Review: Hiarcs 9

by ChessBase
10/17/2003 – In this week's ChessBase Workshop, we tear the shrinkwrap off of Mark Uniacke's brilliant new chessplaying program Hiarcs9 to show you the new features included in the package. Workshop...

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previewed by Steve Lopez

Folks are sometimes confused by my references to the "playing style" of a particular chess program. "It's a computer program! How can it have a "style"? Computers play like computers, don't they?"

I can answer that with a clear "Welllllll, yes and no". No computer program plays brilliant Steinitzian positional chess, but computer chess programs are getting better at it all the time. To see how far computer software has come, you just need to go back a mere ten years to the days when Fritz2 used to attack, attack, attack, with no regard to its personal safety -- it didn't just beat you, it swarmed you. But cagey players could sometimes find exploitable "holes" in Fritz2's play; Fritz2 was so busy looking for ways to crawl you that it sometimes forgot to look after its own house.

Ten years has made a huge difference in the way computers play chess; many programs play much better positional chess, a much more "human"-like style of play.

One program in particular has always been a leader in this regard. I can still recall my first games against it a decade ago and how I was struck by the radical difference in its play compared to other chess software then on the market. Hiarcs2 was a revelation to me and I'm still a huge fan of the program (as well as its successors).

The new version is Hiarcs9; Mark Uniacke has done it once again, bringing us a new version of the program that (in my opinion, anyway) most closely approximates a human's style of chessplay.

What are thge differences between the Hiarcs8 package and Hiarcs9? Of course, you get the new version 9 engine. I can't give you specifics on what has been changed in the engine (as is the case with most chess engine developers, Mark plays his cards pretty close to his chest on that one), but I will tell you that Hiarcs9 looks to be a pretty fair bit stronger than Hiarcs8. In the tests I've run, Hiarcs9 has won every match against 8 by a decent margin (14 to 10 over 24 games is typical).

You also get an extra engine: Hiarcs8 Bareev, which is sort of a "Hiarcs8.5". It's the engine that competed against Bareev in that much-publicized "man vs. machine" event.

English computer chess authority Eric Hallsworth has chipped in by creating a brand-new opening book for Hiarcs9. This new book contains 1,933,340 unique positions and makes extensive use of diacritical marks to help "steer" Hiarcs' play. Of course, you can always turn off "Tournament book" mode to make the program ignore these tweaks and give Hiarcs access to the full range of openings included in the book. But for toughest play from Hiarcs, use "Tournament book" mode, which is geared toward maximizing Hiarcs' unique strengths.

Hiarcs9 uses the Fritz interface and includes two new 3D boards exclusive to the Hiarcs9 package. The first is called Ice:

I like this board -- it makes me wish there was a "Chisel" or "Blowtorch" option for disposing of captured pieces.

But the other 3D board is one that I really, really like. It's called Modern:

This is a pretty slick, rounded style of chesspiece; I find it to be a combination of "modern" (as the name implies) and "retro" (it seems kind of 1960's to me, like something out of those great Sean Connery "007" movies). I'd love to own a real set of pieces like these; I'd use them all the time.

You can blow these 3D boards up to a fullscreen display. Of course, you can also use the old 3D "polygon" pieces, any other photorealistic 3D boards you might have (from our other chessplaying programs), or a conventional 2D board (which is customizable as described in ChessBase Workshop for June 1, 2003).

The Hiarcs9 package also comes with a huge game database -- over a half-million games are included. These are, of course, fully searchable using any combination of criteria available in the Search mask.

The big feature, though, is the Hiarcs9 engine itself. I've been in the chess computer software biz for over a decade and I can tell you that I have never heard more raves from users over any other chess program than I've heard over Hiarcs. Users love this chess engine. I've received literally scores of highly favorable e-mails and comments from happy Hiarcs owners over the years. If you never buy another chess engine, you owe it to yourself to add Hiarcs to your stable of chessplaying programs. Playing against Hiarcs is very much like playing against a strong human player. No, it's not "Wilhelm Steinitz on a disk". But it is a very strong, very "natural-feeling" chess program, and it's certain to provide you with a unique computer chessplaying experience.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2003, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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