WSJ on odds chess match Nakamura vs Komodo

by ChessBase
4/25/2016 – Computers have become stronger than humans at chess – vastly and incredibly stronger. No grandmaster, however high-ranked, would dare to play against a top engine. Except Hikaru Nakamura, currently number seven in the world. But even he has to accept odds and start a pawn or exchange ahead. How a match between him and one of the most powerful chess programs went is recorded in the Wall Street Journal.

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Chess hasn’t always been played according to this rule. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common for strong players to accept a handicap against weaker opponents. The recorded games of Paul Morphy, the American chess genius who was the best player in the world in the 1850s, contain scores of contests in which Morphy started without one of his knights or rooks, or even his queen, and still managed to defeat his amateur opponents. When players were matched more closely, they often would give “pawn and move” odds, meaning that the stronger player would start with the black pieces and remove one of the pawns near his king.

Now odds chess has made a surprising return. The stronger player always gives the odds. Today’s strongest players are, of course, computers, which are so good that the best humans are no longer willing to play them in public matches. In any case, the encounters wouldn’t be so interesting. Even world champion Magnus Carlsen would be expected to lose nearly every game.

The article gose on to describe how American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, currently number six in the world and rated 2787, is the best human player who still plays against computers publicly. Earlier this year in a match hosted by against the program Komodo he received odds from his opponent – to make it fair.

The odds were different for each of four games. In the first game Nakamura received the traditional “pawn and move” handicap – Komodo played without the pawn on f7. This according to Komodo’s evaluation gave the computer a disadvantage of 1.5 pawns. After a tactical struggle the game was drawn, with Komodo showing a value of 0.85 in its own favour.

There is a big article on the handicap match in Chess Life Magazine April 2016.
The comments below by GM Larry Kaufman, one of the authors of Komodo, appeared there.

[Event "handicap match"] [Site ""] [Date "2016.01.06"] [Round "1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Komodo"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2787"] [BlackElo "3368"] [Annotator "Larry Kaufman"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rnbqkbnr/ppppp1pp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] [PlyCount "108"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2012.03.16"] 1. e4 e6 {Perhaps the best choice at f7 handicap.} 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 {This option gets the queens off but forfeits any initiative or attack. If White hopes to win I think this is a poor choice. Both 3Nc3 and 3Nd2 are objectively better here.} exd5 4. Qh5+ g6 5. Qe5+ Qe7 6. Qxe7+ Nxe7 7. Bf4 Bg7 8. c3 c5 $1 {I think this surprised Nakamura. It led to a very exciting game despite the early queen trade.} 9. dxc5 Nd7 10. Bd6 (10. Nd2 Nxc5 11. Ngf3 {was safer, returning the second pawn to keep pace in development.}) 10... Nf5 11. Bb5 $2 ( 11. Na3 a6 12. Nc2 {keeps a safe advantage.}) 11... Nxd6 12. cxd6 a6 13. Ba4 O-O 14. Bb3 Nc5 $1 15. Bxd5+ Kh8 {So Black has given up two more pawns (besides the handicap) for a big initiative/attack. So much for computers being materialistic!} 16. Nf3 Nd3+ 17. Kf1 Bf5 18. Nbd2 Rad8 19. Bxb7 Nxb2 20. Be4 Be6 21. h4 Bxc3 22. Rc1 Na4 23. h5 g5 24. Nxg5 $5 (24. Nb3 g4 25. Ng5 Rxd6 26. Nxe6 Rxe6 27. Bd3 g3 28. f3 Rd8 29. Be4 Bb2 30. Re1 Bc3 31. Rc1 {This draw by repetition was likely the best line, but Nakamura's decision to sacrifice a piece for some pawns was practical; he probably had confidence that he could hold the draw.}) 24... Bxd2 25. Nxe6 Bxc1 26. Nxf8 Rxf8 27. Bc6 Nc5 28. Rh3 Bd2 29. d7 Ba5 30. Re3 Rf6 31. Re8+ Kg7 32. Bf3 Nxd7 33. Re7+ Rf7 34. h6+ Kf8 35. Rxf7+ Kxf7 36. Be4 Bd2 37. Bxh7 Bxh6 38. g3 a5 39. f4 Nc5 40. Ke2 Bg7 41. Bd3 Nxd3 $6 {This was rightly criticized as making the draw too easy, but probably White would hold anyway. Computers assume the opponent will see what they see, a poor assumption for a handicap game.} 42. Kxd3 Bb2 43. Kc4 Bf6 44. Kb5 Bc3 45. a4 Kf6 46. Ka6 Kf5 47. Kb5 Bb4 48. Ka6 Ke4 49. Kb5 Be1 50. Ka6 Kf5 51. Kb5 Bc3 52. Kc4 Bb4 53. Kb5 Ke4 54. Ka6 Kf5 {Although Komodo claims a 3/4 pawn plus based on being up bishop for two pawns, it can do nothing without giving up its last pawn, Engines are still not good at recognizing "fortress" draws like this one., although this game motivated us to work on this problem. Nakamura made only one clear mistake this game, and yet had to play well to draw.} 1/2-1/2

