Monday 4 December 2023

Using ChessBase: A Technophobe's Guide to Sending Chess Game Scores by Email

This is a personal guide to emailing chess games when using ChessBase*. Like everything else, it's easy when you know how, but I've come across experienced players, long established in the chess world, even professional players, who are a little unsure about how best to go about it.

I'll give you an example of someone who is a little unsure about it: me. OK, I'm joking but there is a point to this. It occurs to me that ChessBase probably has a built-in 'email game' function but I don't know, despite being an assiduous and regular user of their software for nigh on 30 years. Does it? I just checked and it does, right there on the File drop-down menu - 'Email Selected Database'. But there is no way in the world that I am ever going to use it as I don't need to. I choose to use the email client of my choice, giving me control over the drafting of the message and the attachment of files. This is a purely personal guide to how I carry out this function.

(* note: I use ChessBase 14 - I can't guarantee that all of the functions and options I refer to in what follows will be present in earlier or later versions of ChessBase)


FIRST STEP: SETTING THE 'OLD PGN' OPTION IN CHESSBASE

In my first draft of this post, I completely forgot to include this first step. It's easy enough to do but a bit harder to explain why it's necessary. So I won't bother - just trust me, OK?

In ChessBase, press CTRL+ALT+O to invoke the options menu - that's three keys pressed simultaneously, and it's the letter 'o' not zero. 

A small window headed 'Options' will appear in the centre of your screen. Click where you see Clipboard on the left, and you should now see a screen that looks something like the following...

The Options window: set PGN to Old Format

There are various clickable options towards the right of the screen, but the only one we care about right now is the one I've crudely surrounded by a red circle. Set that to OLD FORMAT and then click OK. That's the set-up done. (I personally leave this option set permanently to OLD FORMAT and have suffered no ill effects from it.)

SENDING A SINGLE GAME

Let's say you want to send someone a single game. This is fairly simple and doesn't require a deep knowledge of ChessBase functionality. I'm assuming the reader has some basic knowledge of how ChessBase works.

  1. load the game in a ChessBase window;
  2. copy it (CTRL + C on Windows, COMMAND+C on a Mac);
  3. switch to your email client and start a new message;
  4. paste the game (CTRL+V or COMMAND+V) into the message window.

In the email message window the game will look something like the text between the lines below...


[Event "Hastings Premier 1932/33 13th"]
[Site "White Rock Pavilion"]
[Date "1932.12.31"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Sultan Khan, Mir"]
[Black "Menchik, Vera"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D35"]
[PlyCount "79"]
[EventDate "1932.12.28"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "ENG"]
[SourceTitle "BritBase"]
[Source "John Saunders"]
[SourceDate "2023.12.02"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2023.12.02"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Nbd7 5. cxd5 exd5 6. g3 Bd6 7. Bg2 c6 8.O-O O-O 9. Nh4 Re8 10. Nf5 Bf8 11. Qc2 Nb6 12. Nh4 Be6 13. Rd1 Qd7 14. a4 Rad8 15. a5 Nc8 16. Na4 Bh3 17. Bg5 Bxg2 18. Nxg2 Qg4 19. Bxf6 Rxe2 20. Qxe2 Qxe2 21. Bxd8 f6 22. Bc7 g5 23. Ne3 h5 24. a6 bxa6 25. Rdc1 Qb5 26. Nc3 Qxb2 27. Rab1 Qd2 28. Rc2 Qd3 29. Rb8 Ne7 30. Bd6 Kf7 31. Ncd1 a5 32. Rcb2 a4 33. R2b7 a3 34. Rxa7 a2 35. Rxa2 f5 36. Raa8 Bg7 37. Rb7 Bf6 38. Bxe7 Bxe7 39. Raa7 f4 40. Rxe7+ {Sources: The Times, 3 January 1933; Birmingham Daily Post, 5 January 1933} 1-0


... but don't be put off by the looks of it or be tempted to edit it to look friendlier to the human eye. It's a PGN representation of a chess game score, where PGN stands for Portable Game Notation - and the recipient of your email (assuming they are reasonably ChessBase-savvy and are interested in the game) will be more than happy to see it set out like this. They'll copy your game score straight from your email with one deft stroke of their mouse, paste it into a new ChessBase game window and save it into their own database without having to retype a single character.

5) Any explanatory text and comments you can add to the email before or after the PGN game score segment.

6) Type in the recipient's email address, click send and you're done. And you've hardly needed to know anything about ChessBase except how to load a game and copy it.


SENDING MULTIPLE GAMES

Now let's find the best way to send more than one game: two games, half a dozen, 20, 30...

