Russell Sherwood

Zero to Hero?

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, April 22, 2018

There is a most interesting Chess experiment taking place at the moment LCZero. This is the development of a Chess Engine based on Deep Learning, utilising the methods purported to have been used by Google's AlphaGo Project.

So where is it up to now - well the latest version of the engine is now operating at around 2500 Elo (there is some debate about the actual rating). Compared to top of the line Chess Engines this is weak but consider, it was operating at below 2000 elo less than a month ago!

You can get involved (with almost no effort)! Details are at https://github.com/glinscott/leela-chess/wiki 

Well worth keeping an eye on!

Making a HASH of it!

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, April 22, 2018

Note: It's amazing the pictures you get searching for Hash!

I've been asked this question by a number of people recently so an explanation of Hash files and their interactions with Engines is probably overdue.

Hash Files (Also known as Transposition Tables) are a tool utilised by Engines to facilitate the use of multiple processors. In very simple terms when we run an engine with multiple cores, rather than all the cores working on one position, there are actually single cores working on multiple nodes. These nodes start to make up a map of all of the moves which emanate from the start position.

In practice, the larger these tables are the better and a "rule of thumb" is to set them to around 50% of the RAM on the computer.

An advanced use is the saving of Hashtables. If deep searching is your thing then this allows you to save your analysis and reload it at a later date and return very quickly to the same depth.

Almost all major engines allow this use of HashTables. Stockfish 9 is the exception, although almost every Stockfish variant does have this functionality! So how do we do this?

(I'm using Houdini and Chessbase as an example, the method is more or less the same for all others)

1) Create a Folder where you are going to store the Hash File. Remeber that each of these files will be probably be Gigabytes in size so you need plenty of spare space on your drive.

2) Decide on the naming format you will use for these files. It could be the ICCF Game Number or whatever you want.

3) Double Click on the Engine Name in the Engine Window

4) Click "Advanced" in the Load Engine Window

5) Click "Engine Parameters" 

6) Enter the File and Location for the Hash file in the "Hash file" Window - For example it could be C:\Hash\Test1

7) Select "Never Clear Hash"

8) Click OK

9) Run your Analysis and then click the Stop Icon

10) When you want to save Follow Steps 3-4-5 then Click  "Save Hash to File"

11) When it has saved you will be able to Click OK, OK, OK to return to the front screen.

12) When you want to reload this file you simply  follow steps 3-4-5, change the file to the name you want to load and click " Load Hash From File"

13) When the Load is finished, click OK, OK, OK and you are good to go.

When you have made your move you do not need to automatically create a new file but if you either (a) Don't follow the principle variation or (b) Move further away from the original position the effectiveness of the process reduces dramatically!

 

Happy Hunting!

SICALM #2

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, March 22, 2018

Mayjaz Pirs Site http://www.schachschule-pirs.com/

For those of you who do not know Matjaz is a Correspondence GM and has been the German’s Chess Federation’s Performance Development Director, help numerous players towards achieving individual and team success. His own website has been around for a while but when a significant upgrade at the start of 2018. Lots of little nuggets of information here!

Niko Sarakenidis Site.  http://chessnewsgr.blogspot.co.uk/

I had been aware of Niko for some time – he contributed to the Engine section of GM Aagaard's book “Thinking outside the box”. This is his personal blog and has a lot of interesting content for the CC player. Niko has also been active recently in defending CC against the always provocative, usually ill-informed and misjudged Nigel Short’s rather unpleasant comments about CC  (who, for his sake, I hope never meets a radical, religious, female CC player “down a dark alley”!)

There is some gold for the aspiring player but you need to go back through his posts and use a translator at times!

ICCF World Zone Site https://iccfworldzone.com/

The New ICCF World Zone came into being in January 2018 via the Merger of the NAPZ and South American zones. It has a snazzy new website well worth a look, although some of its claims (The best place in ICCF to practice correspondence chess) are clearly incorrect!

 

SICALM #2

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, March 22, 2018

Mayjaz Pirs Site http://www.schachschule-pirs.com/

For those of you who do not know Matjaz is a Correspondence GM and has been the German’s Chess Federation’s Performance Development Director, help numerous players towards achieving individual and team success. His own website has been around for a while but when a significant upgrade at the start of 2018. Lots of little nuggets of information here!

