top of page

Engine selection - heavyweight

Updated: Jan 20

Nowadays, it is hard to imagine effective chess training, game analysis and sparring without the involvement of a computer opponent. It is the possibility of using modern tools that makes a simple, even old and slow computer sufficient – to take advantage of the benefits of computer support.

For training, analysis or checking errors in games, all you need is dedicated software and one of the proven and recognized only one chess engine playing at least at grandmaster level. Great for such activities are commercial engines such as: Fritz, Hiarcs or TheKing (Chessmaster). Of the free equivalents, Komodo (one of the older versions) or Rodent (versions II or III) engines are worth mentioning, as they are very customizable (parameters, personalities). From commercial, but not expensive alternatives, I suggest you get interested in ChessBase software, released a few years ago and available e.g. on popular auction sites. I mean, e.g. older versions of Fritz, Junior, Shredder - containing engines playing at 2800-3000 Elo - sufficient for the above mentioned chess tasks.

But... what to choose when you are a

  • heavy user, and you analyze chess games and positions a lot and very often

  • you are looking for novelties and ideas

  • you play many correspondence games at once

  • you need to catch the smallest inaccuracies, or

You play against another very determined and strong opponent who, like you, uses a computer with powerful chess software?

In this article, I will try to answer this question subjectively and with a pinch of salt.

Let's look at the ranking list of the ten ( 10 ) the strongest chess engines.

(The list is current as of the writing of this article)
Source: CCRL

Oh, in first place is Stockfish. So if I choose Stockfish - the strongest engine in this ranking list, will my analysis, my news and ideas -> finally my results be the best ?

No :-)

Of course not. And I write this as a correspondence chess player who has been playing for several decades and who has spent dozens of hours on analysis every week.

It is a mistake to choose only one engine for such a heavy task, it is a mistake to choose the same engine which is most often chosen by rivals and opponents.

This is why in hmm some well-known organizations of correspondence chess players 99% of chess games end in draws in games lasting many months and sometimes even several years.

And that's why the best correspondence chess players don't play in those organizations anymore; it's a waste of time and lack of satisfaction from wins after breaking dozens of opponents using the same chess engine.

(moving a bit away from the substance, where to play correspondence chess then - we will check out various cool places on the web in the next article).

So what to choose? How can an ambitious chess player work at such a high level ?

I suggest using not one ( 1 ) but four ( 4 ) chess engines.

The first engine.

The strongest engine, that will always have an advantage over others is your Brain.

Supported by knowledge, developed through further matches and games, developed through chess literature and movies. Add to this year's of experience and the right set of chess software and you get a level of play well above 4000 Elo (in the correspondence game). This is not a joke - in the text below some examples :-)

Just to clarify, obviously an ICCF correspondence player ranking of 2500 is not equivalent to a 2500 Elo ranking of the FIDE federation. Games played by correspondence are 1000-2000 "standard" Elo points higher than ordinary games played e.g. in FIDE at rapid or tournament pace.

Knowledge of chess, thanks to the work of chess players and new technologies such as chess engines, is moving forward, not standing still. It is worth deepening your knowledge and gaining experience, if only by playing regularly online with people or computer opponents.

Second and third engines.

They are "computer" friends. It is worth getting to know them well, it is worth getting to know their style of play, understanding how a possible change of parameters will affect their game and understanding the positions in which these engines achieve the best results.

The style of play of these two engines is very important to me, because I always choose two engines that play in a similar style to mine. If, for example, I like to play closed positions full of many strategic possibilities, then I want the two engines to aim for that kind of position as well.

The second engine I use is Komodo Dragon.

The third engine I use is Berserk.

I use both of these engines mainly in the early and mid game.

The third engine I use is Stockfish.

I use Stockfish for end game position analysis and for quick tactical analysis and checking/finding errors and inaccuracies.

Why I chose these engines - I will show you some examples.

All of the following positions were chess engine tested on a MacBook Pro with an Apple M1 processor (7 threads) using the Hiarcs Chess Explorer GUI.


First, a chess position from the famous 1998 game between Topalov Vesselin and Shirov Alexei.

Shirov played a brilliant 47...Bh3 !! (from a human point of view).

For years chess engines were unable to find this move, or arrived at it after a very long time of "thinking"

A modern engine finds Bishop's move to the h3 field in... seconds.

Stockfish managed within 4 seconds and...