Houdini 5's Tactical Mode: Releasing the Kraken

by Albert Silver
12/8/2016 – With the arrival of Houdini 5 many will be asking themselves: What makes it so special? Aside from unique characteristics that made Houdini the reference all others were compared to is a special function hidden away in its options you should definitely know about: Tactical mode. This feature turns Houdini 5 into a single-minded tactics hunter that will find combinations and winners far faster than normal. Read on to learn about Tactical Mode and a backdoor trick.

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What is Houdini 5's Tactical Mode

Houdini 5 is more than just another elite engine, it brings with it special functions

When we study books or collections of tactics, we do so with the knowledge that in each position we are faced with, there is unquestionably a winning move or sequence. This is a singular advantage, and is why even very weak amateurs can feel like a world champion as they find the same killer blow their heroes found. Staring at a position where we know there is such a move, our approach is different: we do not worry about a long-term plan, or the subtle positional characteristics. There is a winning shot, and almost immediately we begin testing various sacrifices first to see which seems likely to be the answer.

Unless you analyze with the tactical single-mindedness of Tal, the chances are you will overlook even an easy combination at times

Engines are different. No matter what the position is, it will approach it the same way. Suppose there is a complicated position in which you just feel there must be a tactic. You could be right, but sometimes even the monster engines can miss it at first, and if you stopped them early, the answer will never be known. That is where Houdini 5’s Tactical Mode comes in.

Let’s suppose you were studying this position with the help of the engine. In this case, it is running on a solid quad-core processor with 2GB for the hash tables.

Alekhine - Sterk (Budapest, 1921)

White to play and win

The normal Houdini 5 takes about one minute to find the winning move 1.Bf6. There is nothing wrong with this, unless you had given up after thirty seconds and stopped the engine, or skipped to another move.

If you turn on Tactical Mode in Houdini 5, it is suddenly able to find it in three seconds flat! That is because it is using special algorithms and changes in its search to focus and find combinations.

Sounds fantastic, so why not use it all the time? The answer is the same reason you do not spend your time looking for tactical winners in every position. Your play would likely suffer a lot as you neglected other important aspects of play. Tactical Mode is unquestionably stronger at finding combinations in general (you will no doubt find some exceptions), but it cannot replace the normal Houdini 5 for overall analysis. Use your judgement on when to Release the Kraken.

How to enable Tactical Mode

Turning on Tactical Mode in Houdini 5 is quite easy.

First turn on the Houdini 5 engine...

...but instead of clicking on Ok, choose instead Advanced…

In this new pane, select Engine Parameters

A small window with a number of options appears, but the one we want is at the top left corner. Put a check mark in Tactical Mode and then click on Ok. Click Ok twice more and Houdini 5 will start in Tactical Mode.

As long as the engine is open it will stay in Tactical Mode. The bad news is that if you exit it, or change engines, the next time you start Houdini 5 you will need to do this again to enable Tactical Mode. The good news is that there is a way around this.

How to create a separate Houdini 5 Tactical Mode engine

What if you could just select Houdini 5 Tactical Mode from the engines list when you wanted it, instead of going through those steps each and every time? You can, and the following steps will show you how.

In the top menu, first click on Create UCI Engine

A new window will open to set up the engine. Click on the [...]

We are now going to locate the Houdini 5 engine file. You will need to go to Local Disk (C:), which will be either in My Computer if you are using Windows 7/8 or 'This PC' (as above) if using Windows 10.

From there, go to Common Files -> ChessBase -> Engines.uci

Inside the Engines.uci folder you will see two Houdini 5 files. You can choose either as both will work.

Now that the engine file is chosen, give it a name first. You must keep the original name, so the suggestion is to add Tactical at the end. This is the name that will appear in the engines list. Check Below Normal and very importantly: click on Parameter!

The Parameters window will open, and here you put a check mark in Tactical Mode, and then click Ok

Now when you click on Add Kibitzer to start an engine (also Ctrl-K)...

... you will see Houdini 5 Tactical in the list. If you start it, it will run Houdini 5 in Tactical Mode as if it were an individual engine.

Have fun!


Topics Houdini5

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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jkh0208 jkh0208 9/18/2017 10:10
Is tactical mode suitable for human vs pc sparring when Houdini's strength is turned down to the human's approximate ELO, or is it strictly for analysis purposes?
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