In this week's World Chess column I take a look at a couple of impressive victories by Stockfish 8 over Houdini 5 from the recently completed TCEC Season 9 Superfinal. They're beautiful games, well worth a look.
Entries in Houdini (13)
Despite losing the last game, it was a dominant performance overall by Stockfish 8, going +17-8=75 to win season 9 of the Top Chess Engine Competition (TCEC). Congrats to the Stockfish team!
Six games remain in the 100-game superfinal between Stockfish 8 and Houdini 5, but since Stockfish already leads by a surprisingly healthy 52-42 score it has clinched overall victory in season 9 of the TCEC (Top Chess Engine Competition). Congratulations to their team, and thanks to them for keeping their program free to all of us in the chess world.
The TCEC Season 9 Superfinal is a 100-game affair, and after 50 games an early iteration of Stockfish 8 is leading handily against Houdini 5, 28-22, with nine wins against three losses. Every game pair has the engines taking opposite sides of the same preselected opening line, which makes Stockfish's lead even more impressive. Two of Houdini's three wins came in openings where Stockfish won its white game as well. So barring some really big improvements coming down the pike from Houdini or Komodo, it looks like the free engine, Stockfish, is also the best one.
The superfinal of the 9th seasons of the Top Chess Engine Competition (or TCEC, which was also the initialism for its original name, the Thoresen Chess Engines Competition) starts one hour after the beginning of the Carlsen-Karjakin match. It will run a wee bit longer though - it's a best-of-100 contest between the latest iterations of Stockfish and Houdini for computer chess supremacy...at least until season 10 starts sometime next year.
The website for all the action is, as usual, this one.
Also, as some of you know the TCEC crew ran a rapid event with all the season 9 engines after the penultimate stage fo the main event, and the big three - Houdini, Komodo, and Stockfish all went undefeated and went 1-2-3, with Houdini the surprise winner with an enormous score of 56/62. Komodo took second with 53 points, and Stockfish finished a further half a point behind.
There are only 45 shopping days left until Christmas, so if you're looking for something to stick under the tree you'll want to read a different article. If you're looking for something to stick under your analysis board in ChessBase or another GUI, however, you're in luck, as the Big Three - Houdini, Komodo, and Stockfish, in alphabetical order - have all released new iterations of their engines.
Houdini's is the most notable of them all, as it's the first new release in three years. A development version 30 points weaker than the current release qualified for the TCEC Season 9 Superfinal and won the rapid event immediately following the penultimate stage of the normal TCEC tournament, so it's a seriously strong engine.
Komodo's latest version (10.2), is 22 points stronger than 10.1, which is a notable improvement. Of course with Komodo, the sensible thing to do is to buy a year's subscription, which will generally result in approximately four upgrades over that period.
Finally, Stockfish 8 has just been released. As Stockfish is free and has typically been just as good as the other two engines, it's always a winner. Indeed, unless you're a chess professional of some sort (teacher, master level player) or a serious correspondence player, there's no need to go beyond Stockfish unless you like playing around with different engines. They do tend to have different strengths and weaknesses, so if you're using them for opening preparation or deep analysis of strategically complicated positions you may well get different results from each engine.
This is a surprise. While Stockfish has been the strongest program leading up to the final stage of season 9 of the TCEC, the double round-robin rapid event taking place in the meantime has Houdini in the lead. This is especially impressive, considering Robert Houdart (Houdini's programmer) had left the program alone for three years, and has just started revising it very recently. In fairness to Stockfish and Komodo, it should be pointed out that all three programs have gone undefeated in the event so far; Houdini has been the most efficient fish-killer.
Komodo won the last two seasons (7 and 8) of the Top Chess Engine Championship (TCEC), but for this season's super-final it's on the outside looking in. Stockfish finished with 39/56 in stage 3, going undefeated, winning every mini-match against the other seven engines, and coming in first by a healthy three and a half points. It went 5-3 against a development version of Houdini, 4.5-3.5 against Komodo 10.1, 5.5-2.5 against Fire 5 and 6-2 against the four remaining engines: Andscacs 0.872b, Jonny 8, Gull 3, and the ancient Rybka 4.1.
Houdini lost to no other engine and also went +1 against Komodo, finishing with 35.5, a point ahead of Komodo, which also lost a game - surprisingly - to Andscacs, an engine which it otherwise thrashed. Fire came in a distant fourth with 28.5 points, and after that it was another 5 points down to the next engine.
Stockfish will thus take on Houdini in the super-final, but first - in what looks like a gigantic favor to Robert Houdart, Houdini's programmer - there will be a break for all 32 engines participating in season 9 to play a double round-robin rapid tournament, something which was only decided about a week ago. Only 992 games, and then we'll see if Houdart's for-purchase program will surpass the free, open-source Stockfish.
It's still early, but a mild upset may be brewing as Stockfish leads after the third of eight cycles in stage 3 of the 9th season of the TCEC. Stockfish is undefeated and has 14.5/21, Houdini - also undefeated - is in second with 13.5, and Komodo - which lost a game to Stockfish in the third cycle - is third with 13 points. In the last couple of seasons Komodo was starting to show a little dominance over its rivals, so it's good to see that the competition remains heated. All the engines are likely to improve - and faster - as a result.
At the start of stage 3 of this year's TCEC, something remarkable happened, until it didn't. After three years' hiatus, Robert Houdart has finally updated Houdini (a new commercial release is scheduled for this October or November), and in the first game of the new stage the revised Houdini defeated Komodo 10.1, the #1 program in the world and freshly updated as well. Here's the game.
Unfortunately and very strangely, it turned out that someone on the TCEC side of things had changed Komodo's default contempt and dynamism settings. It wasn't much of a change, but the rules are the rules and Komodo was given a second chance. In the sequel Houdini again put Komodo under pressure, but this time the champ escaped with a draw. Many spectators were rather unhappy about this, especially since other programs have in the past been subject to what seemed like unfair bits of bad luck that didn't result in any second chances. From what I understand, however, what happened was in keeping with the rules everyone had agreed to, so while it was a pity for Houdini's fans the reply wasn't really unfair.
In any case, it's nice to see that fresh work is being done with Houdini, and the dominance of Komodo and Stockfish will be challenged anew.