Sunday, April 5, 2009

From Hobby to Sport

From a hobby to a sport, the time has come to make the jump. Computer chess has a problem, it is simply too competitive to be a hobby and has no governing body to be a sport. If anything we do is to be taken seriously by the international chess community, this conversion must be made.

Wikipedia defines a hobby as:

A hobby horse is a wooden or wickerwork toy made to be ridden just like a real horse (which was sometimes called a "Hobby"). From this came the expression "to ride one's hobby-horse", meaning "to follow a favorite pastime", and in turn, hobby in the modern sense of recreation.
Hobbies are practiced for interest and enjoyment, rather than financial reward. Examples include collecting, creative and artistic pursuits, making, tinkering, sports and adult education. Engaging in a hobby can lead to acquiring substantial skill, knowledge, and experience. However, personal fulfillment is the aim.

Wikipedia defines a sport as:

Sport is an activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively. Sports commonly refer to activities where the physical capabilities of the competitor are the sole or primary determinant of the outcome (winning or losing), but the term is also used to include activities such as mind sports (a common name for some card games and board games with little to no element of chance) and motor sports where mental acuity or equipment quality are major factors. Sport is commonly defined as an organized, competitive and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play. Some view sports as differing from games based on the fact that there are usually higher levels of organization and profit (not always monetary) involved in sports. Accurate records are kept and updated for most sports at the highest levels, while failures and accomplishments are widely announced in sport news.

Now I will leave it up to the individual computer player as to which definition they best identify with. As for me I would have been quit content to have left our sport a hobby. However as we discovered in the last century with amateur sports such as tennis and golf, the specter of commercialization can have a corrupting influence. Not just pitting amateur against professionals, but controlling the sport (or hobby) to exploit maximum profit rather than creating level playing fields to exhibit excellent and advance progress.

The only solution to this problem is to establish a players association or come under the governance of one of the existing international bodies. Set rules along with the ability to sanction players and tournament sponsors is the only way to take engine chess, as well as freestyle chess to the next phase of its development. Computer chess is not the only sport that has had to wrestle itself free of greedy promoters.

As we have recently seen in America, on Wall Street and in our financial institutions, not only does the prospect of quick profits form unregulated markets breed unethical conduct, it clouds the judgment of what is, in the long run a more profitable strategy.

As for those that say, you know, Kevin is a great guy, I just wish he would stop his cometary’s and only provide advice and recourses for engine chess. Well that’s probably not going to happen. Silencing the dissenting view of the status quo is seldom a good idea. Let the computer chess world determine who speaks for the players and who speaks for commercial interests.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Into the Lions Den

When I saw how the Infinity Chess Freestyle Masters tournament was being discussed over at the Rybka Forum, I new knew someone should speak out. I also knew I would be walking into the Lions Den.

The Rybka forum has become, probably the most important clearinghouse for discussion on computer chess. It is of course owned and operated by the good folks that produce the strongest chess engine in the world. (see Standing on the Shoulders of Geniuses) This is clearly in itself not a conflict of interest. Rybka, its production team and its supporters have contributed tremendously to increasing the strength of chess software. Vasik Rajlich put in the hard work to tweak the heuristic algorithms developed over thirty years ago to practical application. I use Rybka 3, and I recommend it to others, as the best commercially available chess program for positional analyses.

Having said this, I am not going to entertain criticism that in voicing my opinion on my own website is in any way attacking someone’s character or demeaning their integrity. My opinions are just that, opinions, they may be excepted or rejected by the reader as they wish. If the good gentleman who frequent the chess forums wish to burn me in effigy, daily, I would urge them to get a better life. Perhaps they would do well in remembering the famous quote.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those that own one.”
A. J. Liebling:

In my pilgrimage into the chess forum world, I was immediately greeted by intellectual bullies, that seemed to imply my complaints regarding the Freestyle Masters Tournament a few weeks ago were at best spurious, because my spelling and grammar did not meet Ivy League standards. I was informed that Arno Nickel was not capable of making mistakes, and by suggesting the man running the tournament (like the captain of a ship) should be held responsible for the fiasco that he presided over, all I was doing was attacking his character.

It went on and on, first I was called insane, then a anti-bourgeois Marxist, and finally I was Satin himself. (Literally, my defenses of honor among chess players and love of the game, was condemned as a worldly thing. Therefore belonging to the infernal domains.) In short my well intentioned concerns that the PAL sponsored Freestyle Tournaments were having a devastating effect upon the public impression of computer chess were dismissed by those that saw them as a personal cash cow.

The facts are, that at the writing of this article Feb. 5th, 2009 (Twelve days after the tour ended.) Infinity Chess has not revealed who won, how players finished, or made any of the games played in this tournament public.

