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ChessOK.com » Video Interview with Vasik Rajlich
Video Interview with Vasik Rajlich 29 December 2009

There is no need to introduce Rybka to ChessOK.com visitors, who have been using it as a part of the Rybka Aquarium package. However, the man behind the strongest chess engine in the world, Vasik Rajlich, is probably little known outside the circle of computer chess enthusiasts. The following interview with Vas, conducted by Nelson Hernandez, should be of great interest to every Rybka user who wants to know Vas’ views and where he is heading with the next Rybka versions. We are at crossroads in the chess engine market. What will the changes mean for the serious chess player?

Here is a word from Nelson Hernandez:

I’m happy to contribute this exchange Vas and I had on December 5th, him in Warsaw, me in Virginia.

The back story…the idea for this production came to me in November and Vas readily agreed to do the project. The whole thing was done on virtually a zero budget and in some respects that shows. I had never done anything like this before and had no experience whatsoever in interviewing or film editing. It turned out that interviewing was fairly easy but the film editing was a grueling process. On my side I had the benefit of my younger son being a cameraman/director but on Vas’s side Iweta wanted nothing to do with the project, a source of hilarity at the time but a bit of a disappointment in terms of camera angles and sound (both of which were rather poor on his end). We shot about 2 1/2 hours on two camcorders; I’m sure some of the edited-out material would be of mild interest too; for instance I chopped out about ten minutes on chess programming which, in the end, I thought wasn’t lively enough. That topic can’t be properly addressed in ten or fifteen minutes, and anyway I lack the technical background to be asking those kinds of questions.

The key point I want to get across was that the purpose of this film was to introduce Vas to a general audience, broader than just the Rybkaforum. I had originally intended that this be put on Chessbase and Convekta, but in the course of editing I realized this production was too long and lacking in hard substance and controversy for a Chessbase audience, but might be perfect for Convekta and this forum. Thus the first half-hour or so is a recap of Vas’s life before Rybka and the history of Rybka. I felt it was important to get to know him as a human being and get a sense of his life journey. The second half deals with the present and future. It was never my intention to come after Vas with hostile questions or to interrogate him aggressively; I knew beforehand that he would be evasive on a lot of stuff (a lot of decisions simply haven’t been made yet) but I think I did get some new information and most of all we get a sense of how he thinks and how he reacts to questions. I know a lot of you know the Rybka story intimately already and will learn little from that part of the interview, but think of the broader audience as I did and you’ll see why I decided to ask those questions.

As with any production there are things you wish you could have asked. In this case I was a little bit surprised by some of his answers on the Internet version; on the day of the interview I really didn’t have a clear picture of how it all fit together and I didn’t realize how much he was de-emphasizing Rybka 4. This resulted in my asking some questions completely on the fly and, well, judge for yourself.

Some may say this was a Rybka propaganda piece. I don’t see it that way. I am a Rybka user and I admire Vas’s chess programming achievements. Of course I am a fan. Nonetheless I have issues with the Internet version, as many of you do. But what positive good would have been served by my going into a long explanation of my gripes and concerns? I wasn’t the star of this interview; I would be abusing my audience if I started ranting and arguing. You cannot speak to Vas directly and come away thinking he’s a bad guy. You do come away thinking that he’s a good guy who is making difficult business decisions based on shifting circumstances and opportunities. I guess we will all see how these decisions play out in the next year or two.

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Discussion

@RybkaForum: http://rybkaforum.net/cgi-bin/rybkaforum/topic_show.pl?tid=14546

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