Freestyle Chess

Where almost anything goes...

Source: www.chessbase.com

The Freestyle Champion is Xakru, dammit!
07.11.2006 That's what happens when you choose a flippant name on the chess server: you win a major event and wish you hadn't called yourself "Damn it" (in Czech). Jiri Dufek and Roman Chytilek won the first prize, $8,000, in the fourth computer assisted tournament on Playchess.com. Find out what transpired in the final of this Freestyle event in this report by Arno Nickel.

Xakru is the new Freestyle Champion

By Arno Nickel

The Czech team Xakru was the big surprise at the 4th PAL/CSS Freestyle Final, held on Playchess.com on October 20-22. Jiri Dufek and Roman Chytilek, the two centaur players behind the nickname, had only been placed 10th in the preliminaries, but proved the old Freestyle wisdom: "the last shall be the first". In fact, they dominated the final with excellent play, and though they may have gained an advantage from being underrated and the "dark horse", nobody could begrudge them the $8,000 prize money.

Xakru – damn it!

Before we go into detail with the course of the tournament, which once again was played in rapid chess time controls (60 min per player and game + 30 sec per move), let's take a short look at extracts of the winners' report:

The Xakru team consisted of two players – the heart and core of team Jiri Dufek and the (sometimes too fierce) spirit Roman Chytilek. Jiri is 32 years old (2276 FIDE, 2568 ICCF IM) and works as system administrator. Roman is 30 years old (2394 FIDE IM, 2649 ICCF GM), and his profession is university teacher (political science). The Freestyle participation has been one of our frequent joint ventures. Most notable of others was a book "Bijte francouzskou" (Beating the French).


Jiri Dufek and Roman Chytilek of the winning Xakru team

We used mostly up to four computers with Rybka, Shredder and Loop 12. All have teo CPUs, none of them having a 64bit operating system. As we both like improvisation and adrenaline, we didn’t make any special opening preparation for the finals. Therefore, there wasn’t any special "book-cooking“ against our opponents. Nevertheless, we were able to make use of our extensive knowledge of the bright sides (and of course, less than bright ones) of engines. Especially Jiri was clearly ready, willing and able to offer nontrivial ideas and insights throughout the whole tournament, ideas that every engine developer would be probably very happy to be acquaint with. This, plus Roman's consistent (but responsible) opposition to engines and efforts to create and keep at the board as much "fog“ and confusion as possible, eventually led to success, which also offers very justified hopes for the next Freestyle tournaments. One thing remains yet to be decided – whether to further carry the banner of Xakru. Xakru, or better "K sakru“, means in Czech "Damn it!“. As a defending champions we will surely consider a label that would be much more presentable.

Jiri Dufek played from Usti nad Labem and Roman Chytilek played from Brno, distance about 250km, we were communicating via Skype. We got our first experience in cooperation in Freestyle during the tiebreak in the 3rd Freestyle, but there had been no chance to continue in the 3rd Final.

Flying Saucers


Dagh Nielsen

The second winner was – also surprising in some respects – was Flying Saucers, whom I had already introduced to you in my previous report as Dagh Nielsen from Danmark. The funny thing is, he had been placed 9th in the main tournament, one place in front of Xakru, so that we can read that table backwards, in order to get the winner's list. Dagh startet with 3 out of 6 in the final, so what could he really expect? I think, he never dreamt of winning $4,000 in the end (achieving 5.5 out of 9). But let's listen to his story:

The team Flying Saucers consisted of one player + computer(s). I am 29 years old (2163 FIDE), from Denmark, and a mathematician by education. This was the second Freestyle event I participated in.

I have been engaged in computer assisted chess for several years. It started out as opening analysis out of curiousity, and for about a year I have been focusing on making opening books for engines, with my engines battling it out on the Playchess server. That I would participate in the Freestyle events as active centaur and not as pure engine has never been in doubt, though.

