27 April 2015

What Ticks Off Engine Users? (Part II)

In our first epsiode, Ticks Off (Part I), we saw a cordial, if awkward, discussion between MacUser and Komodo Help. In fact, I cut the dialog at the point where the conversation became more pointed.

MacUser titled his next message, 'Don't sell Komodo for Macs'. Then he repeated some of the objections he had already made in Part I. Let's listen to the rest of the conversation.

MacUser: I am a very unhappy customer. Your web site leaves out some very important customer information. We pay you our money and then you tell us that Komodo does not include an interface. I would have never bought it if I knew in advance that some assembly was required. We pay for a package and you only sell us one part. The free interfaces you would have the customers use apparently do not exist, or at least the links don’t take us there. I’m not so good with computers and you guys can’t even tell me what the correct settings are. I think you guys are frauds. Especially now that I’ve had Komodo on for an hour and it finally got to 30 ply. Stockfish reaches 35 ply in two minutes. So I know you guys haven’t sold me the real thing.

MacUser ended his message with exactly the sentence that customer support never wants to hear: 'I’m going to tell all the chess players I know. At least you won’t be able to cheat them.'

Komodo Help: I have done my best to try and help you, providing you links and instructions on configuring the software. I am not sure what else I can do. We do tell customers that "Komodo just calculates moves and relies on other programs to display the chessboard." Look here: komodochess.com/installation. You are right, we sell just one part, the engine. And thousands of people are satisfied with that, along with may of the strongest Grandmasters in the world. We concentrate our efforts to make the strongest chess engine that we can, since a lot of other people already supply chess GUIs.

As for strength, you show not a single game Komodo has lost. You judge it weak but offer no proof. Komodo won the past TCEC against Stockfish since Komodo was stronger: tcec.chessdom.com/live. If you go to the Archive there, you can see Komodo and Stockfish have different reported "depths", but still Komodo won. Depth does not mean strength. You can search deeply by pruning important moves, and lose Elo. Hundreds of thousands of games by the rating sites confirm Komodo's strength,

I am sorry if outside sites have changed links. We have no control of other sites, but by using google it is pretty easy to see where things have moved. For example here is a SCID version for MAC link: download.cnet.com/Scid.

You can request a refund if you want. You will have to verify you have deleted all copies of Komodo 8, and we will have to delete your account if you choose this option.

'Not-particularly-swift-with-silicon'...

M: I never belittled Komodo’s ability. I believe the reports are true. I’m disappointed it wouldn’t work for me. On the other hand, I do a fairly good job of representing the not-particularly-swift-with-silicon group, if I can’t figure it out, a lot of my friends aren’t going to solve it. I’m the one who complains that HIARCS isn't user friendly, I can only use half the stuff on that one. So I tried this new Scid link you just sent me and it has a pane to enter engines, but you’re going to have to help me fill it in: Name, Command, Parameters, Directory, URL, ELO. Meanwhile I lost Komodo and redownloaded so I could start from scratch..

A bit later...

