On November 17th, 2020 ChessBase released the newest version of its popular database software. In this article, I conduct a ChessBase 16 review. I explain what’s new, what isn’t and whether it is worth buying.
My history with ChessBase
I have been a ChessBase user since 1990. This was back when the product shipped for MS-DOS and came on a pair of 3.5″ floppy disks.
A lot has changed since then. The integration of chess engines, the network connectivity to the Internet are just two changes that have propelled the product to new heights making it an indispensable tool for aspiring chess players.
I’ve been around the product nearly 30 years. Do I know every feature and function of ChessBase? Pretty much with a few exceptions. I am hoping my experience with ChessBase can help you make an informed decision to purchase the product and use it to improve your chess.
ChessBase 16 Review – Pricing and versions
There seems to be a lot of confusion around how much ChessBase costs. I was at the Crossroads Mall a few months back and someone told me they were interested in buying ChessBase but they didn’t have $500 to spend. “$500?!” I replied. “What are you talking about?” I pulled out my Microsoft Surface and navigated to ChessBase.com to show him the different pricing options. As of this writing, a full list of ChessBase 16 features and pricing is available here.
If you’ve never purchased ChessBase before, it will cost you around $150. For users who own ChessBase 15, there is an upgrade version available for around $99. Note: You will need the CB15 serial number to verify prior ownership.
For chess players serious about improving their game, the is a purchase well worth the upgrade. The ability to analyze your games, absorb information and test your skills has never been easier than it is now.
This review focuses on ChessBase 16’s new features and functionality. I won’t spend time reviewing every new feature, just the ones I think are the most compelling.
For new users to ChessBase, I am working on a more detailed blog post tailored for first time users of the product. OK, let’s get down to business!
Installation and first launch
I purchased the upgrade version of ChessBase 16 via Internet download. In less than a minute I was able to download the following files:
ChessBase16Setup_x64.msi – the actual installation file.
cb16-eng.pdf – the manual for ChessBase 16.
Installation was quick and painless. When I was done, a new ChessBase icon appeared on my desktop. Once I double-clicked it I saw the familiar user interface I am used to.
Everything looks they way it should. This is a good thing. I am glad that ChessBase didn’t revamp the interface. Keeping things familiar to the end user is important before new features can be introduced.
Now let’s open a game.
Everything looks pretty much the same except for the notation. There are now green and yellow minus signs that draw your eyes toward variations. Also, there are graphical icons on the right side of the notation. This is where I will begin coverage of new features.
ChessBase has not always justified the need for a new version . A handful of releases introduced some new features that were noteworthy but not critical for the average chess player. That is until now. I have to say that the vast majority of new features in ChessBase 16 are helpful and useful. So let’s take one at a time.
Folding game notation
The new icon I mentioned above is now part of the UI whenever you open a game.
It introduces a graphic method to quickly change the notation in a game as follows:
Switch variation folding OFF/ON – This is on by default but if you turn it off, the green and yellow minus/plus signs disappear and sub-variations are not highlighted graphically.
Fold all variations in the game notation. This folds all sub variations into a neatly displayed plus sign to help make the game more readable.
Unfold all variations in the game notation. The opposite of the previous command. All variations are expanded for maximum visibility.
Fold all variations except the current one. This is cool feature. The icon is in the shape of a microscope and for good reason. If you are in a particular variation you find interesting and want to collapse all other variations, click this button.
Choose a font for the current notation. This is not a new feature, it has just been brought out from the menu system. Clicking this will immediately offer you different fonts and font sizes for your game notation.
Switch between different variation structures. This changes how the variations appear in the notation. There is no collapsing or expanding here. There are at least a few options that I can see. Basically, this is a visual aesthetic for the user to decide what he or she likes best. You can switch between different ways of looking at the notation depending on your preference.
There is a new tab in the notations window called Opening Surveys. The idea behind this feature is to make it easier to cross-reference games and select the ones you are most interested in. The program does this by allowing you to generate a survey based on a sequence of opening moves. For example, I can create a new game, play 1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.Ngf3 which is the beginning of the King’s Indian Attack (KIA). From here I go up and click the survey tab and have a bunch of options to choose from.
I won’t go through all of them but as you can see, there are a wide range of options to choose from. For the purposes of this example, I chose Fashion and Master. I assume that ChessBase builds the opening survey based on what is in fashion and only with games that are master quality – at least that is what it appeared to do. The survey took about 5 minutes to generate. I’m guessing that’s because I only entered a few moves and did not focus on a longer line. My observation is – the shorter the line, the longer it takes to generate the survey.
