Interview with Ed Schröder by Rochade Europa
1999

RE: In 1982 you started with your first own program at the Dutch Computer Championship, since 1984 you work as a full time programmer, delivering all the above mentioned programs. Today with an own crew of 8 specialists, from bureau over GUI programming, engine developing to opening theory specialists - isn't  this a hard job  in today's world of specialists, developing only singular products, like databases, GUI's, ect ?
ES: Since 1984 (when I started to work for Hegener & Glaser) till now (1999) a lot of things have been changed. In those early days I had to make one (or sometimes two) products a year, a very convenient job as it gave me all the time in the world to improve the chess engine. Programming the UI (user interface) was easy these days. There was just ONE hardware, one processor, one LCD, one set on LED's all EQUAL material so no compatibility problems.

These days we have DOS, Win 3.x, Win95, Win98. Next we have 200-300 different brand names of Pc's. All use different materials, 400-500 different types of monitors, 1000 or more video drivers, 300-400 printer drivers, 500 different mouse drivers, different sound cards, different cdrom's and cdrom drivers. All are mixed and put in a mini-midi or tower model and it is called a Pc.

If that is not complicated enough we also have laptops, different types of processors (Intel, AMD, Cyrix...), different types of memory (Ram, Dram...). It's really one big miracle it all seems to work, that is to say in most cases.

In the early (6502) days you developed the program on one prototype. When it was ready the eprom was shipped for duplication and that was it. These days (since Rebel8) we sent beta-versions to at least 25 people and we make sure that the upcoming Rebel is at least tested on 50 different Pc's.

In the early (6502) days when the eprom was sent for duplication there were no worries. Same hardware no compatibility problems, one could relax as the job was done. These days when we get the cdrom's back from the duplication factory and we start all the shipments to dealers and customers we are worried as now (although tested on 50 Pc's) the real test starts. How is the new program doing? Is it bug-free? The first 2-3 days are crucial. If there are no complaints we relax. We could relax after Rebel8, Rebel9 and also with Rebel10.

However Rebel7 was a real disaster as a major bug was over-looked as Rebel7 didn't run on Pc's with some graphical adaptors. We then had to make a patched version. New dealer replacements shipments, dealers sending the Rebel7 patch to customers, hundreds of phone calls. At that time we decided (as first chess company) to hire beta-testers for Rebel8.

Today it's our opinion you can't release a new product without a decent beta team as a Pc is quite a different world as a stand-alone chess computer.

RE: If you take your time for a moment and review these years, what would you say, was the major case among all your successes,  that meant the most to you, personally ?
ES: Several. First of course the world-micro-championship in Vancouver when I got my first world-champion title. The big surprise was certainly the Madrid event in 1992 when Rebel (then Gideon) gained the world-champion title all classes. We played on a 286 (8 Mhz) laptop with a ChessMachine card of 32 Mhz included. After each game the ChessMachine card was taken out because the prototype was so fragile. We remembered the sayings of our (main-frame) opponents, "have I just lost from that tiny thing?".

As third I like to mention the several first places of Rebel on the SSDF list starting with the "Mephisto MM4 Turbokit 18 Mhz". Being on top of SSDF always gave me more pleasure than my 2 world-titles because tournaments are just about 5-10 games and are sometimes real lucky shots but the SSDF list is about hundreds of games and therefore is more valuable at least in my eyes. That's why it was so sad to see the SSDF fall so deep last year allowing unfair competition.

As fourth of course the Anand-Rebel10 event of 6 months ago. It was a real honor for me to play against the second best player of the world with a rating close to 2800. It never came up in my mind Rebel would be able to win this match. I will never forget the atmosphere in the playing hall after Anand lost 3 games in just one hour. That must be a long long time ago for Anand such a thing happened for the last time. I will also never forget the 2 tournament games. Both were exciting. In both games Rebel10 created chances. What more is there to wish (gain) for a chess programmer?

So if I have to pick I definitely choose the Anand-Rebel10 event. Computer - Computer events are nice and very important but the *real* events are playing against (strong) humans after all that's why I started in 1981 as I wanted to write a chess program that could beat me a poor player of just 1850.

