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Up Topic Rybka Support & Discussion / Rybka Discussion / A Conversation With Vasik Rajlich - 5 Dec 2009
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- - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 01:58 Edited 2010-02-12 10:03

Mirror 1:
Mirror 2:   (revised link)
151 MB, 64 minutes

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.
Parent - - By Felix Kling (Gold) [de] Date 2009-12-29 02:01
the download link isn't working here :(
Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 02:10
Wow, that's strange, it was there before and now it's gone!  OK everybody, hold on while I get a new link....
Parent - - By Felix Kling (Gold) [de] Date 2009-12-29 02:11 Edited 2009-12-29 02:24
After I got the file I'll upload it to our server :)
Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 02:31
Try the new link I posted above.
Parent - By Felix Kling (Gold) [de] Date 2009-12-29 02:34
works :) Downloading...
Parent - - By Highendman (****) Date 2009-12-29 02:14
Intriguing. Alas, the download link you provided is broken.
Parent - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 02:31
I edited the link in my original post, try again.  It works for me.
Parent - - By Felix Kling (Gold) [de] Date 2009-12-29 03:17 Edited 2009-12-29 21:00
Looks good so far, it has of course some amateur charm, but you are quite good in asking questions, which is the most critical part. The camera is ok, although I was a bit afraid at the beginning that Vas is looking too far away from the camera, but it's still ok. However, looking directly to the camera would be better maybe (you do that later in the video I just notice :) ). Also those scenes where we hear Vas talking and see you staring at the screen could be improved, I mean some "TV-moderator face" would be good :) I'm at the point with the Rybka cluster, quite interesting :)
Parent - By Sesse (****) [ch] Date 2010-01-15 01:11
The messed-up aspect ratio in Vas' shots freaks me out a bit. :-)

/* Steinar */
Parent - By vdragan (***) [us] Date 2009-12-29 03:40
very nice
thanks :)
Parent - - By Felix Kling (Gold) [de] Date 2009-12-29 03:45
I just finished watching the video, it was getting better and better, the questions were intelligent and most important I enjoyed watching it :) The easter egg at the end is also funny :)

Maybe we can give it to Chessbase, Convekta, Chessvibes (and some more?) and allow them to edit it, so that they can basically fit it to their needs if it's too long for them or if they want to concentrate just on Rybka 4 and so on. Would that be ok for you?
Parent - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 03:57 Edited 2009-12-29 04:17
Felix, as far as I am concerned it is now in public domain and you and Vas can decide how to distribute.  For sure it should go to Convekta immediately.  As for the others, that's your call.  Thanks for the compliments. 

There are several technical flaws in the production which I am well aware of.  You have to understand I had only 50% control of the visuals and the portion I did control was an amateur effort using primitive tools.  For instance, instead of a tripod we had a desk and several reams of paper in a stack to achieve the elevation we wanted.  Lighting was the brightest light setting available in the room we were in and picture windows during a snowstorm.  On Vas's side I was initially stunned by his raw footage, which bore only a vague resemblance to what I had proposed.  Compounding the problems was converting his footage into file formats in which you can film-edit such as .wmv and .avi, which resulted in file corruption.  (Some of the bad audio sections and illogical cuts are the result of this.)  I spent days trying to work around various unexpected problems; at one point I even had to update all my drivers, fix my computer's registry and defrag my hard drive just to eliminate these issues as potential sources of mysterious problems.  It short, it was a crash course in editing from zero knowledge to very slightly greater than zero.  Lesson to would-be film-makers: by all means use professional tools even if you have to pay for them; the alternative is lots of extra work and frustration.
Parent - - By kingliveson (**) Date 2009-12-29 04:38
Mr. Nelson Hernandez,

Vasik Rajlich is an interesting fellow and clearly brilliant--no question. I think it would have been proper though to disclose that this was an informercial. Those were not questions--you lead the entire "interview" and promoted a product (Remote Rybka) more than half the duration of the show. So, no, I do not see this as a propaganda piece for Rybka; I see it for exactly what it is and I am quite content with that. Anyone can see through the production. You jeopardize your credibility if you try to pass this off as an interview rather than promotion of a product.

Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 04:47
Did you see how I laughed out loud when he said 80 to 100 euros per hour for the full-power cluster?  What about the bug questions?  And what about some of the body language?  What would you have me do instead, sir?  Should I have argued with him and thereby ruined the production for Convekta and Chessbase?  Why crucify the guy?  I mean, hasn't he actually accomplished some good things up to now?
Parent - By kingliveson (**) Date 2009-12-29 05:18
I would say my comment was more an observation rather than being critical. I am not asking for Vas to be crucified. I think Rybka's entry into computer chess world was major as were other key moments. Vas is a smart guy and would probably be an interesting fellow to hangout with.  The entire video is one hour, four minutes, and thirty-six seconds--it just does not seem to be an interview. It is in my opinion a very long commercial better known as infomercial. There is nothing wrong with an infomercial so long there is disclosure. There is no reason to take this any other way...

Parent - - By Milton (***) [us] Date 2009-12-29 05:24
Thanks for doing the interview.  I really found it interesting.  I admit it did not change my concerns regarding his new proposed business model, but it was fun listening to him discuss his general views of computer chess, and the direction he plans to go in the next several years.
Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 06:41
He didn't persuade me either.  But it was indeed very informative and now I have a much better grip on what he is trying to do. 

Any way you slice it the playing field will now be tremendously skewed in favor of the financially privileged.  This is true now and it has always been true to some extent (though I have seen some amazing misapplications of money in the past), but this model makes the situation even worse.  Now it is pretty much impossible to be competitive without doing it on Vas's terms, thereby limiting the range of our creativity and therefore the incentive to be creative.  Vas would say that his offering saves me from buying servers going forward, but as I told him (in footage that I cut) half the fun is in the eccentric joy of doing it all yourself, proving out your theories.  Eccentric joy: would you rather build and paint a model airplane, or would you rather buy an expertly pre-built and painted one for roughly the same price?  Vas really underestimates how much we love working on our hobby.  He's taking away a big part of the fun, which in my opinion isn't good for the hobby.  Fewer people will participate if the fun level for a significant sub-segment (hardware tinkerers) drops steeply, and I suspect a lot of us are more enamored of hardware tinkering than we even realize.  Just take it away suddenly and you realize how much you love it.
Parent - By Milton (***) [us] Date 2009-12-29 07:40
I think you posted somewhere else (some time ago) that his new business model would cause him to lose customer loyalty.  This is certainly true for me.  For the first time since becoming a Rybka customer, I am actually rooting for some other chess program to surpass Rybka in strength.  This is true not because I have anything personal against Vas, but because I would like to have a copy of the strongest program on my computer.  And I am somewhat optimistic this will happen.  It seems there are a few strong candidates out there that could pull it off.  If it happens, I'm pretty sure I will have purchased my last Rybka.
Parent - By Uly (Gold) [mx] Date 2009-12-29 09:41
As for me, my hobby is about the challenge to beat strong people, back when I was on 1CPU 32bit I had a lot of fun trying to draw people in hardware that was 20 times faster than mine, after I upgraded my hardware the challenge became trying to beat them, which is funnier, and I even became overconfident and lost a game in the opening. The new hardware model from Vas will just make potential opponents stronger, I can just imagine playing a wealthy opponent that is paying big money just to beat me, and it would be very gratifying if I manage to draw or even beat him, that will require more creativity from myself. As I said, the moves he will play are there in plain sight on the board, so I'd manage to learn how to find better moves that he played that I missed, just like I've been doing all the time, keeping on improving my analysis method with each surprise.

