarity with computers will appreciate having the ABCs clearly spelled out for them. One thing worth noting is Edwards’ frequent use of screen shots. These are helpful for anyone, but especially for those who aren’t old pros with CB or computers.
Chapter 4 shows how to look up a potential opponent’s games and offers various ways of statistically analyzing the information – primarily but not just their results in various openings. Edwards wisely notes that one can also perform such an investigation on oneself, which is useful not only for the insight we can gain into our own play but to help out-think our opponents as they prepare for us.
Chapters 5 and 6 are about playing on ChessBase’s Playchess server. Chapter 5 is about playing in general, while chapter 6 is about tournaments on the server.
Chapter 7 shows the tools one can use to annotate one’s own (or other) games. This includes text commentary and Informant-style symbols, and a few other options as well.
Chapter 8 is one of the longer chapters in the book (30 pages) and offers a lot of guidance and advice regarding opening preparation. There’s a good deal of discussion of ChessBase’s Online Database, one’s Reference Database (typically the largest database one has, optimally the Mega database) and Repertoire Database. There’s a discussion of using and modifying opening keys, there are some comments about opening statistics, and a good deal else besides. Many CB users will quickly gravitate to this chapter.
Chapter 9 is even longer and more valuable, and covers the use of engines and the different ways CB enables us to analyze with them. There’s also a considerable discussion of how to use others’ engines (or to allow others to use our engines) through the “Let’s Check” feature or in the cloud. There is much else besides, so this too is a chapter one should quickly and deeply peruse.
Chapter 10 revisits the topic of searching from chapter 1, but at a deeper and more sophisticated level. In addition to various do-it-yourself searches, which are covered in details, there are also pre-formatted keys for the Mega database: 16 under “Themes” (with sub-keys under almost every one of the main themes), five under “Tactics” (with sub-themes), nine under “Strategy (same comment) and 12 under “Endgames” (ditto).
Chapters 11 and 12 return to the Playchess server. Chapter 11 offers a brief overview of watching games there, and chapter 12 is meatier, covering the taking and giving of lessons on the server. (I give lessons there, among other places, in case anyone is interested!) He also covers the premium channels there, which include many pre-recorded videos. (Including almost five years’ worth from yours truly; it was an interesting surprise to see a screen shot from the list of videos I had done on page 228!)
Chapter 13 covers some of the tools CB has for the correspondence chess player (Edwards is a Senior IM with ICCF [that’s a title between IM and GM; it has nothing to do with age] and a former US Correspondence Chess champion), and chapter 14 closes out the body of the book with coverage of writing about chess using CB’s tools.
The appendices are useful as well, for both beginners and more advanced users. Still, the foregoing should be enough to let the prospective buyer know if the book is of interest, so I’ll close here with the suggestion that if you’re a ChessBase user it probably ought to be.