Infinity’s website is strangely silent, and rumor abounds. Some of the players in contention for the prize money are claiming wins by default when their opponents failed to play at agreed upon times, that were not sanctioned by Arno Nickel. It is truly a mess. Unverified reports are saying that the remaining four Freestyle Masters Tournaments have be postponed until technical problems can be resolved.

To those who wish to defend Infinity Chess and the way they ran this tournament, please go to the chess forum or your own blogs. I am not going to debate or defend my opinions in this matter and will delete any comments that wish to start an argument.

Monday, January 26, 2009

1st Freestyle Masters Tournament

Infinity Chess is not ready for prime time. I would love to say positive things about the 1st PAL Group sponsored Freestyle tournament held on the Infinity Chess server over the last two weeks. However in all good conscious, I can not. In my 30 years of playing in chess events I have never experienced anything quit like this tournament. Words like painful and shameful come to my mind. Along with detrimental to the concept of freestyle chess.

At the writing of this article no one knows who won, or how players finished. A few of the players that were in contention for the prize money went off on their own to play the final games in secret on other chess servers. The games played in this event disappeared every time the server crashed. Those responsible for this fiasco have promised to make all games played available to the public. I seriously doubt this will be possible. But we will see. A more extensive assessment of who benefited form the unfair playing conditions and who suffered, will be possible after the games are in front of us.

The Infinity Chess server crashed over and over, helping to create a cascading series of bad decisions by the tournament director. By the 9th round the TD had lost control of his event. No longer listening to the consensus of the players and concerning himself only with a few players that had been manipulating the conditions to their own benefit, he chose the easy way out. Disregarding fairness for expediency.

I personally felt cheated by several of the decisions the TD made involving my games. I was present for the entire tournament and can honestly say that many other players did as well.

Here are the kind of things I am talking about.

1. Forcing players to take draws with 22 pieces on the board. (I had twice the amount of time on the clock 8 min. to 4 min.)

2. Asking players to restart games after server crashes with ever decreasing time controls. (How can you have some games played at 75-15 and others played at 35-15 in the same tour.) Some of these games were restarted 3-4 times, totally negating opening preparation.

3. Giving 6 Blacks and 4 Whites to some players and 6 Whites and 4 Blacks to others. (This alone invalidates the results of this tour and was absolutely uncalled for.)

There was and is, this issue of collusion between players when money is at stake. While it is nearly imposable to confirm, even the suspicion of it should be addressed. Some players in open chat offered money to get a desired result. While it may have been done in jest it should not have been allowed. Other players offered to help opponents playing against those that they were in point contention with. All this may have just been in fun, however it created a aura of impropriety.

My old Grandfather once told me. “its not enough to be an honest man, one must remove the impression of impropriety.”

I suppose my favorite incident in the tournament was when one of the top players begin to make the claim that he was not making the moves being played by the GUI. Telling the TD that a hacker had invaded the server and was making moves in his game. I am not absolutely sure but from what I could gather from the chat moves were allowed to be made over in this game.

It looked to me like, the TD was being played like a violin in this event. (maybe a Stradivarius) Perhaps a puppet master was pulling the strings.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The New Arena 2.0 GUI

December 22, 2008 the new Arena 2.0 graphical user interface for UCI and winboard engines was released. I have had a chance over the past few weeks to try it out and have found it to be extremely well done. Martin Blume has continued development over many years paying close attention to user feedback to create this programming masterpiece. Leaner and meaner than most commercial interfaces, it is not only the place many engine players started, but is where many are retuning. Using less hardware resources and having more up to date engine protocols makes Arena 2.0 very attractive for competitive engine chess purposes.

Arena has its own .abk opening book format which is straight forward and lends its self very well to hand tuning. The main install package went onto my Windows XP pro 64 system with out a problem and runs 64 bit multi processor engines nicely. In fact I get a few more Nodes per second out of Rybka 3 than I am accustom to. Engine vs. engine matches run flawlessly and the PGN files generated can easily be converted to CB data file format for use in .ctg book work. I now have two of my computers running Arena 24-7 using identical Rybka 3 engines do comparative book testing.

Included in the 2.0 main package is a variety of strong engines to get you started, SOS, Spike, Ruffian and even Rybka v2.2n2 mp.x64. Also included is a PGN database from Olivier Deville, a small opening book form master book maker Harry Schnapp and a mini book by some guy that I don’t know.

There is no better GUI to learn how to configure chess engines, utilize hash tables and system resources. Over 250 chess engines are compatible with Arena 2.0 and there is a vast number of downloadable add-ons, all free at