Freestyle Chess

Where almost anything goes...






Arno Nickel  is the General Manager of InfinityChess. He is one of the world’s leading grandmasters in correspondence chess (currently German’s board 3 in the 16th ICCF Olympia Final) and a well-known promoter of Freestyle Chess. Under his nicks “Ciron” and “Take 5” he won numerous prizes in online chess. He is also appreciated as writer on chess matters and organiser of chess tournaments. His place of living is Berlin.

Source: and Arno Nickel

Fifth Freestyle Tournament Final this weekend
22.03.2007 – The 5th PAL/CSS Freestyle Main Tournament, staged on the Playchess server, ended in a dead heat of 17 players. None of the 131 participants from 32 countries, including 20 titled players, managed to achieve six points in eight games, which is the magic barrier for qualification. The final, with ten players, will be held as a round robin tournament this weekend. Come and watch.

Big Fight in the Freestyle Final on March 23rd-25th


By Berlin correspondence chess GM Arno Nickel

The final will take place on the server from Friday to Sunday, March 23-25, 2007, with the first round starting at 14:00h server time each day. It will be a round robin tournament, with each participant playing one game against all other participants. Time controls are 60 minutes + 15 seconds increment per move.

Can Grandmasters play Freestyle?

 Two or three tournaments back it would have been a sensation, if grandmasters like Hikaru Nakamura (FIDE Elo 2651) failed to achieve more than 50 percent in the Freestyle Main Tournament. Nowadays any experienced Freestyle player or even kibitz is no longer surprised. Players like him will always play beautiful games, with lots of ideas, but they are vulnerable when it comes to deep tactics on the board, especially in a rapid game 60m + 15s. Although they have Fritz or other advisors at their disposal, they will always try to force their own moves and only realize that something went wrong with their plan when it’s already too late. Someone asked “Star Wars” (H. Nakamura) in the chat whether he uses Rybka, which is the most popular Freestyle engine running as UCI engine under the Fritz or ChessBase. His answer: “I use my brain, because its better than Rybka on 6/7 days of the week.”

Real Freestyle experts use about four computers with different engines, and unlike GM Nakamura will never trust their own play, if it is not accepted by at least one of their engines. That does not necessarily mean they are simply playing computer moves. They try to check the full information provided by the engines, and they recognise the weaknesses and the strengths of their analysis tools. They know when a king’s attack may come into consideration and when it’s a storm in a teacup. They know when a fortress can be built, even if the engines say they are losing. And they know when a pawn or the exchange can be sacrificed to seize the initiative or to achieve counterplay. But they will never decide such things without consulting their engines. That’s the main difference between real Freestyle experts and inexperienced grandmasters.

There are Freestyle teams consisting of computer experts and grandmasters. Experience has shown that strong correspondence chess players with much practice in computer analysis form a third group of experts. Maybe the computer expert of a team is a strong player himself, as is the case with International Master Vasik Rajlich, who is the Rybka programmer. What is his role when he is playing together with a high-class grandmaster? It doesn't make much sense to waste time discussing the general plan. It is much more important that he checks and analyses the computer lines. His main task should be to conduct and translate the dialogue between the engine and the grandmaster, keeping both from going wrong. Rajlich’s team, with GM Michal Krasenkov and IM Iweta Radziewicz, was the winner of the 3rd Freestyle Final, and keeps the lead in the Freestyle Elo list we published in our last article. Unfortunately the Rajlich team dropped out of the group of leading teams in the 5th Main Tournament, when they forgot to recapture a rook in the seventh round. Their opponent, “Ultra-d”, an engine-only player, was so confused and embarrassed about the situation that he did not know what to do: take the point or offer a draw (his position was a bit worse before the incident occurred). Unable to decide it by himself he consulted the Tournament Director, who felt Ultra-d should be protected against any pressure from the chat and from his opponent (who in fact remained very polite when asking for a way of accommodation). I believe that the TD should have left the decision to Ultra-d, but instead he forbade both players from agreeing to a draw. I don’t know if he regret this decision later on, but in order to keep the reputation of the Freestyle organisation I have to state that this has been his last decision as a Freestyle TD.

