Hydra misses the quarter-finals of Freestyle tournament

by ChessBase
6/11/2005 – 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...

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PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament

The point of a Freestyle tournament is that the participants are permitted to use external help. They are allowed to use computers, books, club mates, grandmasters. Getting help from Vishy Anand or Fritz, from Karpov or Deep Shredder is permitted. Participants can play alone or in a team. The use of computers is not just allowed, it is encouraged. Almost mandatory...

The PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament, which is being held on the Playchess.com server, started on May 28 with a qualifier. About 50 participants had registered, with some not turning up and others joining at the last moment, paying their starting fee in Playchess Ducats. In the end there were 48 participants from twenty different countries. The qualifier went without a hitch, except for a few dialup lines breaking down. A couple of players had such bad lines that they had to abandon the tournament altogether.

The last weekend saw the main tournament, where the eleven top players from the qualifier were joined by titled player – GMs, IMs and top computer teams. This time 43 players started the tournament, with some difficulty at the start. One GM waited for a long time in the wrong server room; another was not present at the pairings of the second round. One was present but had logged in under a different (but very similar) name. The tournament director tried desperately to get him started in the round, but the server refused to let this "new player" in. Computers are better as spotting minute differences in names; for humans this is much more difficult.


The shocker in this round was that the compute VIPs both didn't make it to the quarter-finals. They were part of the Hydra project, which is being developed by the PAL group in Abu Dhabi, the sponsors of this event. Everyone was expecting the giant machines to coast to the quarter-finals – in fact win the entire tournament with consummate ease. But in Freestyle Chess apparently the jungle rules. We spoke to the Hydra team in the Emirates.

Q: Were two versions of Hydra playing? What were the hardware configurations and locations of the machines?

A: Yes we played with two versions of the machine. Hydra Chimera is a 16 processor version, and it played under the nick of Zor_Champ. There was no human involvement there, and engine played the entire round all by itself. The second version, Hydra Scylla, is a 32 processor machine. It was played under the nick Ares01, and here there was human intervention. Both machines reside in Abu Dhabi, in our server room.

Q: What other programs did you enter in the tournament, and what was the purpose of that?

A: We played with Shredder 9 as well. That was just for fun there, and to gain experience. No other purpose.

Q: Were there any problems that may have influenced the result of the Hydra machines?

A: Not with Hydra Chimera, but we played with a very new version of Hydra Scylla that had been installed two days before the start of the event. It was not fully tested, and that influenced the results of Hydra Scylla in the Freestyle tournament.

Q: What conclusions do you draw from this event (so far), and from the results achieved by the Hydra machines.

A: We are very happy to organize such tournament, which we suppose is the strongest ever tournament in which Hydra took part. It helps us a lot to improve and remove the mistakes of Hydra. Probably there is no better way for us to gather the strongest chess players, equipped chess engines and working in teams. We have plans to arrange more such kind of tournaments in future.


The positive surprise came from an entry named ZackS, which had already drawn the attention of spectators by winning the qualifier with 6/7 – a full point ahead of the nearest rival. In the main event, with engine-enhanced GMs and the incredible Hydra machines, ZackS scored 6.5/8, again a full point ahead of the field. Naturally we contacted this participant, who gave us somewhat guarded answers.

Q: Can you tell us something about yourself and the system you are using in this event?

A. Okay, my name is Zachary, I am 24 years old and a statistician. Like most others in this tournament I am not the sole person behind the computer, but I cannot give anymore details about that until after the event is over.

Q: Are you a strong over-the-board player? What are your chess credentials?

A: the main qualification for this tournament is that I have played over 10,000 computer engine games on the Playchess server (as well as a few thousand blitz games as a human). More about this after the event.

Q: Okay, we understand. How did the main tournament go for you?

A: The first two rounds were very lucky for me. The strategy has been database statistics balanced with engine consultation. We had big problems with the computers in the second round. I decided to change my operating system on Thursday, one day before the games, which lead to many unexpected problems. Only 30 minutes before the tournament started, on Friday morning, I got everything working.

