Fall of the Favourites in PAL/CSS Freestyle

10/19/2006 – A "Freestyle tournament" is one in which computer assistance – or any other form of help – during the game is allowed and encouraged. The 4th PAL/CSS Freestyle tournament, which reaches its final this weekend on the the Playchess.com server, saw many of the favourites falter. Now the ten qualifiers will play a round robin for the US $16,000 prize money. Come and watch.

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Fall of Favourites at 4th PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament

By Arno Nickel

Freestyle chess is and stays exciting. Once again a number of grandmasters and other titleholders took part in the 4th PAL/CSS Main Tournament, in order to qualify for the final and win one of the money prizes – $8,000, $4,000 or $2,000 dollar. But on late evening October 1st most of them had to admit defeat to the computer experts and their powerful machines. GMCrest alias Sergey Shipow (Blitz Elo 2932) missed qualifying for the finaly on October 20-22 by half a point. Also the brillant winning team of the 3rd Freestyle Tournament, Rybka programer IM Vasik Rajlich, fell into bad ways and ended the same as GMCrest on the thankless 11th-20th shared places.

The first ten teams will meet each other in the final. Once again start number 1 will be a pure engine player, as his Rybka engine with the playchess.com handle Nebula won the main tournament scoring 6.5 points out of 8 rapid games (60 minutes per player and 15 sec per move). Nebula is the handle of the widely unknown Greek computer chess fan Anastasios Kakirdakis. All Freestyle players may be reassured to know that this will be the only automatic engine in the final, and as experience shows (remember for instance Vvarkey at the 2nd Freestyle event) “engine only” players always have a hard time in the final, when they meet well prepared opponents.

CCGM Arno Nickel, alias Ciron

On places 2 and 3 we see Icy45, which is the handle of Auno Siikaluoma from Finland, also a newcomer to Freestyle, and Rentner2, IM Joerg Blauert from Luebeck, who is the only one from many German participants to qualify for the final. In the last round he defeated the leading Frigderi, another Freestyle newcomer, a.k.a. Pavel Bystrov, an Eastern European player living in Germany. Rentner2 always belonged to the favourites after his good success in the 1st Freestyle event in 2005, but missed qualifying in the last two tournaments. His comeback consoles the German fans for the failure of two other co-favourites, IM Dennis Breder, who already had been finalist with Klosterfrau and Hegdehog – and also your correspondent, Ciron both of us had a good start, but stumbled on the home stretch.

On places 4 to 10 we also find, next to Frigderi, two previous finalists, the American Joseph Soney with Jazzled (he took the 2nd place in the last Freestyle event), and the legendary Zor_Champ from Abu Dhabi, who had won the 2nd Freestyle Final im May 2006. Zor’s newest success is even more impressive, as he forfeited the first round. There are wide spread rumours that the arabic Freestyle patron uses the famous “hardware monster” Hydra in centaur style, together with other engines. But so far we don’t have any details about it, because Zor keeps his cards close to his chest. Whether certain moves, bad or good ones, are genuine Hydra moves, only he can say, as the Hydra program is not commercially available, apart from the fact that hardly anyone else has a 64 processor cluster at his disposal. Zor’s games are always an attraction for many kibitzers, the same as Rajlich’s board. What I can say for sure is only one thing: he always plays his faourite openings and is definitely not using the official tournament or match book of GM Christopher Lutz – and this is perfectly fine from the Hydra team’s point of view, as the multi-headed serpent will always stay unpredictable, right from move one.

In the last round there was a game PAKman (Rybka 2.1c mp) vs Zor_Champ, where Black had a won position after 85...Kg7. PAKman’s Rybka sacrified a pawn playing 86.g5 in order to prevent Black’s king from invading on the dark squares und (may be) in order to create a second passed pawn on f5.

Yet, after 86.g5 fxg5 87.Bg4 the invasion isn’t really stopped, as Black is able to break through by re-sacrifying either the g5- or the h4-pawn. The only correct move on Black’s side is 87...Kh6!, and if White tries to keep his bishop on g4, then Black breaks through by the simple manoeuvre 88.(Ka2) h3! 89.Bxh3 Kh5, followed by 90...g4 etc.

At this stage the kibitzers wondered, what would happen in this endgame, as Rybka, just like the other engines, didn’t “see” the breakthrough, while White had about 12 minutes left and Black only 2 minutes. The position is a good example to illustrate that in Freestyle chess the combination strong player + engine is the ideal team, whereas automatic engines, even though they may achieve some very good results at any given time, cannot really be counted among the best Freestyle teams, as they might also blunder in such way at any time. Zor_Champ also didn’t realize his chance to win right away, maybe because of time trouble – it played random shuffling moves, before at last on move 100 it struck upon the winning idea.

