Friday, February 08, 2008

More chess meanders

  • Arena – Free, and kind of fun, maybe because you need to do some hands on installation for best results:

    • Download both Arena 1.1 and Arena 1.99beta4 – install Arena 1.1, then copy Arena.exe and the Fonts folder out of the beta archive into the installed Arena folder
    • Download the current English language translation file (goes into the Arena Language folder) – this gives you easier access to some parts of the beta menu system that are still in German, e.g. sounds options
    • Find suitable WAV or MIDI sounds which you may associate with events such win, loss, draw, startup, board clicks, etc. These are not provided, except for board click and a nice intro. Track down whatever else you'd like among the Intertubes.
    • female voice announcements if you want to announce moves
    • 49 intensely annoying national anthems are thankfully optional except for Deutschland über Alles which comes with the SOS 5.1 for Arena engine

    • Chess engines, must be either UCI or Winboard. Install as UCI, then if it doesn't work, install as Winboard, and if that fails install as Winboard (old); i.e., UCI or WB2 or WB1. Here's a short (but hardly exhaustive) meta-list.
      The strongest available free chess engines are probably either Rybka 1.0 beta or Spike 1.2 Turin. My favorite is a mild French spreadable named Cheese 1.1b.

      Be sure to get each engine's own opening book, if available.

  • Fritz 11, by no stretch of the imagination free, is the premier commercial chess package. Beautiful, sophisticated and friendly.

    Download the ancient Fritz 5.32 demo to get acquainted.

  • And the point is...? Well, Arena is basically a ... well ... arena for gladiatorial contests between chess engines. You'd think the point of that would be to find out which engines are stronger, right? Not necessarily. The woods are full of newbies, oldtimers (Y.T., e.g.), and ordinary subgeniuses who'd like to learn how to play chess without getting sand kicked in their faces by snarky laughing nerds. So, actually, you want to know which chess engines belong to the categories Weak, Weaker and Weakest. But, hey ho! The weakest of these engines (such as Joker, Mustang or ALchess), provided only it survive a week of attention on the web, plays above the merely human novice.

    No, what you really want is ICC Dasher, and here's why:

    Multiple personalities! Actually, these fourteen Dasher personalities, ranked from 1000 to 2700 ELO, are all manifestations of one prettygood chess engine, Crafty 21.4, but each personality has a different set of optimizations (or suboptimizations) which make the illusion pretty good. I give Dasher high marks for this feature. Of course, it's also a nice client for the Internet Chess Club's online chess server — you have to subscribe to play there, though. Like a country club, and it really flogs that cachet.

  • En passant, the Free Internet Chess Server (FICS) is to ICC what spaghetti and meatballs is to gamberi fra diavolo, i.e., a bit more plebeian, if not downright proletarian. Plus it has BabasChess, which has a rational window structure including an isolated games list in the Info pane that Dasher could benefit from. These online chess servers have grown far too complex to force average users to use the unparsed telnet console. Backgammon and Go servers don't put up with this. Why only chess? Except, as noted, BabasChess — good on yer, mate.



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