Sometimes grandmasters and other strong players enter a Freestyle Main Tournament and withdraw after an unpromising start. That is what Israeli GM Ronen Har-Zvi did, leaving the tournament after a loss in the first round. Some people would like to see such withdrawals punished, but that’s more complicated in practice than they think. Fortunately the number of withdrawals has not been a real problem in the our Freestyle series. There are also positive examples, like the Russian GM Vladimir Belov (Elo 2600), who also lost his first round game but stuck to the tournament until the very end, achieving 4.5 points out of eight games.

Before we come to the Final this weekend let’s take a look at the top standings of the Main Tournament (the complete list is given by a link at the bottom):

5th Freestyle Main Event 2007 (Time: 60m + 15s, 8 rounds)


Cato the Younger, Rybka 2.3 mp FSCD

5.5 / 8



Flying Saucers

5.5 / 8




5.5 / 8



Rodo,Rybka 2.2 mp

5.5 / 8



Pulse_exchange, Rybka 2.3.1 mp 32-b

5.5 / 8



Etaoin Shrdlu

5.5 / 8



The wizard of Os

5.5 / 8




5.5 / 8



Rainer Zufall

5.5 / 8




5.5 / 8



EL-SHADDAI, Rybka 2.3.1 mp x128

5.5 / 8



Hercules01, Rybka 2.1o mp

5.5 / 8



Ultra-d, Rybka 2.3.1 mp

5.5 / 8




5.5 / 8




5.5 / 8




5.5 / 8




5.5 / 7


These were the 17 teams/players, who made it up to the play-offs on March 10th. The ranking was established by “progressive score”, which means summing up each player’s points from round to round. The first three got free tickets for the Final and the following 14 had to play mini-matches.

Each pairing played a match of two games, with time controls of 60m+15s, with the lower ranked player having the white pieces in the first game. If the result was 1:1 then a third game had to be played. The lower ranked player got the white pieces and had to win in order to qualify. If this game ended in a draw, the higher ranked player was qualified for the final. (Further games with shorter time controls were considered, but ultimately discarded, as they would have favoured the engine-only players.)

Here are the results of the mini-matches, with the winners marked in bold type.

EL-SHADDAI Rodo 1.5:1.5
Hercules01 Pulse_exchange 2.0:1.0
Ultra-d Etaoin Shrdlu 0.5:1.5
PawnStriker1978 The wizard of Os 0.5:1.5
Dummkoller Ciron 1.5:1.5
Engineer  Rainer Zufall 2.0:1.0
Revelator Kaputtze 0.5:1.5

So the Final on March 23rd until 25th will be played by these ten players (the number of rated Freestyle games is given in brackets).

Flying Saucers DEN 2687 (33)
ZackS USA 2639 (49)
Engineer UKR 2635 (28)
Ciron GER 2618 (42)
Kaputtze GER 2492 (26)
Cato the Younger USA (11)
Rodo [Rybka] ITA (11)
Hercules01 [Rybka] USA (11)
Etaoin Shrdlu CZE (10)
The wizard of Os NED (10)

Some words about the finalists. Most of them are known to use very fast computer systems with up to eight processors (four duals).

  • Flying Saucers, operated by the Danish centaur Dagh Nielsen, was successful at the previous Final coming in Second.

  • ZackS is the legendary handle of the American Steven Zackary, who won the 1st PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament in 2005, together with his friend Steven Cramton. So this looks like a comeback after about two years.

  • Engineer is the only certified grandmaster in the field. He is the Ukrainian Yuri Solodovnichenko, who has an over-the-board GM title and is a very strong correspondence chess player as well. Does he play in a team or just only himself? The answer to such questions will be only known (hopefully) after the tournament. It’s his first qualification to a Final.

  • Ciron is me in my second qualification to a Freestyle final. I hope to do better than one year ago, when I only came seventh.

  • Kaputtze is the handle of Jochen Rindfleisch from Mannheim. So far his biggest success in Freestyle.

  • Cato the Younger was the surprise of the Main Tournament. We know that the owner of this handle, Nelson Hernandez from USA, already co-operated successfully with another player under the handle Intagrand. Cato played his first game with an automatic Rybka engine, but then switched to centaur modus.

  • The Italian Rodo played with an automatic Rybka engine. In his personal information he also gives the handle Auryn, which means he is co-operating with the Italian chess player Eros Riccio.

  • Hercules01 is the second (and last) automatic Rybka, completely unknown so far, but maybe also the second handle of a well-known Freestyler.