M: As I read more about Scid, I see it has no editing function, so exactly how can I use Komodo with Scid? It also has it’s own data base format which then must be converted into pgns. So I guess it’s time to ask for a refund. It still looks like you guys were just pretending to sell me something.
K: I just had a friend install Scid for Mac. To install a new engine, click Tool - Analysis Engine. Then again click Tools - Analysis Engine a second time (strange, huh!). Type the path to the unzipped engine directories in the Command section. Use the OSX subdirectory and select the komodo-8-64-osx. SCID for Mac does let you setup positions under Edit - Setup Start Board (or Ctrl-Shift-S). I thought you were using Hiarcs Chess Explorer, which seems like a much more full featured product.
M: I’m happy that you seem to have come up with something that works. In the future I suggest that the actual information about how your product can be really installed be included on your web site so the consumer can see it before he pays for the product.
K: We do have actual information on our engine on our web site, including the need for a GUI. I sent you the link. Scid vs Mac is a fine choice, as is ChessX: chessx.sourceforge.net. Both are free. I personally tend to use the HIARCS Chess Explorer interface on OSX. All three programs provide configuration for loaded chess engines, allowing you to adjust threads, etc. Instructions for doing so are provided with the software, but if you are having trouble, just tell us which program you are using and we'll do our best to walk you through the process. In any case, I can assure you that Komodo works perfectly on OSX. Let us know how we can help you to get it up and running.
M: I deleted, as requested, all copies of Komodo from my computers. As of last night, my Komodo account was closed. So I am unable at this time to give Komodo another try. I did notice that your web site remains unchanged, you still take our money first before you tell us a separate GUI is required.
K: I told you we do say that on our web site, right in the instructions: komodochess.com/installation And on the top of the ordering page for Komodo 8 is say "Komodo chess engine", not "Komodo chess engine and GUI". I do not think you are reading what I send you. Also, I still see your account on the web site, so it appears the account is not closed yet.
M: I see the account is open again. When I checked last night, I didn’t get access. I’m not very good with computers, or maybe you just reopened it again, I don’t know.

The protagonists circled around each other for a few more messages. Komodo Help finally signed off.

K: Thousands of people have bought Komodo and are very happy with it. We delivered a working product and offered to help you install it giving specific instructions. You have been very unpleasant this whole time, unwilling to try what I suggested to fix your problems. You seem to dislike me.

Even though I sympathize with him, I told MacUser,

If this is a parody of the chess-engine-customer-from-hell, then it is very good. If not, then you owe Komodo an apology. Whatever the case, I'll use it as the basis of a blog post because the discussion contains useful information that is not widely known.

I'll recap that useful information in Part III. • P.S. (Under Windows) I use Arena, SCID, & Komodo, and I like them all!

26 April 2015

Chess Curriculum

Continuing with Google Autocompletes CIS, Google's most interesting suggestion was 'chess in school curriculum'. When I started looking at this phrase, Google's autocomplete suggested the further refinement 'chess curriculum pdf'. Since this promised a single, distributable document with a complete chess curriculum, it indeed sounded like a good idea. Let's look at Google's top five suggestions.

No.1: ChessKid.com's Curriculum! • ChessKid.com is a spinoff of Chess.com and the download link leads directly to that site. The downloaded ZIP file creates five sections with a total of 20 lessons. The introduction says,

With the ChessKid.com Curriculum we set out to create an original, creative and extremely "kid friendly" way of learning the game of chess! While acquiring knowledge of the rules, basic fundamentals, as well as advanced strategies and tactics – coaches and beginning chess players alike will enjoy working through these lessons.

No.2: Susan Polgar's FREE Chess Training Guide / Curriculum (chess-game-strategies.com) • Susan Polgar is one of the best known names in scholastic chess, so this looked promising. The link points to susanpolgar.blogspot.com, which in turn redirects to chessdailynews.com.

Over 225,000 copies of my "Chess Training Guide / Curriculum for Teachers and Parents" have been distributed to chess clubs, chess organizations, parents, teachers, and coaches, etc. in over 120 countries since 2006. It is available absolutely FREE. Please feel free to use it to promote chess everywhere.

The link here leads to depts.ttu.edu/spice, which gives 'The page you requested could not be found'. I tried to find another copy of the Polgar material, but failed in the time I had available. I'll come back to this another time.

No.3: Teaching Chess the Easy and Fun Way with Mini-Games. • This 84-page PDF introduces itself with

Teaching Chess the Easy and Fun Way with Mini-Games • Copyright © 2011 Innovative Educators, LLC • Authors: Kathy Price, M.A., Andre Zupans

No.4: David MacEnulty - SchoolChess.com • This 21-page PDF starts,

Think Like A King : A Curriculum Guide for Scholastic Chess • by David MacEnulty • Food for Thought Software, Inc. © 1998

No.5: Chess Lesson Plans for Teachers - AXD Faro • This six-page PDF signed 'Ali Nihat Yazici' appears to be a preliminary document from ten years ago. I last mentioned Yazici in FIDE's 'Chess in Schools' 2014. Like No.2: Susan Polgar above, this deserves a separate look.

