Ban on pocket grandmasters from playing venues.

Interview with Shredder author Stefan Meyer-Kahlen in 2001.

Four times Computer Chess World Champion Stefan Meyer-Kahlen (left) in interview with Eric van Reem.

One hardly notices this tiny thing at the chess board. Pocket Fritz is the younger brother of the world famous Fritz chess programme. Pocket Fritz is a programme for pocket personal computers which run on Windows CE 3.0. The machine is scarcely bigger than a pocket calculator. Pocket computers of the newest generation have processors of between 100 and 200 MHz and up to 32 MB RAM. On 30 June at 1 p.m., the mini-machine will compete against two top class chess players at the Rheingoldhalle in Mainz.

Will the pocket grandmaster be able to keep going in the face of the no. 4 in the world rating list, Michael Adams of England, and the no. 7, Peter Leko of Hungary? Eric van Reem interviewed the developer of Pocket Fritz, the reigning computer chess world champion Stefan Meyer-Kahlen from Düsseldorf.

Eric van Reem: Stefan Meyer-Kahlen, can you give us an interim evaluation of your development work on new Pocket Fritz?
Stefan Meyer-Kahlen: Pocket Fritz is going to be a strong programme. I am really excited about the project. There is still some work to be done, but I am enjoying very much tinkering away on Pocket Fritz. I had to familiarise myself with one or two special features of the project first, because it is something completely new to me. In Mainz I will be operating Pocket Fritz myself, and I am really looking forward to it!

Van Reem: Is this going to be a revolution in computer chess?
Meyer-Kahlen: Well, maybe not a revolution.... but, as a matter of fact, it will soon be possible to carry a very strong travel chess computer around with you. Pocket Fritz will probably replace all the small travel chess computers. I personally always wanted to have a small strong chess machine like this, and I am delighted that I had the opportunity to develop this programme.

Van Reem: When did you start working on the Pocket Fritz programme?
Meyer-Kahlen: I started in late February, early March and I will be ready in time for Mainz. At the moment I am at the stage of optimising Pocket Fritz to play against human beings. Pocket Fritz is designed only to compete against human players, not against other computer programmes. Some players have developed anti-computer strategies and I am therefore trying to incorporate features in the programme in such a way as to avoid these typical traps.

Van Reem: Which engine is actually operating? Is it a Fritz programme or is Pocket Fritz based on your own world champion programme Shredder?
Meyer-Kahlen: At the moment I am running a test version with my engine Shredder 5.32 on my pocket PC. Of course I had to design a different graphic user interface, because everything is much smaller.

Van Reem: Are you annoyed that they called it Pocket Fritz instead of Pocket Shredder?
Meyer-Kahlen: No, honestly, I have to admit that I really do not care about names. In some forums people were discussing the name, and some even argued that I have sold my soul to ChessBase. This only makes me laugh. I still have my Shredder programme and I will keep working on the engine and user interface in future. ChessBase proposed calling the programme Pocket Fritz, and I think that is a logical choice because Fritz is a well-known brand name and will probably sell better than Shredder.

Frans Morsch (note: he developed Fritz and other board computer engines) and I are professionals; we work away on our programmes behind the scenes. For users it is completely irrelevant which person finally made the product. There are certain parallels in the fashion world: Karl Lagerfeld, for example, definitely does not design his collection all by himself, he has designers working in the background. The same principle is valid for brand names such as Chanel or Boss; and this is exactly how the chess computer world is organised.

Van Reem: Can you assess the playing strength of Pocket Fritz yet?
Meyer-Kahlen: Hard to say. I have played some games against it myself and I have no hope of defeating it now. As background information I would like to add that my rating is approximately1900. In addition I have played six blitz games against Genius on Palm and Pocket Fritz won 6-0. There is another programme available for Palm which is called Chess Tiger and all these games were also won by Pocket Fritz. Furthermore I tested the programme against some strong club players who have a rating of approximately 2000 - 2100 and they also had no chance of winning. Believe me, it is going to be a really strong programme!

Van Reem: Can one compare programmes for Palm, like Genius and Chess Tiger, to Pocket Fritz?
Meyer-Kahlen: No, Palm programmes play in a completely different league, one cannot compare them to Pocket Fritz at all. Pocket Fritz runs on Windows CE 3.0 and the possibilities for a programmer are far more extensive. It is much closer to Windows programming than programming for Palm, not to mention the potentials of hardware resources. It is more computer-like than a Palm Pilot.

Van Reem: One therefore has to be a really good player to force Pocket Fritz to its knees. In Mainz two top ten players, Mickey Adams and Peter Leko, are lining up in wait for your machine. Does it have a chance against them?
Meyer-Kahlen: I am optimistic, but also realistic. It would be a good result if Pocket Fritz could achieve one draw. In particular, Leko has already sent some computers packing. From my viewpoint the competition is not the focus of attention. I want to demonstrate that it is possible to play reasonable games on a Pocket PC.

Van Reem: What else can we expect from Pocket Fritz, except "merely" playing chess?
Meyer-Kahlen: Oh yes, I will include some really nice features. It will be possible to use the programme to analyse with, you can even opt for a mode which allows you to increase or decrease the number of lines being calculated in parallel. For spectators at a chess tournament it will be attractive to check interesting positions using a Pocket PC.

I want to build in a coaching element in order to warn users if they make a blunder. In addition, I will include some levels for beginners because Pocket Fritz might already prove to be too strong for a lot of chess players. Another interesting feature will be online access to ChessBase's database. With a mobile phone you can get a line and transmit data to your pocket PC. In the future it will be possible to use a pocket PC as a phone, and everything will be even easier.

Van Reem: Is there also some space left for an openings book on Pocket Fritz ?
Meyer-Kahlen: In Mainz I will probably play with a modified openings book. I am currently testing with my Shredder tournament book which is about 8 MB. However, I can use it for Pocket Fritz because the Shredder interface can export opening books. I only had to convert the book into a smaller format; now it only uses 500 KB. I generate books with Shredder because my graphic user interface has an export function built in. There is no limit set to the size of opening books. It is likely that Shredder6 will offer the opportunity to convert opening books into the smaller format for Pocket Fritz.

Van Reem: With a very serious motive Matthias Wüllenweber, the inventor of ChessBase, was joking in saying that Pocket Grandmasters should be kept strictly out of tournament venues. What is your opinion on this issue?
Meyer-Kahlen: I think he is not wrong to make this statement. It could become a problem for tournament chess. One could easily 'disappear' to the cloakrooms in order to obtain an analysis tip or to check with the online database. In this respect Pocket Fritz might cause some vexation in future.

Van Reem: How strong will future programmes be?
Meyer-Kahlen: Who knows what will happen in the next two years? Hardware is getting faster and better every year. The playing strength of standard PCs is sufficient for normal users. Even for daily analysis of positions the programmes are strong enough. It is more entertaining to sit down somewhere and play a game against a pocket PC rather than sitting in front of a computer screen and playing against a super strong programme. That is why Pocket Fritz is great: you can play against it anywhere - on the patio or balcony, in the train, absolutely everywhere.

Van Reem: When will Pocket Fritz be available in the shops?
Meyer-Kahlen: I expect people will be able to buy Pocket Fritz in July, soon after the Chess Classic.

Van Reem: What other projects are on your agenda this year?
Meyer-Kahlen: In June my Shredder 5.32 engine will become available by ChessBase as I have also managed to optimise this. In August the computer chess world championship will take place in Maastricht in the Netherlands. Of course I have to prepare properly for this event as I intend to defend my world championship title. By the end of this year Shredder6 is planned to appear. It looks like I will have plenty on my plate this year!
Copyright © 1984-2007 Ed Schröder Mail Me