Expert-driven genetic algorithms for simulating evaluation functions


In this paper we demonstrate how genetic algorithms can be used to reverse engineer an evaluation function’s parameters for computer chess. Our results show that using an appropriate expert (or mentor), we can evolve a program that is on par with top tournament-playing chess programs, outperforming a two-time World Computer Chess Champion. This performance gain is achieved by evolving a program that mimics the behavior of a superior expert. The resulting evaluation function of the evolved program consists of a much smaller number of parameters than the expert’s. The extended experimental results provided in this paper include a report on our successful participation in the 2008 World Computer Chess Championship. In principle, our expert-driven approach could be used in a wide range of problems for which appropriate experts are available.

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  1. 1.

    An evaluation unit in chess programs is commonly called a centipawn, i.e., 1/100th of the value of a pawn. Traditionally, a pawn is assigned a value of 100, and all other parameters are assigned relative values. However, the value of a pawn itself need not be exactly 100, so a unit of evaluation may no longer be exactly 1/100th of a pawn. Despite this inconsistency, the term centipawn is still used to denote the smallest evaluation unit.

  2. 2.

    Note that Evol* and RandOrg (including the sets of parameters of their evaluation function) are essentially the same, except for the actual values assigned to these parameters.

  3. 3.

    Our genetically evolved program participated under the name Falcon, which is the original name we had used in previous championships. Even though a name reflecting evolution (such as FalconGA) might have been more appropriate, it is customary that the participants use the same program name every year, even when using a substantially different version.


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Omid David-Tabibi.

Additional information

A preliminary version of this paper appeared in Proceedings of the 2008 Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference [13] and received the Best Paper Award in the conference’s Real-World Applications track.



A. Experimental setup

Our experimental setup consisted of the following resources:

  • Falcon chess engine running under UCI protocol, and Crafty 19, Junior 9, Fritz 8, and Hiarcs 8 running as a native ChessBase engines.

  • Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames (ECM) test suite, consisting of 879 positions.

  • Fritz 8 interface for automatic running of matches. Fritz opening book was used for all games.

  • AMD Athlon 64 3200+ with 1 GB RAM and Windows XP operating system.

B. Elo rating system

The Elo rating system, developed by Arpad Elo, is the official system for calculating the relative skill levels of players in chess. The following statistics from the January 2009 FIDE rating list provide a general impression of the meaning of the Elo rating system:

  • 21079 players have a rating above 2200 Elo.

  • 2886 players have a rating between 2400 and 2499, most of whom have either the title of International Master (IM) or Grandmaster (GM).

  • 876 players have a rating between 2500 and 2599, most of whom have the title of GM.

  • 188 players have a rating between 2600 and 2699, all of whom have the title of GM.

  • 32 players have a rating above 2700.

Only four players have ever had a rating of 2800 or above. A novice player is generally associated with rating values below 1400 Elo. Given the rating difference (RD) between player A and player B, the expected winning rate w (0 ≤ w ≤ 1) of player A is given by

$$ w = {\frac{1} {10^{-RD/400} + 1}}. $$

Given the winning rate of player A against player B (as is the case in our experiments), the expected rating difference between the two players can be derived from the above formula, i.e.,

$$ RD = -400 \log_{10}({\frac{1} {w}} - 1). $$

In addition, given the results of a series of N matches between two players, we can derive confidence intervals for their rating difference. Without loss of generality, let W, D, and L denote, respectively, the number of wins, draws, and losses of the first player. The mean score and standard deviation are given, respectively, by

$$ \overline{x} = {\frac{W + D/2} {N}}. $$


$$ s = \sqrt{{\frac{W \cdot (1 - \overline{x})^2 + D \cdot(0.5 - \overline{x})^2 + L \cdot \overline{x}^2} {N - 1}}}. $$

Note that \(\overline{x}\) is essentially an estimate of the expected winning rate. Now, suppose that we are interested in computing, for example, the 95% confidence interval (which corresponds to ± two standard deviations) of the rating difference. For this we compute the lower and upper ends of the winning rate, i.e., \(w_{lo} = \overline{x} - 2s\) and \(w_{hi} = \overline{x} + 2s\). Substituting w lo and w hi in Eq. 2 we obtain the corresponding lower and upper ends of the 95% confidence interval of the rating difference. Given any confidence level, one can compute the corresponding RD confidence interval similarly to the above described steps.

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David-Tabibi, O., Koppel, M. & Netanyahu, N.S. Expert-driven genetic algorithms for simulating evaluation functions. Genet Program Evolvable Mach 12, 5–22 (2011).

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  • Computer chess
  • Fitness evaluation
  • Games
  • Genetic algorithms
  • Parameter tuning