  • Etaoin Shrdlu is a Czech centaur team, probably consisting of players from the previous well-known handles Equidistance and Xakru. I wouldn’t be surprised, if a strong player like IM Roman Chytilek is in this team.

  • The Wizard of Os is the handle of a player named Hans van Mierlo, another Freestyle newbie, who may be wellknown in the Dutch chess computer scene.

As mentioned above the final will be held on Friday-Sunday, March 23-25, 2007, starting at 14:00h server time each day. It will be a round robin tournament, with each participant playing one game against all other participants. Time controls are 60 minutes + 15 seconds increment per move. The winner of the final receives the first prize of US $8,000 and the title of "5th PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Champion". The runner up gets $4,000, and the player coming in third $2,000.

Schedule of the Final

Round 1



14:00h CET

Round 2



17:00h CET

Round 3



20:00h CET

Round 4



14:00h CET

Round 5



17:00h CET

Round 6



20:00h CET

Round 7



14:00h CEST

Round 8



17:00h CEST

Round 9



20:00h CEST

Note that there is a change to daylight saving time on Saturday night in Europe.


Freestyle Newsletter No. 3

Dear Freestyle fans,

a new tournament series is going to start on March 2-4 (5th PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament - Main).

I hope, all of you got an e-mail from the organiser. There is also a new Freestyle article, which has been published in German on the CSS-online site on February 16th (see also previous announcement on February 8th).


The English version of this article should be published on the ChessBase site within the next days (the German version also) . But to be sure, that all of you get this information in time, I decided to send it by e-mail too. 

A new Freestyle Series starts in March


Once again on March 2nd to 4th the Freestyle Fans will meet on in order to find out the closest candidates for the US $16�000 dollar prize money of the 5th PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament. The main tournament is an eight-round Swiss, whereas the final three weeks later from March 23rd to 25th is a nine round robin tournament. The time control is 60 minutes + 15 seconds per move. Everybody may take part in this online event, whether you are a bloody amateur or a grandmaster, and the special thing about it is, you may use any help available � computers, friends, books, just as you like, Freestyle is without limits. The Berlin correspondence chess GM Arno Nickel tells you, what currently is going on in Freestyle chess and what is planned for 2007.


�We take Fritz away from the toilet�

Such could be a modern slogan for Freestyle promotion in order to take advantage of the �clat from the last months. There has been a lot of excitement and speculations since October 2006, when everybody started to talk about cheating in chess by using computers, but that could only cause a shake of the head by a professional Freestyle swindler. �If you knew�� � means: what computers are good for or not, how to use them or better not � ��then you wouldn�t talk such blue-eyed. Go and have a try in Freestyle chess, after this you will know more about it.� A number of grandmasters did already gain this experience, but they didn�t get rich, at any rate not by dollars, though that actually was, what they had aimed at.


Effective computer assistance in chess is more ambivalent as many people really know � by all means, when the position holds substantial problems and there are no compulsive solutions. Each modern correspondence chess player can sing you a song about that. Whith computer moves it is often the same like with human advices: may be, but may also be not... Always when a position gets complicated and the computers starts aimlessly moving around, you should not expect an early decision for a move. An endless sequence of lines starts filling your screen, which soon appears to be too small, but in the end it could be, that the move you only felt to be the best (or � as Jan Hein Donner said � the one you �sniffed out�) in fact proves itself to be the best by practice. Yet, did you really dare to play it, even if the engines are constantly evaluating it as second or third best, but do favour a different one? Happy that correspondence chess player, who � without any time pressure � succeeds to find the correct decision, and even more happier that Freestyle player, who is right, when his nerves are all on edge and the clock is running faster and faster. Of course you can choose to take the 'line of the least resistence' and let run your engine automatically in a Freestyle tournament. That may even be of general interest (if not too many do the same), as only then we will face a comparison between pure computer chess and centaur chess, which means man and machine in combined action. Now and then we could already witness a few sensational records of 'engine alone' players, but in spite of all credits do the most Freestyle players pay more tribute to those, who dare to follow their own ideas and prove themselves as true masters. So the organisers can be content with the fact, that the 'engine alone' players have evidently been a minority so far and did not win the title of a Freestyle Champion.   



