Friday, August 1, 2014

Chess Engines that play positional moves and speculative sacrifices like Mikhail Tal and Rashid Nezhmetdinov

Mikhail Tal. the famed 'Magician of Riga'.
Soviet-Latvian chess Grandmaster and the eighth World Chess Champion (from 1960 to 1961)(Source:

hess is art. Chess players who make speculative sacrifices are pure artists. Ever wanted to make your chess engine play like Mikhail Tal or Rashid Nezhmetdinov? In this short post, I will show you some commercial chess engines with aggressive personalities that allow you to do just that. I will also introduce to you what I think is the best free chess engine, ever! I'm not talking about a 2014-ish free chess engine. Instead this baby came out in 2004, more than a decade ago! More on it later.

To tell you the truth, this post has nothing to do with Moodle. The only link I can give you between Moodle and chess is that both are educational in nature. Another motive for this post is that I would also like to see Malaysia produce its first chess Grandmaster. One way as I see it is to revive the interest in chess in Malaysia. Chess needs to be made exciting and artistic. A good way for Malaysian juniors is to emulate the play of past chess heroes and to play adventurously, bravely, speculatively, and, dare I say it, Tal-like.

This post is divided into 3 parts. Well, let's get on with it shall we?

Part I. Some actual games with amazing speculative moves (over the board that is)

Position 1
Garry Kasparov-Veselin Topalov, 1-0
Hoogovens A Tournament, Wijk aan Zee NED, 1999

Position after 23. ... Qd6. The white pawn's encirclement is complete.
Kasparov, White-to-move, begins a famous combination.

White to move. Black is about to capture White's pawn on d5. Kasparov plays 24. Rxd4!

I. Vitruvius 1.4a beta HEM 32-bit Engine (Commercial)

Use these engine settings and parameters.

Vitruvius gives 24. Rxd4 after only 6 seconds. Very impressive.

II. Chessmaster 10th Edition with the Tal-Custom Personality (Commercial)

Using these settings:

CMX detects 24. Rd4 after 22 seconds. Not bad.

III. Rebel 12 with the Q3 Tactical Engine personality (Commercial)

Use these engine settings and parameters.
Personality = C:\Program Files\Lokasoft\ChessPartner5.3\engines\Rebel12\personal\Q3 - Tactical Engine.eng
Playstyle = Aggresive
Playstrength = Strong

Rebel 12 gives 24. Rxd4 after 14.5seconds. impressive.

Surprisingly, if the Michael (Mikhail) Tal personality is selected, Rebel 12 prefers 24. Qd6.

V. Zappa Mexico II with the Dissident Aggressor personality (Commercial)

Read here and here for details.

Use these engine settings and parameters.
Enable Mate Extensions=true
Aggressive Futility Pruning=true
Eval Passed Pawn Scoring=125
Eval Pawn Scoring=135
Eval Minor Scoring=70
Eval Major Scoring=70
Eval Kingsafety Scoring=500
Hide Fail Highs=false
Print PV Tips=true

Zappa Mexico II gives 24. Rxd4 after 27 seconds. 

Which other chess engines find the 24. Rxd4 move ?  Is there any free chess engine that uncorks 24. Rd4 as well? Please share your findings. Thanks.

Position 2
Henry Edward Bird-Paul Morphy, 0-1
London Tournament, London, 1858

The position after 17. O-O-O. The calm before the storm.
Morphy, Black-to-move, is about to play a forceful move.

Black to move. Morphy uncorks a stunning move with 17...Rxf2!

I. Vitruvius 1.4a beta HEM 32-bit Engine (Commercial)

Vitruvius prefers to play 17. ... Bb4, which I find strange.

II. Chessmaster 10th Edition with the Tal-Custom Personality (Commercial)

Chessmaster 10th Edition, Tal-Customised personality discovers17... Rxf2! after 26 seconds.

III. Rebel 12 with the Q3 Tactical Engine personality (Commercial)

Rebel 12 immediately detects 17 ... Rxf2. However, after 10 seconds Rebel 12 evaluates the more mundane 17 ... Bg4 as having a higher score instead.

IV. Zappa Mexico II with the Dissident Aggressor personality (Commercial)

Zappa Mexico II discovers 17.... Rxf4 after 4 seconds.

One more position.