Q: Anything further to add?

A: We must thank the Hydra people, ChessBase, CSS-Online and all others for organizing this lovely event. We are very grateful and hope this will be the start of a regular circuit. Also best wishes to all our opponents in the quarter-finals. I am hoping for even more exciting chess.

Here are the final results of the main tournament:

1 ZackS 6.5 / 8    
2 V_Dobrov 5.5 / 8 26.00  
3 KonstantinLanda 5.5 / 8 23.00  
4 Tank1 5.5 / 8 21.50  
5 Sergey Volkov 5.0 / 8 26.00  
6 Dieb Fritz 5.0 / 8 24.50 33.25
7 Oligarckh 5.0 / 7 24.50 25.75
8 Volodja 5.0 / 8 23.50 30.50
9 Rentner2 5.0 / 8 23.50 28.75
10 WilGER 4.5 / 8 23.00  
11 T-Sygulski 4.5 / 8 22.50  
12 Mnovik 4.5 / 8 20.00  
13 Katzenmaier 4.5 / 8 19.50  
14 Engineer 4.5 / 8 15.00  
15 VoidChessICC 4.0 / 8 23.00  
16 Ares01 4.0 / 8 19.50  
17 Relic 4.0 / 7 16.00  
18 Klosterfrau 4.0 / 8 15.00  
19 Yellowman 3.5 / 7 18.50  
20 Auryn 3.5 / 8 16.50 25.25
21 Talib 3.5 / 8 16.50 24.25
22 Dr.Ex 3.5 / 8 15.50  
23 Chessfriendotcom 3.5 / 8 13.50 24.75
24 Zor_champ 3.5 / 8 13.50 24.75
25 MHoffpauir 3.5 / 8 13.00  
26 Alinasir 3.5 / 7 10.50  

The first four have qualified for the quarter-finals, places five to nine will play a tiebreak on Saturday at 12:00h CEST (= server time). Details are given at the bottom of the page. The Lucky Prizes of $100 each for places 9, 11, 17, 23 and 29 go to T-Sygulski, Relic, Chessfriendotcom and Mattini, with place nine to be determined at the end of the tiebreak.


Like ZackS above most of the other participants who qualified for the quarter-finals were not eager to divulge too much about their systems or methods. We did, however, receive a very candid letter from a participant who had not been so lucky. He is Konstantin Orfenov from England, who played under the name Neverfail. Konstantin even sent us a number of annotated games to study. Here is his letter.

As the tournament is now finished (for me) I had a chance to analyse what happened. First, I attach all of my Main Tournament games, duly annotated. Some of them I found quite interesting and added some comments as appropriate. The most interesting games are:

  • Neverfail-H. Dronavalli
  • Talib-Neverfail
  • Neverfail-Mattini
  • Neverfail-Klosterfrau

Secondly, I have learned that a Grandmaster armed with a chess engine is a killer combination against a plain Engine. Engines see everything via brute force, Grandmasters use their intuition and are able to see "obvious" moves at once. So the two of them together are a mighty force.

Thirdly, I would like to mention that the power supply of the PC I used in the preliminary round suddenly died, just two days before the main tournament. since the replacement had not arrived until after the tournament was over I had to borrow a PC from work on Thursday night. Unfortunately I did not manage to fine-tune it overnight. It was an HP-built Pentium 4, 3.0 GHz (1 MB cache, Prescott with Hyperthreading), with 2 GB of RAM.

To make things worse, my son and I narrowly escaped death on the morning of Saturday 4 June. We were involved in a mid-speed nearly head-on three-car pile-up. I was the only person taken to the hospital with multiple cuts, burns and large bruises. Amazingly, I managed to make a statement to the police, go through the check-up in the ER and arrive home in time for the tournament, with 20 minutes to spare... At that point I was just happy to be alive and thoroughly enjoyed the event all the way through. At the end I finished 27th out of 42, with +2=2-4. No luck with Lucky Wins, but my life was given back to me on a silver plate a day before, which was more than enough to be happy with.