So personally it's not bad, I'm used to being the underdog, I just wonder how many people will really buy into the new model, I can just feel that it's going to fail and Vas will have to go back into the old model, hopefully he'll keep being first place by then, otherwise this is a very risky gambit, Vas's competition is catching up as we speak.
Parent - - By oudheusa (*****) [nl] Date 2009-12-29 15:23
do you really believe his arguments are genuine? no sir! see my comments below. i had rather had he be a man about it and told us eg, i am not going to give my latest code any longer because it gets stolen, or i expect to make the money i am entitled to this way.

what i find really disturbing is that he treats us as if we are stupid...
Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 19:13
I think he conceded that point when I asked him how much remote Rybka was driven by hacking.  Remember?  He said something like it gave him pleasure that future improvements would be "his". 

I really don't think Vas thinks we're stupid.  But there is no doubt that he was doing some "positioning" in the interview.  This is not unusual in any commercial enterprise, though.  Look, in the end the enterprise will succeed or fail on its own merits.  The market will tell him exactly what it thinks.  If he's right, he'll make a good living.  If not, he'll have to adapt or perish.  The outcome may be somewhere in-between, I think.
Parent - - By oudheusa (*****) [nl] Date 2009-12-29 19:57
bs my dear Nelson, he used to take his fan base seriously. we are old enough to hear the truth and do not need this. positioning is crap anyway, it backfires more often than not.
Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 20:56
Well, I think we did hear the truth, but it is up to us to fill in the gaps.  Is there a good financial, value, convenience case for remote Rybka?  Arguable.  Very arguable.  What are his motives for going in this direction?  Fairly clear from his answers and from what we can intuit.  What did you expect?  For him to open his heart to us and pour out his inner thoughts on business strategy very candidly?  That would really have been news then, can you imagine it?  He'd have been quoted all over the place then.

He's a programmer but he is also a businessman.  You can't separate the two.  Vas is a married man trying to make a living like anyone else.  As he explained in the interview, he hasn't had a steady, conventional job since mid-2003.  Imagine the pressure that puts on him to deliver value and capitalize on it.  As long as he has the strongest chess program in the world he has pricing leverage.  He thinks he can sustain the edge he has by locking up the code, or at any rate that this is his best strategy to sustain Rybka as a business.  It's a calculated risk, isn't it?  But do you expect him to say "I'm betting my franchise on this delivery scheme working out"?  Come on, be realistic.  I'm sympathetic to his situation even while thinking this is a big gamble from a business standpoint and a net negative from a public relations standpoint.  All I would ask you to do is put yourself in his shoes and come up with a better long-term strategy to sustain Rybka as a going concern.  It's not easy, given the facts he revealed eliptically.
Parent - - By oudheusa (*****) [nl] Date 2009-12-29 21:22
i have made that suggestion before, many of us are willing to pay for a premium rybka subscription model just like the one he used for Rybka 1. there is your basic rybka 4 purchase or the rybka 4 premium subscription for which you get a year of free updates included. he could easily charge for up to Euro 200 for that and i see a lot more sales there than thinking that more than 10 people would actually buy a Euro 750 annual subscription to a remote rybka service and an engine that they do not posess.
Parent - - By Felix Kling (Gold) [de] Date 2009-12-29 22:36
I don't know if you used a remote engine yet, but it's quite cool (your system is more responsive, you can use slow computers, so your laptop becomes a monster). I guess most people will like it when they try it. It's a cool idea for sure, the only problem I see is purchasing it, as I don't like paying via those usual online paying methods :) but I hope that's no problem for the majority of customers.
Parent - By oudheusa (*****) [nl] Date 2009-12-30 05:45
hi felix, as said i have no problems with Vas introducing this service, i may even try it out once at 50 cents an hour. the problem is that, if i understand correctly, Vas is going to release a tuned down Rybka 4 version as a standalone engine and use the strongest Rybka 4 for the remote service from the start. this is why Rybka 4 release is taking so long now i expect; Vas is deciding which improvements he will leave out of the Rybka 4 standalone version.

