Freestyle Tournament final begins today

by ChessBase
7/14/2006 – Are you interested in seeing chess played at the very highest level? It involves grandmasters and experts selecting their moves with computer assistance. The final of the 3rd PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament begins today at 17:00h CEST on the server, and ends on Sunday evening. The prize fund is $16,000. Come and watch the fun!

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The Final of the 3rd PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament begins today at 17:00h CEST (Central European Summer Time = 19:00h Moscow, 16:00h London, 11 a.m. New York). The following participants have qualified:

  • Rajlich (the team of the well-known Rybka programer Vasik Rajlich, Czech Republic, but now resident in Budapest, Hungary)
  • Intagrand (England)
  • Jazzled (USA)
  • Campolungo (Netherlands)
  • Poweronoff (Germany)
  • Hedgehog (Switzerland)
  • EmilV (Czech Republic)
  • Alansacount (USA).

Time controls are 60 minutes for all the moves plus a 15 second increment per move. Each player plays one game against every other player. If tie-breaks are needed these will be played on the same day, after the regular games have finished. Here is the exact schedule:

Final (Friday-Sunday, July 14-16, 2006)

Round 1

Friday, 14.07.2006

17:00h CEST

Round 2

Friday, 14.07.2006

20:00h CEST

Round 3

Saturday, 15.07.2006

14:00h CEST

Round 4

Saturday, 15.07.2006

17:00h CEST

Round 5

Saturday, 15.07.2006

20:00h CEST

Round 6

Sunday, 16.07.2006

14:00h CEST

Round 7

Sunday, 16.07.2006

17:00h CEST

Participants in the finale must be in the playing hall ten minutes before the start of each round. The winner of the finals gets the first prize of US $8,000 and the title of "Third PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Champion". The runner-up gets $4,000, the third place gets $2,000. There will be special software prizes for the places 4-8.

Freestyle Newsletter No. 1

By Arno Nickel

Please note, that this is a private initiative. It's not the official newsletter of any company or organisation, though I am co-operating with the sponsors and organizers of the PAL/CSS-Freestyle Tournaments in order to promote this new kind of chess competition. The main intention of the Freestyle Newsletter is to build up a community of the players and all who are interested in Freestyle Chess, to exchange views and information.

1. History

You probably know some of my ChessBase articles on these tournaments. This has been my main contribution so far except from taking part in all of these events since 2005, and I had some ideas about the playing modus, which have become reality this year.

The basic ideas, shared by others, were:

  • Everybody should be able to play against titleholders right from the first round (no qualification tournament as before).
  • The whole tournament (main and final) should not last longer than two weekends.
  • The final should be played as round-robin tournament (no knockout system).
  • The prize-money should be high enough in order to attract professionals.

2. Grand Prix and Rating

One further idea, which has not become reality so far, was to make all tournaments in a given year part of a Grand Prix series. We thought it might be enough in the first year to gain experience, to do some experiments, and then, if possible, to build it up in 2007. A Grand Prix could mean various things: a play-off of all Freestyle Champions at the end of the year, or Grand Prix points for all participants.

I also thought of a special Freestyle rating, which could be introduced later on, when we already have a greater number of games. That could be similiar to the "centaur rating" at, but as it should includes all games played by Freestyle teams ("engine only" included) there will be some differences.

3. Rate of Play (and tie-breaks)

The most important experiments concern the rate of play (in the Freestyle Rules it's called the "thinking time"). Eyerbody knows about the change from 45 min to 60 min per game (and from 5 to 15 sec. bonus ). Even more difficult was the question, how to set the rate of play for the tie-breaks. I wrote about this in my last article.

There are at least two things to consider:

a) The length of the whole tournament. If we would player even longer games (say about two hours for each player; that could be 90 min + 30 sec), we could only play 1 or 2 games per day. So 60 min + 15 sec seems to be the optimum for now, if you also wish to have many players in the tournament.

b) Tie-breaks should be played within one weekend, but the quality of the games should be as in the main event. Tie-brealks remain a problematic point, as you never how many players will have to enter it. There is also the possibility that the players of a final have to play tie-breaks... That could end up in the crazy situation that you have to repeat more or less the whole tournament.

