Humans v Houdini chess engine (Elo 3300)

LimauValley wrote:

Human will beat Houdini..remember about the horizon that a machine has?Maybe it will calculate up to 30 plies (15 moves) in a very messy position in 5 minutes? But going from 15 to 20 moves will takes a lot of computational power and not to mention time....

And,not to mention that human play correspondence chess differently than the classical...No more crazy and risky kingside attack..Planning  and strategical consideration dominates...

Some very valid points in here. Houdini is a combinational monster, but regarding abstract strategical planning and endgame technique its play leaves a lot to be desired. This is why the strongest centaurs are regularly fairly strong players (say IM level) which when planning in their correspondence games just turn Houdini off, and AFTER they have decided about the overall game strategy turn it on to check for tactical flaws in their findings.

Not that sure a super-GM will win hands down on long-time CC, but he does have certain advantages against a machine. The problem is that we will have no concrete proof about anything because there is no motivation for super-GM's to play such games.


It's strange to hear that, pfren. I'm only going by my individual experience, so it doesn't mean anything, but I remember when I switched from Fritz to Houdini, and I couldn't believe how human-like and positional it seemed to be. Of course, it's all relative, and today, as much as I respect it, I can still tell it's a computer :)

Still, Fritz is a commercial engine, and I think Houdini is way better, so I think you should maybe give it more credit. With that said, I don't have any experience with other engines.


its awesome

CharlieFreak wrote:

I agree with padman. 

Quote from wikipedia (under Houdini) -

When GM Peter Svidler was asked which one player he would choose to represent Earth in a hypothetical match against aliens, he answered "Houdini"

GM Svidler seems to agree too!



For all of the people singing Houdini's praise, I own Houdini, I use it for some things, and it's spectacular at calculating and finding moves I wouldn't normally see, but not much use for anything else.    For all that it can do and how strong it is, I'm still amazed at what it gets wrong and how it's really not an excuse for human thought.  For example, when I play the moves 1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6, Houdini immerses itself in deep calculations and then proceeds to tell me that black is up 1/5th of a pawn.  It operates on a formula based mostly on brute calculation, to the point that when it doesn't recognize something and there's nothing tactical in the position it'll just spout out a random number based on who it thinks is better developed. Houdini also frequently fails to understand positional domination - in a position where one move "stalemates" a piece and changes the ending into an eventual win and another wins a pawn, Houdini will take the pawn 10 times out of 10.  When Houdini is outside of a tablebase and calculation range in the endgame, it doesn't understand how to push for a win in a drawn position or how to plan ahead and improve your pieces so that your position is at its most optimal point before eventually taking up action.  I agree with pfren in that people vastly overestimate the capabilities of engines - we're intimidated by their impeccable tactics so we overlook a lot of flaws.  


What you say applies to any chess engine, though. As bad as Houdini may be, I think Fritz is even worse -- when I switched from Fritz to Houdini, Houdini seemed so positional and human-like. Of course, now it doesn't quite seem that way, but I like it a lot more than Fritz. How do you know Houdini only judges based on development? It likes square coverage, but are you not just guessing on what it's basing its evaluations on? There are some positions though where it doesn't have a plan -- I have seen blocked positions where it likes one side (because there are more pieces), but the other side is the one with pawn breaks. As you start to play out the plan for the latter side (pawn advances on a wing), it can often change its mind.

On the other hand, a lot of people use the fact that sometimes the computer is wrong as an excuse to disregard what it says. I think the computer usually has a pretty good feel for positions simply because, if you can't be broken down, then your position is probably pretty good, even if it looks ugly. That's why computers are sometimes ok with making weakening pawn moves -- if you can't take advantage of the weakness, what good is it?

So I think in one sense you shouldn't trust everything it says -- but you should also have a lot of regard for its opinion too -- most of the time -- not all of the time -- it is seeing a (critical) variation that you aren't. If it makes an anti-positional move, it's usually because it doesn't think it can be exploited, perhaps because there is too much dynamism in the position.


What I find interesting about Houdini is the difference of opinion it sometimes has compared with DR4, even by so much as half a pawn. It's good to have both perspectives. In the particular position I was evaluating, it looks like Houdini was way off and that the DR4 choices were much better.

LegoPirateSenior wrote:
PrawnEatsPrawn wrote:

Humans have no chance against good software/good hardware combinations, at any time control.

PEP, in the position below, white has a completely, 100% winning move. A human player found it OTB. I am curious how long will it take for your setup to find it.


Can you please give more details and analysis on the position posted? Yace for example finds Qd5 right away, but it doesn't look like it's won in any way for white.

What are the next moves? If you actually did the analysis to back up what you said it will be easy to post...

After Qd5 and exd5, how do you secure that win? Rf1 doesn't seem to do anything, really... let's play it move by move here... you tell the winning move and I tell the reply.