RE: 17 years are a long time, Ed - it takes quite a lot to be still on top. Once again, looking back, beside the fact, that the data carriage changed from board computers to PC's along with speed factors, ect - where would you locate the main difference to today's commercial computerized, chess scene ?
ES: In the early days the most important item was the playing strength of the chess program. This all have been changed especially the last years. On my old 486/66 machine I still could beat Rebel but now on my PII-450 with 256 Mb I am without any chance and must deliberately weaken Rebel not to lose all games.

Already at the time of Rebel6 we received more and more requests to add features to Rebel that would lower Rebel's playing strength. That was the world upside down. But we did as it is indeed no fun to lose all the time and then the fun playing with (and against) the computer might go away.

More changed, as (most) people couldn't win from the computer any longer people started to use a chess program in a totally different way. Instead of playing their games against the machine people want to analyze their (or grandmaster) games so a lot of analyze features have been added since then. These days people buy a chess program not only because of the playing strength (all are strong!) but decisive arguments are "user friendly", "number of features", "data" (big databases, big opening books, a big chess tree), "customer support" and so on.

Also the playing style of a chess program has become more important to people. As they analyze their games, use a chess program for their correspondence or Internet email tournaments they want to receive an intelligent (human-alike) response from their chess program. All chess program are good in tactics and are real monsters in this area and that's good for a quick blunder check of a game but what about if you need a plan for a (say) positional position? I clearly remember a remark of a customer years ago. He said, "Why buy new chess programs? They only are more better in positions they are already good in!".

That came as a real hammer. Of course this man was right and from that time on I have been focused more and more on Rebel's positional understanding and make the program play as human-alike as possible. My favorite program in this respect is Mchess. It plays very attractive human-alike chess. Close to Mchess are Rebel and Hiarcs. I consider these 3 chess programs as the best concerning the quality of returned analysis.

RE: As far as I remember, your company was the very first to offer a registered user a special home page, where he can download quite a mass of valuable adds of different variety for the limited time of the product standing (means : until the next release ). As I follow the growing and changes constantly - it's quite an effort. What made you decide to set up such a free page, which needs a lot of manpower - and are you satisfied with the acceptance you can figure out by hits ?
As far as I can tell we are the only chess company that offers a special download area on the Internet where Rebel 10 users freely can download the latest games, opening books, chess trees, utilities and so on. It is a lot of work to maintain this download place but it's my understanding it pays off.

It has given Rebel an extra dimension and you are using the Internet for what it was created. In the meantime we have released a Rebel10.0b upgrade and it is freely downloadable for every Rebel 10 customer. Next when an important (grandmaster) tournament is played we offer all the games to people. It's our understanding this is what people want and it is all so easy to distribute. Just one mouse click and you have the newest data or Rebel version.

RE: Beside this, I think it is of common acceptance to say, that your - yet commercial - site is the one with the highest quality standard. From extra - free - tools to specialized opening books, new game collections every month - and so on + and on. Would you say, is this a very personal thing of yours to deliver all this for free - or does commercial calculating differ that much from country to country, as other Companies of your branch can't measure up in no way here :-) ?
ES: To setup and maintain such a download place of (only) high qualified stuff requires a lot of energy and man power. Since the start of the subscription area (with Rebel9) we first had to set a few things straight concerning the database updates for example a REBEL database consistency policy was developed. That is, consistent player name spelling, consistent tournament spelling, consistent abbreviations and so on.

This is entirely done by one person and the total amount of work is at least estimated at a 1000 hours a year. To answer your question, not every chess company is willing to spend so much time and man power in a free (database) service. And of course the Rebel10 subscription area is more than a database service alone.

