Chess Terms
Houdini

Houdini

There are many strong chess engines these days, but Houdini has been one of the strongest engines over the past decade. It was the top chess entity on the planet for some time, defeating its contemporaries like Rybka, Stockfish, and Komodo. Let's learn more about this powerful engine.

Here is what you need to know about Houdini:


What Is Houdini?

Houdini is a commercial chess engine, meaning that it can be purchased and used by anyone. The engine was developed by the Belgian chess player and programmer Robert Houdart in 2010. It is one of the strongest chess engines and was the fourth highest-rated engine in late 2019 (behind Stockfish, Leela Chess Zero, and Komodo).

According to Houdini's website, it is "widely considered to be the strongest chess engine money can buy." This statement may be true, especially considering that Stockfish and Leela Chess Zero are free, open-source engines. (Komodo was also open source for a long time before becoming commercial more recently.) Houdini is not the most accessible engine since it can only be used on Windows.

Houdini chess engine
Houdini's logo for the 2018 Computer Chess Championship. Photo: Chess.com.

Houdini Accomplishments

Houdini burst onto the scene in 2010 by winning the first and second TCEC seasons in 2010 and 2011, respectively, ahead of Rybka and other top engines. It also won the fourth TCEC season (the third season was never completed) in 2013 ahead of Stockfish.

Houdini finished in second place behind Stockfish in 2016 in the ninth TCEC season and then won again in the 10th TCEC season in 2017 ahead of Komodo. In 2018 Houdini finished second in the Computer Chess Championship Rapid Rumble, where it lost to Stockfish in the final.

Houdini chess engine
Houdini finished in second place in the 2018 Computer Chess Championship Rapid section.

Houdini Games

Houdini was given its name because of its positional style, but it is also known for its aggressive play in the romantic style. In this first game example, we see Houdini earn a positional victory against Stockfish during the fourth TCEC finals in 2013. The game is balanced until Houdini gives up two rooks for Stockfish's queen and creates something seemingly out of nowhere by probing the kingside with 31.h4—an impressive and memorable victory.

In this second game example, Houdini has Black against Rybka and plays enterprisingly in the opening. The queens are exchanged early but that doesn't stop Houdini from sacrificing multiple pawns for activity like a player from the Romantic era might do. After 18...Na4, Black is down two pawns but has very active pieces, a large lead in development, and the bishop pair.

After 24...Rxa5, Rybka is up three pawns, but Houdini's piece activity and lead in development are very dangerous. Rybka is forced to give material back, but then Houdini's bishop pair is out of control and the game is decided. 

Conclusion

You now know what Houdini is, why it is considered one of the best chess engines in the world, and more. Head over to Chess.com/ccc and watch top engines battle for the Computer Chess Championship at any time on any day!