REBEL 11.0 review
by Bob Riley
Rebel 11 – A Full-Featured Chess Suite
About the author: Bob lives in the USA with his wife, and has two grown children. Bob, a former mechanical engineer, is now a social worker in mental health and a substitute teacher. His sole claim to fame in chess is that when he and Bobby Fischer were both 14 ½, he watched Bobby play in a tournament in Milwaukee. Bob, never more than a casual chess player, rekindled his interest in chess when he bought Socrates in 1997, followed quickly by Rebel 8. Over the next 2 ½ years, he purchased Chessica, Fritz 5.16 and Rebel Century 1. Through an amazing turn of events, Bob was accepted as a beta tester for Rebel 11. His people-people chess playing normally is via email. "I am too slow or obtuse to play blitz games online." His system is an IBM Aptiva, AMD K6-233 MMX, 64 MB RAM, running Windows 95 OSR 2b – both programs run well on that system.
A CAVEAT: Both playing programs on the Rebel 11 CD are autoplayer232-compatible for PC-PC matches, but with "only" one PC at home, Bob cannot evaluate that feature.
Rebel Century 3 (DOS)
Details of Century's amazing capacity can be found on the Rebel website, so I can only give you my impressions of some easily-accessed features that really struck me.
- Setup: There are two elements of Century's setup, with it being a DOS game: 1) the basic installation; and 2) the setup of a windows program group. Both of these elements installed flawlessly in one step by running install.exe from the CD. In some windows system (including mine), Century runs with more stability using the <Start – programs - Rebel Century 3.0 – Rebel Century 3 VGA> choice (instead of the other (Rebel Century 3) choice in the windows start menu listing).
CAUTION: the Century program group automatically sets the hashtable size based upon the RAM of your system – I had to adjust this downward on our system (using simple DOS command line options explained in the readme file), but many people will NOT have to do that and can use the default hashtable setup.
- Century runs extremely well and in a very stable fashion – even more so than Fritz 5.16 on our computer. The setup is designed very thoughtfully and considerately – you can elect to install only the basic opening books, EOC (encyclopedia of chess) and CAT (computer analysis tool) files and Rebel database to minimize hard drive space. If you have space to spare, then you can install the optional and huge opening book, EOC, CAT and database files. I do strongly recommend you copy the optional rebelcen.hlp (help) files from the CD to your Century 3 directory for fast access, since the files in windows help format are very comprehensive and a complement to the excellent default online help files found within Century while playing.
- Appearance: For Century 3, the traditional Rebel layout has been altered to feature a smaller (75% size) board. This allows for easy visibility of much other data, including the EOC (which allows seeing a tree of opening choices from thousands of master tournament games) or the CAT (which allows seeing a similar tree of top-level computer program games from Rebel and other programs). In addition to the many predesigned layouts, including the traditional Rebel layout, Rebel also allows designing your own layouts. There are an infinite number of options and placements of windows.
- Playing Strength and Style: Century's strength places it among the very top programs in the world. Since that places it above 99.8% of those of us who use it, Century features many flexible ways of adjusting its strength. Here are a few but not all of the options for this: Setting it at Novice, Club Player, and Strong levels; setting it to a desired Elo level (which removes all other visible data, such as position evaluation, hint moves, and opening book moves, just like real OTB chess!), and Handicap (giving Rebel much less time in a blitz game than his human opponent). My own observation is that Rebel is much more fun and human-like in its play at reduced-strength levels than Fritz 5, which makes very obvious blunders. Rebel's "slips" are much more subtle and hard to detect, just like those of a club-level player.
- Flexibility: Century constantly amazes me with its flexibility of engine configuration. It has been equipped with a variety of "personalities" configured to emulate the play of such luminaries in chess as Alekhine, Fischer, Kasparov, Polgar and Tal. Users can also configure their own personalities for Century, which yields the possibility of increasing Century's strength tactically or positionally. In addition, several basic styles of play can be set besides the default style: bluff chess (coffee house play), tactical engine, aggressive play and defensive play (in varying degrees). Rebel also allows internal (on one PC) autoplay between its own engines (Century 3; Rebel 8, 9 and 10; and Rebel Decade) and between the various personalities you may have chosen or designed. You may also use your own database of such matches to create your own CAT, another aid to learning.
- Database: The standard Century database consists of thousands of high-level tournament games, and the optional database added to the CD consists of some 800,000 highly qualified chess games. It is also fairly easy to set up your own private database of games, although the DOS interface takes getting used to compared to a windows GUI when creating directories. The search mask in looking for certain chess players or game positions in the database is quite comprehensive and flexible, although the searching itself is somewhat slower than a comparable search in Fritz 5 for reasons that I do not understand.
