First, congrats to the winners, and a big thank to the organizers and sponsors of the event.
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 opening book making 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 .
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/skill will take a toll, as it did also for me in this final (see notes to FS-Jazzled). 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 wanting 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'm a strong chess player, does having strong hardware really matter that much for me?"
I'm happy to answer, yes, I certainly think so. Before people protest too violently or sing too many songs of doom, please take this into consideration: If hardware did not matter much for centaur strength, eventually the strength of pure engines would surpass that of the centaurs and make the centaur mode obsolete. My answers to this question and the previous ones hint that centaur mode and human assistance will not become obsolete for a good time to come.
"I have average hardware, do I have any chance to succeed?"
Yes I 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.
So, see you in the next Freestyle tournament!
Dagh Nielsen, 26/10 2006.