Fritz wins 2023 World Chess Software Championship

by Albert Silver
7/14/2023 – The 2023 World Chess Software Championship was just held in Valencia, Spain, and impressively Fritz defended its title by winning it a second year straight. This event saw a very high number of draws, which might lead you to think it was a dull affair, but as you will see in one of them, it was a guns ablazing fight in OK Corral with two rook sacrifices spaced four moves apart no less!

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Since its inception in 1974, the World Computer Chess Championship has mutated and changed in what it means and represents. For some, this concept of a short event that requires the physical presence of the team, and that play take place on a genuine chess board may seem antiquated, but it does maintain some distinct differences, such as allowing the teams to develop their own opening books, and use unrestricted hardware.

It is important to remember that this is a tournament first and foremost, and is not meant to replace the statistical value of ratings lists, no more than the human World Championship of 10-12 match games can replace the value of the FIDE ratings list. Ratings don't win events; the only way to win is to participate. There is no prize for would have and could have.

The competitions

Although the flagship tournament is still the WCCC, which stands for the full World Computer Chess Championship, a new event was added by the ICGA (International Computer Games Association) to the roster in 2010, the World Chess Software Championship, or WCSC for short. The difference is that the WCSC is run on uniform hardware so that all participants play on a level field. 

The World Chess Software Championship

The 2023 event was held this time on laptops equipped with an AMD Ryzen 3700X processor, a very competent CPU sporting 8 cores and 16 threads. Since most chess engines are heavily CPU based, this should provide a level playing field, but as we know, neural networks such as Leela require a strong GPU (video card) to run at their most effective.

The turnout this year was underwhelming it must be said, and four participants came for the prize: Arasan, Fritz, Jonny, and Stoofvlees. As a result of this, it was a quadruple round robin, meaning the competitors played each other four times in all. 

Wolfgang Zugrav, also European Correspondence Champion, is the operator of Fritz in the event

The defending champion, Fritz, managed to defeat Stoofvlees, a neural network engine by Gian-Carlo Pascutto (author of LeelaGo) twice with White, and being the only program to actually win any games, successfully defended its title.

If the description of an event with only two decisive games makes it sound as if it was a dull affair, it was really not the case. Take for example this game from the first round between Arasan and Fritz. 

Arasan went for the obvious draw, obvious if you are a 3300+ engine that is, with 30. Nxe6! Qxc1 31. Qg5! Let's look at the result here as it deserves a new diagram. 

It will come as a bit of surprise, but Black only has one move that doesn't.... lose! To be fair to Fritz that is playing Black, it had seen all this as well, so while both engines were undoubtedly flashing 0.00 in the little evaluation panes, that was not the whole story by any means. For example, suppose Black defended the rook with 31... Rc8 covering the back rank, and if White tries to threaten mate with 32.Qh6 or 32.Qe7, Black has 32... Rd7 to protect. The engines explain that White continues with 33. h4! and is quite winning. By all means, move the pieces on the board in the diagram. As incomprehensible as this seems at first sight, since Black is up an entire rook(!), Black is actually tied up and doing nothing. White is pushing forward with the attack and will triumph. As a result, Black's only saving move, but also more than enough, is 31... R8d7!

White continues with 32. Qh6!

Fritz continued 32... Kf7 and now White followed up with the lovely 33. Nc7! Since taking the knight loses to Qxh7, Black retreated with 33... Kg8 and after the second rook sacrifice 34.  Rxg6+ the game ended in a repetition. Whew!

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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, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.