As I recall, I linked to an article on this topic some months or maybe around a year ago, and now with a new edition of Komodo on the market a new article has been written. The author addresses the big three engines: Stockfish 5, Komodo 8, and the aging but still worthwhile Houdini 4. His conclusion, in a nutshell, is that if one is engaging in serious, deep analysis and not just basic tactical checking then one should of course download Stockfish, as it's free, and if one must choose between Komodo 8 and Houdini 4 the former is the better choice due its positional strength.
Entries in computer chess (35)
Here is an interesting article by Albert Silver, who decided to put to the test the (innocently-meant) slander that current engines are only or at least mostly better than their predecessors on account of upgrades in hardware. To test this, Silver set up a six-game match between the new program Komodo 8 on his smart phone against the 2006 chess program Deep Shredder 10 on his top of the line computer and its quad-core i7 processor. The desktop computer is 50 times faster than the smart phone, but wasn't anywhere near enough to rescue the older program. Komodo 8 won four games, drew two and lost none, and in both of the draws it was the one doing the pressing.
Maybe the next test can be Komodo 8 (or the latest version of Stockfish) on the phone against the first version of Rybka on the desktop?
Jon R. Edwards, ChessBase Complete: Chess in the Digital Age (Russell Enterprises, 2014). 350 pp., $34.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Once upon a time most chess players didn’t have enough information. Some of us can even remember that time, but now it’s in the distant past. Nowadays there’s an information glut. On average there are between two and three thousand new games available for download each week from TWIC, and that doesn’t even count what’s going on in correspondence chess. Being able to process all that information would be impossible without a computer and a database program like ChessBase, but even with them it’s a great challenge. And what if one doesn’t know how to use ChessBase, or doesn’t know how to use it very effectively?
Enter Jon Edwards’ new book, ChessBase Complete: Chess in the Digital Age (henceforth abbreviated as CBC, while ChessBase [the program, not the company] will be abbreviated as CB). While not commissioned by ChessBase, it’s liable to do them a lot of good, as the book is immeasurably more helpful than their manuals or help files. CBC very methodically tells the beginner all he needs to know about CB, and even very experienced CB users (like yours truly) picked up a few useful tips about the program. Computer-savvy CB users may not need the book – though I’d recommend that they at least have a look at it when they get a chance – but everyone else who uses CB or is thinking of doing so ought to consider picking up a copy. At $35 CBC isn’t cheap, but it’s worth the investment if you’re spending at least a couple of hundred dollars on CB and one or more big databases (especially the MegaBase).
The book has 14 chapters (called “Scenarios”) and five appendices, plus a foreword by Karsten Mueller, an introduction, the table of contents, a short page about the author and an index. The materials pretty well runs the gamut of everything you can do with ChessBase, from researching with pre-existing databases, creating one’s own material, using the analysis engines, and doing various things on their PlayChess server (playing, watching games, and giving/taking lessons). Let’s elaborate on the contents:
Chapter 1 offers a very quick overview of some fun and useful search functions – how to create your own “book” of Bobby Fischer’s games, for example.
Chapter 2 is a short chapter whose main idea is simply this: don’t add your own games to the MegaDatabase! I did glean one neat tidbit of which I was completely unaware, and it’s that one can search CB’s Online Database for players or rating ranges and not just as a sort of opening book tab.
Chapter 3 discusses basic database management (opening databases, opening games, entering games, copying and pasting from one database to another, editing games, save vs. replace, etc.). This will all be very familiar to experienced users, but new users without a great deal of familiarity with computers will appreciate having the ABCs clearly spelled out for them. One thing worth noting is Edwards’ frequent use of screen shots. These are helpful for anyone, but especially for those who aren’t old pros with CB or computers.
Chapter 4 shows how to look up a potential opponent’s games and offers various ways of statistically analyzing the information – primarily but not just their results in various openings. Edwards wisely notes that one can also perform such an investigation on oneself, which is useful not only for the insight we can gain into our own play but to help out-think our opponents as they prepare for us.
