|Title: Chess Tiger 15
|Publisher: ChessBase GmbH
|Price: € 49,99
32 MB RAM, CD-ROM drive, Windows 98/Me/NT 4.0/2000/XP
|Reviewed by: Magnus
||Date: 6/9 2003
Chess Tiger 15 - Another Silicon Monster
Tiger 15 is another Fritz-style Chess Engine from Chess Base. Every time a new engine is released the question to answer is: How does it stand out from the herd? Is it stronger than its "relatives", does it add functionality or is it otherwise "improved"? It is my guess that with today's very high standard in chess engines, 99 pct of all players will hardly notice the difference between the top programs. For most of us, it doesn't make much of a difference if we are smashed by Fritz, ripped by Shredder or eaten by Tiger! Interestingly it seems that even Chess Base themselves can't always tell the programs apart; at any rate, in the Tiger 15 manual you will see "Shredder" randomly invading the text when "Tiger" is meant - even in headlines! This gives a rather sloppy impression. Chess Base should be able to afford proofreaders.
Contemporary chess engines are all horribly strong, especially in blitz of course. According to the renowned Swedish Chess Computer Association, SSDF, Tiger 15 running on a 1200 MHz Athlon with 256MB RAM has an approximate rating of 2720 based on 784 games played against other computer-programs. This puts Tiger 15 very high on the list, only bettered by the newest versions of Shredder and Fritz. On my 5 year old laptop, 500Mhz AMD, 192MB RAM and windows XP, Tiger 15 assess its performance to 2678.
Numbers are one thing, playing chess is another. I knew it would be painful, but as my duty as reviewer I played a number of blitz games against Tiger and was dutifully crushed in most of them. I've repressed the exact score, but it was something like 30-4 in Tigers favor. One of the very few games I won was the following, which clearly shows that, despite their awesome overall strength, today's computer programs still have a long way to go before they master closed positions:
Tiger 15, 2678 - Magnus Lindfeldt, 2252
Blitz 4 2
1.e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. c4 d6 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. Be3 Ng4 8. Bg5 f6 9. Bc1
All theory so far, but here I ran out of pages in my personal "opening book". I had a feeling that 9...Nc6 should be the main line, but my brain interfered with my hand and produced
A rare move, but it looks perfectly playable. Now I don't have to worry about Nd5 in this game.
10. O-O Nh6!?
Now Tiger left its book too. A small victory for the human.
Probably not the best, especially if you are a computer
11...c5 12. b3?
The first clear sign that Tiger hasn't got a clue what's going on. It wouldn't take a human player much effort to come up with a3+b4 or, possibly, Ne1-d3 and f2-f4.
12...Nf7 13. Bd3?
Another waste of precious time. Tiger assess this position as slightly better for white but, as any experienced human player will know, Black's attack is getting very dangerous now. It's not too surprising, therefore, that within a mere 10 moves the white kingside is smashed open.
13... f5 14. Re1 f4 15. Bb2 g5 16. h3 h5 17. Nh2 g4 18. hxg4 hxg4 19. Nxg4 Qh4 20. Nh2 Ng5
Interestingly, Tiger still thinks this position is favorable for white, even though it is not clear what it can do against Rf6-h6. But maybe the silicon monster held faith in the following knight-raid
21. Nb5 Rf6 22. Nc7 Rh6 23. Kf1 Qxh2 24. Nxa8 f3!
By now Tiger has realized the danger, of course, but it is too late to put up much resistance.
25. gxf3 Nh3 26. Qd2 Nf4 27. Qxf4 Qxf4 28. Ke2 Rh3 29. Kd1 Na6 30. Be2 Rxf3
Not a very difficult game to play with Black if you know what to do in the KID, I agree, but it highlights what still appears to be the engines' weakest spot: A fundamental lack of strategic knowledge in closed positions.
But I want to stress that the above was a rare case. In most games I didn't manage to get a sufficiently closed position and was blasted away with some tactical shots from the damn thing. Nonetheless, it seems to me that Tiger is even less confident handling closed positions than its "brothers" Fritz and Shredder, and I did succeed in outfoxing the silicon predator a couple of times in quiet positional games. But note that I haven't in any way made systematic tests on this; its just a matter of first impression. Now it's time to take a look at some of the programs other features.
