Komodo and Ginkgo are 2022 World Champions!

by Albert Silver
8/10/2022 – The 2022 World Computer Chess championship was just held, and was the first edition since 2019 and the outbreak of the pandemic. After over two years, the traditional event took place in Vienna, Austria, and the winners were Ginkgo AKA Fritz using new neural net technology, and a powerful new Komodo (free update today!). Don't miss Komodo's fantastic knight sacrifice (with video!). (photo: Erdo Gunes, operator of Komodo)

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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 one must remember that this unique competition also allows for hardware that has no restrictions. Even as recently as 2015, the champion was a program called Jonny, which ran on a cluster of 2,400 processors, and as you will see, this year had some very special setups as well.

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. This really makes it no different than any home event since the hardware is quite standard, but there was one exception this year as will be clear.

The WCCC remains the main event, one that cannot readily be reproduced by any private organizer, not least because each participant is responsible for providing their own hardware to compete with. Naturally, for PC engines, this will favor those with the deepest resources, but not all participants need fall in this category, recalling participants such as Cray Blitz, running on US Defense Department level supercomputers, or even Jonny in 2015, running on a special cluster from the University of Bayreuth using 2,400 AMD x86-64 2.8 GHz cores.

The World Chess Software Championship

The 2022 event was held this time on laptops equipped with an AMD Ryzen 4750U processor, a very competent CPU sporting 8 cores and 16 threads. This interesting choice also marked the first time since the tournament's creation that a non-Intel processor was chosen, but one cannot argue it.

On the left is Italian programmer Ubaldo Andrea Farina, author of Chiron, about to start his game against Ginkgo, operated by Wolfgang Zugrav

The time control was 30 minutes plus 15 seconds increment, and six engines participated in what became a double round-robin event with ten rounds:

# Participant
1 Komodo Dragon
2 Ginkgo (Fritz)
3 Leela Zero Chess
4 The Baron
5 Chiron
6 Shredder

Leela Zero Chess was the standout entry here as it was not relying on the CPU for its core strength as the others were, it used the GPU. Had the laptops also come with a powerful GPU such as one of the nVidia 20xx or 30xx cards, this would have given it a serious leg up, but as it stood, the reverse was true. The laptops were all equipped with AMD's special brand of integrated video, the Radeon RX Vega 7, and while perfectly competent for what it was designed for, and far more powerful than Intel's integrated graphics solutions, it was not meant for such heavy lifting.

Alexander Lyashuk of Team Leela shakes hands with Wolfgang Zugrav from Team Ginkgo

The Leela team was very intelligent in their choice, and used different neural networks for each competition. In this one, due to the limited GPU, they chose a smaller 15x192 network which was able to get a whopping.... 2000 nodes per second roughly. Not two million, not 200 thousand, just two thousand. In contrast, the latest Stockfish (not playing) can reach some nine million nodes per second on the CPU alone. This is to illustrate just how vast a difference there was. 

A close glimpse at the custom screen for Leela

After the dust had settled ten rounds later, both Ginkgo, the engine powering Fritz 18, and Komodo Dragon had tied for first with 7.0/10 and were scheduled to decide the title in a playoff.

In spite of the apparent NPS (nodes/positions per second) disparity, Leela actually managed to score 6.5/10 and was also undefeated, a testament to the advances the Leela developers have made on the core AlphaZero template they started with.

A short video with random images of the WCSC

The playoff was two games at 10 minutes + 10 seconds, both of which were drawn. The rules then stipulated the decider be an Armageddon game with draw odds for Black. More on this below. Ginkgo won the toss and got black. Ginkgo drew the game and was declared the 2022 World Computer Software Champion. 

Representing Team Ginkgo, Wolfgang Zugrav receives the prize for 2022 WCSC champion

The World Computer Chess Championship

With each participant responsible for their own hardware, this event is both the most exotic and the most fascinating. It still remains a condensed eight-round event, and must be accepted as being what it is, no more, no less.

This competition saw one less player, Chiron stayed out, and the rest with their own hardware:

# Participant Hardware
1 Komodo Dragon AMD 64 Core Threadripper 3990X, 128 GB RAM
2 Shredder 64 ARM CPU
3 The Baron AMD 64 core Threadripper, 128 GB RAM
4 Ginkgo 2x AMD Epyc 7763 128 cores at 3.25 GHz, water cooled
5 Leela Chess Zero 8x Nvidia A100 GPU

There is speculation that Shredder's hardware was in fact a Raspberry Pi, which would be both fascinating and a bit funny. After all, when all your opponents are trying to bring in the biggest baddest hardware they possibly can, then bringing in the smallest, cheapest system available is a statement in itself: I won't participate in this arms race. Still, this is unconfirmed speculation, so take it with the proper grain of salt.

