Syzygy Tablebases: newest, fastest, smallest

by Albert Silver
2/8/2015 – The concept of tablebases is not new, and there have been several generations of them, such as the Thompson tablebases, the Nalimov tablebases and more. The latest engines such as Houdini 4 and Komodo 8 provide special support of the new Syzygy format. Discover what is so special about them, why you should not be without them, and learn just how easy they are to install.

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Tablebases have been a boon to chess players and researchers. They represent the absolute indisputable truth of a position, that cannot be ignored. A complete five-piece tablebase set means that everytime the position is reduced to five pieces (these always include kings), such as king+rook against king+rook+pawn, there are no calculations to be made. There is an immediate and absolute result.

For over a decade now, the reference tablebase format has been the Nalimov set, created by Eugene Nalimov. The first five-man set came out in late 1998, and the six-man set was completed by 2005. They represented an important evolution over the previous standard Edwards tablebases, since the five-piece set took up a mere 7.1 GB, which was about eight times smaller than the predecessor.

That is why the new Syzygy Bases are such an important step up. Developed by Ronald de Man, and published in 2013 for the first time, the Syzygy Bases consist of two sets of files, WDL files storing win/draw/loss information considering the fifty-move rule for access during search, and DTZ files with distance-to-zero information for access at the root. The practical difference is that the full five-piece set of files takes up less than 1 GB, in other words they are over seven times smaller than the Nalimov tablebases.

Of course, while freeing up 6 GB on your hard disk is a nice gain, it is hardly cataclysmic in today's age of hard drives with thousands of GB. More importantly though, this advantage spreads to the six-piece set also, where this size difference is much more evident. The complete six piece Nalimov tablebases take up about one full terabyte, or 1000 GB. As a result, the Nalimov tablebase DVD set offered by ChessBase contains only a careful selection of the most useful six-piece combinations. What would a 'useless' one be? Examples might be King+Queen+Queen versus King+Bishop+Pawn, and so forth. The engine can win this easily, and adding these tablebases are not going to improve performance. However, even so, some potentially useful ones would be missed due to space considerations.

The Syzygy Bases come on four DVDs, and can easily be installed within minutes

Theoretically, you can track down and download all the Syzygy files on the internet (legally), and then install and configure ChessBase 12/13 or Fritz so that Komodo 8 can use them. Allow me to discourage you from this. I actually did this (Vive Le Geek) when the DVD set by ChessBase was not yet available and will say it is a tremendous hassle. It involves downloading each and every file, which number the hundreds, and unless you want to handpick the best ones as already done here, then the complete set will mean downloading over 140GB of files. You then need to configure the interface properly, which can be tricky sometimes. All in all, I don't recommend it, if only for the hideous bandwidth consumption.

The new Syzygy Base DVDs offered by ChessBase simplify this process so that even the least tech savvy user can enjoy them. You get the fullest experience with only the most superfluous piece combinations left out, and that most obvious advantage: the ease of use and installation. Just install the four DVDs, and you are done. ChessBase 12/13 will automatically be configured to access them, and as soon as you run an engine such as Houdini 4 or Komodo 8, they will consult them in their analysis. It is really that easy.

Installing  the Syzygy Bases

Installing them could not be easier. Starting with DVD 1, put it in the drive
and when the autoplayer asks you what to do, select Run Setup.exe

A new window will open asking you where you want to install them. The default is C:\Tablebases,
but feel free to change the location. Just be sure you have about 20GB free for this six-piece collection.
If you own an SSD, then you should consider installing them there as it will greatly improve lookup speed and performance.

After click Install, just wait for it to finish copying the files. It will automatically configure ChessBase 12/13
or Fritz when it does

After it is done, just click on finish

After installing DVD 1, put in DVD 2 and repeat the process. Be sure to tell
it to install the in the same directory in case you chose a different one than
the default. You will need to do this for all four DVDs.

Testing the Syzygy Bases

Though there shouldn't be any need, if you want to be sure the process
worked, load up a simplified endgame

Start up the engine, and look at the analysis it produces. If you see tb= in it, then you are
good to go. The number means the number of positions in its analysis that it found in the
Syzygy table bases. Don't be surprised to see tens of thousand of finds as the position simplifies.

The Syzygy Tablebase DVDs can be found in the ChessBase Shop

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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