From what I recall of previous TCEC events, the draw death was limited to most of Gull's games and the Komodo-Stockfish finals, so this year's Stage 2 is quite unusual: eight games, eight draws. (It's still very early, obviously, but unusual all the same.)
Entries in computer chess (53)
Stage 1a of season 9 of the TCEC is history, and Komodo (then version 9.42; the just-released version 10 will takes its place in stage 2) won with a super score of 14/15, giving up just two draws. Its chief rival, Houdini 4, was also undefeated going into their head-to-head battle in the last round, but lost to Komodo (I've posted the game here) finish a point and a half behind, a point ahead of fellow old-timer Rybka 4.1.
All of those programs and more qualified for stage 2, which will include the successful programs from stage 1b. The top program in that part of the draw is Stockfish, which surprisingly didn't manage to win in round 1 - albeit with Black - against a program (Vajolet) rated 301 points below it.
You can follow the live action here.
Even though no one is actually playing chess in the Top Chess Engines Championship (formerly known as the Thoresen Chess Engines Competition), strictly speaking, it is reasonable on another level to view it as the real world chess championship, as the best engines - currently the latest versions of Komodo and Stockfish - spit out moves at what would be a 3300+ rating clip if they came from the minds of mortal men. As such, the games are of interest, even if they are not always as accessible as battles between humans. (Which are themselves sometimes relatively inaccessible, both because of the strength of the strongest humans, and because their ideas are often the product of a collaboration with chess engines.)
The event, which will last several months, starts with a field of 32 engines who will be whittled down, step by step, to a final between Komodo and Stockfish the two survivors of the three preliminary stages. (More details here.) As I've already suggested twice, Komodo and Stockfish are significant favorites to reach the final for the fifth time in the last six seasons, but perhaps Houdini will break up the party. The current version of Houdini is quite old - it came out in late 2013 - but its programmer, Robert Houdart, has promised that a new version will come out at some point during the competition. As TCEC rules allow switches to upgraded versions after each stage (assuming the engine in question has qualified for the next stage), Houdart still has a fair amount of time to make his improvements before the start of Stage 3.
(HT: Howard Sample, for reminding me that the event had started.)
Nearly a year ago I purchased Komodo 9 and a one-year subscription, meaning that whenever a new version came out during that time it could be downloaded for no further cost. I have no complaints about the engine, but their notification policy is less than impressive - there are no notifications. (This despite my requesting to be put on a list, and the representative for the company agreeing to do so!) When a TCEC competition is ongoing it's easier to notice when an upgrade comes out, but nowadays it's easier to miss. Version 9.4 came out March 18, and by accident I discovered that a further mini-upgrade came out March 21 - version 9.42.
So for those of you who might have bought the one-year subscription when version 9 first came out, be sure to download the latest and greatest version - it is stronger than its predecessor, and the year is coming to an end in about 3 weeks.
[N.B. The title should not be taken to imply that the Komodo program is disappearing. As far as I know, the company is in good health and they will continue improving their engine indefinitely.]
The chess engines are at it again. Komodo 9.4 won an odds match against GM Joel Benjamin last week, 2.5-1.5. (HT: Vladimir) Joel Benjamin is a good GM, but not as active as he used to be and not as strong as Hikaru Nakamura, who lost an odds match to Komodo last year, so the odds he received were even greater than those given Nakamura:
- Five moves within the first four ranks.
- Rook for knight (a8 for b1, Wr moved to b1) and move.
- f7 pawn removed and two moves.
- Queen for two bishops.
The computer won the first game and drew the remaining three. Interestingly, Nakamura also did fine in the material odds games, but also lost the "free tempi" game (though he "only" got four moves). The next human sacrifice will be Eugene Perelshteyn in April; hopefully there will be a man-bites-computer story to tell for a change.
Ah, those pesky chess engines. Once upon a time they were toys, then good tools for warming up, then equal competitors, and then superior opponents with whom we could at least compete. Now? Fuhgedaboutit. Even the best players have no chance against them--worse, they can't even hold the balance when receiving odds.
But they do come close - at least the best humans do. Hikaru Nakamura braved a four-game odds match against the latest and greatest engine at the top of the heap, Komodo 9.3, and the match came down to the wire.
In game 1 Nakamura had White, and Komodo played without the pawn on f7. That game was drawn, as was game 2, in which Komodo took White and started without the pawn on f2. In the third game the odds were a bit heftier: Komodo had White and played without the rook on a1, in return for which Nakamura played without the N@b8 and started with the rook on that square. That game was also drawn.
Finally, Nakamura received no extra material at the start of the final game, but if the old adage that a pawn is worth three tempi is true he received its equivalent. Playing White, he was given the moves e4, d4, and Nf3 for free, and then started the game from that point with the move. The engine managed to gradually extinguish White's advantage in a sort of King's Indian, and went on to win a very impressive game culminating in a fine ending.
Nakamura was in the match all the way, and I wouldn't be shocked if he managed to draw or even win a rematch. Will there be any further contests? Let's hope so, and let's hope that humanity can keep up and not let the quantity of the odds grow any bigger (or at least not much bigger).
The games can be replayed here.
I'm not sure if the cause is more Komodo's excellence or something wrong with Stockfish, but after 84 of 100 games in the TCEC Superfinal the match is as good as over. Komodo is leading by six points, 45-39, and is succeeding with both colors. Komodo won games 1 and 13 with white, and after a long series of draws Stockfish won game 36 with white to close to within half a point. Surprisingly, Komodo won games 38 and 46 with black, and then after an even longer run of draws Komodo won 72 with black, and then won game 78 (with black) and game 83 (with white).
Meanwhile, in other computer chess news Vas Rajlich is back. Rajlich achieved great fame several years ago when his program Rybka soared to the top of the rating lists and maintained its lead with an iron grip. His empire collapsed after a few years when a series of Russian-based programs (Ippolit, Fire, etc.) challenged Rybka's supremacy. Rajlich accused those programs of hacking his code, but then accusations came from others that Rajlich had inappropriately taken code from the chess engines Crafty and Fruit. After a storm of controversy, Rybka stopped getting updated and other engines surpassed Rybka - first Houdini and then the duumvirate of Komodo and Stockfish.
Now Rajlich is back as the programmer of Fritz 15. Fritz 14 was miles and miles behind the top programs, so even if he has made some big improvements to the industry leader of the mid-90s, it remains to be seen whether it has any relevance to the world of elite engines in the mid-2010s. If it does, that would be a good thing for engine consumers, as it will (hopefully) push the Komodo and Stockfish teams to work even harder to remain the industry standards.
American grandmaster Alex Lenderman (2623 FIDE) and reigning TCEC champion Komodo 9.2 contested a six-game odds match from Tuesday to Thursday of this past week, and alas - humanity did not fare well. In three games Lenderman had the white pieces while Komodo started the game without its f-pawn, and in the other three games the engine had white and started without the rook on a1, while Lenderman played without the knight from b8 and his a8-rook on b8 to preclude queenside castling.
In game 1 Lenderman drew with white...and that was it. Komodo ruthlessly won the next five games, though at least in one of them Lenderman could have drawn by repetition but played for more. His courage is often rewarded in ordinary events against his fellow human beings, but it wasn't on this occasion. The engines are brutal!