From IM Jimmy Liew's (Malaysia) brilliant win against Eugene Torre (Philippines) in 1986 courtesy of some chess-crazy Malaysian at: I love the 23. f5(!) move which opens lines against Black's King.

Zappa Mexico II had no trouble playing the Pawn move.

Part II. The best free chess engine, that emulates Tal's speculative chess moves, in my humble opinion is ...

So what if you don't have any of the commercial chess engines found in this post? Or perhaps you can't afford to buy them online. No fear. There are many free chess engines out there. In terms of speculative play, I cannot more highly recommend  Ed Schroeder's amazing Prodeo 1.6, running on the built-in Michael Tal personality. Use it against humans and see sparks fly. Why? Read this article on Prodeo 1.6 and judge for yourself. Best of all, Ed Schroeder has generously made his year 2004 chess engine free to download.
No doubt it won't stand much chance against the Komodo, Stockfish and Houdinis of today (August 2014), but it is a great engine to use againt humans like yourself.

Part III. Mikhail Tal's Top 11 Chess sacrifices of all time!

Finally, I would like to see which chess engines are able to reproduce some of Mikhail Tal's stunning moves of yesteryear.

[Event "Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates"]
[Site "Bled, Zagreb & Belgrade YUG"]
[Date "1959.09.18"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Mikhail Tal"]
[Black "Vasily Smyslov"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B10"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b2rk1/p2nbppp/q1p2n2/1p3N2/2BQ4/­5N2/PPPB1PPP/2KR3R b - - 0 13"]
[PlyCount "26"]
[EventDate "1959.09.07"]

Position after 13...Bd8.
White to move.

13... Bd8 14. Qh4 bxc4 15. Qg5 Nh5 16. Nh6+ Kh8 17. Qxh5 Qxa2 18. Bc3 Nf6 19.
Qxf7 Qa1+ 20. Kd2 Rxf7 21. Nxf7+ Kg8 22. Rxa1 Kxf7 23. Ne5+ Ke6 24. Nxc6 Ne4+
25. Ke3 Bb6+ 26. Bd4 1-0

[Event "Varna olm"]
[Site "Varna olm"]
[Date "1962.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Mikhail Tal"]
[Black "Hans-Joachim Hecht"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E12"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r3k2r/pb3pp1/1pp2nnp/2p1q3/Q1N1P2B­/2PB1P2/P5PP/R4RK1 b kq - 0 17"]
[PlyCount "64"]
[EventDate "1962.??.??"]

Position after 18...b5.
White to move.

17... Qe6 18. e5 b5 19. exf6 bxa4 20. fxg7 Rg8 21. Bf5 Nxh4 22. Bxe6 Ba6 23.
Nd6+ Ke7 24. Bc4 Rxg7 25. g3 Kxd6 26. Bxa6 Nf5 27. Rab1 f6 28. Rfd1+ Ke7 29.
Re1+ Kd6 30. Kf2 c4 31. g4 Ne7 32. Rb7 Rag8 33. Bxc4 Nd5 34. Bxd5 cxd5 35. Rb4
Rc8 36. Rxa4 Rxc3 37. Ra6+ Kc5 38. Rxf6 h5 39. h3 hxg4 40. hxg4 Rh7 41. g5 Rh5
42. Rf5 Rc2+ 43. Kg3 Kc4 44. Ree5 d4 45. g6 Rh1 46. Rc5+ Kd3 47. Rxc2 Kxc2 48.
Kf4 Rg1 49. Rg5 1-0

[Event "Tal-Larsen Candidates Semifinal Match"]
[Site "Bled YUG"]
[Date "1965.08.08"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Mikhail Tal"]
[Black "Bent Larsen"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B82"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rqb2rk1/3nbppp/p2pp3/1p4P1/3BPP2/2­N2Q2/PPP4P/2KR1B1R w - - 0 15"]
[PlyCount "45"]
[EventDate "1965.07.23"]

Position after 15...b4.
White to move.