RE: Coming back to todays, present scene, are you satisfied with the overall engine quality of your latest child, REBEL 10 - in it's 10.b version ?
ES: Rebel 10 is more stabile than Rebel9. The selective part of the engine has been improved as Rebel 9 took too much risk (sometimes). It has made Rebel 10 a bit slower than Rebel9 because of this but overall the changes made Rebel 10 a stronger player. Also the search is rewritten from scratch with as result a more stabile Rebel. But most of the programming time was spend in the "anti-GM" option of Rebel10. As always new things cost the most time.

RE: As internet users among our readers aren't the majority yet, please be so kind to explain the increase of the 10.b release.
ES: That is correct. People who have subscribed to Rebel 10 on Internet can freely download Rebel10.0b. Besides a few bug-fixes we have added a few new features too. These are:
  • Added support for the Saitek Kasparov external chess board.
  • Added support for the Mephisto external chess board.
  • Added an automatic game annotator while playing your games.
  • Added STRONGEST SETTINGS option. This will automatically set REBEL10 on its strongest settings for maximum playing strength.
  • Added SAVE ENGINE SETTINGS. On request REBEL10 will save all settings of the engine.
  • Better (more precise) ELO calculation during program launch for rated games.
RE: One of the major features of REBEL 10 is it's " Anti GM function " possibility. In a R10 review of another German Comp. Chess Mag this function was described as "....tries to reach positions, where it can evaluate very precise + keeping up initiative......" . Ironical and not too qualified comment of the author : " Quiz - what do the other progs do.... ? " So, to end up this strange discussion : Please describe to our readers, what the aim and the special benefit of this major engine  function is - and if mentionable increases could be seen in reality.
ES: "anti-GM" was born out of fear. Fear for super grandmaster Vishy Anand and the match in Italy I signed for. Having participated in all (I believe 12) AEGON man vs human tournaments I (after years) came to the following conclusion:

Rebel playing against players of 2300 elo always wins without almost any exception. Rebel is able to get the initiative, can make pressure, the human gets lost in all the complications and loses. It's almost a fixed pattern.

If Rebel plays against humans in the 2300-2500 area we see another picture. The struggle is for the initiative. If Rebel is able to get the initiative Rebel mostly wins as also here the human gets lost in all the complications and/or time pressure. If the 2300-2500 rated human gets the initiative Rebel has to defend. Defending is one of the strongest points of todays TOP chess program (not only Rebel). The top chess program are so tough, they always seems to find the best defence and are real grandmasters in narrow escapes. I have seen this so many times. The 2300-2500 human having the better position but NOT ABLE to win because of tiny positional mistakes allowing the chess program to escape from the attack. Then Rebel strikes back, gets the initiative, the human realizes he blew it and starts to make more tiny mistakes (and sometimes real blunders) and mostly the game is over very soon after that. It's a fixed pattern.

But then the real work, playing against grandmasters. Here I have seen a total other picture. In *ALL* games the grandmaster is able to win the struggle for the initiative. They *ALWAYS* get the better position. Then the above described process starts again, the human attacks and the computer defends in its usual tough style. And here we see the difference, the grandmaster hardly makes a mistake, fulfills the attack and (mostly) wins! Another fixed pattern.

So here I was, I obliged myself playing an 8 game match against world's second best player Anand with a rating of almost 2800. I considered my Rebel without any chance based on what I have seen at AEGON. So something had to be done to avoid Rebel to be slaughtered.

I decided to do something on the point where the trouble ALWAYS started. It was my opinion that the real reason Rebel (and others) lose to grandmasters because they are not able to win the struggle for the initiative. I developed a piece of software to make sure Rebel would not lose the initiative and called it "anti-GM" which is the right term for it.

If you look at the 8 games against Anand you clearly see it works. In all 8 games Rebel 10 had chances. What more can a programmer wish? Nothing. The below text is from Vishy Anand himself.