In game two Komodo got the white pieces and started without the pawn on f2. This caused it to display a disadvantage or 0.65 for itself, which switched to 0.00 at move 29. The computer got a frightening passer on the d-file and nursed it all the way to d7 – but the game was drawn after 56 moves. It is interesting that Komodo displayed a mainl a 0.00 evaluation all the way from move 29 to the end.

[Event "Live Chess"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.06"] [Round "2"] [White "KomodoChess"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "3368"] [BlackElo "2787"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPP1PP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] [PlyCount "111"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Bf4 e6 4. e3 Bd6 5. Nc3 O-O 6. Bd3 c5 7. dxc5 Bxf4 8. exf4 Qa5 9. Qd2 Nbd7 10. O-O-O Nxc5 11. Kb1 b6 12. Rhg1 Ba6 13. g4 Rac8 14. g5 Ne8 15. h4 Nd6 16. Nd4 Bxd3 17. cxd3 Na4 18. Nxa4 Qxa4 19. Qf2 Nb5 20. Nxb5 Qxb5 21. h5 Qc5 22. Qf3 Qd4 23. Rg4 f5 24. gxf6 Qxf6 25. Re1 Rf7 26. a3 Rc6 27. Qe3 Kf8 28. Rc1 Rxc1+ 29. Qxc1 Kg8 30. Qc8+ Rf8 31. Qc7 Qf7 32. Qe5 Qf6 33. Qc7 Qf7 34. Qe5 h6 35. Rg6 Kh7 36. Ka2 Re8 37. Kb3 Re7 38. a4 Qf5 39. Qxf5 exf5 40. Kc3 Re2 41. a5 d4+ 42. Kxd4 Rxb2 43. axb6 Rxb6 44. Rg1 a5 45. Kc5 Rb3 46. d4 a4 47. d5 a3 48. Ra1 Kg8 49. d6 Kf7 50. Re1 a2 51. d7 Rd3 52. Kc6 Rc3+ 53. Kd6 Rd3+ 54. Kc6 Rc3+ 55. Kd6 Rd3+ 56. Kc6 1/2-1/2

In the third game the odds were heftier: Komodo was White and played without the rook on a1, while Nakamura played without the knight on b8 and started with the rook on that square. The computer evaluated the position as 1.44 pawns up for its opponent, and Nakamura increased that advantage to nearly a full two pawns by move 12. He returned his exchange advantage and launched a kingside attack, investing a knight into this on move 30. Komodo displayed a 0.38 advantage for the opponent after this move and returned the piece a few moves later and was forced to take a draw by perpetual.