15. Bd3 b4 16. Nd5 exd5 17. exd5 f5 18. Rde1 Rf7 19. h4 Bb7 20. Bxf5 Rxf5 21.
Rxe7 Ne5 22. Qe4 Qf8 23. fxe5 Rf4 24. Qe3 Rf3 25. Qe2 Qxe7 26. Qxf3 dxe5 27.
Re1 Rd8 28. Rxe5 Qd6 29. Qf4 Rf8 30. Qe4 b3 31. axb3 Rf1+ 32. Kd2 Qb4+ 33. c3
Qd6 34. Bc5 Qxc5 35. Re8+ Rf8 36. Qe6+ Kh8 37. Qf7 1-0

[Event "Riga ;MAINB"]
[Site "Riga ;MAINB"]
[Date "1957.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Mikhail Tal"]
[Black "Alexander Koblents"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B63"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1br1knQ/2q3pR/p2bp2B/1p1pnp2/8/1N­N2P2/PPP5/2KR1B2 b - - 0 24"]
[PlyCount "26"]
[EventDate "1957.??.??"]

Position after 24...Rd7.
White to move.

24... Rd7 25. Bxb5 Rf7 26. Rg1 Ra7 27. Nd4 Ng4 28. fxg4 Be5 29. Nc6 Bxc3 30.
Be3 d4 31. Rgh1 Rd7 32. Bg5 axb5 33. R1h6 d3 34. bxc3 d2+ 35. Kd1 Qxc6 36. Rf6+
Rf7 37. Qxg7+ 1-0

[Event "Russia"]
[Site "Match, Moscow (6)"]
[Date "1960.03.26"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Mikhail Botvinnik"]
[Black "Mikhail Tal"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E69"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2r3k1/pp4bp/3p2p1/3Ppb1n/1qr5/2N1B­1PP/PP2QPBK/1RR5 w - - 0 21"]
[PlyCount "53"]
[EventDate "1960.??.??"]

Position after 21. Ra1.
Black to move.

21. Ra1 Nf4 22. gxf4 exf4 23. Bd2 Qxb2 24. Rab1 f3 25. Rxb2 fxe2 26. Rb3 Rd4
27. Be1 Be5+ 28. Kg1 Bf4 29. Nxe2 Rxc1 30. Nxd4 Rxe1+ 31. Bf1 Be4 32. Ne2 Be5
33. f4 Bf6 34. Rxb7 Bxd5 35. Rc7 Bxa2 36. Rxa7 Bc4 37. Ra8+ Kf7 38. Ra7+ Ke6
39. Ra3 d5 40. Kf2 Bh4+ 41. Kg2 Kd6 42. Ng3 Bxg3 43. Bxc4 dxc4 44. Kxg3 Kd5 45.
Ra7 c3 46. Rc7 Kd4 47. Rd7+ 0-1

[Event "USSR Team Championship"]
[Site "Ol URS, URS"]
[Date "1964.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Vasily Smyslov"]
[Black "Mikhail Tal"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A36"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "3rr1k1/pb2q2p/1p1n2p1/2p2P2/N2p1P2­/1P1P1BP1/P1NQ3P/1R1R2K1 b - - 0 23"]
[PlyCount "99"]
[EventDate "1964.??.??"]

23... Bxf3 24. Re1 Qe2 25. Rxe2 Rxe2 26. Qxe2 Bxe2 27. Nb2 gxf5 28. Re1 Bh5 29.
Nc4 Nxc4 30. bxc4 Re8 31. Kf2 Rxe1 32. Kxe1 Kf8 33. Kd2 Ke7 34. Ne1 a6 35. a4
a5 36. Kc2 Be8 37. Kb3 Bc6 38. Ka3 Kf6 39. Kb3 Kg6 40. Ka3 Kh5 41. h3 Kg6 42.
Kb3 Kg7 43. Ka3 Kf6 44. Kb3 Be8 45. Ng2 Bh5 46. Kc2 Be2 47. Ne1 Bf1 48. Nf3
Bxh3 49. Ng5 Bg2 50. Nxh7+ Kg7 51. Ng5 Kg6 52. Kd2 Bc6 53. Kc1 Bg2 54. Kd2 Kh5
55. Ne6 Kg4 56. Nc7 Bc6 57. Nd5 Kxg3 58. Ne7 Bd7 59. Nd5 Bxa4 60. Nxb6 Be8 61.
Nd5 Kf3 62. Nc7 Bc6 63. Ne6 a4 64. Nxc5 a3 65. Nb3 a2 66. Kc1 Kxf4 67. Kb2 Ke3
68. Na5 Be8 69. c5 f4 70. c6 Bxc6 71. Nxc6 f3 72. Ne5 f2 0-1

I didn't find any chess engine that would play Tal's 24. ... Qe2.