Regarding point b) it has also been discussed whether we should completely avoid tie-breaks and just decide according to the table (Buchholz points etc.).

Until now we preferred the sporting solution as in the 3rd tournament.

A special point for an online tournament is the difference in the local times between, let us say, New York, Berlin and Singapore. Most players are from Europe, so the CET is the norm for us, but we try to consider the situation for players far away. That's why we start not earlier or later than 2 p.m. CET. If we would start e.g. at 10 a.m. on Friday, that would mean players in New york had to leave their beds between 3 and 4 a.m.

We have to gain more experience with these questions too. Until now almost everything worked smoothly.

4. Should we change the modus of the Final?

Please let me know your opinion about the modus for the Final. This is what I am thinking about actually (only my private opinion):

  1. The Final should be played by 9 (instead of 8) players, so that each player has 4 games with white and 4 with black. Until now, with only 8 players and 7 rounds, some players have the advantage of more white games and others the disadvantage of more black games. (Up to now there was the argument, that the higher ranked players in the Final are right to have this advantage, as they earned their places in the main tournament. Nevertheless I would prefer a final on equal terms.) Practically speaking, that would mean 2 more rounds, while each player would have a bye in one of the 9 rounds. That's the main problem: 3 rounds on Friday, 3 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday; or may be 2 on Thursday, 2 on Friday, 3 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday.

  2. The winner of the previous Final should get a free ticket for the next Final. Such solutions go without saying in sports. This would mean: the winner of the 3rd Freestyle Final is automatically qualified for the 4th Final in autumn. When we play the Final with 9 players, there will again be 8 places for qualifying. I think, everbody will like to see, how the old Freestyle Champion does in the new Final. On the other hand you might argue that will give him an advantage to get a money prize for the second time.

5. Engine Only, Centaur Chess and Advanced Chess

One point people are talking about very often is the real character of Freestyle Chess. Is human input still decisive or is the machine dominating? As we already saw, the answer depends to a great part on the rate of play; but not only that; it's also a matter of interpretation, and last not least it depends on the players themselves and which information they reveal to the public.

This topic will be in the focus as long as Freestyle Chess will be played, and the opinions about it will always be a bit controversial. For instance, my view of the last (3rd) Freestyle Main Tournament was, that only those players, who officially registered as "computers" (in playing mode) should be counted as "engine only" players. Yet, one of the players wrote me: "As for 'engine-only', my friend told me last time he did some check-ups and some of the finalists played about 90% Rybka's moves (the remaining 10% might be simply because of different engine settings)." Well, I am not going to discuss this now, but just wanted to mention this important question.

The point is that we alll (or most of us) wish to see many strong players competing in Freestyle. Thus, it was a pity that GM Tony Kosten missed the qualification (due to scheduling difficulties, as I reported in my article). I think, the best advertisement for Freestyle will be (apart from the attractive money prizes) more well-known players in the final.

I am not sure about, but I can imagine that some IMs and GMs will start to prepare a bit more seriously (like Tony Kosten) in order to be more successful in Freestyle. That could become very interesting in future. Let's wait and see. I think, it's better this way round, than restricting the number of "engine only" players in a final (what in fact nobody suggested so far).

6. Analysis of games and Informations about Freestyle Teams & Players

From time to time there have been complaints that the reports about Freestyle events come late. Indeed it would be better to have rich reports shortly after each stage of a tournament. And it would really be great, if we could grant the wishes of a Freestyle participant who recently wrote the following to me:

"Here's what I would like to see: 1. For you (or someone of comparable chess experience) to analyze all the victories of the eight finalists and pick out the best wins in terms of a) theory originality, b) spectacular combinations, c) overall beauty. I guess you already do this with your brilliancy prize but hopefully this will be awarded quicker this time than two months later! 2. An in-depth interview with one of the top three finalists to get their insights on freestyle opening preparation, move-decision thought processes, sources of information and weight assigned to each, and the role of psychology, stamina and emotional factors during competition."