[Event "Handicap match"] [Site ""] [Date "2016.01.07"] [Round "3"] [White "Komodo"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "3368"] [BlackElo "2787"] [Annotator "Larry Kaufman"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1rbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/1NBQKBNR w Kk - 0 1"] [PlyCount "97"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2012.03.16"] 1. c4 {The game suggests that this was already a poor choice. Probably 1. e4 was better. White's problem is that he has to make concessions to avoid exchanges, since most endgames down the Exchange are lost. Hikaru felt that this handicap was his best chance to win, and indeed he obtained a huge advantage. But no GM has beaten Komodo with an Exchange handicap yet with either color in 11 tries!} Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 (3. e3 {seems better.}) 3... e4 4. Nd4 Bc5 5. Nb3 Bb4 6. Qc2 Qe7 7. e3 O-O 8. Nd4 $6 (8. d4 {was relatively better though still quite bad for White.}) 8... d6 9. Nde2 c6 10. a3 Ba5 11. b4 Bc7 12. Bb2 d5 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. f4 {Up to this point Nakamura has outplayed Komodo and I was expecting a loss.} a5 $2 {Nakamura probably overlooked that White now regains the Exchange, although Black retains a large advantage due to development, king safety, and the bishop pair. Capturing en passant would leave Black with a winning material and positional advantage.} 15. Nb5 Bb6 16. Be5 Bd7 17. Bd6 Qd8 18. bxa5 Bxa5 19. Bxb8 Qxb8 20. Ned4 Rc8 $2 (20... Ng4 21. Ke2 g5 22. g3 Qd8 {leaves Black with a huge positional advantage. The obvious move played blocks the queen's access to the kingside.}) 21. Qb2 Ng4 22. Ke2 h5 23. h3 Nh6 24. Rg1 Bb6 25. Ke1 Bxb5 26. Bxb5 Qd6 27. Ne2 d4 $5 (27... Qd8 { kept a safe, solid plus for Black.}) 28. Nxd4 Qf6 29. Qb4 Rc1+ 30. Kf2 Ng4+ 31. hxg4 Qh4+ 32. g3 Qh2+ 33. Rg2 Qh1 {Probably Black would win from here against any human opponent.} 34. Nc2 Rxc2 {This appears to lead to a forced draw.} ( 34... Bxe3+ 35. Kxe3 Qxg2 36. Qb2 Rd1 37. Qb4 hxg4 38. Be2 Qxg3+ 39. Kxe4 Qg2+ 40. Kd3 Qd5+ 41. Qd4 Qb3+ 42. Qc3 Qxc3+ 43. Kxc3 g3 44. Ne3 Ra1 45. Kb2 Re1 46. Bf3 b6 {Black has the better side of a probable draw.}) 35. Qxe4 Rxd2+ 36. Be2 hxg4 37. Qe8+ Kh7 38. Qb5 g6 39. Qxb6 Rxe2+ 40. Kxe2 Qxg2+ 41. Kd3 Qxg3 42. Qxb7 Kg7 43. Qb2+ Kg8 44. Qb8+ Kg7 45. Qe5+ Kg8 46. Qe8+ Kg7 47. Qe5+ Kg8 48. Qe8+ Kg7 49. Qe5+ 1/2-1/2

In the final game Nakamura had no extra material, but was given three moves, e4, d4 and Nf3, for free in the starting positon – as the old saying goes: a pawn is worth three moves. Komodo slowly neutralized White's advantage and went on to win a very impressive game, with excellent endgame play.