All this does is draw...


For the record, I have beaten Houdini 2.0 a couple of days ago in a correspondence game... Tongue out

It was drawn position, because my opponent (playing white) had built a fortress, where I had all the play, but I could not find a way to break in- most probably there was none.

So, I played a move where white could play more actively and "better" (Houdini gave an evaluation difference of 0.3), but the fortress would be broken. My opponent (apparently not a strong player) trusted Houdini's recommendation, followed his recommended line, and lost rather easily.

I may post the game on my blog.


@kingofwhite - I think you made a typo: Qd5 does not win. 24.Qxe5 does, and after fxe5, 25.Rf1 indeed is necessary. 

I mostly relied on analysis that can be found on the web.  I've just added two relevant links to the game page: 

When analyzing this position with an engine, I recall that you need to play maybe another 10 plies into the game before the engine sees a win for white. Backtracking will then maintain a winning evaluation until you run out of hash.


the best way to find engines weakness is by playing the kingindian. it evaluates it around +0.5 since white has space advantage + the center, but as u go through the middle game it often changes it's evaluation when black attack gets stronger. ofcourse the engines dont understand some positional things and that is why they beat each other! i am 100% sure that i am much stonger than any engine if i use my reybka. it is highly unlikely but possible for a human to beat an engine in correspondence but i am sure it would never happen OTB since noone would be able to be that accurate. i am pretty sure the best player now would not be able to win Houdini down a tempo OTB.


Mr. Pfren, you are saying yourself that "Houdini gave an evaluation difference of...", which means you were using it as well.

It's not the first time you misinterpret the topic: it's human vs. machine, not human+machine vs. machine. I have to assume this is voluntary because I credit you with a lot more logic than that.

With time to test for tactical errors (with a machine), the "inequality" human + machine > machine proves that (I know, it's oversimplifying) human > 0.

You have to acknowledge the true topic and let it rest. And the fact that GMs would only take on an engine for financial motivation... if they could easily beat engines they would do it to shut everyone up. If chess engines were so bad, the #1 correspondence player would not have given up his hobby due to this phenomenon. If correspondence chess was so great, how come we find all sorts of errors in older correspondence games?

Please, just please...


Mr. kingofwhite, I think you understood what I've said perfectly well: I said that Houdini sometimes, in certain positions, "commits" serious errors, simply because he's unable to grasp some positional elements which are rather apparent, even to a mediocre player like myself- and this cannot be compensated by their near-perfection to combinational play.

And yes, I do consult engines (more than one, as their evaluations can vary wildly) at LSS correspondence chess, mainly to "predict" my opponent's next move (the wide majority of them just copypaste Houdini's best lines). This has earned me quite a few easy points in the past.

For the record, my favorite engine is Critter. It trails Houdini 1.5/2.0 very slightly, but its suggestions have much more "human touch", they simply make more sense to me.


I read the whole topic and watched the games posted. Nice and interesting.

PrawnEatsPrawn wrote:

For once, pfren is well off target.


Humans have no chance against good software/good hardware combinations, at any time control.

All this talk that engines don't understand positional play is simply out of date nonsense.


Yep....the top programs have been beating the big boys for some time and winning by bigger margins as time goes by. It won't be too long before they are unbeatable.


Oh boy, some people are unable to understand simple things...

Here is the position from my game- it's white's turn to play.

Feed it to Houdini 2.0c or any other engine, and let him think for as long as you please.

After calculating "everything" he will come up with either Ne1 or Kh2, with a close to equal evaluation - but both moves are losing. Factly, Kh2 isn't losing either, as long as white follows the "inferior" plan of keeping the knight passively on g2.

The correct move is either Rc1 or Ra1, which is regarded as way inferior by Houdini, but it draws instead: Black cannot break into white's fortress, despite the fact white having effectively no white squared control at all.


Well done, pfren, thank you for this...


From a 2010 article chronicling GM's versus PC chess programs:


With the advancement in technology, computer programs are increasingly become successful against the grand masters. In 1998, a computer called Rebel 10 defeated the then world No 2, Viswanathan Anand by a margin of five games to three. In the early 2000’s, commercial computer programs like the Fritz and the Junior were able to draw matches against the likes of Kasparov and Kramnik. In 2003, Kasparov went ahead with another two exhibition matches with the computer program Junior and later with X3D Fritz, both of which ended in draws. Subsequently, from the year 2005, computers started emerging as the undisputed champions commencing from the defeat of Michael Adams. In 2006, the Deep Fritz handed a crushing defeat to the then Classic champion Vladimir Kramnik."

wiki also covers some GM versus different PC program matches, their performance is certainly nothing to scoff at:

Here's some more GM versus compter match results: