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About Komodo

About Us by GM Larry Kaufman

Komodo started in 2007 as a joint project by programmer Don Dailey and myself, grandmaster Larry Kaufman, when I was a member of the team that created Rybka 3, then the world's strongest chess engine. It was then called "Doch" as an abbreviation for "Don's Chess", but we learned that this name is not suitable in the German language, and I suggested the name "Komodo", both because the Komodo Dragon is the world's most fearsome lizard, and because "Dragon" suggests the Dragon Sicilian, a popular fighting opening. At the time it was mostly just for fun and as a learning experience for me; we never expected it to be a rival for Rybka, but things turned out differently.

Don and I became acquainted around 1987. At the time, he had written an amateur program which competed in international computer chess events. His chess advisor had been an expert-rated player, Sam Sloan, although Don was himself rated around the 1800 level. When Sam moved to the Middle East he recommended me to replace him on the project and introduced us, and we worked together for several years on various chess programs including RexChess, Socrates, and Kasparov's Gambit. Around 1993 Don left computer chess for a job at M.I.T. and only returned to it in 2007. True to character, during the interim found time to write one of the world's best Go programs, despite knowing almost nothing about that game.

Komodo improved at a fairly rapid clip, and much to our surprise this rate of progress did not slow down much. Within about two years of when I stopped working on Rybka (which coincided with my winning the World Senior Chess Championship and the grandmaster title in late 2008) Komodo passed Rybka 3 in playing strength, and we decided to go commercial so Don could devote more of his time to Komodo. We made this decision just after the release of Komodo 3. Komodo 4 was our first commercial release, in November 2011.

Komodo incorporated original ideas we had introduced in our programs back around 1990, and we continued to add new ideas, especially in the search, almost daily. Don wrote all of the actual code until 2011, by which time he had taught me enough about programming in "C" to make relatively simple program modifications myself.

Around this time Don learned he had a fatal illness, and we needed to find another programmer if Komodo were to continue.

Knowing that he had little remaining time to live, Don and I agreed that Mark Lefler, author of chess program "Now", would take over Don’s role in Komodo. They worked together for about two months until Don was too ill to continue; he was able to pass on to Mark most of the necessary knowledge and software, although some has been lost forever.

Komodo 6 was the last engine on which Don was the main programmer, while Komodo TCEC was the last that Don was able to contribute to directly. I had a very good working relationship with Don, whom I considered a good personal friend, and now I can say the same regarding Mark.

Don lived just long enough to see Komodo make it to the finals of the most prestigious computer chess event, "TCEC", which Komodo went on to win a week later.

Don died from leukemia on November 22nd, 2013 in Roanoke, Virginia at the age of 57. His widow, Mary Dailey, remains a partner in Komodo. With Komodo 8 we have made an engine that should top many rating lists; my only regret is that Don did not get to see this happen.

I would like to mention the contributions of our webmaster Jesse Gersenson who has supported our website since Komodo 3, and of Jeremy Bernstein, who is mostly responsible for incorporating Syzygy tablebases into Komodo and also for the Android version of Komodo 8.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the many ideas we've drawn from various open-source engines. While we've never used other people's code or weights, and never attempted to be similar to any other engine in overall design or in terms of which ideas to use or discard, every new idea challenges the way one thinks and this has been a source of inspiration.

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