One of the very nice features with modern Chess Programs is the Database Function. The Database comes with more than 500.000 games and the layout and overall functionality is the same as in Chess Base's well known Big Base and Mega Base products. The Database is easy to use and will be fully sufficient for most players. A lot could be said about the Database-functions, but I take it that most of our dear readers are familiar with Chess Databases, and leave it at that.
This is obviously a very important feature of any Chess Engine. In general Tiger fulfills this task very well, and it holds the usual trademarks of a strong program: Speed, Tactical alertness and Accuracy. When it comes to analyzing complex positions Tiger 15 can be a very valuable assistant for any level of player. But don't expect it to formulate long-term plans or notice strategic key points (compare the game above). That part of the job is still for us humans to do.
One feature I should mention in more detail is the "Automatic Analysis of a game". Using this function can make Tiger analyze an entire game with a mix of variations and verbal explanations. I tried this function with the above game, giving Tiger 30 seconds per move (the standard setting), but was not too impressed with the result:
Tiger asses the situation after 17.Nh2 as clearly advantageous for white, but readily admits that Black is already winning after 21...Rh6. So what went wrong in those 4 moves, you may wonder? Tiger gives no convincing answer, it just laconically writes that "21.Be2 was much better Rf6 22.Bg4=". This line looks dubious, however, in the light of 22...Rh6 23.Bxc8 Qxh2+ 24.Kh1 Na6! and Black seems close to victory. A sample line: 25.Qg4 f3 26.gxf3 Nh3 27.Nd1 Nf4 (the same
maneuver as in the game) 28.Bf5 Nb4 and wins. But the real question is not only the accuracy of the variations, it is especially the explanations from Tiger that is lacking.
How can a "clearly better" game become "clearly lost" in 4 moves without any explanation? Maybe I'm a bit harsh here, but Chess Base claim that the "Full analysis" function has "repeatedly won prizes for the best computer generated commentary of chess games", so I think we are entitled to expect something! Well, maybe I chose an unfortunate game for computer commentary; since Tiger doesn't play these kind of positions very convincingly it's only natural that it can't account well for them either. But I must admit I was disappointed by this feature. Tiger's commentary doesn't give the impression of a strong player, and that is a shame, because the program is certainly very strong. But if you're looking for helpful comments to your club-games I suggest you consult a strong human player instead!
But when I just use Tiger as a "backup", i.e. leave it running in the background when analyzing myself, it works splendidly just like any other strong engine. As long as you don't expect too much from the "Full analysis" function Tiger is still a marvelous tool: Very strong and very useful.
Tiger can be used for "training" openings, endgames or playing from a customized position. This sounds good, but actually the training-option is not very advanced, and is basically just playing against Tiger. If you have the "Coach"-function on the computer will tell you whenever you diverge from "book". It works out alright, but I wouldn't mind if this feature was developed a bit more in forthcoming versions.
A very nice feature of Chess Base's programs is the possibility to play on the Internet. The Playchess Server is well worth a visit, and the only real problem with this place is that not enough strong players use it - they all play on the ICC! Personally I wouldn't switch from ICC to Playchess either, but for the beginner and average player who gets tired of being slaughtered on the ICC I think Playchess is a rather good alternative. The Playchess Interface is very user-friendly, and for first-timers I think this site is probably much easier to get started with than the ICC.
Tiger 15 is another very good product from Chess Base. The only serious objection I have is that it's hard to tell the difference from the other "clones" Fritz and Shredder. Even the price is the same! In terms of playing strength Shredder 7 and Fritz 8 seems to be slightly stronger than Tiger 15, while the functionality of the products looks very much the same. So, to answer my initial question bluntly: Tiger 15 doesn't seem to add much to the world of Chess Engines. Don't get me wrong - Tiger 15 is still an excellent program! It's just that it will have to live in the shadows of its brethren, Shredder and Fritz, for some time still.