OK, I bit the bullet and downloaded the Houdini 2 engine for $49.95 from Chess Central a couple of weeks ago. I sent in a credit card payment on Friday and almost immediately got an automatic e-mail informing me I would get download instructions and a key within 24 hours or less. Since I ordered on a Friday afternoon the information actually did not arrive in my e-mail until Monday afternoon. The actual download is from ChessOK.
One glitch: a couple of days after ordering, the contacts I had in my e-mail got spammed. I had a similar experience three years ago after ordering something online from Europe. After that experience I immediately changed my password and then deleted all of the contacts in my e-mail account. Since then I have not kept a list of contacts, but three or four had inadvertently been saved.
Thankfully, my credit card has something called “Shopsafe” that generates a temporary card number, expiration date and I can set a limit that’s just enough to cover the cost of the product. If anybody other than the intended merchant tries to use that card number it will be useless. Before I started using the Shopsafe feature, twice when subscribing to a correspondence site located in Europe, I had charges for video games and sex toys show up on my account resulting in the credit card company canceling the charges and issuing me a new card. The first time it happened I discovered it when there was a hold on my card when I tried to pay for a motel in New Jersey and they wouldn’t accept it.
I don’t have a PayPal account because several years ago my wife got an e-mail concerning a wedding dress she supposedly purchased on e-bay that referenced our PayPal account so I deleted it. I am digressing, but you need to be very careful when ordering anything online. Investigate to see if you credit card has a feature similar to Shopsafe.
I had been experimenting with Critter on Lechenicher SchachServer with only slightly improved results and decided to purchase Houdini 2 because all I wanted is the engine to use with my Fritz 13 program. Apparently Houdini 3 can only be obtained by purchasing a new interface and I don’t need/want one.
Houdini 2.0 was supposed to be positional genius and much better than the free 1.5a in the endgame. Houdini 2 was released in September 2011 with Houdini 3 being released in October 2012. Supposedly Houdini 3 is better than Houdini 2 by about 50 Elo points and, depending on which rating list one consulted, Houdini 2 was only about 20-40 Elo points better than the free version. Still, I was interested in seeing the performance difference I could get using Houdini 2 on my dual core 4 GB memory laptop.
I currently have about a dozen games going on LSS where I have been relying on Critter and two games seem to be going rather badly. I actually considered resigning them, but decided to play on because I think we can reach an endgame and maybe the engines won’t play so well and there will be a chance to salvage something.
I have not been using Houdini long but aside from the fact it has been recommending some moves that look “weird” to me, the main thing I have noticed is its evaluation sometimes differs considerably from what I was getting with other engines. Unfortunately the evaluations in most of the current games are showing that I stand worse than I thought.
Most of my opponents are higher rated than me and a couple played moves that Critter didn’t consider so my guess is those opponents are using stronger engines, better hardware and, possibly, longer evaluation times.
In a brief and unscientific 4-game, 5-minutes per game test Houdini 2 defeated Houdini 1.5 by a score of +3 -0 -1. Against Critter Houdini 2 scored +2 -0 =2.
It seems Houdini 2 has enough of an edge to defeat the best free engines and if you want the strongest engine available without purchasing a whole new chess program, Houdini 2 is the way to go and the price for the engine alone is reasonable.