Vishy Anand about game-8:
14.Qd3, this move surprised me.
14..b5
15.Qf3, I did not understand what the program want. After 15..Be7 16.Be3 0-0 17.dxc5 Bxc5 18.Bxc5 Qxc5 19.Nd7 the material gain is worthless as black has a fantastic compensation. But then suddenly I noticed 15..Be7 16.Bg5 and my eyes became glassy as I realized that 16..Bxg5 17.Qxf7 Kd8 18.Qxg7 would have forced me to resign. It was a shock for me that such complications suddenly can occur. You think you are playing a quiet positional game but suddenly you are in the middle of all kind of tactics.
RE: We don't have to mention the good reasons for you, not to participate any longer in the Swedish list. Comment of a German retailer Co : " ...a prog, not participating there, simply doesn't exist......". What is your opinion on this - can this list really still be hung that high today ?
ES: A couple of points. First, I don't think that a program that exist so long and has gained so many successes needs to prove itself. On the Rebel Home Page on Internet there is a special page fully dedicated to Rebel's successes from 1991 on, and that is a shortened list mentioning only the most important high-lights. The Swedish List is simply a small part of that. The Swedish List is important but in the end it only tells you something about computer versus computer. The Swedish List doesn't give any answer how a chess program does against humans.

RE: Nevertheless : there have been rumors lately, that you finally made up your mind, to implement the autoplayer function again - which will allow the usage in the Swedish testings. Is this true - and if, what made you finally change your mind - the respect towards your customers - or something else ?
ES: The autoplayer was removed from Rebel10 because the SSDF refused my request not to include Rebel10 in the Swedish List. This because of the unfair testing that took place last year. Because of their refusal I was forced (besides taking out the autoplayer) to put a legal notice in the license agreement that forbids them to include Rebel10 in their list. This seemed to have helped.

The (unwanted) negative side effect by taking out the auto232 software was that some loyal Rebel customers were very upset because they couldn't play their own comp-comp matches any longer. Then when I noticed the Swedish guys apparently didn't plan to violate the license agreement I promised to make the autoplayer software available again this in the good hope the Swedish guys will respect a companies express wish.

At the moment I am working to bring back the autoplayer part back in Rebel 10 and include a stronger engine as well. When this is all finished we will upload this version (most probably as version Rebel10.0c) on our server free downloadable for Rebel10 customers who have subscribed.

RE: As far as I know, the autoplayer still isn't free of strange behaviors - never seen before until last year. Or, so to say : some programs, connected to the autoplayer, show astonishing functions. One refuses to save a lost game, the other one wants a - very large opening book, which ain't content of his regular CD - if he finally gets it, he still refuses to play, as long as the book is write protected ( which is quite normal - as from CD ), another one refuses start of the game, if he can't detect endgame tables from a - totally different product. Viewing all these facts, do you think you can compete even though ?
ES: Well... the autoplayer (auto232) software is a strange fragile animal. I use it since 1994 and sometimes you see the most unusual crashes happen. Then when you exchange the very same programs to 2 other Pc's the crashes disappear. It's all very weird and unpredictable but after having played thousands of auto232 games through the years I can safely say there is no intended cheating taken place. Auto232 is a fragile protocol and crashes regularly for unknown reasons but it is my clear impression if a match crashes it crashes random. I have seen no pattern. Concerning adding extra books, endgame table bases or whatever I have no problems as I agree with the SSDF policy that this is allowed as long it is commercial (general) available. As long as everybody can check it's all fine with me.

RE: Keeping up the theme of the today heavily debated " pro and against " the Swedish list. What does it personally mean to you - today ? Does it still have the former value - remembering all the curiosities, that happened and still happen ?
The SSDF list lost a lot of its creditability last year. Now they seem to be on the right track again by not allowing secret autoplayers anymore.

RE: Do you feel comfortable with the message, SSDF sends with it's listing - insisting, prog XYZ is ranked 1st place, so must be the strongest available - ect ? On the other hand, this listing shows nothing about the reality of game play against humans - for example - as implemented in Eric HALLSWORTH SS list. As we all know, it's possible to prepare a prog exactly for this usage, from specialized opening books to a brand new feature of a prog : " play vs. REBEL, GENIUS " - ect. How do you feel about this,in general ?
ES: I have mixed feelings about this. In my opinion human-comp is much more important than comp-comp after all the program is written for humans. But since the big human-comp events have disappeared (AEGON, Harvard Cup) what else is left other than to play comp-comp? So comp-comp becomes even more important.