Among the other finalists we find Elissa, a US American engine player, who may better be known by many as the legendary Zacks. It was Stephen Zackery, who last year together with Steven Cramton caused a real sensation by knocking out a number of grandmasters and winning the 1st PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament. Yet, after that they couldn't keep it up, though they tried it again and again, which shows how difficult Freestyle chess really is, even for winners... Now, Zacks is back after a makeover as Elissa, or at least one of both players is back, since we don’t know whether they are still playing in a team and since Steven Cramton also participated in the event with another handle. Such confusing tricks – or let’s say keeping open of ones options – are nowadays standard in Freestyle chess, and so we must always be ready for surprises.

For the first time in the final, also achieving 5.5 points, is Ibermax, an English centaur player named John Richards (who managed to defeat the mighty Zor_Champ), same as Flying Saucers, another centaur, operated by Dagh Nielsen from Denmark. By the way both players have a FIDE rating around 2100 or more, which proves that they have some tournament experience in over-the-board play. This may even more apply to Xakru, who sailed under a noname-flag, only revealing that he has an impressive bullet rating of 2386 and a blitz rating of 2317 on the server. I didn’t check this when I played him in round 7 with black and tried to unbalance the position in order to speculate for winning chances. As Xakru demonstrated in a rock solid style, black’s chances to lose were even bigger than his doubtful hopes to win. Good luck to Xakru in the final!

The final on October 20th-22nd (start of the rounds 14.00, 17.00 and 20.00 CET) will for the first time be played with ten instead of eight players, as a round-robin tournament. While the number of draws was quite big at the last final (75%), we hope that the players will take more risks this time, when playing 9 instead of 7 games. That is also suggested by some colourful names among the participants, so that I dare to predict at least 10 percent less draws (i.e. not more than 65 percent in total).

Incidentally, we also hope that future Freestyle events will again see large numbers of participants, as this last one, and especially many more titleholders and strong players. Apart from difficulties in finding the right dates, the 4th main tournament ran into a problem at the beginning. After round five a total loss of the tournament data file made it necessary to stop the tournament on September 17th. The error was not on the part of the server by due to an error in the backup procedure and the passing of data from one tournament director to the other. Some of the players were frustrated by the interruptions and didn’t show up on October 1st, when the tournament was to be continued, as they did not have time or had simply lost interest (especially if they could see that they had no chance of qualifying). Amongst these were some grandmasters. I would be glad, if we soon could forget this glitch and give real prominence to Freestyle as a new kind of chess competition, with a very high standard of chess. Plans for further sponsoring and for innovative forms of tournaments are ready in the works, but let’s first wait for the final on October 20th-22nd.

Final standings of the qualifier

  Team + = Pts
1. Nebula 5 3 0 6.5
2. Icy45 5 2 1 6.0
3. Rentner2 4 4 0 6.0
4. Frigderi 5 1 2 5.5
5. Jazzled 3 5 0 5.5
6. Elissa 3 5 0 5.5
7. Ibermax 3 5 0 5.5
8. Zor_Champ 5 1 1 5.5
9. Flying Saucers 3 5 0 5.5
10. Xakru 4 3 1 5.5
11. Octapus 3 4 1 5.0
12. Klosterfrau 3 4 1 5.0
13. Alexisco 3 4 1 5.0
14. Thebrokenking 2 6 0 5.0
15. Klaus Ritter 3 4 1 5.0
16. Tatar 4 2 2 5.0
17. Poweronoff 3 4 1 5.0
18. GMCrest 3 4 1 5.0
19. EL-SHADDAI 3 4 1 5.0
20. Rajlich 3 4 1 5.0
21. Rainer Zufall 3 4 1 5.0
22. Knilch hi 3 3 2 4.5
23. Ciron 2 5 1 4.5
24. Openformula 2 5 1 4.5
25. Fredi_z 1 7 0 4.5
26. PAKman 4 1 2 4.5
27. Sergey_M 3 3 2 4.5
28. Riodelta 1 7 0 4.5
29. Equidistance 3 3 2 4.5
30. Heffalump 2 5 1 4.5
30. Pingugator 2 5 0 4.5
32. Bychamp_II 1 7 0 4.5
33. AlterEgo 1 7 0 4.5
34. Gallenweiler 2 5 1 4.5
35. Alansacount 1 7 0 4.5
36. Engineer 2 5 1 4.5
37. Wolves 2 5 1 4.5
38. Goldbar 3 3 2 4.5
  Team + = Pts
39. Noritano 2 5 1 4.5
40. BuShamsa 4 1 2 4.5
41. Sphaghetti Chess 3 3 2 4.5
42. Kero 2 5 1 4.5
43. Intagrand 2 4 2 4.0
44. Averell 2 4 2 4.0
45. The Nerevarine 2 4 2 4.0
46. Abeljusto 2 4 2 4.0
47. Stabiloboss 3 2 3 4.0
48. Hoshad 1 6 1 4.0
49. Tturgut 2 4 2 4.0
50. Souk 1 6 1 4.0
51. Rockdoc 3 2 3 4.0
52. Sebi-chess 3 2 3 4.0
53. Baschid 2 4 2 4.0
54. King Crusher 2 4 2 4.0
55. Akhtar 2 4 1 4.0
56. Revelator 3 2 2 4.0
57. Olivier-Evan 2 3 3 3.5
58. Bogdansyg 2 3 3 3.5
59. Walden 2 3 3 3.5
60. Taler 1 5 2 3.5
61. Jpsingh1972 2 3 2 3.5
62. Vadim M 1 4 3 3.0
63. WindPower 3 0 5 3.0
64. LuBüWy 1 4 3 3.0
65. Croberson 2 2 4 3.0
66. John Higgins 1 4 3 3.0
67. Chessfish 3 0 4 3.0
68. All4tactics 1 4 3 3.0
69. Paolo Boi 2 2 4 3.0
70. Pulse_exchange 1 3 4 2.5
71. Kaputtze 1 3 4 2.5
72. Cluster Wraith 0 5 3 2.5
73. Underdrive 0 5 3 2.5
74. VampireBat 2 1 5 2.5
75. Dom_ 1 2 5 2.0
76. Zacks 0 3 5 1.5

