Making Glaurung easy enough for a 7-year old

There are more than a hundred chess engines out there and many (most?) of them play extremely well. For example, Glaurung, a free chess program, easily and consistently wipes the floor with me.

S1 (the 7-year old) is getting into chess. He loves to play checkers on my iPod, so showing him Glaurung seemed like a good idea. But I do want him to win once in a while, so I started fiddling with the settings. It turned out to be much harder than I expected. So, for other people out there, here's what you've got to do to make Glaurung play easy enough for a 7-year-old to beat once in a while:

  1. Set the playing style to be "Passive". This means that the program only rarely goes on on a sacrificial attack sequence.
  2. Set the playing level to 1. The levels range from 1-100 and even 1 is quite solid.
  3. Turn off Permanent Thinking. By default, the program continues to think when it's your turn to play. The CPU on the iPod is fast enough that if you let it do that, it's way too good.
  4. Set the Book usage to Low.
  5. Deviate quite quickly away from the book.
I should probably explain setting 4 and strategy 5. There are lots and lots of opening sequences fed into the program and even at a low playing level, if the program uses the book, a child would be done for. The issue here is that the problems with not-so-good lines may have taken years to find. There's little chance that your 7-year old (or even you!) will find them at the table under time pressure. What step 4 does is to tell the program not to always choose the best opening line.

But the strategy in 5 is also something your child has to do -- he'll have to take the program along a bad tangent. At that point, settings 1-3 come in; the program plays poorly enough that it's possible for a bright kid to beat it. This strategy is no different than what you'd do when playing an over-prepared human opponent, so it's a good skill to have anyway.

Before I figured all this out, I found a blog post talking about Glaurung and asked the blogger for advice on settings. He suggested that I try A1 Chess instead. And so I did. A1 Chess is great for beginners. It's ridiculously easy -- S1 has beaten in 2 out of 3 times so far (tied the 3rd time) and it has an encouraging sound-track (with applause greeting every win). I have to wean him off it and towards Glaurung in a few months, but for now, it's good.

1 comment:

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