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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gull & Strelka vs. Houdini

       I recently downloaded a couple of new (to me) engines, Gull and Strelka.  According to the download site, Gull is rated 3000 and Strelka 2850. A very quick and unscientific test in some 5 minute games against Houdini showed that Houdini is, for the moment, still the strongest engine available.  I’ve entered another tournament at Lechenicher Schachserver, so I will continue to use Houdini as my engine of choice.
      These days I am finding that LSS, where engine use is not prohibited, is my site of choice for playing correspondence chess.  The main reason is that on most sites when you are playing at around 2200 and above most people are using engines despite the fact that they are prohibited.  I don’t have a problem using an engine when I know my opponent is, but on a lot of those sites you run into opponents who are rated under 2200 and they probably aren’t using engines. And then there is always the possibility that your 2200-2300 rated opponent is legitimate.  This means there is a problem of making a decision as to which opponent is using and which isn’t and to be fair you don’t want to be firing up your engine against somebody who is not using one.  On the other hand, you don’t want to find yourself playing unaided against somebody who is using Fritz because usually by the time you confirm your suspicions it’s too late.
      So, I prefer to avoid facing such a quandary by playing on a site where I can use an engine.  The problem with that is that I’ve had to try and acquire a whole new set of skills because, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, there’s more to playing CC than just letting an engine choose your moves…at least there is if you are serious about CC and want to feel like you’ve accomplished something.  Yes, just like winning a well-played game unaided gives one a feeling of accomplishment, teaming up with Houdini and outplaying some guy who’s teamed up with his engine will also leave you feeling like you’ve accomplished something.  Maybe not like the feeling I got 40 years ago when I knocked off a 2400 otb rated player who was in the top ten in the US in CC, but …well anyway, back to the Gull, Strelka, Houdini stuff…
      Gull vs. Houdini resulted in three draws though in the first game Houdini had a B+2P’s vs a lone N but could not win owing to running out of time.  Another alleged Rybka clone, Strelka, was crushed by Houdini when it lost 3 out of 3.  In the first game Strelka walked into a pin that lost a piece and in the other two games it also appeared to be inferior tactically.  The rating list on Zarkon Fischer’s site seems to bear out the results of my quick tests that Houdini 1.5a remains the strongest engine.  The top 8 engines on the IPON rating list, which didn’t have Strelka listed are:

1.Houdini 1.5a              3011  
2.Deep Rybka 4           2954  
3.Stockfish 2.01 JA      2916  
4.Critter 0.90 SSE42    2888  
5.Komodo64 1.3 JA     2830  
6.Naum 4.2                  2825  
7.Deep Shredder 12    2800  
8. Gull 1.1                    2788  

Many of these engines are available for download at SDChess.


  1. Funny the world of computer chess these days. At least five of these engines owe a great deal to FRUIT.

    When I go over classic games, i always use three engines to get a diverse "opinion". Houdini for strength of course, Zappa or Bright/Spark for solving some interesting tactical positions; Komodo,Shredder or Hiarcs for positional.

    And when all else fails I use PRODEO. It is not as strong as the others but finds moves using its Q3-Tactical personality that can find moves that other engines cannot find.

  2. One more engine you may want to play with is SPIKE. It took years for him to release the SMP version.


  3. Thanks for your input! I will definitely be giving some of these engines a try at LSS. Unfortunately one never knows what engine their opponent is using in these events. In an interview with the LSS champion the subject of engines never even came up! I have found it best to avoid tactical play in these events wherever possible and play strictly positional chess and head for endings. The result is usually long, boring games, but that’s OK because that’s the way I played before engines ever existed!