My hardware in the preliminary was a dual core Opteron. Before the final, Vasik Rajlich had kindly agreed to let me use his quad Opteron, and helped me set it up with a UCI (UCI = engine protocol) pipe over the net. My technical setup then was:

Fritz 9 interface, with two instances of Rybka running. The quad on pipe running in 1-variation mode, and my own dual core running in 2/3/4-variation mode. This way, I would be alarmed by deep resources and assessments fast, while at the same time getting immediate information about the forcedness of the investigated positions, in other words, how many alternatives would be worth a check. In the previous Freestyle event and in some of the games of the preliminary in this one, I had had the Fritz 9 engine running as well, in order to get an aggressive second opinion. I discarded this option for the final, mainly out of a philosophy to keep things technically simple. For the same reason, I did not use tablebases. The games themselves, I played through the free playchess client.

My "strategy" for the final was simply to try to not lose any games due to horrible play or bad time management. Additionally, I tried to predict what openings could arise, and spent considerable time preparing for this, hoping that this would put me in position to also play for a win in some games. I have annotated 7 of my games from the final. The annotations are primarily intended for giving the reader a picture on what went on "behind the scenes", and I've tried to be as honest and open as possible. In the annotations, you can find more specific remarks about my considerations during and before the individual games.

In general, I've found the Freestyle events extremely exciting, both as participant and as observer. I like to think of Freestyle chess as "blitz correspondence chess". For the many people interested in correspondence chess, but who don't play due to time issues, the Freestyle events IMHO offer a thrilling alternative. In fact, I could see why many people would rather play Freestyle than correspondece chess, just as OTB players get addicted to online blitz and forget to visit their local chess club ;-) One weekend of playing, and you can put the games out of your head in good conscience. Freestyle chess can still be hard work though :P.

Here are some comments of mine to a few frequently asked questions about Freestyle chess:

Do centaurs hold any advantage over pure engines?

My take on this is that, yes, pure engines assisted by strong books and strong hardware can reach at least an average level. However, to reach the highest levels of play, usually a little extra will be necessary. I think the results of the Freestyle events so far confirm this. For example, for this final, only two pure engines qualified, even though they made up a good part (30%–50%) of the preliminary field.

Is human chess skill worth anything at all, or is all that matters skill at operating a computer?

My answer would certainly be similar to the one above.

I'm an average club player, would I have any chance to succeed?

Certainly yes! Just remember the sensational win of team ZackS in the first Freestyle event. There will no doubt arise situations where a lack of chess knowledge, intuition or skill will take a toll, as it did for me in this final. Also, perhaps one can say that weaknesses in certain aspects of the game put a limit to your flexibility. The set of types of positions you can sensibly afford to enter is reduced, and if it is reduced too much, odds are that you will be caught sooner or later. So, maybe knowing your weaknesses and how to avoid them from being exposed can be said to be an important skill.

I have average hardware, do I have any chance to succeed?

Yes. I myself qualified for the final on average hardware and with average chess skill. The key is to find ways to maximise your combined centaur skill. That being said, I firmly believe that I would not have stood many changes in the final without the additional hardware help that I got access to.

Overall, to succeed, in my opinion what is essential is not having any weak links in the total "chess entity setup" – no clearly inferior hardware, no insufficient practice in active analysis with engines under time constraints, no bad opening handling, and no largely missing chess understanding. Then one has a fair shot.

How high was the level of play in the final?

Not sure, I think overall very high. What is more important is that there were countless highly spectacular games in the final, and I certainly hope the spectators enjoyed watching them just as much as I think we enjoyed playing them. I also hope new readers will be inspired to take part in the fun in coming Freestyle events.

Summary

Four teams shared the prize money for the third place: Jazzled, Frigderi, Elissa and Nebula. I introduced all of them in my previous report. So this time I will make it short, especially as I haven't received any reports from these teams. Jazzled is already well-known as the 28 year old American Joseph Soney, who took the second place in the Third Freestyle Final. He is playing on a very fast hardware (Quad Opteron, which means 8 processors in total), with a selfmade opening book. Once more Jazzled proved to be a very solid team, it remained the only one undefeated.

This time Joseph let Rybka run as an automatic engine, the same as Nebula, who was the proud winner of the main tournament and whose real name is Anastasios Kakirdakis from Greece. I noticed that Nebula uses a gigantic book, often covering about 25 moves.

