Friday, December 26, 2008

Man vs. Machine vs. Machine vs. ...

Over the years I have owned several different chess computers ranging from the very weak to Grandmaster strength. All of the early ones were dedicated units. Some were new and some I picked up second hand.

My first was some kind of Boris Diplomat that looked something like this. It was a very weak unit as I remember and I would estimate it would be rated around 1000.

Soon moved on to a Chess Challenger such as the the shown here. I don’t remember if it was model 7, 8 or 9 but I remember it being around 1400-1500 and the green cover was always bubbling up and it became hard to play on. I don’t remember what happened to these first two units, but I no longer have them.

I figured I needed to upgrade to a higher strength machine. I remember that it was the first time I ever ordered something over the phone (this was before the internet was invented by Al Gore). I looked at all the options and decided to purchase a Novag constellation from The Canadian Chess Computer Warehouse in Montreal. I had never heard of the company before so I was nervous it wouldn’t arrive but it did. I must say I was very happy with my Novag Constellation for many years. I think it was advertised around 1800 and therefore higher then my rating at the time I got it. It was my steady playing partner for several years as my rating improved. One of it faults was that it never learned from its defeats so that once I beat it in a certain line than every time after that, if we entered that line, I could repeat the earlier game and beat it again. This forced me to vary my openings or I would end up replaying games over and over. Even though I quit playing chess for many years I brought it with me when I moved to Alberta. Recently I took it out of the box for the first time in ten years.

When I started playing chess again I soon realized I would need to purchase a chess program for my personal computer if I wanted to be competitive with everyone else. When I quit playing chess in the early 90’s I didn’t own a computer and I don’t think affordable programs were that strong at the time. The Fritz program seemed the best for me so I tried the Fritz10 program and I must say it is an incredible program. It’s good to have your own grandmaster to analyse positions. I can remember trying to study my games years ago on the Novag Constellation and while it would catch any major blunders, I sure I missed many finer points. I was hoping when I visited PEI this summer I would be able to find my old games and put them through Fritz and see what wes revealed, but alas they had been tossed a couple of years ago.

Last year the kids spotted a Go 1650L at a garage sale. I picked it up for a cheap price. I assume the 1650 is supposed to be it’s rating but it seems much weaker to me in the few games I’ve played with it.

Finally I bought the kids the Chessmaster game for the Nintendo DS system. It claims that the top rating is 1850 and from the few games that I played against it I think that that is probably close.

So what I’ve decided to do is hold a tournament with all the programs and computers I still have and see what happens. The competitors are as follows:
Fritz 10 (Set at 2000)
Fritz 10 (Set at 1900)
Chessmaster DS (1850)
Human (currently underrated at approx 1800)
Novag Constellation (1700-1800)
Go 1650L (1650? )

So far I’ve played a few of the games and ran into a few problems. First I had to chose a time setting that wouldn’t take too long but still give a good game. I chose an active time of 30min per player per game. Then I had to find the manuals for the Novag and Go units so I could set the times appropriately. I was able to find the Novag manual on the internet but the Go unit was a little harder as I could only find the Spanish instructions and had to translate them as best I could. The problem is the time settings are different for all of them. When I played the Chessmaster DS against the Novag it was a good game - Novag lost the exchange but was able to trap the Chessmaster Queen and win it for the Rook. So Novag was probably winning but when the Novag’s time ran out on the Nintendo unit Chessmaster claimed a win and that was the end of the game. I guess I will have to adjust the time settings on the DS and replay the game.

An interesting game shown below where I couldn’t figure out how to stop the connected passed pawns and win with my extra rook.

machine tourney terry-2000b.pgn

Edited comments: I just remembered that I have a couple of other chess playing computer programs. First is the Chess game for Playstaion. I can't recall playing a complete game against it but I doubt that it is very strong.

I also have the Chess Titans Program that came with Windows Vista on my laptop. I know that it has 10 levels and on the lower levels it is extremely easy to beat. I've beaten it on level 8 but haven't finished a game on level 10 yet.

And finally I forgot about the Chessmaster 9000 program that I picked up for $10 in the sale bin at Staples a coupl of years ago. It is a great program for choosing various computer opponents with different personalities and a wide range of strengths. I think I will add it to the tournament.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Edmonton Jr Tournament

Just got back from the X-mas Jr tournament in Edmonton. Both my kids decided they wanted to play this weekend but it was a close call. One flipped a coin to decide and the other was influenced by the guaranteed door prize. They were both very rusty, not having played since last April, but both did OK and I don't think they will lose any rating points.

