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Should we be using PGN/ Chessbase format?


The case for and against PGN
The case for and against Chessbase format
XML as a possible alternative
Relevant resources


There has been a lot of continued excitement in the IT industry about "XML"- eXtensible markup language. This paper argues that XML could have very important implications for the sharing of chess information. The trading currency of chess is games, and games are most commonly stored in PGN and Chessbase formats. These pros and cons of these two formats are discussed, followed by the a discussion of the possibility of using XML to represent chess games.

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The case for and against PGN

PGN has simplicity and openness, anyone can create a PGN game score, by simply placing a few tags on top of an algebraic game score, e.g.:-

if you wanted the following game score to be readable by a chess database:-

[Event "Drury Lane Masters (1), 16.06.1997"]
[Site ""]
[Date ""]
[Round "1"]
[White "Lalic,B "]
[Black "Kumaran,D "]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteElo ""]
[BlackElo ""]
[ECO ""]
[NIC ""]
[LongECO ""]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.Bxc4 Nb6 6.Bb3 Nc6 7.Ne2 Bf5 8.Nbc3 e6
9.a3 Qd7 10.0-0 Be7 11.Ba2 0-0-0 12.Be3 f6 13.f4 h5 14.Qc1 h4 15.Rd1 Qe8
16.d5 1/2-1/2

One just needs to have the appropriate header section and then one can save this file as a .pgn file and have it loadable by virtually all chess databases on the market. One can even just copy and paste the above into:-

and have the game instantly replayable.

Webmasters often like to have their games downloadable in PGN simply because it is readable by the majority of chess databases.


Contextual richness

PGN loses much of the potentially rich context of the game. Although it can carry commentary, the commentary would be difficult to process automatically by a chess database. It would be nice to store the annotations of the game in a powerful consistent way. It is not just analytical notations, though. You may want to store the context of the tournament the game was played in. Once the PGN game score goes in with a million other PGN games, it may be difficult to regroup those isolated PGN games appropriately into their
logical groupings of tournament, etc.


The names of the players and ratings may become inconsistent when regrouping PGN games into logical groups, etc.

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The case for Chessbase format


Contextual richness

Annotations at different levels

Arrows after moves, showing threats

Voice commentary possible

Tournament information can be captured

Tournament context can be shown if using the appropriate Chessbase method of usage

Consistency can be achieved for player names if using the appropriate Chessbase method of usage
Has fast performance and efficient storage implications


Conformance to one Suppliers format

Although Chessbase is the market leader, should all future chess database writers have to conform to Chessbase data file format?

Conformance to one way of storing rich contextual information

Are we going to make ourselves prisoners to one particular data format if we want to store rich contextual information in a consistent way?

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XML as a possible alternative to PGN and Chessbase format

A prototype XML DTD (Document type definition) which promises to enable us to both have:-

1) Rich contextual information about the game and
2) Consistency- e.g. player names, ratings, etc

can be seen at:-

In particular the following page is very interesting:-

There is a potential problem of copyright issues when storing rich contextual information, which the author of the above web page emphasises. However there are tournaments which have gone past their copyright period. Wouldn't it be wonderful to capture tournaments like Zurich International chess tournament 1953, in such a way as not to lose David Bronsteins annotations and added value. And yet have ANY chess database which makes use of the chess XML format read and process this content easily.

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XML seems to offer a very promising and viable alternative for the sharing of chess content. Game scores have conventionally been stored in either PGN or ChessBase format. When the World can establish a worthy XML DTD (Document Type Definition), then perhaps there will be a very practical and strong alternative to sharing chess games and their contextual content.

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Relevant resources

Chess and XML

Newsgroup discussion message: Should we be using PGN / Chessbase format?

XML in General

Amazon books on XML

XML Pocket Reference
Professional Visual Basic 6 Xml
XML Unleashed (Unleashed)

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