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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Houdini Chess Engine

I’m no expert on chess engines or computers and for several years the only chess playing program I had was Chessmaster. Eventually I got around to using Fritz, versions 6 through 10, Shredder and Chessbase Light 2007, Premium Edition. I’ve used many different free engines including Rybka and Stockfish. The latest purchase was when I got my new laptop. I found Fritz 12 at Office Max for $20! It sells online for more than 3 times that price. Fritz is my first choice simply because I like its printouts. In any case these days I really can’t see actually paying for chess software when there’s so much good free stuff available.

On the post concerning TobyTal and anonymous poster mentioned the Houdini engine which I have never heard of, so I did some very quick research on it. I downloaded it to my old Windows XP computer and played a very unscientific match of 5 games against Firebird. The results were somewhat surprising for me: Houdini 3 wins, no losses and two draws. That’s enough to convince me that Houdini deserves to be downloaded to my Windows 7 laptop and used with Fritz 12.

ADDENDUM: In a 6-game blitz match Houdini defeated Fritz 12 by a score of +4 -0 =2!

You can download a whole bunch of free engines, including Houdini, at Zarkon Fischer’s Free Chess Programs page.

The Houdini website has the following blurb:

Houdini is a state-of-the-art chess engine for Windows that competes with the best commercial and free software. The current version is Houdini 1.03a (release date July 17, 2010). The program has no graphical interface but can be used with any UCI-compatible chess graphical user interface (GUI) like the free Arena and Winboard chess interfaces or the commercial Shredder chess interface.

If you haven't already, first download the chess GUI of your choice.
Then download the Houdini version that suits your environment (32 or 64-bit, number of cores), copy it to a local directory on your computer, and install it in the chess GUI.

The site advises In 64-bit Windows Vista/7 Houdini can benefit from so-called large memory pages. Depending on the hash table size the speed improvement may be between 5% and 20%.

To enable this feature, you need to modify the Group Policy for your account on your computer:
1.Run: gpedit.msc (or search for "Group Policy")
2.Under "Computer Configuration", "Windows Settings", "Security Settings", "Local Policies" click on "User Rights Assignment"
3.In the right pane double-click the option "Lock Pages in Memory"
4.Click on "Add User or Group" and add your account or "Everyone"
5.You may have to logoff or reboot for the change to take effect
Run your chess GUI with administrative rights ("Run as Administrator"), and check the "Large_Pages" UCI option for Houdini.
Note: If memory is fragmented the Large Page allocation may fail and Houdini will fall back to standard memory page usage.

I have no idea what all that means, but I guess I’ll find out. As they say in ICCF master tournaments, “Happy computing!”


  1. Hi!

    Glad you are finding this engine useful. At least it evens the playing field for online players lol

    From what I understand Houdini's strength comes from trying to take the elements from all open source engines and merging them, rather than trying to improve on one family. I see that test's still might give Rybka 4 the edge but not by much.

    Another free engine you may want to try is Rybka Winfinder:


    I agree with the engines listed in your link. Other engines that have a reputation of good endgame play are Yace, SOS and Ktulu

    Yace and Ktulu free can be found here:


    The SOS program is found on the Arena site

    Enjoy! I like your blog and it is nice to see long time chess fans out there

  2. in my laptop, houdini vs rybka 4 still lose..i used houdini 1.5a 32 bit..but still lose..what else engine more powerful?

  3. http://open-chess.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=846

    According to Open-Chess a 100 "long game" match was played between Rybka 4 and Houdini 1.5. Result: + 32 = 51 - 17 in favour of Houdini 1.5

    From what I’ve read Houdini is the strongest free engine and in the mentioned test it was a clear winner so I am unable to answer your question. Perhaps you could find someone on the Open Chess forum who understands these things better and can offer an explanation. It’s possible the results are affected by engine settings, time limits or even the computer itself. On my dual core Gateway laptop Houdini scores decisively in blitz games but I do not have the latest version of Rybka.