You could simply follow the above directions, cut and paste multiple games into an email window as before. That's a reasonable solution where you're only dealing with 2-6 games but it's a bit cumbersome when you're starting to deal with a larger number of games. This is where you're need to learn a few ChessBase tricks.

In ChessBase we're not going to start from a game window this time but from a game list, which includes the games that we wish to transmit.

Starting from the database window which we can think of as ChessBase's home page, double-click on the database that has the game scores that you want to send by email.

1) mouse-click left on the 'Games' tab to show you a list of games in the database
2) highlight a game by mouse-clicking left on a game in the list;
3) whilst holding down the shift key, mouse-click left on another game below (or above) the game already highlighted, so that you've got about half a dozen games highlighted;

Highlight the games to include in the PGN file

What you see on the screen should look something like the above, showing a number of games highlighted. These are the games which we are about to turn into a PGN file which can be sent to an email recipient.

4) position the mouse pointer somewhere in the highlighted area and mouse-click right; you should now see a drop-down menu. Now move the mouse pointer over the OUTPUT option, which reveals a further drop-down where you're going to choose the SELECTION TO TEXT FILE option...

Here's what you should be looking at on the screen...

Highlight the games to be sent, hover over OUTPUT, click SELECTION TO TEXT FILE

... with the red circles I've crudely drawn showing where OUTPUT and SELECTION TO TEXT FILE options appear on the screen.

5) You now want to mouse-click left on SELECTION TO TEXT FILE (but PLEASE DON'T CLICK on the Email Selected games option immediately above it! That might sound like the thing that you want to be doing but, trust me, it isn't)

This opens up a new small window on the screen...

Click on PGN in the left-hand column (not the middle column)


6) ignore the two columns to the right for now and in the left-hand column, 6th item down, click PGN

This opens up another window, which looks like this...


Click on PGN (left-hand column) and put a tick in the OLD FORMAT box


7) mouse-click left where it says OLD FORMAT to put a tick in the box and click OK. (I could explain why we make this choice but it's better not to know and just trust me.)

8) This opens up a new window which is inviting you to create a PGN file containing the games that you have previously highlighted. First making sure that the SAVE AS TYPE field shows PGN Format (*.pgn), it's now up to you to choose a meaningful name for the file you are creating and a suitable folder to locate it.

That concludes the ChessBase part of the process. You can now prepare your email message, attach the PGN file which you have just created (just the one file suffixed *.PGN - ChessBase may create other small files with the same name but different suffixes but you don't need to send them) and send the email. Job Done.


THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO DO THIS BUT BEWARE...

... it may seem simpler at first but it can work out more problematic in the long run. I'll describe it in outline: you create a PGN database in ChessBase, copy games into it, then attach it to an email, and then send it. Sounds simpler and more logical but there are snags. Over the years I've come to dislike creating PGN files in that way. For one thing ChessBase is very 'clingy' when it comes to such databases. For example, it might not let you upload PGN files created in this way to the web without first closing the ChessBase software. (That's the sort of thing that could take you hours to figure out.) And the resultant PGN file may also include some strange-looking gobbledegook generated by later versions of ChessBase that may confuse recipients of your email. (That all-important tick in the OLD FORMAT box at step 7 above eliminates this strange stuff. Similarly, I can now reveal that the reason we took that first step, right at the beginning of the post, to set PGN to OLD FORMAT in the Options menu, was to eliminate this meaningless gunk from appearing in PGN notation when copied from a game window)


CHOOSING WHICH GAMES TO SEND

This is slightly off-topic and more about understanding ChessBase functionality but I thought I would share a couple of thoughts about how to get games ready for transmission.

The example I gave above was simplistic - a sequence of half a dozen games in precise order on a games list. The games you want to send out may be from different areas of your ChessBase set-up, e.g. from a player index, a tournament Index or from separate databases.

In those circumstances, the Clip Database function in ChessBase is your friend. It's worth getting to know how it works, how to put games in it, how to sort them into a given order, how to clear it, etc.

ChessBase's Clip Database is your friend

The Database Window (Home Screen - 'My Databases') should have a database icon labelled CLIP DATABASE. One important use for it is to gather together some games which you want to send  to someone.

Double-click on CLIP DATABASE. If you've never used it before, it will be empty. Just headers, no games. If it has games in it, and assuming that you've now finished whatever it was you were doing with them, you can get rid of them. To do this, go back to the database window, mouse-click right on the icon and choose ERASE CLIPBOARD (or CTRL-ALT-V) on the keyboard. Don't let the word ERASE frighten you - none of the games on your databases will be harmed in the process. This does NOT delete games from the database in which they reside, it simply removes them from the Clip Database, which you can think of as a place where you temporarily make copies of games and group them for further action.

