I’ve spent the last few blog posts writing about chess engines (chessplaying computer programs), and it’s for a reason – this is all headed somewhere. We’re going to be looking at using a chess engine for chess training and analysis, not just in the native Fritz12 and Rybka4 interfaces, but also in ChessBase 11. But before we go there, we need to look at a couple of important (and only slightly technical) details of which you should be aware.
I’ve mentioned one particular idea many times before and I’ll repeat it here:
A chess engine will always provide you with the best analysis it can within the limits of your computer hardware and the time allotted for analysis.
I’ve written extensively on the subject before and, truth be known, I’d rather drive a railroad spike into my own ear than write about it here for the umpteenth time. So I’ll just leave it at this: in general, the longer the time you allow a chess engine to analyze, the better the analysis you receive in return. I know there are always people (usually those who are new to computers) who don’t want to believe this; they think that a PC works like the computer on the 1960’s Star Trek – ask it a question and you get the perfect answer instantaneously. But chess computers don’t work that way. If you set up a position and let Fritz12 analyze it for one second, you’ll get a very cursory (and likely relatively poor) suggestion – but if you let it analyze for sixty seconds, you’ll get a pretty good one.
Computer chess programs can’t give “Super-GM” level analysis of a position instantaneously; it takes a little time (and, believe it or not, I’ve argued with a few folks down over the years who fervently believe that a chess program should be able to provide “perfect” analysis of a complete game in less than one second. Not in this lifetime, pal…). Taking the discussion a step further, I’d argue that there’s no such thing as “perfect analysis” anyway, but that’s another rant for another time.
So now that we understand that a suggested variation presented by a chess engine after sixty seconds is better than a variation suggested after two seconds, we can move on to the more important matter at hand: how to make your chess engine stronger.
We not really going to make the engine “stronger”; but, more accurately, we are going to examine methods for getting your chessplaying program to do as much work as it possibly can in the time you’ve given it. How do we do this? By getting it to analyze more positions per second.
You’ll remember from the last blog post that a chess engine running in the ChessBase or Fritz interfaces offers a display which shows you how fast it’s analyzing: the kN/s (kilonodes per second) value. What we’re trying to do is achieve as high a kN/s value as possible – in other words, to get your chess engine to analyze as fast as possible.
You might already have guessed where this is headed (at least partially). In this post I’ll offer two very simple tips for helping to squeeze every last drop of analytical juice out of your chess engine.
First, whether your chess engine is analyzing a complete game or just a single position, exit out of other programs you might be running. As a corollary, don’t be using other programs while your chess engine is analyzing. Sure, it might be fun to go surfing the Web while Rybka is chewing on a position, but the problem is this: everything you start/run on your computer requires some level of processor power, and every bit of that power used by another program is being denied to your chess engine. So if you’re Web surfing while Rybka is analyzing, all of that clicking around and page loading is denying processing power (and RAM, but we’ll get to that later), no matter how slight the amount, to the chessplaying engine.
So start the analysis and then walk away for a while. Go have a cup of joe or flip through the new Chess Life or watch something blow up on one of the movie channels. Leave your computer alone and let the chess engine do its work. This is exactly why I often talk about “overnight game analysis”; if I’m going to have an engine analyze a game (or a batch of games), I let the computer run all night while I’m comfortably crashed out.
The second tip involves programs which run “in the background” on your computer – the stuff that runs all the time (whether you’re using it or not). Many of these programs appear as icons in the “tray” – that little box on the far right side of your Windows Taskbar, that space where you see the time displayed:
Some of these icons represent things which can’t be turned “off” (such as the sound and video display icons). But there are likely some programs which can at least be temporarily disabled. For example, the last three computers I’ve purchased have floating widgets (usually called “Advisors”) perched at the upper border of my Desktop containing all kinds of completely useless shortcuts (links back to the manufacturer’s website, downloadable games, etc.); these widgets can be turned “off” from a tray icon.
Generally, you’d right-click on a tray icon and select the command for turning off that program (“disable”, “exit”, etc.).
It’s obviously a discretionary choice as to what to turn off. For example, I would be foolish to disable my anti-virus program and firewall while my computer is connected to the Internet. But if I turn off my modem first, I can feel comfortable disabling both of these programs temporarily while Fritz or Rybka perform an overnight analysis (for a single positional analysis in ChessBase I wouldn’t bother going to all that trouble – I’d just let the engine analyze for an extra couple of minutes instead). Programs like the one on my laptop which lets me create CD/DVD labels (and which, for some idiotic reason, runs constantly in the background) can be turned off without a second thought – following Tip #1 means that I’m not going to be making labels while Shredder is analyzing anyway.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can do some Internet research to discover more background processes (the kind which don’t have tray icons) in your particular version of Windows that can be disabled to free up even more processing power and RAM.
Have fun! – Steve Lopez
Chessplayers who have purchased their ChessBase brand software from USCFSales can receive free technical support and advice on their purchases straight from me; just shoot me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), but please remember to include the USCFSales order number from your ChessBase software purchase. – Steve
Copyright 2011, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.