(To be continued...)

24 April 2015

Fischer's Final Resting Place

Robert James Fischer, 9 March 1943 - 17 January 2008


Bobby's Rest © Flickr user Andy Cross under Creative Commons.

The photo's description starts,

Laugardaelir Church, near Selfoss, South Iceland • This tiny churchyard about an hour outside of Reykjav√≠k is the final resting place of chess legend Bobby Fischer.

Even in death, Fischer did not find peace: Details of Fischer's exhumation revealed (Chessbase.com, August 2010).

23 April 2015

FIDE Knockout Events

While I was working on the previous post -- A Partial Interview, with Natalia Pogonina -- I decided to catalog the number of high-level FIDE events that used the knockout format. First there were five World Championships:-

I once summarized these in an About.com post, FIDE World Championship 2004 : Results, without knowing that 2004 Tripoli would be the last such event. After years of criticism that the format was not appropriate for determining a World Champion, FIDE introduced the World Cup as a World Championship qualifier. To date there have been five of these events, with the next scheduled for later this year.

The first of the Women's World Championships to use the knockout format was played concurrently with the unrestricted event, 2000 New Delhi. Five of these events were held as the sole means of determining the Women's World Champion.

Shortly after 2008 Nalchik, FIDE announced that the women's format would change. I documented this in Interview with Makropoulos (November 2008). In a two year cycle, the Women's World Champion would be determined in the first year by a knockout event and in the second year by a match. We are currently in the third such cycle.

For details about the cycles, see my page on the World Chess Championship for Women. When was the last time a women's cycle used the traditional Interzonal > Candidates > Match format?

The 1997 Groningen Candidates Tournament, won by Galliamova, used a double round robin format. This was followed by the 1999 Xie Jun - Galliamova Title Match. Between these events were two forfeited matches: Xie Jun - Galliamova at the candidates stage, and Xie Jun - Z.Polgar at the title stage. I've never documented these two matches on my pages and will do so ASAP.

21 April 2015

A Partial Interview

After the close of the recent Women's World Championship in Sochi, Chessbase.com published a two part Interview with Natalia Pogonina: Part 1 & Part 2. Pogonina was the runner-up in the event, losing the final round to Mariya Muzychuk. I was particularly interested in Pogonina's comments on the knockout format, which I recently discussed on my World Chess Championship Blog in A Pseudo World Championship.

The knockout format is too vulnerable to random factors to be taken seriously as a World Championship. The winner of the event deserves our full respect for achieving a major tournament victory, but doesn't deserve the title of World Champion.

One of the first questions from the Chessbase interviewer was,

Q: What do you think of the knockout format? How objective is it? Would you prefer the "men’s" system or some other approach?

Pogonina answered,

A: Men have a rather interesting scheme with the World Cup being the knockout event. Getting rid of the knockout tournament altogether doesn’t look like a good idea to me. A system when there is the World Cup, the Grand Prix series, the Candidates tournament and the World Championship match is very attractive. The only drawback is that it is very complicated and costly. This time FIDE had trouble finding sponsors for the Women’s Championship, so they had to postpone the event. If we adopt a more expensive system, wouldn’t there be even more potential problems? This is what bothers me. If FIDE manages to attract additional funding, I guess it will be interesting to universalize the systems. If not, then maybe we should just keep the current system.

Knockout is a very specific format. Two-game matches are a real challenge. Sometimes even top-tier rating favorites are eliminated in the very first rounds. Lose one game, fail to strike back, and you are out. There is barely any room for mistakes. You have to be prepared very well and have nerves of steel to prosper under such a system. Let me repeat my statement: I would love to play under the “men’s” system, but at the moment this doesn't seems realistic to implement.

I took two discussion points from this. The first is the assumption about 'additional funding' needed. A more obvious fix would be to have the winner of the knockout format seeded as the challenger into a subsequent title match. This would require no additional tournaments. Perhaps 'FIDE had trouble finding sponsors' for the Sochi event precisely because of the dubious reputation of the knockout format as a World Championship tournament.