Once complete, the survey looks like this:
The moves I entered form the survey with several alternative lines listed. This is a feature I will experiment with more and let you know any new nuggets I uncover.
The LiveBook tab has a new button on it called Novelty Mining. According to the instructions, this is a way to find opening novelties by using your chess engine.
Once you click the button, you are presented with a list of mining options that let you configure how the engine will search and evaluate new moves.
I tried Novelty Mining on a few openings but I wasn’t able to get any results. I don’t understand the difference between using this feature compared to just letting a chess engine spend time on an opening to see if it comes up with any interesting alternatives. This looks like a promising feature but I will need more time to kick the tires.
Live Databases – tournaments, theory and tactics
One of the most exciting new capabilities in ChessBase 16 is the new live databases. There is a new icon at the very bottom of the Folders pane when you launch ChessBase. When you click it, you will be shown several databases of major chess events happening all over the world! For example, I just clicked the Live icon and got this:
I was shown game databases from the 2020 Speed Chess Championships, the Russian and Turkish championships. Finally, a ChessBase user can see events around the globe, many of them in real-time. Some of the games were even annotated! There is also a database highlighting tactics from recent games open new opening novelties. This is a feature that should have been in previous versions of ChessBase but I am glad it made its way into this version.
Other new features
Listed below are some additional new features in ChessBase 16. In my view, these are not game changing features so I summarized them below:
The program now shows you a pop-up notification of any new opening trends or novelties. New comments and informant symbols are included in the games.
Worried that your online opponent is cheating? Run your game through a centipawn analysis to see if it reveals any patterns in computer assistance.
Transitions in the eval profile
The evaluation chess engine screen is now segmented to show the opening, middlegame and endgame phases of your game.
PGN Downloads available in published games
Published games now have a little disk icon to allow others to download the PGN notation to their computers.
Organizing your Repertoire
The introduction of My Moves provides easier access to add moves to your existing repertoire. ChessBase 16 offers pre-prepared opening repertoires making it easier for you to choose your White or Black preferences. Note: I have not used the repertoire feature very much. This is something I will explore more and post a follow-up at some future date.
A simple but welcome improvement is the introduction of the game tag feature. This allows you to tag your games with words, phrases or other information making them more searchable. For example, I could enter tags such as “Comeback win” in a variety of games and use that phrase to search for games that match that criteria. For those of you who use SharePoint or WordPress, the technical term for this is metadata.
ChessBase 16 Review
Conclusion and Recommendation
New versions of software are often “nice to have’s” but not “must have’s”. For years, Microsoft Office touted a slew of new features and capabilities that its user base was unimpressed with. Instead, users preferred the core features rather than the bells and whistles associated with the newer version.
ChessBase 16 is a welcome upgrade from the previous version. It is closer to a “must have” than previous releases. The new integration of Live databases is a big change that any chess fan should be excited about. The improved folding notation feature alone makes it something you should consider purchasing. I can’t tell you how nice it is to open up some of my deeply annotated games and use a single click to collapse, expand or change the view of the notation. Games that are more readable are easier to learn.
Game tags sound like a frivolous feature but it will help many of you tag your games for better searching at a later date. It’s similar to writing the main theme or title of a game. So I could write something simple like “My Best Game” or give it a more graphic title like, “The horror of losing a game while up a queen!”.
The overall speed and responsiveness of ChessBase seems faster too. This might be my imagination but there are many times I can see the program returning results faster than the previous version. Often times, speed enhancements don’t get mentioned in newly released products because they are technically not a feature. Still, it is a welcome improvement!
Should you buy the ChessBase 16? Yes. The product has reached a maturation stage that any serious chess player looking to improve their game needs to own. ChessBase is the ultimate studying tool but it’s also a great teacher too. There are hundreds of online products that are available to help you learn openings, middlegames or just review the games of the masters.
Once you start using this product you won’t stop. ChessBase can provide you statistical insights into your play that you would never find on your own. The program is easy to use for beginners and advanced players alike. The holidays are coming up, so make sure you put ChessBase 16 on your Christmas list!
If I had to give the product a rating, Chessbase 16 gets a 9 out of 10.
What did you think of my ChessBase 16 review? Do you own the product? Are you thinking of buying it? Please leave your feedback below!