Houdini 3: Analyzing in the cloud (part two)

by Albert Silver
11/17/2012 – For most users a major query is: what can the program do for me, whether just for fun or to help me become a better player? This usually starts with analyzing one's own games, and of course the functions are numerous, from blunder-checking to full analysis. However, the new Fritz interface offers new options for analyzing in the Cloud and even analyzing with your desktop remotely.

Houdini 3: Analyzing in the cloud (part two)

By Albert Silver

There was a time when the number one goal of chess programs was just to get a stronger engine, as the Holy Grail was to have a training partner, and analysis tool, of master strength, then grandmaster strength, and then, of course, there was the issue of the world number one.

This stopped being true some time ago, and while there are certainly contests for who has the strongest engine (Houdini 3 now) or the fastest computer, for most users a major query is: what can the program do for me, whether just for fun, or to help me become a better player?

Most players, even knowledgeable ones, are accustomed to thinking of this as merely a matter of analyzing their games, solving a few puzzles, or having the engine play in a crippled mode as an opponent should know that the latest version of the Fritz interface offers so much more.

Without even claiming to present all the choices and their myriad options, I’d like to cover a few, not to mention the basics above, as they are essential tools nonetheless.

Analyzing games

Understandably, the first and foremost tool making use of the engine is that of analyzing one’s games. Some players prefer to just have the engine running in “infinite analysis”, meaning it will just analyze without playing a move, while others prefer to have some form of automated analysis functions of which there are several.

No hubris here: we'll take a game between Garry Kasparov and Jan Timman from their 1985 match

The first and most basic of these functions is the “Blunder check”. This will simply analyze each move for a certain depth or time, and highlight the blunders. The user determines what is defined as a blunder, whether it be a lost piece, pawn, or some significant change in the evaluation. As a rule this is the quickest method and serves to quickly show where the biggest mistakes were. I use this regularly after a blitz game in Playchess. I realize that late in the game I may make mistakes owing to lack of time, but for the rest, it helps show me mistakes or missed opportunities. Extremely practical.

The next option is a far more complete option described appropriately as “Full Analysis” in which you decide whether it will analyze a set time per move, or for the whole game. The comments can come merely as variations or a series of light but colorful verbal annotations.

The Fritz interface produces very believable notes that make the analysis more palatable
than plain variations with a score at the end.

One tip: In either mode the program will analyze variations just as easily as just the game moves, so if you want to still do your own homework before ‘seeing the answers’, annotate the game first, with all your own analysis, and then see what the engine thinks about your moves as well as your analysis.

While there are also several functions to deeply analyze specific positions, none of this will strike anyone as anything new under the bridge, and novelties were most assuredly promised in part one.

Let's Check: letting others analyze for you

Some may, or may not have heard of the Let’s Check functionality, which will be covered in greater detail later, however it also brings about what is known as Cloud computing, using outside resources as opposed to only those in your own machine.

Feel free to submit the game for anlaysis by others. The server will distribute the
positions among users so that the game will be analyzed very quickly.

This has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that it is much quicker as the server will send out the individual game positions to all the connected users, and not analyze it only on a move-per-move basis. The disadvantage is that you don’t have any control over which engines are used, nor the depth, but overall it is a very quick and efficient way to get results.

You will get a very wide range of engines analyzing it, as each user has their favorite

Cloud engines: running someone else's engine

Another new function, quite cutting edge, is the Cloud engines function. Suppose your computer is too slow, or suppose you would like to have multiple engines running on the positions to get a  more complete overview. Whether you be a top grandmaster needing extra speedy but controlled analysis, or whether you be an amateur seeking to squeeze in some quick last-minute preparation without access to a faster machine, then you can get four quads all running different engines to analyze a position, without using even one percent of your own computer’s resources.

First click on the cloud button in the engine pane

You must login to Playchess with your account, upon which you will be presented with a list of engines to choose from. You can offer your own, or purchase the use of another, paid in ‘Ducats’  the server’s currency.

A full list of the engines, machines, and details on number of cores and speed is provided

Cloud engines: remotely accessing your desktop from your laptop

There is another option that is even more spectacular: offering it to yourself. The idea of remotely accessing your computer or that of a friend from a laptop while on the road is very attractive, but the idea of complicated network setups is not. The new Fritz interface allows you to also set it so that only you, or a specific user(s), can access it.

In a simple two-step process, you can set it so that only you or a chosen person, can
access your desktop, and effectively run the engine from your laptop, just as if it were in
it, except none of its own resources will be used.
There is no simpler way to run a remote engine.

In other words, you can make sure your desktop is only accessible remotely by yourself or specific friends or colleagues, at no cost. It is the simplest and most painless way of setting up a remote connection to your own computer for chess analysis.

In the next part we’ll discuss the various tools at your disposal to specifically train and improve your game.

Copyright ChessBase

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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