The second discussion point is the observation that 'top-tier rating favorites [can be] eliminated in the very first rounds'. This implies that the format favors lower ranked players, who would have little chance of becoming World Championship in a fixed match. It is perhaps for this very reason that the format endures. There are more lower ranked players than there are top players -- Hou Yifan is currently in a class by herself -- so any political decisions that favor the majority will choose the knockout format. Is the World Championship really a place for democratic considerations?

As for the interview itself, I found it curious that the relationship between Peter Zhdanov, the interviewer, and Pogonina was not disclosed in the introduction. Not everyone can be expected to know that they are married. I was happy to discover in the comments that other readers agree with me, e.g.

There is nothing wrong publishing an interview between a husband and wife. There IS something wrong with not disclosing that the interview is between husband and wife. It's not up to us to decide what that information means, but it violates journalistic integrity to hide it from the readers.

Zhdanov commented in Part 2,

I don't quite get what my marital status has to do with the quality of the interview. I mean, it's not a secret. It is on the Wikipedia. As someone mentioned already, the bio does say that I am Natalia's manager and editor of her site. I have read quite a few interviews with Natalia; most of them had more softball questions than this one. Also, I happen to know her well as person, so I don't really know what "tough" questions I could ask her. Some ridiculous insinuations which have nothing to do with reality?

Although Zhdanov might not understand the importance of an upfront declaration, Chessbase.com should. And one more point: There is no '"men’s" system' or '"men’s" scheme' to the World Championship. As the Regulations for the World Chess Cup 2015 clearly state,

3.1. Qualifiers - There are 128 qualifiers (in order of priority): World Champion + four (4) semi-finalists from the World Cup 2013, Women's World Champion, World Junior U-20 Champions 2013 & 2014, [...]

The World Cup is the next qualifying event leading to the title of (unrestricted) World Champion. The Women's World Champion is a restricted title like the Junior World Champion. Has everyone already forgotten that ten years ago Judit Polgar played in the 2005 San Luis World Chess Championship?

20 April 2015

What Ticks Off Engine Users? (Part I)

Before I get back to What Makes the Engines Tick?, I would like to share an email exchange sent to me by a frequent visitor to this blog. It seems he took a liking to Komodo after learning that the engine had won TCEC Season 7. It also seems that he is somewhat inexperienced in the world of chess engines and was struggling with the engine's software from the beginning.

[Used with permission of my correspondent, whom I'll call MacUser. The messages from the Komodo side are copied without the knowledge of Komodochess.com, although I can't imagine it's a problem if it spares them further discussions of this type.]

MacUser to Komodo Help: Can you walk me through this? I just spent $60 on something that doesn’t run without an engine. I was unable to download an engine from Arena, which says it is not available for Mac. I’m not good with computers. The help video did not run for me. I am very unhappy.

That's already a bad start. MacUser has confused the engine he bought from Komodo with the GUI he needs to operate the engine.