I've been wondering if I been doing the best things I can to help them improve. Should I show them openings, endgames, or tactics? Should I try to teach them in a formal way or encourage them to play online. I know I shouldn't tell them to play each other because that causes nothing but problems. Whenever I do try to show them something I'm not sure if I am doing it effectively. I always thought teaching would be an easy thing to do (you know, "those who can, do; those who can't, teach") but now I realize that teaching requires a special set of skills and a lot of patience. Plus, the best teaching only occurs when there is a corresponding strong desire to learn.

Random Chess Predictions:
1.FIDE will change the qualifications once again before the next world champion is decided.
2. The CFC will continue to alienate a large number of it's members no matter what they do.
3. Canada's next Olympiad team could be much stronger if GMs Nakamura, Spraggett, and Kovalyov are eligible and willing to play, but that won't happen.
4. E4 Effort will win the WBX Team tournament in Edmonton next weekend, even though another team with an IM and underrated juniors joined today. Board winners as follows
Board 1 winner IM Proper followed by Sasata and Hansen (he didn't get a IM title for nothing)
Board 2 winner Jamin Gluckie followed by Me (not me but Me, because I won't be there)
Board 3 Peter Thompson followed by Zeggelaar (both teams have stacked board 3)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Meteors over Lloydminster

As anyone who seen the news in Canada in the last two weeks probably knows, there was a huge meteor event over Lloydminster Nov 20th. I have this Friday off and was planning on going Meteorite hunting near Lone Rock to find pieces of the huge fireball that light up the sky over most of western Canada last month. I was looking out my office window at the time to make sure my command start on my vehicle worked when the whole parking lot lit up as bright as day for a couple of seconds. One of the workers at my company was driving home through the area that evening and had his passenger windshield shatter when it happened, either from a fragment or the sonic boom. The scientists have located over a dozen pieces and have narrowed down the search area where they expect thousands of fragments landed. Unfortunately it finally snowed today, so I doubt if I would be able to find anything if I went.

View from Edmonton

View from closer vantage point

Fragment embedded in frozen pond

Random Chess thoughts: (since this is supposed to be a chess blog)

1. Vote for Eric. He deserves it. Canadian Chess Player of the Year

2. My kids said they want to play in the Edmonton Christmas Kids tournament. Maybe chess is not just for nerds.

3. The FIDE world championship cycle is becoming more of a joke every time they alter their rules. I would prefer the candidate matches that they had twenty years ago.

4. There is no need for drug testing in chess and I hope the GM's of the world follow Shirov and support Ivanchuk over FIDE. Although I'm sure some of my opponent are hyped up on energy drinks!

5. FIDE's forfit rule for being late is unreasonable. I know I've been late before and when my opponent is late I would still prefer to play the game rather than win by forfit.

Who are You?

I was curious as to who, if anybody, was visiting my blog so I put a live trafic feed at the bottom. I was surprised to see so many hits from all over Canada and even one from Finland! I was sure there was only three other people who read my site but when "The Big Ape" from Med Hat left me a comment I went to his blog and copied his idea using Feedjit. If you visiting don't be shy about leaving a comment.

On to chess. This week I played a number of games against Fritz lowered to 2000. Almost all the games were horrible. I think when there is no ego to protect then a person’s game suffers. I'm sure many of my blunders would not have been made against a human opponent because I would have been more careful, so as not to be embarrassed. When the computer beats me I don't feel the same crushing level of defeat that a human opponent can inflict. I find the same thing happens to me in online blitz games when I have no fear of losing face because I don’t know who I’m playing. Two weeks ago I played a series of blitz games against an opponent and after losing the first game badly I played several really good games and won in spectacular fashion. My opponent strongly suggested my play from game 2 on did not seem “natural” to him and that I had some outside “help”. If this was a face to face game I would have been highly offended but as I did not know him, other than that he was from the USA, I could have not cared less what he thought and so I just left. I should try to find those game if I can and look to see if my play was really as good as he thought.
Here is my last Fritz active game played while my son was doing his Judo class.

2008-01-01 Fritz.pgn

I think I played the ending rather well but I did miss a winning plan that Fritz revealed when I looked at it tonight.