Chapters 5 and 6 are about playing on ChessBase’s Playchess server. Chapter 5 is about playing in general, while chapter 6 is about tournaments on the server.
Chapter 7 shows the tools one can use to annotate one’s own (or other) games. This includes text commentary and Informant-style symbols, and a few other options as well.
Chapter 8 is one of the longer chapters in the book (30 pages) and offers a lot of guidance and advice regarding opening preparation. There’s a good deal of discussion of ChessBase’s Online Database, one’s Reference Database (typically the largest database one has, optimally the Mega database) and Repertoire Database. There’s a discussion of using and modifying opening keys, there are some comments about opening statistics, and a good deal else besides. Many CB users will quickly gravitate to this chapter.
Chapter 9 is even longer and more valuable, and covers the use of engines and the different ways CB enables us to analyze with them. There’s also a considerable discussion of how to use others’ engines (or to allow others to use our engines) through the “Let’s Check” feature or in the cloud. There is much else besides, so this too is a chapter one should quickly and deeply peruse.
Chapter 10 revisits the topic of searching from chapter 1, but at a deeper and more sophisticated level. In addition to various do-it-yourself searches, which are covered in details, there are also pre-formatted keys for the Mega database: 16 under “Themes” (with sub-keys under almost every one of the main themes), five under “Tactics” (with sub-themes), nine under “Strategy (same comment) and 12 under “Endgames” (ditto).
Chapters 11 and 12 return to the Playchess server. Chapter 11 offers a brief overview of watching games there, and chapter 12 is meatier, covering the taking and giving of lessons on the server. (I give lessons there, among other places, in case anyone is interested!) He also covers the premium channels there, which include many pre-recorded videos. (Including almost five years’ worth from yours truly; it was an interesting surprise to see a screen shot from the list of videos I had done on page 228!)
Chapter 13 covers some of the tools CB has for the correspondence chess player (Edwards is a Senior IM with ICCF [that’s a title between IM and GM; it has nothing to do with age] and a former US Correspondence Chess champion), and chapter 14 closes out the body of the book with coverage of writing about chess using CB’s tools.
The appendices are useful as well, for both beginners and more advanced users. Still, the foregoing should be enough to let the prospective buyer know if the book is of interest, so I’ll close here with the suggestion that if you’re a ChessBase user it probably ought to be.
And in other news: ten is greater than five and Usain Bolt is faster than I am. Still, the story is more interesting and the match was closer than one might expect.
In fact, the match between the latest version of Stockfish and Hikaru Nakamura (currently #7 in the world; more precisely the #7 human chess player in the world*) was quite close, the 3-1 score notwithstanding. It wasn't an even fight, as Nakamura had help in the first two games while Stockfish had handicaps in all four, but it was a close battle all the same.
In the first two games Nakamura was helped by an older version of Rybka (rated approximately 200 points lower than the version of Stockfish he was facing), while Stockfish wasn't given access to either an opening book or tablebases. Nakamura drew game one with White, and in game two it seemed that he was headed for a draw by the 50-move rule before playing 83...Bh6. Stockfish ground that one out in 147 moves.
In the next two games Nakamura was on his own - no Rybka - but was given White and an extra pawn. In the first game Stockfish played without an h-pawn and the game was drawn, and in the second game the computer started without its b-pawn. Nakamura wasn't in any danger when they reached the endgame, but he'd need to win to tie the match, and once he opened the board he was gradually outplayed, losing in 97 moves.
Overall, Nakamura acquitted himself well. It's hard to remain vigilant and not miss anything when a game lasts 97 or especially 147 moves, and all four games were on the same day - there were more 10 hours of play in all. So while the computer played with a handicap, the human did too: computers don't suffer from fatigue (or at least not in the relevant sense)!
* Then again, as computers don't play chess (in part because they don't exist**, in part because there's nobody home "upstairs"), we can dispense with the qualifying adjective "human".
