Review: Komodo 11

By Davide Nastasio 

I was curious about Komodo because it is often referred to as the engine which plays like a human. Obviously such a label didn’t make sense to me because computers are not humans, so how does a chess engine behave like one? I tried to investigate this claim through the latest version of Komodo 11, sold by Chessbase.

The true world championship is not the one played by Carlsen and Karjakin, but the one between engines, which are clearly above and beyond what a human will ever be.

We have all been brutalized by the tactical force of an engine. They can see immediately 5-7 moves ahead, and we cannot escape their tactical traps. But would an engine be able to play a positional sacrifice like giving up a rook as  we would see in Karpov’s or Petrosian’s games

(For those interested in learning more about positional sacrifices, the link to the following review shows many games with positional sacrifices and gives some of the ideas behind them:

With a chess engine, where often the win is decided by a 0.75 pawn advantage after 80 moves, most humans would have no clue what is happening or why.

For instance, what would you play as White in the following position?




In the case of Komodo, thanks to the evaluation algorithm finely tuned by GM Kaufman, we can witness truly positional sacrifices in games against other engines, as in the following one where you can find out what happened in the above diagram:



Notice this game was played four years ago.  Now Komodo is much better!  In fact, while writing this review I tested Komodo extensively, and I was a victim to these positional sacrifices more than once.

Komodo comes with the Fritz 15 Graphic User Interface (from now on abbreviated as GUI), but it is possible to use the engine also with other GUIs.




Let’s say I want to teach Komodo a lesson on how chess is played.  How would I do it?




I would click on the Friend Mode button and set the rating to “ambitioned club player,” which is 1600.




The first game was funny, because at a certain point (in Italian) the engine told me, “I never told you this, but you should study more opening theory.  Ask the catalogue from Le Due Torri.”  (Which is a famous chess shop in Bologna, Italy!)




Then it continued making fun of me asking, “Are you looking in the encyclopedia?” Maybe because I was thinking too much in the opening!

Another question which could come to mind is “How do we use a superhuman world champion engine?”  I believe there are many different uses for beginners, amateurs, as well as experienced tournament players.

For example, in the western mentality, to play handicap games is a shame. This is not so in most Asian “chess” games, be they Shogi (Japanese Chess) XiangQi (Chinese Chess) or Go (WeiQi) where it is common for a master level player to play with a handicap against an amateur. In this case, the Fritz GUI has the following parameters:





I began playing with Queen + Move.




I played at least one game with the most handicap levels. Now with such a big advantage one would think the game was useless, but Komodo (set at maximum strength) made it last 80 moves! I didn’t blunder, but I still lost pieces. I realized I didn’t use the pieces effectively.

Another very important way to play, if one doesn’t like the handicap level, is the “rated game” under the training tab:




Now let’s say that I’m going to play in a tournament for Under 1900.  I would set the slide to around 2000, and play a series of 5-6 games, like a match.   This way I can understand the holes in my opening repertoire.

If instead I wanted to discover my strength, I would suggest the following ladder:

1. Set the rating at 1500 and play 6 games

2. If the match is won, set the rating at 1550, and play another 6 games. In this way one goes 50 points up each won match.  The experience is more pleasant than getting smashed every single game by the engine, and at the same time one can discover his own strengths. Please be aware that time controls play a big difference. For example, I had problems winning the game when playing bullet against the engine (2 minutes for the entire game, with 1 second added per move), but when I tried one of the time controls for the World Open (G7 /d2 – game in 7 minutes with delay 2 seconds) I didn’t have any problems winning against the engine set at 1500.



For the price of one hour or less with a GM, one can have the best engine in the world, and play for endless hours (by the moment this review was finished, I had played more than 150 games against Komodo with many different time controls, handicap, training, etc.).

In the Analysis tab, the Fritz 15 GUI has an automatic replay-the-game button which is really nice, and which strangely doesn’t exist in Chessbase 14.





When you click on the analysis tab, a new window opens with the analysis options.




I clicked on Advanced and found the next window:




I clicked on training, because that allows the engine to create a series of puzzles within the game based on critical moments. I unchecked “erase old annotations” to avoid erasing my previous comments, so later I can compare them with Komodo comments. If the game I want to analyze is a blitz game online, I don’t put more than 10 seconds per move, while if the game is a tournament game, I put 1-2 minutes per move.