Ed Schroeder and his Rebel team provide the best technical support of any chess program (or other game) I have seen. There are the Rebel bulletin board and FAQ's accessible from the Rebel home page. In addition, the Rebel team is very responsive in replying to personal questions submitted (considering time limitations – this team is very busy!). In addition, a bonus for being a registered Rebel 11 owner is that you have access to a Rebel subscription site, where updates, additional databases, etc., are available for download. Finally, when you place your order for Rebel 11, you can immediately download a 50-start version of Century 3 so that you can start playing right away! I might add that for some owners including me, the 50-start version has to be installed in two steps: 1) install.exe, and 2) rebgroup.exe – the latter to install the Rebel program group with shortcuts.
- Game analysis: Rebel's accuracy of positional analysis has been renowned for years, even when compared in the past to faster analyzing (nodes per second) programs, such as Fritz. Thus it is a real source of learning to have Rebel analyze one's own games as white, black or both. There are also other creative options available, such as "analysis include," where Rebel in a given position only compares the several moves you were considering in that position. A fascinating and very helpful feature for email chess players like me (when trying to learn from my losses)!
- Suggestions for Improvement: Most of us have been waiting for Rebel to be ported to a windows environment for some time, and that is in the works. I also think that one deficit in Century is the inability to add textual annotation when analyzing one's own games. Happily, this feature is present in Century's cousin on the CD, Rebel Tiger II.
Rebel Tiger II (Windows GUI)
Rebel Tiger is new to me in the Rebel stable of programs. The many features are outlined on the Rebel website, but as with Century, I will only mention features that struck me.
- Installation: Separate from the installation of Century. Just run setup.exe from the CD, and Tiger installs in one simple step!
- Appearance: Tiger's layout is the same as the new ChessPartner 5 layout. Attractive, yet highly functional. In addition to the default layout, there are many other layout options included, and you can design and save your own layouts (and menu options) as well. The flexibility is amazing – there is also a default internet play layout included – which you can also alter to suit. You must still then open the internet play toolbar for connecting to one of the ICS (internet chess server) services.
- Playing Strength and Style: Tiger features many playing engines: Tiger 13.0, Tiger Gambit 1.0, and the ChessPartner Lokasoft engine, the latter a more suitable opponent for human patzers like me! In addition, it can use any of many engines developed for the well-known Winboard interface (with an edit window provided for configuration for any of those engines you may choose to obtain and use). The Rebel home page will over time be providing additional setup aids for convenient setup of the many engines publically available for the Winboard interface.
Note: Tiger 13.0 and Tiger Gambit engines are world-class in strength! Tiger Gambit plays in a more aggressive, attacking style, which can be very unsettling to human opponents, although Tiger 13 is probably a bit stronger, especially when there is adequate time for deeper analysis. Even at the lowest "beginner" time level of two seconds, however, these engines are too strong for players like me – a minor deficit that will be addressed in time, I understand.
With all of its engines (plus the renowned Rebel Century 2 engine for additional positional analysis), there is no provision for internal engine-engine (i.e., on one PC) play such as can be done in Century. This is a deficit, to me.
- Database: There are several small databases provided with Tiger, including a list of some 800 world championship matches going back into the 1800's. In addition, Tiger can "read" pgn databases, many of which can be found on the internet.
The standard opening book (another topic), however, is wonderful, and was specially prepared for the World Computer Chess Championships in London, 2000.
- Game Analysis: As with Century, Tiger can be used for game analysis, including the "analysis include" feature. In addition, Tiger's analysis of a given position or game can be complemented by concurrent use of the wonderful Rebel Century 2 analysis engine, so you can compare the two! For annotating your own games, Tiger makes insertion of textual comments and notation symbols into the movelist quite simple – a very nice feature.
- Internet Play: This is a new feature to me! With Tiger, you can use it as an interface for your own play on the internet for ICS use. It has several pre-configured internet modules for convenient use at various U.S. And European ICS sites. It is designed so that you CANNOT use it secretly for cheating, as the interface for human-human online play does not allow "engaging" Tiger's engine for concurrent analysis. A very nice feature supporting ethical play! If you use Tiger to make automatic moves in online computer mode (I call that "machine" mode), then Tiger "announces himself" to your opponent! So if you use Tiger for internet play at an ICS, then be honest and apply with that site for a computer chess membership! In my internet play using Tiger during the beta testing period (over 200 hundred blitz games at various times), Tiger only lost two games to computer or human opponents using our relatively slow AMD K6 system. Amazing!
- Customer Support: Because Rebel Tiger is one of the Rebel stable of excellent programs, Tiger owners have the same access to Rebel.nl's excellent customer support.
- Suggestions for Improvement: Adding internal autoplay between two of Tiger's engines (including any added winboard playing engines) would round out Tiger as a complete chess-playing program.
Summary: Taking all things into account, the Rebel 11 package is a tremendous source of fun and a great bargain among the professional chess-playing programs available commercially. It will give much enjoyment and chess learning for years to come, I believe. I felt honored to have been a beta tester for this suite of chess programs.