Niko Sarakenidis Site.  http://chessnewsgr.blogspot.co.uk/

I had been aware of Niko for some time – he contributed to the Engine section of GM Aagaard's book “Thinking outside the box”. This is his personal blog and has a lot of interesting content for the CC player. Niko has also been active recently in defending CC against the always provocative, usually ill-informed and misjudged Nigel Short’s rather unpleasant comments about CC  (who, for his sake, I hope never meets a radical, religious, female CC player “down a dark alley”!)

There is some gold for the aspiring player but you need to go back through his posts and use a translator at times!

ICCF World Zone Site https://iccfworldzone.com/

The New ICCF World Zone came into being in January 2018 via the Merger of the NAPZ and South American zones. It has a snazzy new website well worth a look, although some of its claims (The best place in ICCF to practice correspondence chess) are clearly incorrect!

 

Bragging Rights

Russell Sherwood  Friday, March 9, 2018

For a bit of fun, I extracted the games of the Top 25 rated Welsh players - played against each other. The results of this make some interesting reading......

On a more (semi) serious note, some interesting stats come out - who is the most common opponent against the Top Welsh players? SIM Ian Pheby with 32 games, with a +3 score for the Welsh!

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing a Chess Engine

Russell Sherwood  Monday, March 5, 2018

So what should you look for in choosing (a) Chess Engine(s)? Much depends on what you want to do with it but a few factors to consider are:

Cost – How much are you willing to pay? If the answer is nothing then there are still plenty of choices!

Advanced Parameters – Does the engine have features useful to Correspondence Chess, such as LMR, Wide Search…….

Saveable Hash File – Are you able to save the Hash file to be able to resume later?

Learning – Does the engine has a learning function implemented?

Speed – Is the engine fast enough for your analysis style? (Whilst some engines appear to be going deeper than others, in general, this means that the engine is being much more selective in the lines it is examining, which does mean it goes deeper but could also mean that it misses something!)

Frequency – How often is the engine updated? Some engines are only updated on almost a yearly basis, whilst others are updated almost weekly. How much difference this has to the strength of the engine is debatable but psychologically this can be an issue for some.

Family – Is the engine part of the same family as the other engines you use? If using a multiple engine strategy then different families of engines are a must!

Maximum Cores/Hash – Is your hardware and the engine compatible so that you will get the most out of it?

Correct Version – is there a version for your hardware or better still one you can compile yourself?

Tactical Mode – Does the engine have one?

Tablebases – Which (if any) tablebases will the engine interface with?

As easy as XY but not Z

Russell Sherwood  Friday, March 2, 2018

The majority of modern CC players realise after a while that simply allowing a Chess Engine to analyse to depth is not the most effective strategy. There are numerous reasons for this, all of which boil down to the fact that all of the mainstream engines are not designed for the needs of CC players. To be competitive they adopt a number of strategies to find a good (great?) move quickly rather than trying to find the absolute best move.

There are many “workarounds” to this but three of the most basic are:

Next Move (Y)

Here we encourage the Engine to look at the next best move (and then the next best and so on). The purpose of this is to look at a number of moves which the Engine may consider to be inferior.

Pass (Ctrl Alt 0 aka Null Move)

A fairly simple idea – “pass – Don’t make a move”. The purpose of this option is to determine the threats your opponent has.  Under normal circumstances t, e evaluation will swing massively, especially if you are playing black and any threats in the position become obvious but what is more interesting is that if the evaluation does not move much. These positions are ones where the premium on planning and creative play cannot be underestimated as we are no longer in a position where we are simply responding to the opponent’s moves.

 

Show Threat (X)

Here we show the threat in the position if our opponent did not have a move.

 

These three basic ideas allow the bedrock of starting to dissect a position and if you don’t know how there are implemented in your GUI perhaps its time to find out!

Who's been doing what, with who?

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, February 18, 2018

I'm in the process of Finalising places for WCCF 6 and 7, plus a number of other Invitationationals.

The attached file shows all the Norm events we have had in the past, who has been placed where and so on.

It does not show other events such as the Tri-Nations which do not offer Norms!