There is, however, one important thing: the button “reference DB” is where Komodo gets its information on how to comment on the opening. If I had only the original Database which comes with Komodo (the original database has about 3 million games), I would use that. But I have Megabase 2017 with more than 7 million games, so I instructed the program to use Megabase 2017, giving the correct directory in which such a database was installed.



After reviewing this wonderful new engine, I must be honest as a reviewer and add the “cons,” which are things the programmers could do to improve the next versions.

I’m not a pro with my own time.  I have a family and a wife.  Every time I’m playing a blitz game, my wife will come to ask me something, and I will have to give her my total attention while moving and trying to win the game.  It seems at Chessbase they are all single with not a worry in the world, because nobody thought I would need a “pause” button for when my wife comes and interrupts my just-started blitz game, allowing the Silicon monster to take advantage of it!





I need at least a couple of pause buttons, because there is also the dog, friends calling, and a son, all conspiring to come ask me something while I’m playing.

During one game, I lost due to time, because I cannot actually listen to my wife and play an engine rated around 3300 at the same time, and strangely the result of the game wasn’t written.  I guess I’m expecting too much from the interface to actually assign the result of the game, since if the game is played online against an engine or human it would be considered a loss

Please notice, this is a positive feedback, not a negative criticism. Maybe the programmers of the Fritz GUI are not chess players, or they don’t know what one expects if losing on time. That is something which needs to be addressed, otherwise there is no reason to play with time if one doesn’t lose when the clock runs to zero.

But even more funny, I could still play after losing on time! I made a move just to understand how it works.  The engine answered, and its clock was still running. I’m sorry, I’m used to real online games, where if one loses on time the game is over.

(However, if one plays under the training tab “Rated Game,” the time loss will be enforced.  So maybe it was a choice made by the programmers, but I would like to have the chance to play timed unrated games like I would do against a friend.)

Again the GUI maybe wasn’t made for Komodo. I don’t know for sure, but clearly they need to work on it. For example,  in the handicap games I wanted to assign a fixed time to the engine because I don’t want to wait till the end of time. Strangely, it wasn’t possible to assign a time control only to the engine and not to the human. But even more funny, the engine didn’t respect the 5 seconds per move I gave, and often lost “on time” even if it wasn’t a timed game.




Then I lost on time too, even if I didn’t assign a time for me.  Another perplexing thing was the following: the engine resigned by move 5.  If clearly this is a training game (even if I have a queen advantage), I’m just trying to learn how to beat the engine, and slowly create a rung to climb for improvement.  I had to change that in the Options and click the “never resign” button.




Obviously, if I play with such a huge advantage, I don’t expect the engine to resign by move 5.

The differences with Chessbase 14: Often I’m asked why someone should buy Komodo or Fritz or Chessbase 14, since the Fritz GUI has database capabilities. My answer is that I believe it depends on the level of your chess, and what your goal or training is.

If you are not a tournament player or a young player interested in reaching master title, you don’t need Chessbase 14. If instead you are really interested in chess progress, Chessbase 14 is a fundamental tool. For example, a friend of mine reached master title in the US, which is when one reaches 2200 USCF rating. Then he went back on vacation to India, and played some tournaments there. The players at his level (and below) were all using Chessbase 14, and many prepared against him.  One even told him the amount of time (3 hours), and the games he watched.  My friend had a very bad tournament. He had difficulties even to draw players rated 400 points less than him! Why? Because they were using all the tools professionals use today, and one of these tools is Chessbase 14. Could you do the same preparation with Fritz or Komodo? No. Chessbase 14 is able to create a dossier on the player you need to prepare for, the openings he uses, and the weakness in those openings. I could continue for hours on the differences, but I think that would be more appropriate for another article. However, the main difference is that Komodo is made for playing chess. Chessbase 14 is made for learning chess and improving. When the time comes, one will feel the need to migrate from Komodo to Chessbase 14.

In conclusion: I was really happy to play against Komodo, and keep my interest in chess high. Engines are clearly above and beyond what humans can do, but we can use them to our advantage and improve our training.



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