We select an engine to use, and stick with it. But I heard that all engines have different characteristics, and can be better or worse comparing to each other, in different positions. For example: The champion engine can be beaten by another engine in some specific position.

So my question is, which engine to use in which positions?


3 Answers 3


According to Hartmann's findings in an article in ChessBase:

Houdini is a tactical juggernaut. It tends to do best on the various tactical test sets that some engine experts have put together, and it is fairly quick to see those tactics, making it useful for a quick analysis of most positions. Its numerical evaluations also differ from other engines in that they are calibrated to specific predicted outcomes:

A +1.00 pawn advantage gives a 80% chance of winning the game against an equal opponent at blitz time control. At +2.00 the engine will win 95% of the time, and at +3.00 about 99% of the time. If the advantage is +0.50, expect to win nearly 50% of the time. (from the Houdini website)

Larry Kaufman, who works on Komodo, said in an interview on the Quality Chess blog that:

Komodo is best at evaluating middlegame positions accurately once the tactics are resolved. Stockfish seems to be best in the endgame and in seeing very deep tactics. Houdini is the best at blitz and at seeing tactics quickly. Rybka is just obsolete; I like to think of Komodo as its spiritual desceendant, since I worked on the evaluation for both, although the rest of the engines are not similar. Komodo’s assessment of positions is its strong point relative to the other top two, which overvalue the queen. Komodo has the best sense for relative piece values I think. Komodo is also best at playing the opening when out of book very early.

In the article, they conduct some tests using very complex positions, to see if engines can find the solution.

  • 1
    The article is suspect in that the author apparently uses a crappy old computer for his tests. He allocated 500Mb for each engine? What? The chess engines are written and tuned to use the hardware of the day. And this day (2014 according the article), it would be reasonable to allocate 8Gb or more memory when testing high-end chess software on world-class benchmarks.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 28, 2015 at 16:38
  • Problem #2 took 1:47 on my untuned Stockfish 6. heh.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 28, 2015 at 16:46
  • And for the fun of it, at 2:47, the score flips from -.23 to +.78 - the engine finds a breakthrough.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 28, 2015 at 16:55
  • You don't get the point. They are comparing engines to each other, not testing if the engine can solve it with the best hardwares. As long as hardware is the same for the all engines, tests are legit.
    – ferit
    Dec 28, 2015 at 17:15
  • 1
    I do get it. As soon as he said, "finish in under a minute" he had made a mistake. See the 2nd problem. Further, running on old hardware violates basic premises of chess engine design. It is similar to rating an Indy racer by the way it runs an off-road race, or by judging an aircraft by the way it flies in space.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 28, 2015 at 17:47

This is just my opinion and I can't really support it scientifically, but from the games played at the last TCEC I had the feeling Komodo plays really great in KID and similiar structure positions. I think it was mainly outplaying Stockfish in this type of positions. It feels very well the positions for knights.

Stockfish is not really great positionally in my opinion, but it is the one calculating the deepest, so it's great at finding Zugzwang positions, and breaking fortresses.

Gull is very strong at simple, almost endgame positions, and drawing little worse endgames.

Actually I always felt houdini is the strongest positionally, it just can't calculate so deep like the other ones, but it's just personal opinion. It is the best to evaluate positional pawn and exchange sacrifices.

  • What you write in your answer is interesting, Houdini 4 is considered a tactical engine. Check my answer. I also felt the same way, tactical, while using Houdini 4. Maybe you are using older versions? 1.5?
    – ferit
    Dec 28, 2015 at 16:33
  • Yes, sorry I didn't specify, you are right, I have the 1.5a version.
    – Usern4me
    Dec 28, 2015 at 16:40

Anecdotally, Leela plays more "humanlike" than more calculating engines like Stockfish (maybe before Stockfish got its own neural nets). What is "humanlike" at 3500+ ELO I'm not sure, but maybe more active piece style versus slow and positional. I recall hearing Caruana trained opening novelties from Leela because they seemed more creative and realistic for a human to play. Reported here, r/chess discussion

Lots of discussion: https://www.reddit.com/r/chess/comments/a7stpp/do_nn_engines_like_alpha_zero_and_leela_really/

From watching Matthew Sadler's Silicon Road Channel, I got the impression that Stockfish is a legendary defender. It can somehow hold disadvantageous positions other engines would gradually crumble under. If you asked Sadler directly he'd probably give an excellent answer as he spends a lot of time analyzing engine games.

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