It's my opinion this indirectly (and unwanted) hurts the progress in the quality of the chess engines as programmers are forced to concentrate on good comp-comp results which I consider a very bad development as being the (suggested) strongest comp-comp program doesn't necessarily mean you are the strongest against humans too (and AEGON has proved that) and because programmers are more or less forced to focus on good comp-comp results the quality of the returned moves by chess programs may even lower.

RE: REBEL has given proof of it's extraordinary game play quality against even strongest human players. In 1997 a beta of Rebel 9 beat GM YUSUPOV, in 1998 a pre release of Rebel 10 - with the " Anti GM " setting, had an astonishing victory against VISWANATHAN ANAND, known as the strongest BLITZ player in the world at present. Even on tournament mode R 10 played excellent with a 0,5 - 1,5 score. The already mentioned author branded your advertising concerning this victory as " low classed style " - ANAND just wasn't careful enough to allow, other GM's were more professional before.....? , ect. How about this ? Is it really so, that ANAND, an experienced Top GM, didn't know, you would publish the result - no matter how it would have ended ?
ES: Of course Anand knew he was connected with a commercial company and I clearly remember Anand didn't play for free against Rebel. I have read the "low classed style" remark in Computer Schach und Spiele too and it has put a smile on my face and I am not willing to through back with mud.

RE: Ed, let's talk about the suggested future of computer chess, some call it a constructed hype. The astonished reader lately could read just exactly this - 1999 would bring the final change - towards this engine concept. As ROCHADE EUROPA reaches a very wide spread audience, and, so to say, the majority of the club chess playing and chess product using people, we authors here have the feeling of the sheer opposite as reality. From personal discussions, letters, emails, ect - we majorly hear, that this so loudly praised function means nearly nothing to the average user. What is your personally standing concerning this ?
ES: The engine concept is a new nice add-on for chess programs no doubt. But it is limited to a fixed minority of people who love to play multiple engines. My statistics clearly shows that most people use just one chess program. Nevertheless for the future Rebel will also allow multiple chess engines.

RE: I would like to ask you a few questions about the daily, inside life of the REBEL crew and their work. To my surprise I never read anybody asking this - but know quite a few people, who asked ....me...if I knew or could imagine....... Ed - to give our readers a better view of this complicated job;  what would you roughly suggest, how long - in hours, weeks or month does it take, to get a - R 9 to R 10 (just viewing the engine) ready for beta testing phase. What would you say, how many games are needed overall, how many engine concepts and changes are made - which don't turn out to be the best - until it's finally done ?
ES: It depends from year to year but in general the following is true for a typical month, 5 days engine programming, 8-10 days for manual testing the new software. Then the automatic (auto232) testing takes place for which I have 8 Pc's (4 autoplay pairs) available. These auto232 results should confirm my feelings about the changes made. If it all fits the changes to Rebel are accepted and kept for the next commercial release.

Another part of my job is to be in control for all the new features. I do this together with Rob Kemper the GUI programmer of Rebel. We both discuss the frame of the next commercial Rebel release resulting in a long list of new planned features. To the list is added all kind of useful hints we get from customers either by mail, fax or email. And then Rob can start to program.

Next I have to coordinate all kind of other things. With Jeroen Noomen about the new Rebel book, with Wybe Koopmans about the new Rebel Database, with Andy Duplain about the Windows version, with Manfred Rosenboom about the manual, the Rebel FAQ, with Jan Willem Schoonhoven who is responsible for all customer questions on Internet.

Last together with Manfred and Jan Willem I am responsible for the Rebel Home Page which is a very time consuming job sometimes and can eat a lot of my time.