** In saying that they don't exist, I don't mean that they are illusions but that they aren't unities in their own right. Think of a cup sitting on a table. Is there a further entity we could call a tablecup, comprised of the table and the cup put together? Most people would say no, and I agree. The table and cup are not subsumed into a further whole. By contrast, an atom of hydrogen or a molecule of water is a genuine whole in its own right. Its parts are genuinely subsumed into the whole and are defined as parts of that whole. Those parts do not act independently, but in a behavior that's determined by their function within the hydrogen atom or water molecule.
So is a computer more like a tablecup or a water molecule? Both, really - but it depends on one's perspective. As a purely physical object, it's like the tablecup. Its parts interact with each other, but there is no intrinsic principle of unity to the computer's constituent parts. There is a unity to the computer, however, but it comes from us, from our purposes. What the computer does it does only if there are intelligent outside interpreters to understand its results. Otherwise, it is just an unnatural collection of heterogenous parts. It is not a thing in its own right, and thus doesn't exist per se.
(HT: Jason Childress, by way of Allen Becker.)
Continuing our recent series of posts on Garry Kasparov...
I was looking through one of Kasparov's recent autobiographical volumes, and when describing his activities in 1985 between his two world championship matches against Anatoly Karpov that year he mentions a 10-board blindfold simul. He doesn't give any of the games but mentions with some pride a victory over a computer with sacrifices and a long mating combination. Naturally I was curious to find the game, but it isn't in ChessBase's Mega database. Fortunately it can be found online, so I downloaded it and added some very brief comments; you can replay it here.
Last year Komodo beat Stockfish in the TCEC final, but so far this year Stockfish has been the engine to beat. In the semi-final stage Stockfish won by a decent margin, with Komodo coming in clear second. Critter was the whipping boy, finishing with only 14 points out of 48, but the surprise was Houdini's distant third place, struggling to reach 50%.
The final will be a 64-game monster; for now Stockfish has an early 2-1 lead, having won game 1 and drawn the next two. In the previous stage they went even against each other and had similar plus scores against Houdini; the difference maker was Stockfish's brutalization of Critter: 10-0 with six draws.
You can watch the ever-live action here, and in a week or two we'll know which 3100+ rated beast will be the champion (until the next build, when the previous results may be meaningless).
Fans of computer chess and those curious to see which engines they "must" buy (because it would be crazy for an amateur to have an engine with a paltry 3120 rating when there's one with a 3157 rating instead) will want to check out the TCEC (Thoresen Chess Engines Competition) here.
At present it's at the semi-final stage, with four engines going at it in a 16 cycle round-robin. Almost halfway through Stockfish has a narrow lead over Komodo and Houdini, with Critter getting beaten to a bloody pulp. The games run continuously, so you can get your chess fix anytime.
GM Larry Kaufman is one of the people behind Komodo's success in the recent TCEC tournament, and he has consented to do a sort of informal Q&A on the Quality Chess website's blog. (His answers are in the comments section to this post - scroll down and you'll find them.) Among the answers that I know at least one of my readers will find interesting comes in response to a question about the relative strengths and merits of Komodo, Stockfish and Houdini. (He also has some interesting comments en passant about Rybka and Fritz.)
Martin Thoresen has been running computer-computer events for some years now, and the super-final of the eponymous Thoresen Chess Engines Competition (TCEC) is nearly at an end. After four elimination stages the programs Komodo and Stockfish (not Houdini!) made the final, and after 44 of 48 games Komodo leads 22.5-21.5. Game 45 is nearly over now and headed for a certain draw, leaving Stockfish just three games to catch up.
There is a bit of a "human interest" aspect to the story. (Granted, that's an incredibly stupid phrase, as all stories are presumably of some interest to humans - why else report them?) Komodo's main programmer, Don Dailey, passed away from leukemia on November 22*, early in the super-final. While programming surely wasn't his highest priority at the very end of his life, it still must have afforded him some satisfaction to have reached the final, ahead of Houdini, the previously recognized top program.
* This November 22 marked the 50th anniversary of the deaths of not only John F. Kennedy, but authors Aldous Huxley (best known for Brave New World) and C. S. Lewis (the Narnia books, Mere Christianity) as well.