Komodo Help: I would be glad to help. SCID vs Mac is a free and good chess GUI and database that runs on the Mac: scid-vs-mac. If you have any other chess GUIs for your Mac, I can try and help you install Komodo in them. If not, try downloading the program at the link above, and then we can go over how to install the engine.
M: Failure. I accessed the Scid page but the download is not operating at this time, I get the "cannot connect to server" message. In the meantime I have been trying to upload it into the HIARCS GUI but there is no setting there for "Lmr", the threads cannot be adjusted, and your guidance for table base settings is inadequate on this GUI.
K: I know J. has the Hiarcs GUI on his Mac. I will let him respond, but I know Komodo 8 does work in the Mac. I unfortunately do not have a Mac, but I am sure J. can help you. It sounds like you at least got the Komodo engine installed in the Hiarcs interface. In the mean time, here is an online manual for Hiarcs Chess Explorer: Explorer.html. In the Engine Preferences section (Preferences - Engine Preferences - Configure engine), it shows a dialog box with a scroll bar on the right edge. Perhaps you have to scroll that down to see the remaining engine settings lke Lmr, Syzygy settings and Threads?
M: The Komodo on the HIARCS GUI is not running well, much slower and weaker than the HIARCS, it hasn’t got over 21 ply yet. Maybe I don’t have the settings right, I have the i7, 3.4GHz.
K: Here is a video showing how to change engine settings in Hiarcs: PC Chess Explorer - Managing engines.
M: [Message missing]
K: Ah, so you at least got it running. Good. With an i7, which has 4 "cores", you should set the number of "Threads", which is an engine setting, to 4. The default is "1", so you will want to increase that. Of course if you are running two engines at a time to do analysis, you should select 2 Thread for each, so they both have the same amount of hardware available. Are you trying to play games between the engines, or just analyzing games? • Note you cannot really directly compare search depth between programs, since some programs (like Stockfish) reduce the search a lot, while other like Komodo extend critical lines a lot. A better comparison is the length the of principal variation displayed. As for strength, on the same hardware, Komodo 8 is about 230 (or more) Elo stronger than Hiarcs 14. Several rating lists show this like CCRL and CEGT.
M: The click they make on the video to configure the engine has no effect on Komodo. It has no effect on the HIARCS programs either. I can make adjustments to the engines in "section preferences". "Got it running" but plys in the 20s are a joke, we live in a 40 ply world. I am convinced my installation is a failure.
M: I finally found the engine configuration tab. Komodo was default set at one thread. I have changed that to your recommended four. The HIARCS programs are set at eight threads. Komodo still seems to be slow. I don’t have this set right yet, do I?
K: In the TCEC (which many consider the work championship), Komodo was searching to depths of typically 27 or 28. Komodo won season 7 against the "higher depth" Stockfish. But as I said, compare PV length and you will see Komodo searches much deeper that its iteration depth.
K: I do not know why Hiarcs is using eight. There is something called hyperthreading which uses two threads per CPU core. We do not think this helps Komodo. Just match threads to actual cores for Komodo. If you have two i7 chips in your machine, then eight threads would be right. You can contact Mark Uniacke at Hiarcs.com to see what he recommends for Hiarcs.
K: I checked Wikipedia here: List of Intel Core i7 microprocessors. I see most i7 processors have 4 cores, but there are a few with 6 and one version with 8. I thought they all had 4, but I see I was wrong. What is the name and number of your cpu chip and we can look up the correct number of threads to use?
M: I have no idea where to find the name and number of the CPU chip. All it says on "about this Mac" is Intel core i7. There is a tab on the HIARCS interface that has configurations including the thread. If you go to the HIARCS "preferences" section and click "engines", you can set the hash table size there. Of course, I don’t know the correct setting for that either.

Will MacUser finally succeed in installing Komodo? Find out in Part II of What Ticks Off Engine Users? (coming soon to this blog!).

19 April 2015

The Anonymous Artist

After a pause from blogging for the last week, I'll resume with a new post in the series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price. In the previous post, The Artist and the Artwork, I wondered,

In the chess world we often devote as much time to the careers of outstanding players as we do to their specific games. In the art world, is it only the value of the art work that matters?

Given the number of times that the artist is unknown, I would have to answer 'Yes!'. The item pictured below, titled 'Early 20th Century French Original Oil on Copper "Ladies Playing Chess" Elegant', sold for US $417 after receiving 33 bids from 10 bidders.

The description listed a few more attributes of the piece.

Medium: Oil on Copper
Age: Circa 1900-1949
Listed Artist: Unknown
Painting Size: 16" x 12"
Frame Size: 21" x 17"
Signature: Unsigned
Condition: Great
Frame: Antique wood frame
Subject: French ladies playing chess
Style: Traditional

The copper is in great condition. There is no signature on the art. It comes with a beautiful gold wood frame.

Copper and frame: Brilliant! Artist: Who cares? It's still worth $400...