Computer Chess and Engines: What’s the Big Deal Anyway?

I have been fascinated by computer chess and chess engines since almost the day I got into chess.

The Beginning of Computer Chess

The first chess software I got hold of was ChessMaster 3000 back in 1998 and this program became my addiction for a long time.

chessmaster 3000

Can’t remember where I got it from, but this was my treasure in the early days.

 

This software had “personalities” and would change its playing style based on a set of weights such as “control of centre”, “attacker vs defender”, “piece values”, and a dozen other settings.

ChessMaster3000

This image brings back warm memories of my chess learning.

 

My favourite personalities were the ones that were programmed to mimic human grandmasters such as “Capablanca-style” and “Nimzowitsch-style” and I had these guys regularly playing tournaments, as well as playing against them myself.

As time went on I did get more professional software (such as Fritz, Chessbase, Rebel, Chess Tiger etc), but I always liked this idea of playing against specifically designed computer “personalities” or at least, engines with widely varying styles.

So many chess engines!

You might be wondering why somebody would have so god damn many chess engines…

I myself have more than 100 chess engines and I know of computer chess guys who have thousands!

The reason is this:

Imagine if instead of having to passively follow guys like Kramnik, Carlsen and Topalov when they play in elite events just a few times a year, you could just throw them all together in a tournament any time you like!

Imagine if you could bring Capablanca, Morphy, Alekhine, Tal, Fischer and other greats back from the dead for an all-play-all tournament!

Why not throw Magnus Carlsen against Paul Morphy for a laugh?

Why not choose what openings they play so that the games are more interesting (think: no Berlin, no Petroff Defence)?

Why not create your OWN engine personalities (As I did here) and pit them against the famous Grandmasters as an experiment?

ALL OF THIS IS POSSIBLE WITH COMPUTER CHESS!

 

Just yesterday I thought to myself:

“Hmm…Gary Kasparov himself only drew a match with Deep Junior and Vladimir Kramnik LOST a match against Deep Fritz 10.

These guys are 2800+ WORLD CHAMPION players.

So these engines must be damn strong!

Russian Grandmaster Evgeny Bareev was held to a draw in a match against Hiarcs 8 (substantially weaker, yet more “human” than Fritz and Junior) as well!

Hiarcs vs Bareev

Bareev taking on Hiarcs 8

 

Rebel 10 CRUSHED Vishy Anand in a match too.

Rebel vs Anand

Anand getting crushed by Rebel

 

I wonder how the engines from those days would do against Stockfish 7?

The former WORLD CHAMPION (in human terms) level chess engines against today’s leader…”

So I loaded up my Fritz GUI with all of the top engines from my youth and put Stockfish 7 into a Gauntlet against them…

The result?

Stockfish made them look stupid!

STOCKFISH 7 VS THE WORLD

Stockfish 7 didn’t even give em a draw!

 

This is the same as if we had resurrected Morphy, Capablanca, Alekhine, Rubinstein, Botvinnik, Tal, Fischer and Petrosian…

Then, we asked them to play against Magnus Carlsen…

Imagine that!

Imagine even more if Carlsen just plowed through them all as if they were not the legends we know them to have been?

Let’s have a look at some of the sample games.

Stockfish 7 vs Historical Masters

Stockfish 7 vs Chess Tiger 14.0

The first game we see Stockfish against Chess Tiger 14 (I reviewed it here), the engine which won a strong GM tournament in 2002 with a 2788 ELO performance.

Stockfish 7 makes him look completely useless!

 

Fritz 10 vs Stockfish 7

Here we see Fritz 10, the engine that defeated Vladimir Kramnik (my favourite player) in a match, playing its its attractive human-like way.

Stockfish trades into an endgame (I have spoken about Stockfish’s amazing endgame skill before) and then gives a lesson on rook ending technique that would make even Rubinstein himself pay attention.

 

Stockfish 7 vs Hiarcs8 Bareev

In this game Stockfish plays against the exact engine which drew the match with GM Bareev.

