The history of chess as such goes to medieval times and we can write several books about it. The oldest chess board was found in Uzbekistan and goes back to 7th century but when you try to look for information about the history of chess databases you suddenly have no articles to read. So why don't we have a look where does it come from?

I would personally divide the chess database into two big events.

The pre-computer era – Books and notes only

The computer era. (The first personal computer was build by IBM in 1984)

The chess players had following options before the digital age came:

  1. To play with other chess players with similar interest
  2. To learn from books or magazines
  3. Go to chess clubs where they could learn from a trainer or other better players
  4. Play very limited long distance chess with sending snail mail and wait days or weeks for the answer. (Yes the correspondence chess existed before the ICCF and before computers and the Internet.)

The common denominator of all of these games was a certain position on whites and certain on blacks and trying to learn the theory. This theory was then applied to the future games, which were then recorded in the chess notes, chess books, memoir books, and piles of papers. This bigger the collection of chess books was, the better analysis chess player could perform and learn. One of the oldest chess openings was recorded by Ponziani in 1497 and published in the book. The opening was 1. e4e5, 2. Nf3Nc6, 3. c3

The better players were examining their games by looking on the positions and trying to understand / compare it with theory for better possible improvements. The best players were recording everything and creating small paper library of games and openings to which they could return later on. They studied the theory and wrote the comments to the specific positions; they listened to other players and wrote their comments down too. Simply they annotated their own games manually.

The breakthrough from this period of never-ending notes was first publishing of Encyclopedia of Chess Openings created by ‘Sachovski Informator’ (The Chess Informant) from Belgrade, Serbia in 1966 or later in 1985 „Malaja debjutnaja encyclopedia (Concise Opening Encyclopedia)“ by Yakov Estrin"

These were the first concepts of chess databases in table formats. It was the revolution at that time, because it was a synthesis of all knowledge about openings and on the paper. The tables as we know them are many times the basis for databases.

The Chess Informant published two issues per year in 1966–90, three issues per year in 1991–2011 and sold three million books worldwide. The digital age was to come.

The computer era.

With arrival of computers back in 1980s, the chess players were learning this new platform and first chess programs. The revolutionary about this period was to play with a chess program but also record your moves on digital media (excel, notes or other tabulating software). One of the great successes was a world famous PGN format, which chess players use until today. The PGN was devised around 1993, by Steven J. Edwards and was first popularized by newsgroup recording chess games called Usenet.

The players understood that if they play on their own, their improvement would go slower. If their collected games would be exchanged with other chess players on 1:1 basis, this would not hurt anyone, as it was not shared publicly (it was still valued as big know-how). Later on, it was generally accepted that sharing this know-how is actually good for all players (you still need to win the game on the board with your opponent)

The first chess software companies came to the market offering their products, which could manipulate and work with the chess data. The famous German chess database software maker ChessBase GmBH was established in 1986 and ever since markets the software and their own chess database collections. Their current chess database version - “Big Database” includes 6.1 millions of games between 1560-2015.

Company Convekta Ltd released the first version of Russian Chess Assistant in 1990. It has offices in Russia, England and USA and produces chess database software as well as chess database called The Database King with 5,2 million games.

The last but not least, Opening Master – The Chess Database company was founded in 2004 as private collection of its founder Alexander Horvath, SIM (1953-2013) with around 3 million games. Its growth and quality had important milestones, daily data mining across chess Internet website now produce three major OM Chess Databases – OM GOLEM with 10 million human chess games, OM OTB with 7,7 millions over-the-board games (mostly from FIDE) and OM CORRESPONDENCE with 1,6 millions of correspondence games (mostly from ICCF)

If was agreed somewhere during the 90s, that chess game is a free trademark and copyrighted material and thus can be shared freely. However once you work on certain collection of games, this is copyrighted and protected material therefore you should always consult the terms and conditions of copying any portion of the chess database.

To conclude our short brief history of chess database I would summarize in two points:

The exchange of information is only for the benefit of those using it.

We need to use the Internet to store and distribute the chess know-how.

The private collection of chess games depends on quality of these games, duplication and indexing issues, games with actual moves (who needs only headers) and ability to collect them from the official sources. Other criteria (such as annotation) are based on specific needs.

Each chess database software uses their own file formats (Chess Base and Chess Assistant use their proprietary files) while PGN is widely free distributed used by all or free SCID chess database program.

The first real chess databases were born at a time when players realized that getting to know chess requires data, lot’s of data – a CHESS DATABASE. 

Alexander Horvath

CEO OpeningMaster.com

The Chess Database Company


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