z f chess guide to chess software

HIARCS Chess Explorer

9 Sep 2012

Hiarcs Chess Explorer showing the main panes

Hiarcs Chess Explorer, showing the main panes.

What is it?

New HIARCS interface

HIARCS Chess Explorer is the new GUI for PC and Mac that was released last week with the HIARCS 14 chess engine. It comes with either the single core or multi-core version of the engine, and is provided with a top games database (35,000 games) and around 1000 annotated games.

What are its functions?

Overview

It has two main modes: a database mode and a playing mode. In the database mode, games from PGN databases can be viewed, analysed and edited, and various tree statistics for the position on the board can be shown. In the playing mode, rated and unrated games can be played against a computer opponent set at different strengths, with optional help from a coach.

Display

The screenshot above shows the main panes. As well as the board and the game notation, there's the "Opening Explorer" or statistics tree; the "Analysis Explorer" or engine output; and the "Game Explorer" or games list. These last 3 can be toggled on and off to change the layout and create more space for other panes. The relative position of the panes can't be changed, however. At the top there are tabs to switch between open databases.

There are four piece sets and various boards to choose from. The font type and size can be changed only for notation/engine output. Font colours are fixed. There are no board sounds.

Finding and viewing Games

On opening a PGN database, a statistics tree is generated for the whole database. This can take time for large databases, but once it is done, game statistics for the database in any position are instantaneous. For a fairly large database of 232,000 games this took 31 seconds on my laptop. (By comparison, Chessbase 11 took 110s to create an opening tree from a .cbh file of the same games). For the latest "Week in Chess" of 4400 games, it took less than a second. If a database is reopened, the last game previously viewed is automatically displayed; an icon also gives quick access to a list of recently opened games. There is a database size limit of 1 million games.

Game Explorer

Once the database is opened, the games list is shown in the "Game Explorer". As well as the 7 mandatory PGN tags (White, Black, Event, Site, Round, Date, and Result), White Elo, Black Elo, ECO and game length are shown. Columns can be sorted by clicking on the field headers.

Header Search

The games list can be filtered by filling in fields in a header search dialog box, as is usual in PGN readers. A drop down list of names from the database is given when typing into the White, Black, Event and Site fields.

Quick Search

A potentially much faster way to filter the games is to type directly into the Quick Search field at the top of the "Game Explorer". For example, simply typing "karpov" and hitting Enter will immediately show all the games in the database in which Karpov played; "-short karpov 1992" shows the games between Short and Karpov in 1992, in which Short played black; and "C00-C19 >2600 !1/2" shows all the decisive games that opened with the French defence in which the players had an average rating of more than 2600. Field names can also be specified, e.g. "round:8". The Quick Search is applied to all games in the database rather than to the current filter set, so it can't be used to refine search results.

Opening Explorer

The "Opening Explorer" shows statistics for each move played in the board position. Different sources for the statistics can be selected: a local or an online opening book, the current database, or the current filter set. The statistics shown are the number of games played, the percentage score of the white player, the player's average rating, the rating performance, and the year in which the move was last played. When the source is an opening book, there are move annotations and an additional field showing the "playability" of the move. With the current database selected as the source, a box can be checked so that the games list is automatically filtered to show only games containing the current board position. With the filter as source, a quick search can be used to show a player's opening move statistics.

Player Explorer

One other way to explore the database is using the "Player Explorer". Selecting a player from a list brings up win/draw/loss statistics for that player, and shows statistics for the player's 8 most frequently played openings as white and as black. The statistics are clickable and filter the games list. For example, Kasparov's most frequently played opening as black in the "Top Games" database is the Sicilian, Najdorf. It shows there are 58 games. He won 21, drew 33, and lost 4, scoring 64.7%. Clicking on the "-4" will list his 4 losses with that opening in the "Game Explorer". Note that in a large database, the top 8 openings may cover less than half of a player's games.

Replaying Games

Games can be navigated using the arrow keys or the navigation buttons in the toolbar. There's also an autoplay button. The pieces jump rather than glide to their new position, and the move just played is not highlighted.

Hiarcs Chess Explorer

With large board and notation, showing an annotated game.

Analysis

Analysis Explorer

UCI engines are easily installed, and can then be selected from a drop-down list in the "Analysis Explorer". Infinite analysis can be displayed in multi-variation mode, showing just the current best variations, or as a scrolling list showing the best line at subsequent depths. These views can be toggled without the engine restarting. A line of analysis can be added to the game notation with a single click. The best engine move can be added by pressing the space bar. There is no variation board, or analysis arrows, or way to view the analysis on the board other than adding it to the notation. Only one engine can be open in each tab.

Analyse Game

The analyse game function allows you to select a time per move, and which sides to analyse for. Full analysis lines are added to the notation. There are no options for analysing by depth (e.g. for a very quick blunder check), for choosing the score delta, or for adding short variations.

Editing games

Moves can be added to the notation by playing them on the board. There is smart move entry that highlights the probable destination square of a piece when the cursor passes over a piece, or the probable piece that will move when the cursor passes over an empty square. A single click will make the highlighted move. On holding the cursor down on a piece, all destination squares are highlighted, with good moves in yellow, bad moves in red, and book moves in green. Moves can be annotated and variations reordered or truncated by right-clicking on them in the notation. When there are unsaved changes to a game, a floppy disk save icon appears. All changes can be undone and redone using ctrl-Z and ctrl-Y.

Playing against the computer

Games can be played against the installed engines. If the engine supports it, the strength of the engine can be set to an Elo rating. Games can be rated, and the program keeps track of different users' ratings. There are options to set time controls, colour, and non-standard starting positions. During the game the "Opening Explorer" and "Analysis Explorer" can be shown or hidden, depending on how much you want to know. If the coach is on, when a good move is missed, a dialog gives the option to take back the played move to try and find it. When a blunder is made, the dialog also offers to show the refutation. The clocks can be paused. If the time runs out more time can be added and the game continued.

Help

The help file is clear and complete. It is also context sensitive, so pressing F1 is likely to take you directly to the appropriate help for the function you have just been using. The help file can also be viewed online.

Opinion

Strengths

The database functions are fast and searches are effectively instantaneous. The Quick Search is a quick and natural way to search, like typing into the address bar of a web browser. Once a database is open, one can very quickly filter the games list to find what one is looking for. Similarly, the live updating of the games list gives instant results for a position search. Instant tree statistics for a database or filter set are easily accessible.

In the playing mode, the HIARCS 14 engine seems to do a very good job of emulating different playing strengths by making natural-looking, sub-optimal moves. With the coach option, it makes a very forgiving opponent that is both a useful trainer and enjoyable to play against.

The board looks good, and the smart move entry is swift. The tabbed display allows multiple databases open at the same time. The help function is very good.

Possible areas for improvements

The notation display can look overcrowded and the figurines rather faint, sometimes making it difficult to read. More space between moves in the notation and the ability to change the notation colours would be useful. It is not easy to view engine output on the board, except by adding it to the notation. The analyse game has no option for a fast blunder check and there is no evaluation profile, so it is not possible to quickly get an overview of how a game went. There is no piece animation when replaying games, which can be tiring on the eyes.

Summing Up

On the whole, the impression HIARCS Chess Explorer gives is of turbo-charged access to games and statistics in a PGN database, and of being a genuinely useful playing partner. In terms of quality, this first release proved to be completely robust, and the documentation was refreshingly thorough.

It's available from www.hiarcs.com.

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