From Chess Challenger to Deep Fritz 14

2/27/2014 – Those were the day: back in the 1980s Ken Blake played Sargon, a chess-playing program that ran on the Apple II. He beat it easily – as he did Chess Challenger and Battle Chess. The general consensus was that computers will never play chess well, right? Wrong. Ken has encountered Fritz, which in its current incarnation is 269 Elo points stronger than the World Champion. Review.

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Deep Fritz 14

By Ken Blake, Product Review Coordinator

Back in the late 1970s, I bought a Chess Challenger, a small electronic chess-playing computer. It played terribly, I beat it almost all the time, and I thought computers would never be able to play chess well.

In the 1980s I played several games against Sargon,
a chess-playing program that ran on the Apple II. I also beat that easily.

In the 90s, I bought a copy of Battle Chess, I ran that on my
MS-DOS machine and also beat it almost every time.

Computer don’t think like people, and they will never play chess well, right?

Boy, was I wrong! In 1996, Garry Kasparov, the World Chess Champion, and probably the strongest player of all time, played a six game match against the program Deep Blue, running on an IBM supercomputer. Winning three games, drawing two, and losing one, Kasparov won the match, but amazing to me, he didn’t win all the games, and even lost one. The following year, in a rematch, Deep Blue beat Kasparov, winning two, losing one, and drawing three!

And in 2006, an earlier version of Deep Fritz beat a former world champion ...

... Vladimir Kramnik, by a score of 4-2 (see ChessBase report)

The world had changed, and what I thought about computers playing chess was completely wrong. Beside Deep Blue running on a supercomputer, several very strong chess playing programs that run on a personal computer running Windows have been released, and one of them, Deep Fritz 14, is the subject of this review.

In 1999, I reviewed an earlier version of Fritz, Fritz 5.32, for the Tucson Computer Society Journal. It played very well, but not as well as Deep Fritz 14 does now. And Fritz 5.32 had a unique non-traditional interface that was difficult to find your way around in; that’s now all gone. It now uses a ribbon interface, much like that of Microsoft Office. And its talking feature, making snide comments to its opponent, which I didn’t like, is now gone. Two big improvements!

Let me start off by saying that it plays extremely well. I don’t know how much better it is than 5.32, nor how it would do against Kasparov or any other grandmaster, nor how it compares with Deep Blue, but I do know that it beats me every time. And although I’m far from being a grandmaster, I’m well above the average chess player. Back in the 1950s my rating was around 2000; because I haven’t played actively in tournaments for many years, I’m weaker than I used to be, but I’m certainly not a beginner.

And besides the Deep Fritz 14 engine, which computes the best move in a position, Deep Fritz also comes with the Rybka 4 engine, which it can switch to, and other engines can be added to it. I also own a copy of Rybka 4, another chess-playing program, and can attest to that engine also playing very well.
When you start it, you tell it that you are a beginner, a hobby player, or a club player. It then sets its skill level up or down to attempt to match yours. Above, when I said “it plays extremely well,” I’m referring to how well it plays when you call yourself a club player. When I tell it I’m a beginner, I can beat it very easily. And even as a hobby player, I may have to work a little harder, but I don’t lose to it as easily as I do as a club player. You can also set it to “Optimize Strength,” which makes it even stronger. And of course, what processor and how much RAM your computer has also affect it strength

Elo ratings are rankings of chess players all over the world. The currently strongest player in the world, Magnus Carlsen, who is also the current world champion, has an Elo rating of 2881, but Deep Fritz’s estimated strength is 3150. I don’t know how accurate that estimate is, but it’s 269 points higher than Carlsen’s rating! Even if it’s approximate, that number, 269, is a very big one! To put 269 points into perspective, Carlsen is about 269 points higher than the 80th player in the world.

When you play a game, you can play at any time limit you want to use, but warning – the faster the time limit, the better it will probably play compared to you. And all the moves are recorded and can be kept. You can also print the moves, email it to a friend, etc.

Besides playing very well, Deep Fritz also comes with an enormous database of almost three million games. You can search the database for games by a particular player, by date, by opening, by theme, by tactics, by strategy, and by endgame. You can also create additional databases and add games to them. Any chess player who wants to become stronger needs to study all these things and this provides a wonderful resource for him. And beside the database, there are also training routines for openings, endgames, defenses, checks, and mates.

The default view is to a standard diagram of chess positions, but you can switch to several different views, including a 3D view of a chessboard and pieces, almost like a filmed game.

Beginners might prefer that 3D view, but more experienced players are accustomed to the standard diagram, since they have seen it thousands of times in chess, book, magazines, web sites, etc.

There also a number of video files included, each one teaching a different lesson. And it provides a link to the web site playchess.com, and a free six-month premium membership there. When there, you can get live commentary on important tournaments played around the world and also participate in training sessions.

Having said all the above good things about Deep Fritz, are there any negatives? Not many, but although its ribbon interface is now much better than the interface in the earlier version I reviewed, it is still somewhat difficult to find your way around the program and make the choices you want. It comes with no manual, but F1 brings up Help for it, and that certainly helps a lot. Still, a manual would be welcome.

Deep Fritz 14 runs on all versions of Windows starting with XP, but is optimized for Windows 8.1. It comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions (I ran the 64-bit version) and can support up to eight processor cores simultaneously (I have six on my Intel i7). At a minimum, it needs a 1 Ghz Pentium III processor and 2 GB of RAM, but it will play better with a faster processor and more RAM.

Despite the absence of a manual, this is highly recommended to chess players and those who want to learn more about chess. As with almost everything else, more practice makes you better, and Deep Fritz 14 can provide you with plenty of excellent practice.

New features at a glance

  • Fritz runs faster and smoother than ever before, supporting up to eight cores and 16 GB of hash memory, so Fritz can take advantage of developments in PC hardware.
  • New Fritz playing/analysis engine. Approximately 100 Elo points stronger than previous versions. Think Magnus Carlsen's Elo rating of 2870 is impressive? Deep Fritz 14's rating is an astonishing 3150 Elo.
  • Access to the 'Let's Check' (with 200 million extensively analysed positions) and ChessBase engine Cloud.
  • New FritzBook by Alex Kure with over 4 million positions - Fritz knows the latest opening theory, allowing you to hone your opening repertoire.
  • Six months Premium membership on Playchess.com.
  • Database with over 1.5 million games, including all top-level games from the last 50 years (up to the end of 2013!).

Deep Fritz 14

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Topics Fritz
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