�Chess 2.0� was the title of a NewInChess article by Kasparov about the 1st PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament in 2005, when he discussed the phenomenal success of two bloody US amateurs, who were playing under the handle ZackS and snatched away from the grandmasters the US $8'000 dollar prize money for the first place. That would be an exception from the rule, he assumed. Since then some hundreds chess players, including well-known titleholders and computer chess experts tried their best in order to also enter the winner's lists.

The second tournament in spring 2006 has been won by the Arab private sponsor of the multi processor system Hydra, the formidable and famous Zor_champ, who is a keen centaur player, but could not always spare enough time for his hobby. After that, in summer 2006, for the first time we saw a professional team formed by the Rybka programer and IM Vasik Rajlich catching the third title. GM Michal Krassenkow and IM Iweta Radziewicz were his team-mates. Many spectators expected the multi national trio with its residence in Budapest to dominate also the 4th PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament in September/October 2006, but once again it showed how difficult things are for a favourite team in Freestyle chess. One early loss in the main tournament turned out as the stumbling block on the way to the final. So the sensation was perfect, when the mysterious team with the name Xakru (that means "damn it!" in Czech) captured the victory. During the final rumours were afloat, Shirov or another top player backed the team, and Xakru denied this in a way, that everybody was convinced from the contrary. Afterwards they outed themselves as the Czech players Jiri Dufek, a computer expert with a FIDE rating of 2276, and IM Roman Chytilek, and they said, what is to believe, they had no other help except from their electronical friends. One point to explain their success may have been, that they are both experienced correspondence chess players, Roman Chytilek even with an ICCF Elo of 2649 and of course holding the grandmaster title. So they are well trained in using the engines. Yet leading ICCF representatives are already discovering their heart for Freestyle chess and thinking about tournaments of their own. Other than us they prefer the term �rapid correspondence chess� (or �Rapid-Fernschach�, as used in a BdF newsletter), what makes much sense from their point of view, as correspondence players have always been �freestyle� players anyway, but have never played with such time controls, one could even speak of �blitz corr. play�. The ICCF has also an internet server of its own, it will however take some time, before they can technically use it for this special prupose and before they have approved a concept and the rules. From the sight of the PAL/CSS organisers such intiatives are welcomed, as both sides are interested to popularise this new kind of online chess.


Freestyle Elo List

The latest achievement for Freestyle chess is their own ranking list, which has been worked out by initiative of the author and kind technical support of Timo Klaustermeyer from CSS-online. This Freestyle Elo List does only count games played in the PAL/CSS events and does not consider the various ratings for computers and centaurs on Even if we would like to make a difference between games played by �engine only� or �centaurs�, that wouldn�t work in many cases, as the databases do not show all needed information. Also we cannot consider the various ressources of a player like computers, software and team-mates. The only thing, that really counts � and this is not as trivial as it sounds �, is the fact, whether the game has been played regularly; that means we don�t count wins by default, when for instance an opponent got disconnected early in the opening. The Elo rating is always valuable for the registered player, that means to the handle he uses for the login. If a player changes his handle, it may be possible to take along his old ranking.

In the following we present the first provisional top list (up to no. 50) with all players or teams that have already played at least 15 regular games (besides wins by default we also didn�t count blitz games in case of tie-break). This number is still very small, so that for instance the ICCF requires 30 evaluated games for a fixed rating. Only 12 players in our list already have a �fixed� rating in this sense, here marked by bold type. The evaluation is based on 1489 regular games of 258 players. Further information (download included) will be published after a test run on CSS-Online.


