Nettavisen: We have tested the world's best chess program

by ChessBase
1/9/2013 – Lately there has been a debate in the Norwegian mainstream media: who is the strongest chess player in history? The legend Bobby Fischer? The monster with a thousand eyes, Garry Kasparov? Or our own Magnus Carlsen? "Sorry, folks," says GM Leif Erlend Johannessen in the news portal Nettavisen, "the right answer is: Houdini 3" – which he says would knuser Magnus. Find out what that means.

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This machine demolishes Magnus Carlsen

By Leif Erlend Johannessen

Houdini 3 is The Terminator among the many chess engines available at the moment. It is estimated that it has an unprecedented monstrous rating of 3335. In comparison, Magnus Carlsen recently landed a world record for humans on 2861. That means the computer program is expected to win 99 (!) out of 100 games against the world number one.

When Peter Svidler, who should be well known to Norwegian chess fans, was asked which one player he would choose to represent Earth in a hypothetical match against aliens, he answered "Houdini".

Houdini's father

Houdini's "father" is Robert Houdard, a Belgian structural engineer with a peak rating of 2250 and chess engines as hobby. It is interesting to hear him explain the secret behind Houdini:

  • I would like to pinpoint two key concepts: good evaluation and even better selectivity. It's self-evident that good evaluation of a position is the key for a good chess engine. Houdini is probably the best engine to evaluate piece mobility and space control on the board.

  • Selectivity is another key feature in Houdini. Just like a human player, an engine doesn't look at all the moves to the same depth. Potentially good moves are examined exhaustively, whereas apparently weaker moves are only given a quick, shallow look. Some moves are examined 40 or 50 plies deep, other only five. Houdini has a good ability to identify which moves in the position have some potential. It's similar to the instinct and experience of a strong human chess player – looking at just a handful of moves in a position, discarding nearly instantaneously and without thinking the 30 other moves.

    Read more about the man behind Houdini at ChessBase.

Perfect sparring partner

Obviously, to challenge this program for a chess game is only suitable for those with masochistic preferences. Instead Houdini should be used for training purposes. With one click on the "spy" function you can have Houdini looking over your shoulder while analysing one of your own games.

Just imagine: The world's strongest chess player is always there to analyse your latest game with you, and it will never get tired! A warning though: Prepare yourself for a brutally honest feedback on your own play. Abstract concepts like "sympathy" or "constructive criticism" still remains terra incognita for a computer.

Houdini is not only a tactical monster. With one mouse click the program will give a strategic evaluation of a position and indicate the different plans and ideas available to both sides, with pleasant-to-the-eye arrows and coloring. With the "hotness" function you can ask the computer how "hot" the position is and whether there are hidden tactical resources or combinations present in the position. In addition, Houdini has access to a large database and is therefore perfect for studying opening theory. At any moment you can ask the computer to show the most important opening moves through green arrows.

Two novelties

Houdini 3 introduces two novelties compared to the previous versions. The first one is called Let's Check and "is a completely new analysis function which will revolutionise the chess world for years to come" (according to the manual). The same popular positions are analysed by thousands of players over and over again. This is in essence ineffective and Houdini 3 offers help. Every position that has been analysed by anyone at any time is voluntarily saved on a server. The possible engine variations are then available to everyone who looks at this position. Whoever analyses a variation deeper than his predecessor overwrites his analysis. This means that the Let’s Check information becomes more precise as time passes. A bit like Wikipedia, where the articles gradually take form. The system depends on cooperation. No one has to publish his secret openings preparation. Using this function, however, all of the program's users can build an enormous knowledge database.

Become a discoverer

When you store a variation in Let’s Check you can add your name to it. If your analysis is later replaced by a deeper evaluation, his or her name is then put in your place. Whoever analyses a position deeply for the first time becomes the "discoverer", and the name is connected with that position forever, even if other users make a deeper analysis. There is an honours list for those who have won or discovered variations. Winning a variation is more valuable, depending on how often it is visited and how deep the previous variation was. Whether you are a beginner, a club player or a grandmaster – with the help of "Let's Check" every chess player can contribute to this database.

Analysing in the cloud

The other invention is as exciting and offers a groundbreaking innovation for analysis with chess engines. Through the new server it is possible to use the Internet to access chess engines that are running on other computers and use them for your own analysis. It is also possible to run an engine on your own computer and offer it to other users in the Cloud. Among the many benefits I shall mention only a few:

  • This system offers many advantages to tournament players. They can travel to a tournament with a relatively weak notebook. In between rounds they can use Engine Cloud to analyse positions with the more powerful computers that they have at home.

