Since 2008 his interest in active computer chess had waned. But when InfinityChess announced its Freestyle Battle 2014 he was itching to try his hand again. And he did extremely well...


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A Review by Uwe Maertens (aka Regina_H.Milch)



My tournament set-up



The computer on the left is an old duo-core computer which I linked to the Infinity-server. I used it only to enter the actual moves. No engine ran on it.



In the middle you see my beloved 27 inch iMac from 2009, which usually runs under OSX. The left window on the iMac shows a remote connection to a server in the USA, which I had rented for the entire period from 4th February to 10th April - „dedicated“. A 2 x Xeon E5-2697 v2 (24 cores) running under „Windows Server 2012“, 2.7 GHz. 

The window next to it shows the remote connection to a server in Germany, a 2 x Xeon E5-2690 v2 (20 cores), running with 3.0 GHz. I rented this server hourly and only for the 29 days we played.  

A particularity, which made me (again) learn a lot: only Linux ran on the server from Germany. But how, then, should I use Houdini/Stockfish/Komodo? I had no clear idea. But the company, from which I rented the computer, was incredibly helpful. The young guys working there seemed to enjoy supporting me for free in an area they were completely unfamiliar with. I, in turn, was given „permission“ to speak in interview with their customer news magazine about Freestyle-Chess and the server one could rent from them… My pleasure! 

We tried „Wine“ but somehow Stockfish was too slow. Houdini ran well. Then I read in the Arena helptext that Arena allows to embed a naked engine from a remote server – similar to the ChessBase Engine-Cloud. Unfortunately, Arena required Windows and unfortunately we had to do with an iMac. Therefore I booted a virtual Windows 7 window, in which I let Arena run on the iMac – parallel to OSX. In this Arena-GUI ran the engine of the rented server, a Stockfish DD, compiled for Linux.



This is my ancient „Octo“ from 2008, a X5355 with 2.66 GHz and Windows XP. It was rather helpful in two PAL Freestyle tournaments, but since then, and after acquiring the iMacs, it has just been gathering dust, waiting to be used. With the Octo I logged onto playchess to keep an eye on services such as „LiveBook“ and „Let´s check“. I also installed Houdini running in two variation mode and some endgame databases on the Octo.


Which program to trust? 

Since 2008 my interest in active computer chess has waned. However, I regular read chess forums and if I had time enough I also followed the World Championship match in Chennai and the candidates tournament, which just finished. But there was hardly any engine play on the chess server or toying with new chess programs and opening books. Occasionally I played at Playchess.com or FICS, but mostly the rather gross Crazyhouse, Bughouse or Bullet. When Infinity announced the Freestyle tournament I was itching to try my hand again! But I knew little or next to nothing about things such as syzygy, let’s check, 7-piece online access or sse4.2 and thus spent some time to get reasonably updated.  

Two days before the start of the tournament I already had access to Houdini and Stockfish and could extensively experiment with them. After a while my impression was confirmed that the current ordinary Stockfish version on this top hardware and with a computing time of more than two minutes per move plays very strong while Houdini somehow tackles things in a completely different way – but obviously also with success. In the CSS-forum I read how experienced users tried to ascribe strengths and weaknesses in the various parts of the games to the programs.  

In the first games of the tournament – until losing against Intagrand – Houdini ran on the 24 core machine while the Linux Stockfish program ran on the 20 core machine, both in one variation mode. This changed, but more about that later.


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