TOP 50 of Freestyle Chess, March 2007


    Name (handle)         Elo    +   -   Games   Score   Av.Op.  Draws


  1 Xakru                 2792  139 131    17    67.6 %   2664   41.2 %

  2 Rajlich               2770   80  69    37    70.3 %   2621   54.1 %

  3 Nebula                2770  150 141    16    68.8 %   2633   37.5 %

  4 Vvarkey               2763  164 154    15    70.0 %   2616   33.3 %

  5 Frigderi              2734  120 113    16    59.4 %   2668   56.2 %

  6 Jazzled               2721   66  54    38    63.2 %   2627   68.4 %

  7 Zor_champ             2713   81  80    46    63.0 %   2620   39.1 %

  8 EmilV                 2697   83  69    25    62.0 %   2612   68.0 %

  9 Icy45                 2684  111 110    23    56.5 %   2639   43.5 %

 10 Ibermax               2680  110 108    17    52.9 %   2660   58.8 %

 11 Intagrand             2680  113 110    22    59.1 %   2616   45.5 %

 12 Flying Saucers        2679   98  95    25    58.0 %   2623   52.0 %

 13 Hedgehog              2674   89  74    22    61.4 %   2594   68.2 %

 14 Eve�est               2664   88  80    23    58.7 %   2603   65.2 %

 15 Poweronoff            2663   83  79    33    60.6 %   2588   54.5 %

 16 Elissa                2662  106 105    20    52.5 %   2644   55.0 %

 17 Tatar                 2654  112 109    24    62.5 %   2566   41.7 %

 18 King Crusher          2636   81  78    30    56.7 %   2589   60.0 %

 19 Spaghetti Chess       2632   93  86    23    60.9 %   2555   60.9 %

 20 Rentner2              2630   66  65    42    52.4 %   2614   61.9 %

 21 EL-SHADDAI            2630  127 123    18    61.1 %   2551   44.4 %

 22 Klosterfrau           2630   78  76    38    57.9 %   2574   52.6 %

 23 Alansacount           2628   77  74    34    58.8 %   2566   58.8 %

 24 Sergey_M              2626  137 133    15    56.7 %   2580   46.7 %

 25 Dieb Fritz            2616   95  92    21    54.8 %   2583   61.9 %

 26 ZackS                 2613   88  86    41    59.8 %   2544   36.6 %

 27 Relic                 2607   84  81    29    56.9 %   2559   58.6 %

 28 Campolungo            2605  145 143    15    53.3 %   2581   40.0 %

 29 Equidistance          2603  102 102    30    51.7 %   2591   36.7 %

 30 PAKman                2602  173 166    17    58.8 %   2541   11.8 %

 31 Noritano              2599  136 132    16    59.4 %   2534   43.8 %

 32 Ciron                 2596   87  87    31    51.6 %   2584   51.6 %

 33 Tony Kosten           2590  126 125    17    52.9 %   2570   47.1 %

 34 Bychamp_II            2588   98  95    25    58.0 %   2532   52.0 %

 35 Engineer              2586  119 116    17    55.9 %   2545   52.9 %

 36 Abeljusto             2582  107 104    23    58.7 %   2521   47.8 %

 37 Knilch hi             2581  128 121    15    60.0 %   2511   53.3 %

 38 Walden                2567  145 143    15    53.3 %   2544   40.0 %

 39 Alexisco              2563  137 133    15    56.7 %   2516   46.7 %

 40 Katzenmaier           2562  127 124    16    56.2 %   2518   50.0 %

 41 Goldbar               2545   94  92    27    55.6 %   2507   51.9 %

 42 Sebi-chess            2544  155 152    15    56.7 %   2498   33.3 %

 43 Heffalump             2539  110 104    16    56.2 %   2496   62.5 %

 44 Auryn                 2536  125 126    17    47.1 %   2556   47.1 %

 45 Rainer Zufall         2535   83  84    30    48.3 %   2546   56.7 %

 46 Fredi_z               2533   82  82    24    50.0 %   2533   66.7 %

 47 Petr H�ba             2519  113 109    20    60.0 %   2449   50.0 %

 48 Souk                  2512   74  86    15    46.7 %   2535   80.0 %

 49 Hoshad                2511  101 101    24    50.0 %   2511   50.0 %

 50 WoDra                 2510   95  92    21    54.8 %   2477   61.9 %


Preview on 2007

The 5th PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament will be the first of at least three tournaments in 2007. The exact dates in summer and autumn are still to be fixed. Apart from the approved concept for the time control of 60 min + 15 sec we do also think about one tournament with longer, that is to say classical time control. Such a tournament with 2 hours basic time per player would be fine in order to demonstrate the high quality of Freestyle games even better then up to now, and many players will be pleased by the fact to have more time and less stress. In effct we will play only one classical game per day instead of 2 or 3 rapid games. The only disadvantage is, that you will have to spend more than a week, probably 9-10 days, if you want to participate. The games will take place in the afternoon (CET = central europeen time) until the early evening. The idea is to gain first experience with this new type of tournament in August 2007 and provide an attractive prize money.