I have never played with Grandmasters or International Masters before, so an opportunity to play with these guys for 25 Euros clearly was a worthy investment. For any non-professional chess player events like this should be seen as a goldmine. Thanks to ChessBase software I was able to "talk" with my opponents before, during and after our games, from the comfort of my home study, in real-time, without a single server glitch. If you are one of those people who "look but do not see" you should not participate in these events. But if you are not, then you can gain a wealth of experience, which is exactly my case.

May I please use this opportunity to thank the sponsors of the tournament, PAL, and the whole ChessBase and Computerschach & Spiele teams for organising this event. Thanks to special people like you people around the world know about and follow this beautiful game of chess. I hope there will be repetitions of this tournament in the future – I will be one of the first in the queue to book my place.

Konstantin Orfenov
Surrey, England

Further schedule of the PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament

All times given in the following schedule are in Central European Summer Time (CEST), which is used in most European countries, e.g. Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia, etc. It is GMT + two hours. For instance 14:00h (or 2 p.m.) CEST is 12:00h GMT and translates to 13:00h London, 8 a.m. New York and 4 p.m. Moscow. Click on the times given in the schedule below to convert to your local time.

Important note: you will need to log in with your correct handle no later than ten minutes before the start of each round. Anyone who is not present in the chess server room at this time automatically forfeits the game.

Main Tournament Tie-break

The tie-breaks games will be played on Saturday, June 11 at 12:00h CEST. They will be games played at accelerated rates: 15 + 5 and if required 5 + 1. The participants are Sergey Volkov, Dieb Fritz, Oligarckh, Volodja, Rentner2. If a participant does not appear in the Freestyle tournament room by 11:45h on Saturday he may forfeit his place in the quarter-finals.

Quarter-finals – knock-out system

Quarter-finals (Sunday, June 12, 2005)
Start Sunday, 12.06.2005 12:00h CEST

The quarter-finals consist of four-game matches, played between the eight best players of the main tournament (paired 1-8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5). The time controls are 60 minutes for the game plus 15 seconds increment per move.

The games start on Sunday, June 12, 2005 at 12:00h CEST. At the end of each game there is a 15 minute break. The four winners proceed to the semi-finals. If tie-breaks are needed these will be played on the same day, after the regular games have finished and will be at accelerated rates: 15 + 5 and if required 5 + 1.

Semi-finals – knock-out system

Semi-finals (Saturday, June 18, 2005)
Start Saturday, 18.06.2005 12:00h CEST

The semi-finals consist of two four-game matches, played between the four winners of the quarter-finals. The time controls are 60 minutes for the game plus 15 seconds increment per move.

The games start on Saturday, June 18, 2005 at 12:00h CEST. At the end of each game there is a 15 minute break. The two winners proceed to the semi-finals, the losers play for place three. If tie-breaks are needed these will be played on the same day, after the regular games have finished. They will be games played at accelerated rates: 15 + 5 and if required 5 + 1.

Finals and play for third place

Finals (Sunday, June 19, 2005)
Start Sunday, 19.06.2005 12:00h CEST

The finals consist of two four-game matches, played between the two winners and two losers of the semi-finals. The time controls are 60 minutes for the game plus 15 seconds increment per move. The games start on Sunday, June 19, 2005 at 12:00h CEST. At the end of each game there is a 15 minute break.

If tie-breaks are needed these will be played on the same day, after the regular games have finished. There will be two games, played at accelerated rate of 15 + 5. After this, if required, there will be sudden death blitz games played at a rate of 5 + 1. The player who was higher in the main tournament gets White in the first blitz game.

The winner of the finals gets the first prize of US $10,000 and the title of "First PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Champion". The runner-up gets $5,000, the winner of the match for third place gets $3,000.

There will be special software prizes totalling US $2,700 for the places 4-8.

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