weekend work

I was at the Gold Coast over Easter and played a game against someone in Charlie's Cafe in Cavill Mall. I lost but I found the opening interesting. As White I played 1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5 (Falkbeer Counter Gambit) 3. ed e4 4. d3 Nf6 5. de Ne4 6. Nf3 Bc5 7. Qe2 and then he played 7... o-o which I was sure was bad.

I was thinking I could just take his knight with my queen and then in order to get it back he would have to weaken the a2-g8 diagonal, which would be really bad for him. Play continued 8. Qxe4 Re8 9. Ne5 f6 10. Bd3 g6

I couldn't see the correct continuation here. I went and looked up the variation in "Nunn's Chess Openings" and it said that Estrin (former world correspondence chess champion) said White has a clear advantage after 11. Qc4. But I couldn't really see that either. Over a few weekends I let the chess program Crafty analyse the position using computers at work. It suggested the best sequence of moves after that is 11... Bd6 12. Kd1 fe 13. fe Bxe5 14. Re1 Nd7 15. d6+ Kg7 16. dxc7 Qf6. It's not clear to me that White's advantage is obvious in that position.

Recently my officemate has gone on holidays, and a PhD student we had has left, so there are computers sitting around doing nothing. I have been thinking about what I could possibly do with them on the weekend. I used to think that Crafty was one of the best programs around. It seems that's not the case anymore. There's a confusing array of rating lists and tournaments right now. It really reminds me of compression software. Every few months, a new program appears that just blows all the old programs away.

The two historic lists are SSDF and the Selective Search list. There's a program called Rybka by an International Master Vasik Rajlich which tops both of these lists, along with the SCCT, CCRL, CSS, WBEC, and CEGT rating lists. I'd have to pay 59 euro for the latest version though, and the free version (1.0 beta) is stronger than any other free program anyway, according to the CEGT list. I remember back in 2002 a program called Ruffian was released by an unknown author and became the strongest program around. Some established chess programmers were very skeptical that this was possible because experience had shown that previous programs which proved to be very strong were almost always clones or rip-offs of other programs. Strangely, Ruffian 2 is said to be no longer available.

The very latest version of Crafty, 20.14, is performing very badly in fast tournaments. In the latest World Computer Chess Championship and CCT Crafty's performance was only average, though it has won twice in the past, CCT-1 and CCT-6.

There are a confusing number of other programs to choose from -- there are even many open source programs stronger than Crafty now. I just looked at all the lists and picked the free ones which are above Crafty. That's Rybka 1.0 beta, Toga II, Spike, Glaurung, Pro Deo, Naum, Ruffian etc etc. I don't have a lot of time to think about which is best, so perhaps I should just stick with Rybka.

From July to October 1999, when I was a PhD student, I worked pretty much full time analyzing the Kasparov vs the World game. I used Crafty exclusively and often used the maths department's computer network to examine lots of positions simultaneously. But the computers I used back then are just a joke now, even compared to the computers in my office at work. "The World" was assisted by four young analysts and voted on which move to choose at each stage. One of the analysts, Irina Krush, worked very hard on the game with the assistance of her trainers and participated heavily in discussions on the bulletin board provided. If the World had followed her recommendations at every step, the game would have been a draw. I suppose the most interesting positions in the game are those where the four analysts recommended four different moves - and this only happened twice, at moves 15 and 16. I plan to analyse these two positions extensively over weekends using my wonderful work computer. Maybe I'll throw in another 2Gb of RAM so I can max out the RAM and have more hash, making the programs stronger.

There are many other interesting positions in the game and it is hard to rank them. As I followed the game and bulletin boards pretty much full time, I remember lots of places where obscure moves were suggested. Apart from the four official analysts, there was also correspondence grandmaster Roberto Alvarez, OTB GM Duncan Suttles, and "IM2429" suggesting moves that no-one else considered. I also have Kasparov's book on the game, which is unfortunately out of print now. I'll just list them here.

Move 6. The Russian Grandmaster Chess School strongly recommended 6... Nd4 and wrote that it "equalises the game completely". The official analysts recommended Ne5, Nf6 and g6.

Move 7. Again, the official analysts diverged and recommended Ne5, Nf6 and g6.

Move 10. The most exciting move -- Qe6 and o-o were recommended. o-o would have led to a boring game.

Move 15. Apart from the four analysts' suggested moves, Motylev and Kalygin have played ...e6, Werner has played ... Ne4 (originally recommended by the Barnet Chess club), and ...Ke8 looks reasonable.

Move 16. Again ...Ke8 looks reasonable. (and ...e6 too?)

Move 18. Krush recommended ...f5 and the other three analysts recommended ...Nd4. In his book Kasparov suggests ... Bd4 draws easily and ...e6 is solid.

Move 19. Krush recommended ...Qb4 and the other three analysts recommended ...Qd4 and ...Nd4. IM2429 and the Computer Chess Team recommended Be5.

Move 21. Felecan recommended ...Rh8 and the others ...Rxa4. Kasparov said ...f4 leads to a balanced position.

Move 25. Pahtz recommended ... d5 and the others ... Bd4. Kasparov wrote that ... d5 and ... Nd4 would draw too. Alvarez recommended ...b5.

Move 26. Krush recommended ... f4 and the others ... Bc5. Here Duncan Suttles had an unusual recommendation, 26 ...d5. And lately Crafty has been suggesting ... Ne5.

Move 29. Kasparov wrote that ... Qe2 is a draw.

Move 33. An interesting question is whether ...Bxg3 might draw, but perhaps computers will not be able to answer that question.

Move 34. Kasparov wrote 34...Bh8! is an easy draw.

Move 35. Kasparov wrote 35...Ne5 is a draw.

Move 36. Suttles recommended ...Bc3.

There were no more choices until move 51... at which point the World played the wrong moves and went downhill. Unfortunately I don't remember what Suttles, IM2429, Computer Chess Team, GM School etc were recommending at some points. I'll have to pull out my old files!

Back to the Falkbeer counter gambit position above. I've briefly run it through Toga II which seems to prefer 11. Nc3 Nd7 and thinks White is about a pawn up. Interesting.


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