RE Last week I received an interesting question of a German Corr. Chess IM - who is naturally especially interested in high qualified opening theory. There are only a handful of these experts ww, who can write and tune an opening book, specialized to the product and good enough for common usage / training - your JEROEN NOOMEN is one of them.  So : here's the question :  which are the major influences, that make the decision for implements of  lines to an opening book. Only latest or newest developments - or more ?
ES: It's true, there are only few good opening specialists in the whole world and I am very lucky to have Jeroen who is completely in charge for 8 years now for the Rebel opening book. It is a real blessing for me not to have any work on this part. Jeroen has a free hand in ordering opening books of his choice and he usually orders 4 or 5 opening books a year and then starts to type them into the Rebel book and checks them with Rebel for blunders.

The nice thing about these books are that they contain all kind of grandmaster analysis of opening lines which are never practiced. This gives the Rebel book something extra. Next of course the latest opening theory is added so the Rebel book is always up-to-date. Then a whole bunch of auto232 games are played that checks the new book for possible blunders. Also there is special utility that analyses the whole new book for possible blunders too.

RE: Let's do a little outlook on your upcoming products. Even though R 10 has a, let's just name it, perfect handling for the usage of a DOS based prog under W 95 / 98.....ti still remains - sorry - just DOS; with all it's cruces, as there is this constant switching need between the platforms, no possibility to let it work in the task bar, even though R10's realization is DOS-prize worthy - the GUI remains DOS - which means with all the restrictions - and most of all the poor  graphic mode. When do you expect the Windows GUI to be ready ? (The sooner the better......). With Andy Duplain you have a GUI specialist in your house - other Co's can only dream about such a manpower - so,  why does it take that long ?
ES: For the engine the job is real simple as porting the engine to Windows was real easy and my job more or less is finished. However the GUI is a complete different story. Everything (and that is 100%) must be rewritten from scratch. In that respect we didn't do ourselves a favor having so much features in Rebel10 as it all need to be rewritten from scratch.

It is also my understanding customers expect the very best from Rebel company. I am convinced people expect a smashing new GUI with lots of wishles and bells. For that time is needed. I have seen (and I will not mention names) the reviews of others who moved from DOS to Windows. They worked very hard to get their program to work as a Windows application but were shot into pieces in the media. I don't want that to happen with Rebel so we will take our time for the job.

On Internet I have done some questionnaires about the topic DOS/WINDOWS. The majority doesn't care at all if Rebel is Dos or Windows as long as the program runs good. Next there are two other groups, the first group really hates Dos and demands a Windows version and a second group that want Rebel to stay a Dos program by all means however the first group is bigger.

I am pretty sure that the Windows version will not sell any better than the current Rebel 10 as the Windows version will be Win95/98/NT compatibility only. I will definitely lose a lot of Dos and Windows 3.x customers as the statistic shows that world-wide people still use the old Windows 3.x as their operating system. Another disadvantage is that the Win95/98/NT version will require a high amount of memory, most probably a minimum of 16 or maybe even 32Mb will be required to run it.

Add-up that many people with older Pc's buy Rebel because Rebel as only program requires only 4 Mb to run on their system and it is not so difficult to understand we from a commercial point of view are not so excited moving to Windows (speaking in terms of sales of course) but the job need to be done and Andy Duplain (the GUI programmer) is working very hard to keep the planned release date of January 1, 2000.

RE: Congratulations of the engagement of REBEL with the CHESS TIGER :-) What made Mr. Theron and you decide on this cooperation - as I can tell by viewing both products games, that there seems to be quite a difference in the general game play itself, which naturally means in the codes of the engines. Doesn't your customers fear, REBEL somehow will loose it's " identity ", so to say - means the origin of the known style ?  Will this influence already be implemented in an upcoming R11 ?
ES: I think the REBEL-TIGER approach is very powerful. Chess Tiger is a very strong chess program that easily can compete with today's top engines. We expect the cooperation between two leading chess programmers will make both REBEL as CHESS-TIGER much stronger chess players. The expectations are high. The idea itself (to combine 17 and 16 years individual chess programming ideas) is estimated to have a potential of at least 100-150 elo points progress.

RE: Thanks a lot for time and kindness for this interview.
ES: Thank you Detlef for this interview. I enjoyed it a lot and give my regards to your readers.

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