Now you have an empty clip database, you can (re)populate it with the selection of games you wish to put in your PGN file to send out. You do this by going to any database, highlighting a game or games from a list and clicking function key F5 (there's another mouse-driven alternative to using the function key but it's a bit clunky so let's not worry about it - just try to remember that F5 adds games to the Clip Database, or, if they are already on it, removes them). 

Once you've finished selecting the games you want to put in your PGN file, you return to the database window, double-click on the Clip Database icon and you should see all the games that you've added. If you've accidentally added a couple that you don't intend to send, highlight them and press the F5 function key again and they'll disappear from the Clip Database (again, they will not disappear from their home database, just from the Clip Database). 

You can change the order in which the clipped games appear on the screen by clicking a header. (Typically, you'll want to put them in chronological order so you'll probably click the 'date' header.) Once you've got the list of games you want to send in the order that you like, you highlight all the games. CTRL+A highlights all the games in the Clip Database window. Now you can proceed to point 4 above to create the output PGN file. The rest of the steps are the same as given there. 


SENDING BIG DATABASES

A much less likely scenario arises when you want to send a really big database, let's say, one containing upwards of 20,000 games. For this the PGN file option is not ideal. In fact, it may not work. A lot of email servers prevent users from sending large attachments. A PGN file of 20,000 games could weigh in at 10+ megabytes. In those circumstances ChessBase's own solution becomes almost essential, namely a ChessBase archive file (suffixed *.cbv in the Windows Explorer list).

Creating a ChessBase archive file is quite easy. Highlight a database in the database window by mouse-clicking left, then mouse-click right, hover with the mouse over the TOOLS option and select BACKUP DATABASE. (the keyboard equivalent is easier - CTRL + Z). A small window appears, offering encrypted or non-encrypted format, set unencrypted (it's the default setting) and click OK. It now invites you to choose a name for the backup/archive file. Make sure you choose a meaningful name and remember which folder you chose to save it in. The backup file (look for the file you named suffixed *.cbv in Windows Explorer - ignore all the other files suffixed otherwise) contains the entire database in a more compact format and can be sent as an email attachment with a better chance of staying within limits for email transmission.
Back-up to a ChessBase archive (*.cbv) file - CTRL+Z or right-click TOOLS / BACKUP DATABASE



WHY DON'T I RECOMMEND CHESSBASE ARCHIVE (*.CBV) FILES FOR SENDING ANY DATABASES? 

Now I've told you about the advantages of creating ChessBase archives - ease of creation, saving space - you might be tempted to use them for sending database files of small and medium sizes, not just whoppers. You create a new ChessBase database, put all the games you need to send in it, archive it and attach the archive to an email and that's it.

Yes, you can do that. But I wouldn't recommend it.

The problem is compatibility, or, rather, incompatibility. For a start, not everyone uses ChessBase and, if they don't, a ChessBase archive (*.cbv) will be unreadable on their computer, whereas the PGN format is universal - all chess software is (or should be) capable of importing it. 

The incompatibility situation has worsened in the past year or so. Even if  your intended recipient has ChessBase, their version of the software and yours may be incompatible. This didn't use to be a problem but ChessBase have seen fit to bring out a new version, ChessBase 17, which uses a database system which is incompatible with all previous versions in this respect. So if you're using ChessBase 17 and you create a database archive using the latest database format and send it to a friend who is still using an earlier version, they won't be able to do anything with it.

I personally use ChessBase 14. It is stable and does everything I need it to do and am not planning to upgrade to ChessBase 17. People occasionally send me CBV files (as I call ChessBase archive files) produced in ChessBase 17 and there's nothing I can do with them. I could ask them to send me material in the older database format, which CB 17 still supports - allegedly - but they could then get confused. (If you don't believe me, take a look at the 300+ pages of the ChessBase 17 user manual -  it does have solutions to compatibility problems but they are not easily discoverable. Seriously, if you are a ChessBase 17 user and wondering how to create a file of games which will be compatible with other people's chess databases, go to the linked page, click where it says 'Reference' on the left-hand menu, then 'Database Formats', then 'Database Formats' - or simply click on this link to go straight to the relevant page - and you can see how you can create a PGN format database in ChessBase 17.

So let's just stick to PGN for transmitting games. I hope this has been of some use to those who are unfamiliar with ChessBase - and if you know better ways to do some of these things, don't hesitate to get in contact with me at BritBase.info. That said, I probably won't take a blind bit of notice and carry on doing what I always do anyway. I'm an experienced user but a technophobe at heart.

Finally, a belated acknowledgement to Nick Murphy who, many years ago, achieved the impossible in weaning this grumpy old technophobe off ChessBase 7 and onto later versions of the software.

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