Over the months and years the Freestyle tournaments also mirrored the development of modern hard- and software. In 2007, after we just faced the transition to dual-core systems, there might be an increasing number of quad systems involved. I personally suppose about 15 to 30 over the year. Also the use of a bigger number of 6-men tables may play a role. The most appreciated engines in the 5th Freestyle Tournament will be the latest multi processor versions of Rybka (2.3), Fritz (10), Shredder (10), Junior (10.1) and Hiarcs (11). Besides some players will also use programs like Zap!, Chess Tiger, List, Gandalf, Loop, Fruit, Toga, Naum, Spike, Glaurung, Ktulu etc. (necessarily this list has to be incomplete) for consultation or for automatic play. As we learned from previous events there is no panacea f�r Freestyle play. It all depends on your personal possibilities and preferences, how you try to manage the various factors like opening choice, plan, engine use, hardware, time and teamwork, just to mention the six most likely criteria. What is leading to success or to misfortune, you will only know afterwards, and even that may be doubtable, as it is a matter of subjective interpretation. For sure is, that there will be much room for experiments and that Freestyle chess is one of the most exciting things to be found in relation with computer chess. �Join in and have a try!� is the device.

5. PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Tournament (Schedule)
Main Tournament
Friday-Sunday, March 2-4, 2007

Round 1

Friday, 02.03.2007

17:00h CET  


Xakru is the new Freestyle Champion

By Arno Nickel

The Czech team Xakru was the big surprise at the 4th PAL/CSS Freestyle Final, held on on October 20-22. Jiri Dufek and Roman Chytilek, the two centaur players behind the nickname, had only been placed 10th in the preliminaries, but proved the old Freestyle wisdom: "the last shall be the first". In fact, they dominated the final with excellent play, and though they may have gained an advantage from being underrated and the "dark horse", nobody could begrudge them the $8,000 prize money.

Xakru – damn it!

Before we go into detail with the course of the tournament, which once again was played in rapid chess time controls (60 min per player and game + 30 sec per move), let's take a short look at extracts of the winners' report:

The Xakru team consisted of two players – the heart and core of team Jiri Dufek and the (sometimes too fierce) spirit Roman Chytilek. Jiri is 32 years old (2276 FIDE, 2568 ICCF IM) and works as system administrator. Roman is 30 years old (2394 FIDE IM, 2649 ICCF GM), and his profession is university teacher (political science). The Freestyle participation has been one of our frequent joint ventures. Most notable of others was a book "Bijte francouzskou" (Beating the French).

Jiri Dufek and Roman Chytilek of the winning Xakru team

We used mostly up to four computers with Rybka, Shredder and Loop 12. All have teo CPUs, none of them having a 64bit operating system. As we both like improvisation and adrenaline, we didn’t make any special opening preparation for the finals. Therefore, there wasn’t any special "book-cooking“ against our opponents. Nevertheless, we were able to make use of our extensive knowledge of the bright sides (and of course, less than bright ones) of engines. Especially Jiri was clearly ready, willing and able to offer nontrivial ideas and insights throughout the whole tournament, ideas that every engine developer would be probably very happy to be acquaint with. This, plus Roman's consistent (but responsible) opposition to engines and efforts to create and keep at the board as much "fog“ and confusion as possible, eventually led to success, which also offers very justified hopes for the next Freestyle tournaments. One thing remains yet to be decided – whether to further carry the banner of Xakru. Xakru, or better "K sakru“, means in Czech "Damn it!“. As a defending champions we will surely consider a label that would be much more presentable.

Jiri Dufek played from Usti nad Labem and Roman Chytilek played from Brno, distance about 250km, we were communicating via Skype. We got our first experience in cooperation in Freestyle during the tiebreak in the 3rd Freestyle, but there had been no chance to continue in the 3rd Final.

Flying Saucers

Dagh Nielsen

The second winner was – also surprising in some respects – was Flying Saucers, whom I had already introduced to you in my previous report as Dagh Nielsen from Danmark. The funny thing is, he had been placed 9th in the main tournament, one place in front of Xakru, so that we can read that table backwards, in order to get the winner's list. Dagh startet with 3 out of 6 in the final, so what could he really expect? I think, he never dreamt of winning $4,000 in the end (achieving 5.5 out of 9). But let's listen to his story:

The team Flying Saucers consisted of one player + computer(s). I am 29 years old (2163 FIDE), from Denmark, and a mathematician by education. This was the second Freestyle event I participated in.