  • Chess engines are extreme applications that demand a computer’s complete power. This means that a lot of energy is needed. If you work with a notebook a lot you can use the computing power of other computers to prolong the life of your battery and still use the maximum power for analysis. Another advantage is that the fan doesn’t have to be used so much, so the computer runs more quietly during the analysis.

  • Powerful computers cost a lot of money. By using Engine Cloud you can pay a small fee to use top engines running on extremely powerful hardware.

  • If you own fast hardware and top engines you can use Engine Cloud to offer your resources to other users for a small fee.

In addition, several of the engines offered in the "Cloud" are free for use.


We asked Magnus Carlsen's manager, Espen Agdestein, about the possibility of a match between Magnus and a computer. In general he is not too enthusiastic about the idea, but won't rule out that it can happen later. Magnus considers engines primarily as a tool, not an opponent. Computers are there all the time in training and preparation.

Leif Erlend Johannessen, born 1980, became Norway's fifth International Grandmaster when received his title in 2002. He has yet to win the Norwegian championship – the closest came is second place in 1999, after losing the play-off 0-2 to Berge Østenstad. He did win the Norwegian blitz chess championship the same year however.

Johannessen, often nicknamed "Leffi", writes the column "Leffis lille lure" (Leffi's little smart one) for the official Norwegian chess magazine Norsk Sjakkblad. He is also a lawyer and seems to have put in less time in chess over the last few years.

Johannessen is an honorary member of the Portuguese amateur team Mata de Benfica and played in the Portuguese First League Team Championship in the season 2006/2007 and 2008/2009 for this team.

Nettavisen was the first Norwegian online newspaper that was not derived from a pre-existing real-life newspaper. It started up on 1 November 1996. TV 2, the largest commercial television station in Norway, bought the Nettavisen web site in 2003. Today Nettavisen is the 8th largest website in Norway, with about as many daily visitors as Aftenposten, Norways largest traditional newspaper.

An unbeatable combination: the world's strongest chess engine
running on the world's finest chess interface

Give in to the magic of this program! Only two years ago the Houdini chess engine stormed to the top of the ranking lists, and since then has been the uncontested number one chess engine in the world. The secret of its success: Houdini introduces pure magic into the game of chess! The engine of Belgian programmer Robert Houdart finds tricks in places where the other engines can see nothing.

The new version, Houdini 3, goes even further, providing the chess world with yet another increase in playing strength: at least 50 Elo points, thanks to a host of improvements in its search algorithms. They manifest themselves in different ways, in various phases of the game. In the opening Houdini 3 demonstrates an even more subtle understanding of space and activity; in the middlegame the program spots quicker than before when pieces are in danger of being dominated; and in the endgame the right evaluations and solutions to problems are found much sooner thanks to a faster, deeper search. During the course of this new development and the fine tuning of the engine Houdini played, believe it or not, ten million test games!

Houdini 3 is supplied with the latest Deep Fritz 13 chess interface and thus puts at your disposal all the training and analysis functions of the world's premium chess program. Included in the package are a one-year classic membership to the chess server, online access to the world’s largest analysis database “Let’s Check”* and the use of the ChessBase Engine Cloud.

Houdini 3 includes:

  • The Houdini 3 engine
  • The DeepFritz 13 user interface in Windows Office 2010 standard
  • The DeepFritz 13 database management system
  • Classic membership of for twelve months
  • The ChessBase Engine Cloud
  • The ChessBase "Let’s Check" function (until 31.12.2015)
  • A database with over 1.5 million games

Houdini 3 Standard multiprocessor version
Supports up to six cores and four GB of hash + 12 months (classic)
ISBN 978-3-86681-336-6 – EAN 4027975007229. Price: 79.90€

Houdini 3 Pro multiprocessor version
Supports up to 32 cores and 256 GB of hash + 12 months (classic)
ISBN 978-3-86681-337-3 – EAN 402797500723-6. Price: 99.90€

System requirements: Minimum: Pentium III 1 GHz, 1 GB RAM, Windows Vista, XP (Service Pack 3), DirectX9 graphics card with 256 MB RAM, DVD-ROM drive, Windows Media Player 9 and Internet access to activate the program,, Let’s Check, Engine Cloud and updates. Recommended: PC Intel Core i7, 2.8 GHz, 4 GB RAM, Windows 7 (64 bit) or Windows 8 (64 bit), DirectX10 graphics card (or compatible) with 512 MB RAM or more, 100% DirectX10 compatible sound card, Windows Media Player 11, DVD ROM drive and Internet access to activate the program,, Let’s Check, Engine Cloud and updates.

You can order Houdini 3 here for €79.90 – or in the Pro version for €99.90 here


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