Well, there are three points everybody should know:

1. Nobody gets paid for his Freestyle activities (until now...), it's all voluntary and has to be done in our free time.

2. Deep analysis of a game takes many hours and mostly much more time than the players used for their game, especially if the game has been played on a high level. It would be an error to presume grandmasters need less time for analyzing games in comparison to ordinary club players. They are just looking deeper.

3. Experience so far shows that only very few Freestyle teams are willing to reveal details about their experiences, methods, preparation and so on, mainly because they fear disadvantages for future competition, maybe sometimes also for other reasons, let's call it lazyness, vanity or simply lack of interest.

Nevertheless we should increase our efforts to get people analyzing their own games, at least the most interesting ones (that's the best help we can wish), and sharing more information about their teams, especially in case of the finalists. As these teams are prize winners they should feel obliged more than others to introduce themselves to the public.

7. When will the 4th PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament be held?

Planned dates (but not official so far):

  • Main Tournament: September 15-17, 2006 (Friday until Sunday)
  • Tie-breaks: September 23-24, 2006 (Saturday & Sunday)
  • Final: October 6-8, 2006 (Friday until Sunday)

Please note, It's not so easy always to find arbiters and directors for our tournaments. They also do their job voluntary and there are not so many that we could choose any dates we would like. Many people have to be consulted, before the schedule can be fixed.

8. When will the next Freestyle Newsletter come out? Outlook.

I am not quite sure, probably in the second half of August, when I will be back from my holidays. It also depends on the news and on your feedback. Everbody who finds interesting information about Freestyle apart from the ChessBase site may please send me an e-mail about that, as I will collect the information for all to share.

And there is something you all can do: try to win others for playing Freestyle. There are still so many who don't have a clue what Freestyle is really about and that they could have a lot of fun and learn much about chess, if they participate in one of our tournaments.

By the way, as English is not my mother tongue you may please forgive any mistakes in my texts.

See you at the Freestyle Final on (July 14-16).

Best wishes,
Arno Berlin, July 12, 2006


How would you characterize Freestyle Chess?

"My own impression is that Freestyle is a super-intense experience at the top levels! The skills required are less those of an over-the-board chess player than a cathedral organist playing a polyphonous Bach fugue. The steady crush of data inputs that need to be rapidly judged and integrated over the course of several hours, three straight days, makes for an all-consuming contest of tech-nology and will." (Nelson Hernandez)

If you are interested in receiving the Freestyle Newsletter
please send your e-mail address to

Reports on previous Freestyle Tournaments

Who will be the next Freestyle Champion
05.07.2006 Neither the summer weather nor the Soccer World Cup stopped more than 100 players from all over the world from enter the 3rd PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament, which ended last weekend with the tie-breaks for the Final in July 14-16. About 20 titleholders were attracted by the opportunity to win one of the money prizes: $8,000, $4,000 or $2,000 dollars. Report by Arno Nickel

Brilliancy in computer assisted chess
16.06.2006 The Third PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament starts today. In this form of chess, originally proposed by Garry Kasparov, the human players may use computers – or any other assistance they can muster. It is not OTB chess as we knew it, but it does produce a lot of very high-level games. Here, from the Second Freestyle Tournament, are the three most brilliant examples.

$16,000 Freestyle tournament begins on Friday
14.06.2006 The Third PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament begins on Friday, June 16, on the Playchess server. In the previous edition, won by Zor_Champ of the UAE, there were a number of grandmasters participating. One was Tony Kosten of England, assisted by the program Hiarcs 10, who gives us his assessment of such computer-assisted tournaments. You can still join!

$16,000 up for grabs in computer-assisted play
11.05.2006 The Third PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament on the Playchess server is coming up in June, once again with a substantial prize fund. This time the time controls for our Advanced Chess competition have been increased to 60 min. + 15 sec., in order to give the human component more opportunity for analysis. Like to play? It's lots of fun!

Zor-Champ wins Freestyle Tournament
16.04.2006 In a very exciting final the team of Zor-Champ, located in the United Arab Emirates, took first place and the $8,000 prize money in the Second PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament. The team was driven by the program Hydra, which runs on multi-processor speical-purpose hardware. Second was IM Vasik Rajlich, assisted by his own program Rybka. Report and games.