Anyway, it may be of interest to some players, although I would suggest caution in drawing any conclusions - often players were the only one qualified by rating, gender.......or we may have had different qualification requirements at the time!

 

Download

SICALM #1

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, February 17, 2018

Here we start a new monthly article – Stuff I came across last month!

Like many people these days I spend too much time wandering the internet. However, rather than watching funny cat videos I tend to follow down information paths related to my interests. The purpose of this column will be to share a few of these! If you have any interesting little side places let me know so we can enlighten all!  You will notice I don’t give a full review – my aim is to encourage you to go and have a look yourself!

Decode Chess  https://decodechess.com/

This is a new site and very much in beta stage. In a nutshell, you enter a position, its analysed for about 90 seconds and then various insights to the position are given. It’s early days yet as the analysis suffers from a few bugs (reports from a few CC players suggest missed wins) but even in its current condition, it can help a player understand the position better. One warning is that that the analysis is based on Chess engine software (it would have to be unless they had a GM chained up next to a terminal……..) and so its view of some positons (King’s Indian Defence for example) is suspect.  At the moment the site and its analysis need to be taken with a pinch of salt but if they deal with the bugs it could become a new vital tool for the ambitious player.

Tartajubow on Chess II  http://tartajubow.blogspot.co.uk/​

This is a treasure trove of interesting articles on a number of subjects – ranging from Chess History to Chess Engines! As an added bonus you can subscribe to the regular email for a morsel of chess goodness.  Do not be put off by the sites rather dated formatting – the content is excellent!

Chess Improver  http://chessimprover.com/

This is a fascinating site with a number of articles on improvement on a wide range of Chess subjects – written by numerous players of a wide range of strengths. SIM John Rhodes provides an input to British and English Correspondence Chess (Something missing here maybe!)

Going Postal!

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, February 10, 2018

Until fairly recently (the mid-1990’s) the only option for Correspondence Chess was via the Post. Various matches had been played utilising radio, Telephone and Telegraph services but these all tended to be for international team matches rather than events for the individual player.

 

Correspondence Chess then morphed at a fairly rapid rate in the last twenty years – first through email, then onto the Server chess and with Mobile device based chess being at the cutting edge.  Unlike email based CC, which is more or less defunct (A tiny number of events exist) Postal Chess still maintains a small dedicated following.

 

Why is this?

 

There are a few obvious reasons – the most important one, which is often overlooked, is that Postal does not require a computer of any sort to play, which franchises a group of players to take part who could not otherwise. Also, these players’ value receiving and sending physical moves – often accompanied by, sometimes extensive, personal notes. This personal touch should not be underestimated in terms of the attraction to the adherents.

 

So what are the downsides? The vagaries of the postal service are a major one and the potential for lost moves. These in many ways are small compared to the potential cost issue. Let’s imagine I am playing a game against an opponent and the game goes on for 50 moves. So if I send each move one at a time this would be a cost of £32.50 for the game. Let’s scale this up to six opponents with all the games being doubleheaders, our total has risen to £195!  Thinking positively let assume we have a lot of conditional moves and reduce this by 50%, giving us a total of £97.50 for an event!

 

This is for a UK based event, an International one would be significantly more.  Now, this has to be compared to the cost of playing a server event (Entry fees can be ignored as they would be the same for both). This becomes a little tricky. If you already have an electronic device and data (Be it a Phone, Laptop or Tablet and Mobile data/Broadband/Fibre) then the cost can be considered zero (as they are sunk costs to use a financial term) but if you did not then there would be a bare set up cost of around £100 and a minimum of £10 a month – so potentially another £120 a year.

 

So as a summary of sorts – if you are not on the net at all, the postal chess is probably a slightly cheaper option but if you are connected it is not.  Why all this discussion on Postal Chess? I was musing about entering the BCCA Postal Champs next season – to attempt to add it to my Trophy cabinet. Having gone through the costs (which amount to the entry fees for 2 Grandmaster Norm events) I think perhaps it’s not worth the cost of adding to my collection after all!

Welsh Correspondence Chess FederationBritish Correspondence Chess AssociationSchemingMind Internet Correspondence Chess ClubSocial Correspondence Chess AssociationWelsh Chess UnionInternational Correspondence Chess Association