Scrumpy evaluates chess programs

11/24/2003 – Recently GM David Norwood decided to test the latest chess software. Unfortunately his puppy-dog Srumpy got at the CDs first. The review took on a different focus: which of the programs could survive a canine onslaught? Here are this and other stories by the very entertaining Telegraph columnist.

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The following are short excerpts by the Telegraph columnist David Norwood. The links given below each section lead to the full stories. Note that you have to register, free of charge, to read the columns. This entails giving an email address and a password for future logins.

David Norwood has a good day shopping and a bad experience with Scrumpy

01/11/2003 On October 18 I decided to join the crowds on Euston Road to see the great Garry Kasparov in the flesh. Seeing the great master had inspired me to spend some money on chess. The lads in the Chess Centre are a friendly lot – and good salesmen too – as I ended up buying four different chess programs. All priced at 40 quid each, they were Fritz 8, Hiarcs 8, Deep Junior 7 and ChessTiger 15. I had the intention of writing a column comparing them all. That plan backfired.

When I returned home the next day all of the CDs were scattered across the living room and the cases torn to shreds. My dog, Scrumpy, had climbed onto the bookcase and pulled down all four of them. He is a spoilt puppy, with lots of different toys, but for some unknown reason he wanted the newly bought chess software.

My review took on a different focus; which of the clever programs could survive a canine onslaught? Both Hiarcs and ChessTiger failed the test. Fritz 8 survived although Scrumpy made sure that the Multimedia CD was a no no. Deep Junior also came through but now keeps crashing my computer, which must be the fault of either ChessBase or my dog. Probably the latter. Seeing Fritz in such a battered and bruised state made me think that this might be my chance, but alas, the blitz game went the same way as the last one hundred. These chess programs are a miracle. For the price of a one way ticket to Milton Keynes, you can have a world class master at the command of your mouse.

In the column David also revisits the following position, devised by Bill Hartston, that has stumped computers for decades:


White to play

Computers have always been unable to avoid the disasterous move 1.bxa5. Taking the rook simply allows Black to open up the blocked pawn chain and win the game with the remaining extra material. Naturally the correct strategy for White is to ignore the rook offer and simply shuffle his king around. Black can do nothing with his three pieces behind the pawn wall. David Norwood notes, as part of his extended test, that Fritz 8 thinks the above position is hopelessly lost for White (minus 12.06); but given enough time the program actually refrains from taking the rook. Kudos to Fritz.

David Norwood gets a private viewing of a European blitz championship

15/11/2003 Last Sunday I went to see the European Blitz Championship in Taunton, Somerset – pretty convenient because my house is less than half an hour away. Nobody else in the chess world knew that it was all happening in Taunton. Nobody, that is, except myself and Britain's No 1 Mickey Adams. Earlier this year Mickey downshifted from London to Taunton and so he has become my Somerset neighbour. And like good neighbours do, he invited me round for drinks on Sunday evening.

He poured me a glass of cider and then headed back to his office. "I'm in the semi-finals and I've got to play Bacrot." This wasn't any ordinary European Blitz Championship ; this was the First European Internet Blitz Championship. Played at the rapidly growing chess site www.playchess.com, grandmasters could log in from any location and compete for the 2000 euro first prize. And there was sophisticated new software monitoring every game to make so nobody was using a computer.

Mickey had just triumphed against another mate of mine, Dr John Nunn. "Doccy", as he styles himself, has also abandoned London for a more tranquil life, and now plays his blitz chess in Surrey. Doccy, Black to move, is doing fine; 1...Qa5-b5 is obvious. The good Doctor goes for something more dramatic…

David Norwood on a chess book that approaches a pleasurable read

22/11/2003 There are almost certainly more books written on chess than other sport or hobby, and yet so few can be read with anything approaching pleasure. Many opening books are little more than print-offs of ChessBase variations, with the analysis courtesy of Fritz. Any monkey could write them and I suspect that a lot of the time, they do.

Whenever I hear a whisper of a book that might not be all chess and no chatter, I have to have it. And here I was reading the book reviews in the Financial Times and there was ... a review of a chess book: The Chess Artist by J C Hallman – a book that, according to the review, made chess interesting to the non-player. I had a 10-hour plane journey to enjoy the book in solitude. No phone calls, no distractions, just pure bliss. Aside from say, beating Alexei Shirov in the Bundesliga, I couldn't think of anything more enjoyable.


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