Freestyle tournament: Finals this weekend
03.04.2006 After tiebreak matches the eight qualifiers of the Second PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament are ready to battle it out for the $16,000 prize fund. At the faster time controls this time four pure engines made it to the final round. You can come and watch the action at 14:00h CEST on Saturday and Sunday, when the tournament director says: Gentlemen, start your engines.

Freestyle tournament: Vvarkey wins with 7.5/8
24.03.2006 The first leg of the second PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament, which carries a prize fund of $16,000, was won by an unknown player with the Playchess handle Vvarkey. He scored 7.5 points from 8 games (before the last round his score was 7/7). Six other players qualified for the final behind him. For the final, eighth place there will be a tiebreak tournament tomorrow. Details.

Freestyle tournament: advice from an expert
16.03.2006 Are you one of the over 150 participants that have registered for the second $16,000 PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament, starting this weekend? Do you have your computer assistant or your GM advisor booted up and ready to play? For novices in computer assisted play we have some tips and tricks by correspondence chess GM Arno Nickel.

The $16,000 open-to-all chess tournament
28.02.2006 Would you like to play in a grandmaster tournament? From your home and for a substantial prize fund? With a guarantee that you will not disgrace yourself? Then think about joining the second PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament, where anything goes. Where computer assistance is not forbidden, but is positively encouraged. Full details.

Dark horse ZackS wins Freestyle Chess Tournament
19.06.2005 The computer-assisted PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament, staged on, ended with a shock win by two amateurs: Steven Cramton, 1685 USCF and Zackary Stephen, 1398 USCF, using three computers for analysis, defeated teams of strong grandmasters all the way to victory in the finals. We bring you a first flash report with games and results.

Scintillating chess in the PAL-CSS Freestyle tournament
15.06.2005 This unusual event, in which players may use computer assistance during the games, is turning into a milestone experiment. After the main event and the quarter-finals (and with four players left) we can draw first tentative conclusions. One is that the most powerful chess playing entity on the planet is a GM armed with a computer.

Hydra misses the quarter-finals of Freestyle tournament
11.06.2005 It was the shocker of the event: the massive Hydra machines, running on 16 and 32 processors and special FPGA chess hardware were both knocked out in the main section of the Freestyle chess tournament. On the other hand a dark horse named ZackS qualified with consummate ease. Today there will be tie-breaks, tomorrow the quarter-finals. Come and watch...

Eleven qualify for main Freestyle Tournament
31.05.2005 48 players from 20 different countries got together on the Playchess server last weekend to play in the PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament. Using computer assistance, which is not forbidden in Freestyle, eleven qualified for the main tournament starting on Friday. There they will have to battle it out with scores of computer-assisted GMs.

The $20,000 free-for-all chess tournament
24.05.2005 Like to play in a grandmaster tournament? From your home and for a substantial prize fund? With a guarantee that you will not disgrace yourself? Then think about joining the first PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament, where anything goes. Where computer assistance is not forbidden, it is positively encouraged. Here are all the details.

Freestyle tournament for $20,000
09.05.2005 It's a new kind of chess tournament, with a substantial prize fund. $20,000 in all, $10,000 for the winner. Top grandmaster conditions. But with a difference. In the PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament on the server anyone can play. Even you. And anything goes. Anything! (In fact computer assistance is encouraged). Here are the details.

Anyone – or anything – can play!
07.08.2004 Anything goes in our freestyle tournament on the server this Saturday, August 7th. Participants can use computers, visiting grandmasters, slime beings from other planets – whatever they want. The games start at 15:00h server time (GMT +2), time controls are 7 min + 2 sec/move. Watch the fun...

Freestyle Blitz Tournament August 7
25.07.2004 Winning Internet chess games with the assistance of computers is quite despicable. People who are caught get stripped of rights and privileges. Not so in the August 7th "Freestyle Tournament" on There you can use anything you want to win your games. Details...

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