Workshop: Hiarcs 10, Big and MegaDatase

4/20/2006 – The Big and Mega 2006 Databases are now available, as well as programmer Mark Uniacke's brainchild Hiarcs 10. Get a sneak peek at all of these DVD offerings in the new Chessbase Workshop.

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As is the tradition, the turn of the new year saw the release of the pair of annual ChessBase "master" databases: Big Database and Mega Database. The 2006 editions of these databases contains 3,209,768 games. Each database contains the same games, but the difference between them is that the Mega Database contains more than 63,000 annotated games; these annotations are stripped out of the Big Database but the games themselves remain.

What separates the Big and Mega Databases from other data products is the attention paid to completeness of the historical record. While certain other game databases and publications are concerned with providing only a handful of "significant" games (i.e. only games containing opening novelties or tournament-deciding final round games), the Big and Mega Databases by and large contain complete tournaments and matches wherever possible. This even includes "dummy" games (forfeits, byes, etc.) so that you can still generate complete tournament crosstables or match tables for a particular event without "holes" appearing in them.

The complete range of known chess history is represented in these databases, from a Ruy Lopez (the man, not the opening) game played in 1560 through tournaments played in late 2005. All of the great games and players are here, from the Romanticists of the 1800's through the Hypermoderns in the 1920's up to the wunderkind of the modern era. This isn't just a collection of games we're discussing here: it's the closest thing you're likely to find anywhere to a complete historical record of major over the board tournament and match chess.

The Big and Mega Databases require the user to be an owner of ChessBase or one of the Fritz "family" of playing programs (these databases are not standalone products) and have a computer with a DVD drive (the databases aren't available on CD). The DVDs also contain a bonus: updated photos and player information for ChessBase's Player Encyclopedia which replaces older versions of the PE.

These databases are great for chess historians (I used them extensively when I wrote chess history articles a few years ago), researchers (they also got a lot of mileage when I had a Web page about gambit play), correspondence players, and any player who wants a complete searchable library of chess games.

And this is an important point about the Big and Mega Databases in comparison to free game collections downloaded from the 'Net: the game headers in our databases contain standardized spellings of player and place names. When you do a search for a particular tournament or player you won't miss finding games because of various spellings (as is often the case with "hodgepodge" databases assembled from raw material acquired from a variety of sources).

I honestly can't say enough about these databases. The Mega Database is one of my "essentials": chess products that I absolutely can not do without, as a writer, a historian, a researcher, and a player.

Another of my "essentials" is the Hiarcs (pronounced "HIGH-arks") chess engine. I've been a Hiarcs maniac for more than a decade, since the old DOS days before it was even part of the ChessBase stable of chess engines. Hiarcs 2 was out on the market at the same time as Fritz2 and I was struck at the time by how differently the two programs played when compared to each other. They both played strong moves, but while Fritz2 would scare the crap out of you by launching wild hell-for-leather attacks, Hiarcs played in a much more "natural" style. Hiarcs was one of the first chess engines (maybe the first) to contain positional knowledge, making it a more "human-like" chess opponent than many other chess programs, and that's a tradition which continues to this day.

Mark Uniacke's brainchild has now reached its tenth incarnation and Hiarcs 10 is now available from ChessBase. It uses the same interface (ChessProgram 9) as Fritz9 and thus contains the same basic features as Fritz (functions, commands, 3D boards, database).

The Hiarcs engine, of course, is different from Fritz, although the difference in playing styles isn't as marked as it once was. Still, for my money, Hiarcs is the most human-like computer chess opponent anywhere. One difference between Hiarcs and Fritz is that Hiarcs contains a special learning function (over and above the opening book "weighting" which applies to both programs, as the weighting is a function of the interface). Hiarcs will learn from the games it plays and, in theory at least, become a stronger and better opponent the more you play against it (I'm not a strong enough player to be able to gauge Hiarcs' improvement over time, which is why I say "in theory").

Another difference is Hiarcs' opening book, developed by Mark Uniacke and Eric Hallsworth. The latter has been involved in computer chess for what seems like forever (well, not as far back as when Claude Shannon was fashioning computers using stone tools, but dang near it seems) and is a well-respected writer and researcher in the field. The pair have teamed up to create a special opening book for Hiarcs designed to maximize the engine's results in competitive play.

As I said, I'm a monster fan of Hiarcs and I was thrilled to see Hiarcs 10 arrive in my mailbox. It installed without a hitch and runs like a champ. There are two things which might cause some tech support questions, so let's get them out of the way now.

1) When you open the engine list (by hitting F3) the Hiarcs 10 engine is listed before other Hiarcs versions, not after. So don't bug out when you don't see it listed after Hiarcs9 -- it's the first Hiarcs version listed.

2) If you're a Fritz9 owner, Fritz' "Turk" splash screen might be replaced by the Hiarcs splash screen when you launch either program. This is no big deal; both get you to the same places (the main program or Playchess) and you should be able to change back to the Fritz version by going to Tools/Options/Version. However, the Hiarcs splash screen has no "Exit" command visible. To exit it, you'll need to right-click on the "Hiarcs 10" button in your Windows Taskbar and select "Close" from the popup menu. Again, no big deal once you know the procedure.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. All responses will be read, and sending an e-mail to this address grants us permission to use it in a future column. No tech support questions, please.

© 2006, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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