I have been engaged in computer assisted chess for several years. It started out as opening analysis out of curiousity, and for about a year I have been focusing on making opening books for engines, with my engines battling it out on the Playchess server. That I would participate in the Freestyle events as active centaur and not as pure engine has never been in doubt, though.

My hardware in the preliminary was a dual core Opteron. Before the final, Vasik Rajlich had kindly agreed to let me use his quad Opteron, and helped me set it up with a UCI (UCI = engine protocol) pipe over the net. My technical setup then was:

Fritz 9 interface, with two instances of Rybka running. The quad on pipe running in 1-variation mode, and my own dual core running in 2/3/4-variation mode. This way, I would be alarmed by deep resources and assessments fast, while at the same time getting immediate information about the forcedness of the investigated positions, in other words, how many alternatives would be worth a check. In the previous Freestyle event and in some of the games of the preliminary in this one, I had had the Fritz 9 engine running as well, in order to get an aggressive second opinion. I discarded this option for the final, mainly out of a philosophy to keep things technically simple. For the same reason, I did not use tablebases. The games themselves, I played through the free playchess client.

My "strategy" for the final was simply to try to not lose any games due to horrible play or bad time management. Additionally, I tried to predict what openings could arise, and spent considerable time preparing for this, hoping that this would put me in position to also play for a win in some games. I have annotated 7 of my games from the final. The annotations are primarily intended for giving the reader a picture on what went on "behind the scenes", and I've tried to be as honest and open as possible. In the annotations, you can find more specific remarks about my considerations during and before the individual games.

In general, I've found the Freestyle events extremely exciting, both as participant and as observer. I like to think of Freestyle chess as "blitz correspondence chess". For the many people interested in correspondence chess, but who don't play due to time issues, the Freestyle events IMHO offer a thrilling alternative. In fact, I could see why many people would rather play Freestyle than correspondece chess, just as OTB players get addicted to online blitz and forget to visit their local chess club ;-) One weekend of playing, and you can put the games out of your head in good conscience. Freestyle chess can still be hard work though :P.

Here are some comments of mine to a few frequently asked questions about Freestyle chess:

Do centaurs hold any advantage over pure engines?

My take on this is that, yes, pure engines assisted by strong books and strong hardware can reach at least an average level. However, to reach the highest levels of play, usually a little extra will be necessary. I think the results of the Freestyle events so far confirm this. For example, for this final, only two pure engines qualified, even though they made up a good part (30%–50%) of the preliminary field.

Is human chess skill worth anything at all, or is all that matters skill at operating a computer?

My answer would certainly be similar to the one above.

I'm an average club player, would I have any chance to succeed?

Certainly yes! Just remember the sensational win of team ZackS in the first Freestyle event. There will no doubt arise situations where a lack of chess knowledge, intuition or skill will take a toll, as it did for me in this final. Also, perhaps one can say that weaknesses in certain aspects of the game put a limit to your flexibility. The set of types of positions you can sensibly afford to enter is reduced, and if it is reduced too much, odds are that you will be caught sooner or later. So, maybe knowing your weaknesses and how to avoid them from being exposed can be said to be an important skill.

I have average hardware, do I have any chance to succeed?

Yes. I myself qualified for the final on average hardware and with average chess skill. The key is to find ways to maximise your combined centaur skill. That being said, I firmly believe that I would not have stood many changes in the final without the additional hardware help that I got access to.

Overall, to succeed, in my opinion what is essential is not having any weak links in the total "chess entity setup" – no clearly inferior hardware, no insufficient practice in active analysis with engines under time constraints, no bad opening handling, and no largely missing chess understanding. Then one has a fair shot.

How high was the level of play in the final?

Not sure, I think overall very high. What is more important is that there were countless highly spectacular games in the final, and I certainly hope the spectators enjoyed watching them just as much as I think we enjoyed playing them. I also hope new readers will be inspired to take part in the fun in coming Freestyle events.


Four teams shared the prize money for the third place: Jazzled, Frigderi, Elissa and Nebula. I introduced all of them in my previous report. So this time I will make it short, especially as I haven't received any reports from these teams. Jazzled is already well-known as the 28 year old American Joseph Soney, who took the second place in the Third Freestyle Final. He is playing on a very fast hardware (Quad Opteron, which means 8 processors in total), with a selfmade opening book. Once more Jazzled proved to be a very solid team, it remained the only one undefeated.