On my Macbook Pro 2016 this engine should be even stronger than it was against Bareev, yet this didn’t save Hiarcs one bit.

Stockfish’s play in this game is on such a level that even an engine that plays like a Russian grandmaster, is absolutely dominated.

Within 14 moves Stockfish is already up a pawn and begins to roll his centre forward while Hiarcs can do little to stop the oncoming avalanche.

On move 25 Stockfish plays a beautiful exchange sacrifice (25.e5!!) and just keeps rolling forward.

The level of play in this game is breathtaking.

 

Rebel Century (2000) vs Stockfish 7

What about Rebel? The engine that crushed Vishy Anand in their 1998 match?

Rebel put up a reasonable fight, but was gradually dominated with deep positional play.

The result was never in doubt.

 

So What’s All This Mean?

Does this mean that all of those old engines suck now?

Nope. That’s bullshit, they’re awesome.

Does it mean that humans like Fischer, Tal, Kasparov and other elite humans suck?

Nope. They’re awesome too.

It means that…

With chess engines we have access to any type of chess we like.

If you want perfect, SUPER high level chess which you (If you aren’t master level) don’t even understand then you can easily get engines like Stockfish which are light years ahead of any human that has ever lived.

If you want chess which is reminiscent of Gary Kasparov’s aggression you can choose Deep Junior, Twisted Logic Cognac or Rhetoric Dynamic.

If you want flashy, Tal like sacrificial chess you can check out Prodeo MACHEIDRodent II Henny/Remy or Disaster Area Cognac.

What about solid positional chess?

Try WChess 1.6, Zarkov 4.5, Hiarcs, Disaster Area Karpov or Genius.

There are also weaker engines for learning players to train against…

Try Mephisto Amsterdam, Kangaruh, Predateur 2.0 or Uralochka 1.1b.

Those ones are all sub 2200 yet have nice styles.

With computer chess you are like the manager of a group of great players of all levels who are ready to play any time, any day and any position you tell them to.

This is why Im so fascinated by engines and have been for so long.

What do you think? Agree with me? 😆

  • John Manahan

    i love chessmaster 3000, i got mine around 1996, then Mephisto, Virtual Chess, Battle chess, USCF chess, Power Chess a year later…. i love reminiscing that era of ours…. i also pit chess personalities among themselves. and also played on some of them. I would make use of the auto-annotation. My PC back then was a sturdy PC 386… on 50MB hard disk, 64MB of RAM, and 33mhz on processor power… i then “upgraded” it on a Pentium 166.

    • Brendan J. Norman

      Hey John, haha! You had a lot of the classics! Power Chess actually used the WChess engine for its engine and also has a fantastic human style. Auto-annotation…I remember that too. Used to use it myself. 🙂 I can relate to the “high end” hardware, you were using too. I remember bragging, “I’m using Chessmaster 3000 on a 386, 66Mhz POWERHOUSE!” lmao. amazing how far we’ve come and boggles the mind to think where it is all going!

      • John Manahan

        hahaha ill bet the queen in powerchess stirs you into italian game… chess system tal is also great (human-like). i like mephisto then due to its database and stronger play. I even input games taken from BBS back then (pre internet – TWIC era).

        • Brendan J. Norman

          Awesome. Hey did you know that you can now get the Mephisto programs (all of them) as UCI engines now? They’ve been ported over! 🙂 They’re fun to play against…I smashed Mephisto Amsterdam recently hehe. 🙂

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  • Paulo Azevedo

    Hello Brendan! Thanks so much for your blog!
    Have you ever tried Lucas chess, and if so, what do tou think of the several engines that come with it?

    Best regards

    • Hey Paulo,

      You’re welcome.

      Yeah I’ve tried LucasChess and I think it’s excellent software.

      I especially like the tools for tactical training and openings work.

      However, I don’t like the way they weaken engines, to be honest.

      The engines do get weaker, but the style is nothing special in my opinion and there is no “magic” to them, like for example my Rodent “Henny” settings or Johnny Hector.