ChessBase 11 – The Symbol Palette

Many players at some point in their chess career find themselves annotating chess games. It might be a tournament player adding notes to a gamescore a few days after an event, or a correspondence player preserving his analysis and commentary to an ongoing game. In my specific case, annotations are generally added in the course of writing a chess article or editing a chess book. An often used feature of ChessBase 11 is the ability to quickly and easily add variations, comments, and symbolic commentary (such as !, ?, =, etc.) to a game. But, quick and easy as this is, a lot of users don’t know about a special shortcut which makes adding commentary even easier.

It’s called the Symbol Palette (formerly known as the Annotation Palette in previous ChessBase versions). It’s a small “floating” window which contains the most often-used chess commentary symbols as clickable buttons.

The first thing we need to learn is how to get to the Symbol Palette. In a ChessBase 11 game window, click on the Insert menu and look for the tiny button in the lower right-hand corner of the “Annotations” portion of the ribbon; it’s highlighted in yellow in the next illustration below. When you move the mouse over this small button, you’ll see a description of the Symbol Palette:

(As a reminder, you can click a picture in this blog post and [usually] get a larger version of the picture.)

Click on this button and the Symbol Palette will appear:

The Symbol Palette is a “floating” window. If you click on its blue title bar, hold down the left mouse button and move the mouse, you can move the palette to any place on the screen. And, when you click on any portion of the game window (such as a move in the Notation pane), the palette will still remain “on top” of the other window. So it’s usually handy to position the palette over an empty portion of the gamescore where it will be accessible without obscuring a ton of the game notation:

There are three groupings in the Symbol Palette depending on the specific task. The upper section consists of the primary “punctuation” used in the Chess Informant-style notation, which has become the common “language” of chess (I would have used the term lingua franca, but I don’t know how to spell it). This symbolic notation allows for easy non-verbal communication; for example, a Russian grandmaster can annotate a game using these symbols and his commentary is understandable by anyone who understands this notation. Don’t scoff – the great Polish-Argentine GM Miguel Najdorf could convey more with these symbols than most annotators do writing in their native tongue (I refer the reader to the Najdorf-commented games in early 1970’s issues of The Chess Player as proof).

If you don’t know what the symbols mean, you’ll find them in the ChessBase 11 Help file. Click the “Index” tab in Help, type the word “commentary” (minus the quotes) in the box provided, then double-click on the link for “Commentary symbols”.

The second section provides quick shortcuts for adding text before or after a move, while the third section allows you to quickly add (and sort) variations.

Let’s take a quick look at how all of this can be used in practice. I’ve loaded a game from Mega Database 2011 in which an interesting gambit variation of the French Defense was played. It’s an old Aron Nimzovich idea which I’ve played myself more than once.

Nimzovich’s idea was to play 4.Qg4 in the French Advance Variation (as we see in the notation). The first thing I want to do is note that Nimzo was a proponent of this move. After clicking on the move 4.Qg4 in the game notation, I click the “After move” button under “Text”. This brings up a box into which I can type my text commentary:

…and, after I finish typing the comment, I click the “OK” button in the “Enter text” window to insert my remark into the gamescore:

(Note that even though the Symbol Palette isn’t the selected window [its title bar is in gray instead of blue], it remains visible and able to be used. This is what I meant when I said that this is a “floating” window which always remains on top of the game window.)

Next I notice that Black’s response, 4…f5, isn’t the “standard” response in this variation, and I’d like to add a symbolic notation to that effect. So I’ll click on 4…f5 in the notation to highlight it and then click on the “?!” button in the Symbol Palette. This adds the symbol to the gamescore as shown below:

So what’s the “normal” Black response and sequence of moves here? I’ve played this variation before, so I can add the moves from memory. With the move 4…f5?! still selected, I click the “Start” button in the “Variation” section of the palette. This takes back one move and allows me to add a variation line without accidentally overwriting the actual move of the game. I make the move …cxd4 on the chessboard, and now the Notation pane looks like this:

I can then continue to make moves on the board until I reach the end of the variation. Now I need to give it an evaluation symbol. As far as the statistical results go, the position is even (despite White’s pawn deficit – but this is a gambit opening, after all), so I click on the last move of the variation and then click on the “=” button in the upper portion of the palette:

After looking at this game, I think the game itself would be better suited to my purposes as a variation (illustrating the odd 4…f5 move) rather than as the main focus of my article. With any move of the 4…cxd4 variation selected, I can click on the “Promote” button under “Variations”. This swaps the positions of the variation and the main line – in other words, the variation is promoted to the main line, while the actual game is demoted to variation status:

I can now click on the move 21.Re1, click the “After move” button under “Text”, and add the game citation. Then I’ll click on the first move of the variation (4…f5?!) and add the symbol for “Worse is…” (the results of both steps are shown in the next illustration):

I can continue to add moves, notes, comments, symbols, etc. to this game. When I finish (and want to save the work into my database) I’ll need to remember to use “Save game” instead of “Replace game” (so as to not overwrite the original Bergmann-Keemink game in my database), as well as change the game citation (which defaults to the original source) to something like “French Advance” for the White player, “Nimzovich gambit line” for the Black player, and “Analysis” for the tournament name.

I’ll offer three last notes. First, when you place the mouse over one of the buttons in the Symbol Palette, you’ll see a “ghost” mouseover dialogue which tells you what that button’s symbol means:

And if you’ve added a symbol to a move in the gamescore, then change your mind later and wish to remove that symbol, just click on the move to highlight it and then click the “None” button from the group of symbol buttons to remove the symbol.

Finally, if you’re finished using the Symbol Palette but don’t want to close the whole game window, simply click on the “X” in the upper right-hand corner of the Symbol Palette to close it in ChessBase 11.

Have fun! – Steve Lopez

Chessplayers who have purchased their ChessBase brand software from USCFSales can receive free technical support and advice on their purchases straight from me; just shoot me an e-mail (, but please remember to include the USCFSales order number from your ChessBase software purchase. – Steve

Copyright 2011, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.


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Filed under chess, Chess software, ChessBase, ChessBase 11, Database software

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