[Event "Handicap Match"] [Site ""] [Date "2016.01.07"] [Round "4"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Komodo"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2787"] [BlackElo "3368"] [Annotator "Larry Kaufman"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/3PP3/5N2/PPP2PPP/RNBQKB1R w KQkq - 0 1"] [PlyCount "116"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2012.03.16"] {Four move handicap was novel. Some thought it would be easier for Hikaru than the material handicaps, but others felt it would be the hardest for him. I rated it as more than f2 but less than f7 or the Exchange handicaps.} 1. c4 { I think that playing for development, for example Bd3, was more appropriate than playing for space, but perhaps Hikaru knows best.} d6 2. Nc3 g6 3. Qb3 { This looks strange, but it's not clearly bad.} c6 4. Be2 Qb6 5. Qc2 Bg7 6. O-O Nf6 7. h3 O-O 8. Be3 Qc7 9. Rac1 $6 (9. b4 b6 10. a4 {would keep a large space advantage and initiative. The move played was a bit slow.}) 9... Nbd7 10. Rfd1 b6 11. Qd2 {Again, b4 seems better.} Bb7 12. b3 Rad8 13. Bh6 {Komodo thinks this bishop exchange helps him.} (13. d5 {was probably better.}) 13... e5 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 15. d5 a5 {White now has the "wrong" color bishop for the pawn structure, and little remains of his four move handicap.} 16. Qe3 Ra8 17. Ne1 Nc5 18. Nd3 Qe7 19. Nb2 Nfd7 20. Nca4 $6 (20. Qd2 Rac8 21. dxc6 Rxc6 22. Nba4 { kept a small advantage due to the backward d6 pawn.}) 20... f5 {Now the game looks like a fairly normal King's Indian with no hint of the handicap.} 21. Nxc5 bxc5 22. f3 $6 (22. dxc6 Bxc6 23. Bf3 {kept equality.}) 22... Nf6 23. g4 Rf7 24. Rf1 Raf8 25. Kh2 fxg4 26. fxg4 h5 27. gxh5 Nxh5 28. Rxf7+ Qxf7 29. Rf1 Nf4 {Black has an obvious advantage now due to the knight outpost.} 30. Bg4 cxd5 31. exd5 Qc7 32. Qg3 Rf6 33. Rf2 Bc8 34. Nd1 Bxg4 35. Qxg4 Qf7 36. Qh4 Rf5 37. Ne3 $6 (37. Qg4 {was necessary with a poor but defensible game.}) 37... Rh5 38. Qg4 Qe7 39. Rf3 Rg5 40. Qc8 Ne2 41. Qe6 Qxe6 42. dxe6 Nf4 43. Rg3 $2 (43. Nd5 Nxe6 44. Nf6 Rf5 45. Ne8+ Kh6 46. Kg2 Nf4+ 47. Kg1 d5 48. cxd5 Nxd5 { White has just a little compensation for the pawn, but he's not clearly lost.}) 43... Rh5 44. Nd5 Nxe6 45. Nc3 Nd4 46. Ne4 Nf5 47. Rd3 $6 (47. Rg4 {was necessary to stop ...Rh4. Perhaps Black would win anyway.}) 47... Rh4 48. Nxd6 Rf4 49. Nxf5+ $6 gxf5 {Why did White allow Black two connnected passed pawns? Perhaps there was no defense anyway. Black is now winning.} 50. Rd5 $6 (50. Rd7+ Kf6 51. Kg3 Re4) 50... e4 51. Rxc5 Kf6 52. Rc8 Rf2+ 53. Kg3 Rf3+ 54. Kg2 Ke5 55. h4 Kf4 56. h5 e3 57. h6 Rg3+ 58. Kh2 Rg6 0-1

The Wall Street Journal writes:

Although the computer won the match, the games were all interesting fights that attracted large online audiences. Varying the starting imbalances can help to quantify how much stronger computers are than the best humans in ways that playing straight-up matches cannot. And the innovations in odds chess shows that the old game’s possibilities are still far from being exhausted.

Komodo Chess 9

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Komodo is a chess program that is different from the rest. Its search makes greater use of extensions than any other top engine, which allows Komodo to often see deeper than the others, even if it is displaying a slightly lower search depth. The evaluation differs from its main rivals because it represents a blend of both automated tuning and the judgment of a grandmaster and computer expert (Larry Kaufman). Fully automated evaluations are subject to rather large sample error, and applying some human chess judgment is beneficial, both in results and solid evaluations. Komodo is primarily known for superb positional play.

Of course it is also one of the top engines in tactical strength, but the programmers have not been willing to sacrifice positional play just to score better on tactical problem sets. All good engines are far stronger tactically than any human player, but when positional judgment is involved, top grandmasters are still superior. Therefore it makes sense to emphasize positional play rather than only tactical skill; it is better to improve the program's weakest point rather than further improve its strongest feature.

Komodo is especially useful for opening analysis, because its grandmaster programmer has made sure that the program's evaluations generally agree with accepted theory. Komodo also excels in the evaluation of positions with material imbalance, which it handles more intelligently than other top engines. The endgame of Komodo has been improved by the use of Syzygy tablebases, which employ only the most essential information, to save computing time and memory. Another unique feature of Komodo is its superior performance when using eight or more cores.

The Komodo 9.02 64-bit program can support up to 64 processor cores and 16 GB of hash memory. It comes with the Deep Fritz 64-bit program interface (+ 32 bit program interface) and includes a ChessBase PREMIUM Account: six months online access to, ChessBase Live Database, Let’s Check, Engine Cloud, Tactics Training.

Order Komodo Chess 9 in the ChessBase Shop

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