In contempt

Sherwood, Russell  Thursday, February 1, 2018

Here we are not talking about annoying people but the concept of considering the gap between you and the opposition in terms of playing strength. This has been coined “Contempt” in the engine world and is worthy of consideration for the aspiring player.


So what is contempt in engine terms? In we consider that, in very simple terms, an engine works by finding what it thinks is the best move and then the best response to this move and then the best response to this response and so on, creating a mainline.  This makes the simple assumption that the opponent will play the best possible response. Now if we are playing someone who is demonstrably a weaker or stronger player this will probably not be the case.


What was being found was that top engines were overestimating the strength of response (giving them too much “respect”) so the concept of “Contempt” was born. Different engines implement Contempt in different ways but all implementations use a modifier. The main practical benefit of this is to change the path the engine may take when it is searching for the best line. In general, it will mean avoiding exchanges and simplifications unless there is a clear advantage. The opposite would be true if a negative contempt were used (Respect would be a better name)!


Traditionally this function has only been available for Engine v Engine matches – but versions of Stockfish and other engines now exist where Contempt can be adjusted in Analysis.


Many players have held the view that Contempt should be left alone but it is an area worthy of experimentation. For example for a higher rated playing in an early round Open event, it is worth examination to see if alternative lines exist.


So in summary – this is a fairly unexplored area and one which might generate interesting results for pioneers!

Updated Thursday, February 1, 2018 by Russell Sherwood

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