This time Joseph let Rybka run as an automatic engine, the same as Nebula, who was the proud winner of the main tournament and whose real name is Anastasios Kakirdakis from Greece. I noticed that Nebula uses a gigantic book, often covering about 25 moves.

We may once more interprete the results of the final as a clear, but lucky dominance of skilful centaurs (equipped with powerful machines of course) over pure engines. In my opinion this is a very good message for Freestyle. Yet, the difference is not really as clear as it appears. If Nebula had won (instead of losing) its last game against Flying Saucers, it would have caught Xakru with also six points!

Elissa was the comeback of the famous Zacks, the young American team that won the very first PAL/CSS Freestyle Tournament in sensational style, though they were far away from a master degree in chess. Frigderi is a player named Pavel Bystrov, living near Bonn. So far he did not share any further information about himself. The only thing which might be sure is that he is not a German. So these four teams won each $500 dollars.

Rentner2, IM Joerg Blauert from Luebeck, had a bad start with his game versus Zorchamp. He consolidated in the middle of the tournament, but then broke down once again. He was perhaps the finalist with the most human input (which can be expected of an International Master), but again and again he slipped into horrible time pressure, which against engines is ten times harder than against "human only" opponents.

Rentner2, Icy45 (Finland) and Ibermax (England), had all 3.5 points. They all won only one game and lost three. Icy45 started the final as a centaur player, but the last three games, after he had only 2 out of 6, he switched to "engine only". In the last round Rybka succeeded in "passing over the red lantern", as we say in German, to Zorchamp. It remained unexplicable why Zor, after a good start with 2 out of 3, almost collapsed in the second half of the tournament. Some kibitzers guessed it might not be the real Zorchamp playing, but a substitute. I fear we have to accept the old wisdom “the answer is blowin’ in the wind”.

All in all we had a successful event, with a much lower rate of draws compared to the 3rd Freestyle Final. It's only 60% (I predicted: less than 66%) compared to 75% in the previos final. The whole series of Freestyle events in 2005 and 2006 was an interesting and still promising experiment. Let's see what Freestyle Chess will bring in future.

Final standings

Results of the individual final rounds

1st Round – Fr. 14:00

2nd Round – Fr. 17:00

3rd Round – Fr. 20:00

Nebula – Xakru ½

Xakru – Elissa 1-0

Icy45 – Xakru 0-1

Icy45 – Flying Saucers ½

Ibermax – Jazzled ½

Rentner2 – Nebula 1-0

Rentner2 – Zor_champ 0-1

Zor_champ – Frigderi ½

Frigderi–Flying Sauc. ½

Frigderi – Ibermax ½

Flying Sauc.–Rentner2 ½

Jazzled – Zor_champ ½

Jazzled – Elissa ½

Nebula – Icy45 1-0

Elissa – Ibermax ½

4th Round – Sat. 14:00

5th Round – Sat 17:00

6th Round – Sat. 20:00

Xakru – Ibermax 1-0

Rentner2 – Xakru ½

Xakru – Zor_champ 1-0

Zor_champ – Elissa ½

Frigderi – Icy45 ½

Flying Sauc.–Ibermax 1-0

Flying Sauc.–Jazzled 0-1

Jazzled – Nebula ½

Nebula – Elissa ½

Nebula – Frigderi ½

Elissa – Flying Saucers½

Icy45 – Jazzled ½

Icy45 – Rentner2 ½

Ibermax – Zor_champ 1-0

Rentner2 – Frigderi 0-1

7th Round – Sun. 14:00

8th Round – Sun 17:00

9th Round – Sun. 20:00

Frigderi – Xakru ½

Xakru – Flying Saucers 0-1

Jazzled – Xakru ½

Jazzled – Rentner2 ½

Nebula – Zor_champ 1-0

Elissa – Frigderi ½

Elissa – Icy45 1-0

Icy45 – Ibermax ½

Ibermax – Rentner2 ½

Ibermax – Nebula 0-1

Rentner2 – Elissa 0-1

Zor_champ – Icy45 0-1

Zor_champ–Flying Sauc. ½

Frigderi – Jazzled ½

Flying Saucers–Nebula 1-0

PAL/CSS Freestyle Chess Champions

2005 – Zacks (USA)
2006 – Zorchamp (VAE)
2006 – Rajlich (HUN)
2006 – Xakru (CZE)


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