We may once more interprete the results of the final as a clear, but lucky dominance of skilful centaurs (equipped with powerful machines of course) over pure engines. In my opinion this is a very good message for Freestyle. Yet, the difference is not really as clear as it appears. If Nebula had won (instead of losing) its last game against Flying Saucers, it would have caught Xakru with also six points!

Elissa was the comeback of the famous Zacks, the young American team that won the very first PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament in sensational style, though they were far away from a master degree in chess. Frigderi is a player named Pavel Bystrov, living near Bonn. So far he did not share any further information about himself. The only thing which might be sure is that he is not a German. So these four teams won each $500 dollars.

Rentner2, IM Joerg Blauert from Luebeck, had a bad start with his game versus Zorchamp. He consolidated in the middle of the tournament, but then broke down once again. He was perhaps the finalist with the most human input (which can be expected of an International Master), but again and again he slipped into horrible time pressure, which against engines is ten times harder than against "human only" opponents.

Rentner2, Icy45 (Finland) and Ibermax (England), had all 3.5 points. They all won only one game and lost three. Icy45 started the final as a centaur player, but the last three games, after he had only 2 out of 6, he switched to "engine only". In the last round Rybka succeeded in "passing over the red lantern", as we say in German, to Zorchamp. It remained unexplicable why Zor, after a good start with 2 out of 3, almost collapsed in the second half of the tournament. Some kibitzers guessed it might not be the real Zorchamp playing, but a substitute. I fear we have to accept the old wisdom “the answer is blowin’ in the wind”.

All in all we had a successful event, with a much lower rate of draws compared to the 3rd Freestyle Final. It's only 60% (I predicted: less than 66%) compared to 75% in the previos final. The whole series of Freestyle events in 2005 and 2006 was an interesting and still promising experiment. Let's see what Freestyle Chess will bring in future.

Final standings

Results of the individual final rounds

1st Round – Fr. 14:00

2nd Round – Fr. 17:00

3rd Round – Fr. 20:00

Nebula – Xakru ½

Xakru – Elissa 1-0

Icy45 – Xakru 0-1

Icy45 – Flying Saucers ½

Ibermax – Jazzled ½

Rentner2 – Nebula 1-0

Rentner2 – Zor_champ 0-1

Zor_champ – Frigderi ½

Frigderi–Flying Sauc. ½

Frigderi – Ibermax ½

Flying Sauc.–Rentner2 ½

Jazzled – Zor_champ ½

Jazzled – Elissa ½

Nebula – Icy45 1-0

Elissa – Ibermax ½

4th Round – Sat. 14:00

5th Round – Sat 17:00

6th Round – Sat. 20:00

Xakru – Ibermax 1-0

Rentner2 – Xakru ½

Xakru – Zor_champ 1-0

Zor_champ – Elissa ½

Frigderi – Icy45 ½

Flying Sauc.–Ibermax 1-0

Flying Sauc.–Jazzled 0-1

Jazzled – Nebula ½

Nebula – Elissa ½

Nebula – Frigderi ½

Elissa – Flying Saucers½

Icy45 – Jazzled ½

Icy45 – Rentner2 ½

Ibermax – Zor_champ 1-0

Rentner2 – Frigderi 0-1

7th Round – Sun. 14:00

8th Round – Sun 17:00

9th Round – Sun. 20:00

Frigderi – Xakru ½

Xakru – Flying Saucers 0-1

Jazzled – Xakru ½

Jazzled – Rentner2 ½

Nebula – Zor_champ 1-0

Elissa – Frigderi ½

Elissa – Icy45 1-0

Icy45 – Ibermax ½

Ibermax – Rentner2 ½

Ibermax – Nebula 0-1

Rentner2 – Elissa 0-1

Zor_champ – Icy45 0-1

Zor_champ–Flying Sauc. ½

Frigderi – Jazzled ½

Flying Saucers–Nebula 1-0

PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Champions

2005 – Zacks (USA)
2006 – Zorchamp (VAE)
2006 – Rajlich (HUN)
2006 – Xakru (CZE)

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