[Event "Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates"]
[Site "Bled, Zagreb & Belgrade YUG"]
[Date "1959.10.11"]
[Round "20"]
[White "Mikhail Tal"]
[Black "Robert James Fischer"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E93"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b2rn1/1ppnq2k/p6p/3P1p2/1p3Q2/1N­NB4/P5PP/4RRK1 b - - 0 22"]
[PlyCount "24"]
[EventDate "1959.09.07"]

Position after 22...Qf6.
White to move.

22... Qf6 23. Re6 (23. Na4) 23... Qxc3 24. Bxf5+ Rxf5 25. Qxf5+ Kh8 26. Rf3 Qb2
27. Re8 Ndf6 28. Qxf6+ Qxf6 29. Rxf6 Kg7 30. Rff8 Ne7 31. Na5 h5 32. h4 Rb8 33.
Nc4 b5 34. Ne5 1-0

[Event "Chicago"]
[Site "Chicago"]
[Date "1988.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Mikhail Tal"]
[Black "Robert Forbis"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B77"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r4r1k/pp1b1p1p/1q1pp3/5P1P/3R4/1PN­1Q3/1PP3P1/2K2R2 b - - 0 21"]
[PlyCount "18"]
[EventDate "1988.??.??"]

Position after 21...e5.
White to move.

21... e5 22. Qh6 Qxd4 23. Qf6+ Kg8 24. Nd5 Rfe8 25. Qg5+ Kh8 26. h6 e4 27. f6
Rg8 28. Qg7+ Rxg7 29. hxg7+ Kg8 30. Ne7# 1-0

[Event "USSR Championship"]
[Site "Leningrad (RUS)"]
[Date "1956.01.14"]
[EventDate "1956.??.??"]
[Round "3"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Mikhail Tal"]
[Black "Vladimir Simagin"]
[ECO "B06"]
[WhiteElo "?"]
[BlackElo "?"]
[PlyCount "89"]
Position after 14. ..Kxe6.
White to move.

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f4 Qb6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Be2 Nbd7 7.e5
Nd5 8.O-O Nxc3 9.bxc3 e6 10.Ng5 Bxe2 11.Qxe2 h6 12.Nxf7 Kxf7
13.f5 dxe5 14.fxe6+ Kxe6 15.Rb1 Qxb1 16.Qc4+ Kd6 17.Ba3+ Kc7
18.Rxb1 Bxa3 19.Qb3 Be7 20.Qxb7+ Kd6 21.dxe5+ Nxe5 22.Rd1+ Ke6
23.Qb3+ Kf5 24.Rf1+ Ke4 25.Re1+ Kf5 26.g4+ Kf6 27.Rf1+ Kg6
28.Qe6+ Kh7 29.Qxe5 Rhe8 30.Rf7 Bf8 31.Qf5+ Kg8 32.Kf2 Bc5+
33.Kg3 Re3+ 34.Kh4 Rae8 35.Rxg7+ Kxg7 36.Qxc5 R8e6 37.Qxa7+
Kg6 38.Qa8 Kf6 39.a4 Ke5 40.a5 Kd5 41.Qd8+ Ke4 42.a6 Kf3 43.a7
Re2 44.Qd3+ R6e3 45.Qxe3+ 1-0


From this small suite of Tal games, my 'findings' indicate that Vitruvius 1.14a Beta comes out tops when it comes to emulating Tal's speculative sacrifices. Zappa Mexico II, running on the Dissident Aggressor personality is very impressive as well. Honourable mention to decade-old Pro Deo 1.6 which managed to play some very human-Tal-like moves. That this decade-old chess engine plays better positional chess moves than some of the current more powerful chess engines, this is surely testimony to Ed Schreoder's superlative programming skills and to the Rebel Chess (Schröder BV) team's success and contribution to the world of chess engines.

This post is work in progress. Obviously I do not have the time and resources to exhaustively identify all positional-and-human-like chess engines. There are just too many out there and growing! So if you have a favourite chess engine, free or commercial, that can play some tremendous speculative sacrifices, please leave a comment below. Thanks and cheers.

Frankie Kam

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