When and where?

The 4th PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament Final will be played from Friday to Sunday, Oct. 20-22, 2006, starting at 14:00h CEST each day. It will be a round robin tournament, with each participant playing one game against all other participants. Time controls are 60 minutes + 15 seconds increment per move.

All games are played on the Internet, in a special room on the Playchess server. If you are not already a member of this giant Internet community (with over 200,000 active members) you can download the software at Playchess.com and set up an account within minutes.


The winner of the finals receives the first prize of US $8.000 and the title of "Fourth PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Champion". The runner up gets $4.000, and the player coming in third $2.000. There will be no tiebreak games in case of a tie. The winner will be decided on the basis of Sonneborn-Berger (SB) points.

If the SB points are equal the number of wins decides. If that is also the same, then the result in the game between the tied participants decides. If this was a draw then the player with the black pieces is the winner. This rule only covers the nomination of the winner and the awarding of the title. The prize money will be divided equally if the final scores are equal. Example 1: two players finish first with six points each. Each gets $6,000. Example 2: Three players share the second to fourth places. Each gets $2,000.


Final (Friday-Sunday, Oct. 20-22, 2006)

Round 1

Friday, 20.10.2006

14:00h CEST

Round 2

Friday, 20.10.2006

17:00h CEST

Round 3

Friday, 20.10.2006

20:00h CEST

Round 4

Saturday, 21.10.2006

14:00h CEST

Round 5

Saturday, 21.10.2006

17:00h CEST

Round 6

Saturday, 21.10.2006

20:00h CEST

Round 7

Sunday, 22.10.2006

14:00h CEST

Round 8

Sunday, 22.10.2006

17:00h CEST

Round 9

Sunday, 22.10.2006

20:00h CEST

Pairings of the finals

The pairings for the finals are conducted according to the international pairing rules, with the start numbers corresponding to the standings of each participant in the main tournament: 1. Nebula, 2. Icy45, 3. Rentner2, 4. Frigderi, 5. Jazzled, 6. Elissa, 7. Ibermax, 8. Zor_champ, 9. Flying Saucers, 10. Xakru. According to the rules the first five participants will have the white pieces five times in the finals. The complete schedule is attached.

First round:
Nebula – Xakru
Icy45 – Flying Saucers
Rentner2 – Zor_champ
Frigderi – Ibermax
Jazzled – Elissa

Second round:
Xakru – Elissa
Ibermax – Jazzled
Zor_champ – Frigderi
Flying Saucers – Rentner2
Nebula – Icy45

Third round:
Icy45 – Xakru
Rentner2 – Nebula
Frigderi – Flying Saucers
Jazzled – Zor_champ
Elissa – Ibermax

Fourth round:
Xakru – Ibermax
Zor_champ – Elissa
Flying Saucers – Jazzled
Nebula – Frigderi
Icy45 – Rentner2

Fifth round:
Rentner2 – Xakru
Frigderi – Icy45
Jazzled – Nebula
Elissa – Flying Saucers
Ibermax – Zor_champ

Sixth round:
Xakru – Zor_champ
Flying Saucers – Ibermax
Nebula – Elissa
Icy45 – Jazzled
Rentner2 – Frigderi

Seventh round:
Frigderi – Xakru
Jazzled – Rentner2
Elissa – Icy45
Ibermax – Nebula
Zor_champ – Flying Saucers

Eighth round:
Xakru – Flying Saucers
Nebula – Zor_champ
Icy45 – Ibermax
Rentner2 – Elissa
Frigderi – Jazzled

Ninth round:
Jazzled – Xakru
Elissa – Frigderi
Ibermax – Rentner2
Zor_champ – Icy45
Flying Saucers – Nebula

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