Komodo Dragon 3

The new Komodo Dragon 3 engine has gained 100 Elo points in playing strength over its predecessor when using a processor core in blitz. That's a huge improvement for a program that already reached at an Elo level of over 3500!

That said, Leela's own special rig is nothing to sneeze at. Readers may not recognize the reference of an nVidia A100, not found in either laptops or desktops. These are server level GPUs that are found only in ultra-specialized workstations and supercomputers. How ultra-specialized? The nVidia DGX-1 A100 Station is a system that comes with just four of these powerful GPUs and retails for a discounted $150,000. Yes, really. Individual GPUs can be seen in the $25,000 range, but realize that without a proper system capable of running multiple such cards efficiently, there is little point. It is not unreasonable to speculate that the system they ran their software on cost a minimum of $200,000 to $300,000.  

Leela ran on the equivalent of two of these $150,000 workstations

Before you let out that low whistle, consider that this is pocket change compared to the estimated $15 million the Cray supercomputer cost in 1984 when the Cray Blitz program won that year's WCCC.

You can read the original paper on how the Crazy Blitz program was optimized for the exotic hardware of the Cray supercomputer

In any case, this time Leela's team did not use a smaller 15x192 network as they did in the WCSC, but rather their absolute largest, a massive 20x512. In spite of this monstrous firepower, after eight rounds, both Komodo Dragon and Leela were tied with 5.5/8, and Ginkgo was third with 5.0/8.

A view of the playing hall with the games underway

In round six, Komodo Dragon played a spectacular win over Shredder.

 

In this position, as you can see, White played the powerful, and not a little surprising 32. Nh5!! At first view this move seems more like just for show, since it doesn't actually threaten anything. But its first purpose is to prepare 33. g4! which is to follow.

However, what makes that 32. Nh5!! move so spectacular is that it will remain on h5 for the next ten moves, and for all ten of those moves it will be hanging and untouched! It is like one of those action films where the hero goes into a pitched battle and walks out unscathed. Astonishing!

Richard Pijl operating his engine The Baron

It is only ten moves later that it is forced off its perch:

 

Stefan Meyer-Kahlen, veteran author of the famous program Shredder. Shredder first appeared in competition in 1995, and went commercial in 2000, over 20 years ago.

The game was without a doubt the highlight of the event. Here is the full game with comments:

 

Video of the game

Erdo Gunes, operator of Komodo, playing Leela, represented by Alexander Lyashuk

The playoff between Komodo and Leela took place over four games with neither of them able to score a win, and again it was left to a coin toss to decide colors for the Armageddon decider. Komodo won the toss this time, chose black, and won the WCCC title for the 5th straight time. 

Armageddon

Both Mark Lefler, the lead programmer of Komodo, and his partner GM Larry Kaufman, complained that the Armageddon tiebreak system was a near guaranteed win for black. Naturally they understood that while they benefitted from it in the WCCC, they also fell 'victim' to it in the WCSC playoff. The problem is that while human players might produce a much higher rate of decisive games in blitz, high-caliber engines on strong hardware are nothing like that, and draw rates up to 90% are more the norm than the exception. This places a monster advantage at the feet of whoever draws black in such cases.

I was asked in private if I had any suggestions, and I proposed sets of Double Shuffle, with reversed colors, where the asymmetry ensures a more varied start than a mirrored position. Whether or not this is acceptable, since it is a chess variant and not chess itself, is up to debate, but dozens or hundreds of blitz games in normal chess does not seem much more appealing, nevermind practical.

Conclusion

In any case, a hearty congratulations to both teams of Ginkgo and Komodo. Ginkgo which now powers the Fritz 18 engine, and has an NNUE implementation of its own. When you buy Fritz 18, you get both engines: the original Fritz engine, which is Ginkgo without an NN, and the recent Fritz 18 'Neuronal', which is the version with the neural network. 

As to Komodo Dragon 3, a new update with the version that won the World Championship has now been released, free for owners of the program. For those who may not realize it, Komodo Dragon is already on par with the longtime ratings list leader Stockfish in engine strength.

When the second version of Komodo Dragon came out, it was still behind in the specialized computer engine ratings lists, Team Komodo's progress has been nothing short of stellar, and already with the third iteration they are now roughly equal. The new 3.1 update promises that extra bit more of course. Here are the two main lists to illustrate.

The latest ratings list by CCRL

The latest ratings list by CEGT

Click here to purchase Fritz 18 in the ChessBase Shop

Click here to purchase Komodo Dragon 3 in the ChessBase Shop

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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.
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