Deep Fritz 8 review by Steve Lopez

12/27/2003 – Deep Fritz8 is much more than just a multi-processor version of Fritz. Read all about the new extras included with Deep Fritz8 in this week's ChessBase Workshop.

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previewed by Steve Lopez

If you haven't heard of Deep Fritz8, where've you been hiding out for the last couple of months? Deep Fritz8 is the new multi-processor version of Fritz, the same chess engine which drew a match with Garry Kasparov last month (a match which was televised in the U.S. on the various ESPN networks). But you don't need a multi-processor machine to be able to run DF8 -- it'll work just fine with a single processor.

The guys at ChessBase GmbH often refer to the Deep Fritz series as "Fritz x.5" (in this case, it'd be "Fritz 8.5"); the engine isn't just the Fritz8 engine reprogrammed for multiple processors. It's a whole new engine with a lot of new and impressive tweaks and is regarded as an important version in the Fritz series which just happens to fall between the regular Fritz versions -- hence the half-joking "x.5" designation. There are some cool new extra features in the program which we'll examine in this preview.

The big thing that everyone's interested in is, of course, the chess engine itself. As I said, it's not just a multi-processor version of the old Fritz8 engine. The DF8 engine is a new engine which has a lot of additional positional criteria built into it. I won't repeat my old material about the "speed vs. knowledge" evolutionary process in chess engines over the last decade or so; you can read all about it in some of my older articles. But, in short, programmers have discovered that brute force speed alone just doesn't cut it anymore. Yes, speed is still a factor, but new chess engines are becoming slower but smarter -- they understand more about chess principles and rely less upon mere "bean counting" than their predecessors did in days past.

DF8 is no exception to this new tendency toward knowledge vs. speed. In addition to new positional criteria being added to the engine, the programmers have also included more endgame knowledge (independent of the optional tablebases) to beef up that aspect of the engine's play. The new DF8 engine is certainly stronger than the older Fritz8 engine. How much so? It's still too soon to tell for this little computer chess freak; the jury's still out for me as to an Elo estimate. But this will doubtless be a hot topic on the various computer chess message boards over the weeks to come, so I encourage you to peruse them to see what other computer chess mavens (who doubtless have more time to run engine vs. engine matches than do I) are saying on this topic.

The new apects of the program that really wowed me were the new photorealistic 3D chessboards. Rather than hog up server space with a repeat of what's already on this site, I'll direct you here for a look at the new boards. Get prepared before you click, though -- I recommend that you sit down first. The "Spanish Room" is really something to behold, and players with weaker constitutions may well pass out the first time they see it. It's really an amazing accomplishment in 3D -- it's one of the closest things I've seen to "virtual reality" on a PC screen. You'll see a highly-detailed room from an Iberian country villa. You can "circle" the chessboard to change your view of the room. And it even comes complete with an analog chess clock next to the board -- the hands really move and the flag operates realistically. The only thing missing is Alexander Alekhine blowing whiskey breath in your face.

The other new 3D board is also a knockout. The "Egyptian" set uses characters from that culture's ancient mythology as the chesspieces. The board is set on a low mound and you can see pyramids in the background. I'm not a huge fan of anthropomorphic chess pieces, but I truly love the look of this set and the way it inspires feelings of dread and foreboding as you sit down for a game.

Another new feature is the ability to "twist" the Knights in the 3D views. I've seen the question/argument appear many times in chess message boards: "Which way should the Knights face at the start of a game?" I'll confess that it was never an issue in any of my real-life chess games (and I've played thousands); neither I nor any of my opponents seems to care two spits about which direction the Knights were pointed. But, judging from the discussions/vitriolic flamewars I've seen on the Interrant regarding this topic, it does matter to some players in a deep and meaningful way. If you're one of those folks, your prayers have been answered -- you can now face the Knights in any direction by tweaking a set of sliders in the 3D Options display.

And the new Chess Media System features (previously available as part of an online upgrade to Fritz8 and described a few weeks ago here in ChessBase Workshop) is now a standard part of the program with the release of Deep Fritz8.

As for the "nuts and bolts" of the extras included with the program, Deep Fritz8 includes a database of 506,444 games culled from throughout chess history (from the days of Philidor up to the year 2002). You can use the database as a reference tool to research players or openings, or simply play through classic games just for the sheer enjoyment of it. DF8 also comes with a new opening book (the same one used in the Nov. 2003 match against Garry Kasparov); the book has been optimized to suit DF8's style of play and contains 2,779,537 unique positions. Here again you can use the book as a research tool (seeing what's been played in various positions and the statistics for each of those moves) plus use the book as DF8's default "opening book" (which is especially recommended for pitting your program against other computer programs in games on the Playchess server).

All in all, DF8 is more than "just another chessplaying program". The new 3D boards alone are worth the price of admission (and this is from a guy who traditionally dislikes 3D chessboards in PC programs). But, of course, the main feature is still the new Deep Fritz8 engine. Is it really "stronger than Deep Blue" as Kasparov claimed after his match against it last month? There ain't but one way to find out. Give Deep Fritz8 a whirl and I'm sure you'll be suitably impressed.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2003, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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