please tell me that i am wrong...
Parent - By Bouddha (****) [ch] Date 2009-12-29 22:28
Is it too late for Vas to change ?
Parent - - By rookie (**) [us] Date 2009-12-30 18:45
I don't believe Vas thinks the forum members are stupid. But I do think he is thinking way beyond the probably small world represented by forum members. For his sake, I  hope he knows something concrete about that larger world of customers, because it seems that it will be they who will have to be the ones to support the online Rybka. It is impressive to me that the opinion on the forum is so united against the online business model. And in the face of this it seems very disjointing to hear Vas continue to say that this model is a win-win-win prospect (I'm not too sure to whom the final 'win' applies). Yes, the forum does not represent the whole Rybka market, but the practically universal recoil of the forum to this idea should give Vas some pause. After all, do the  people who love computer chess really make their choices on the basis of their equipment depreciation, or the 'real' cost per hour of using it? And if so, then why are these points so hopelessly lost on virtually all the forum members?  The forum may represent a small world, but I hope the world inside Vas's head is not smaller still.
Parent - - By oudheusa (*****) [nl] Date 2009-12-30 18:54
for clarification, i do not think the forum is against the online business model.

i do think the forum is very disappointed with being offered a stripped down Rybka 4 standalone version after all the promises and announcements that were made and having waited for well over a year now...
Parent - By rookie (**) [us] Date 2009-12-30 20:46
Yes, you are right, it's not technically the online model itself that has fallen flat here, its the idea of a  stripped down Rybka 4. When I wrote, I was thinking of the online model with all its implications including, most importantly, the need to keep the released Rybka considerably weaker. Still, very few on the forum have said they would use the online version, but quite a number have made it clear they would not use it.  Not using it isn't the same as being against it, but from the standpoint of success or failure of the model, the effect will be the same.
Parent - - By Akorps (**) [us] Date 2009-12-30 17:30
After thinking about it for the past few months, I think Vas is right intellectually about his internet model, but it could have been marketed in a different way (it could be a win-win-win for all concerned, including Rybka 4 users, if looked at from the right point of view).

One thing you never want to do is alienate your already existing customers for some imaginary customers who may not materialize in reality (a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as the saying goes :-)

My point is I think the whole thing could have been presented as a way to benefit Rybka 4 users, for example by speeding up Rybka's overall development, making it possible for new Rybka releases to be bug-free, making new versions available for Xmas season each year when most people are most ready to buy new stuff anyway, but most importantly, making sure the existing Rybka customers know they are loved and appreciated :-)

Also, I have some doubts whether the internet approach will be viable economically, especially in 2010, which could be a disastrous year for the world economy.

(other old sayings that really are true: "The customer is always right", which means that to succeed in business you have to give the customer what the customer wants, and make it as easy as possible for the customer to pay for it :-)

I've seen in other companies some really crazy ideas the people in the company had about what the customers should want, while all the while the customers were clamoring for something else the company was providing, but which the people in the company looked down on with disdain, like "how could anyone be so stupid as to want that, when we have this other great stuff that noone is buying?"

Like, I got my copy of Rybka 3 on CD from ChessCentral, because they have always been so nice to me and provided great service and made it easy to pay, so I didn't have to go through the nightmare of dealing with Chessbase or Convekta (if a company support representative is rude to you after years of being a loyal customer, the company is likely to lose that customer for life. Customers get very bitter when they are treated badly by a company, and that resentment can easily last a lifetime.) Also that way I have a copy on CD in case my internet connection fails or something like that. I suspect most users are like me, they just want a Rybka version they can use to analyse their own games with, on their home computer. The high-end market I suspect is very small. I doubt whether there is enough money to be made in chess to support much of a high-end market. In poker there definitely *is*, but I imagine letting Vas loose on the poker world would be a nightmare come true for the online poker sites :-)
Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-30 18:11
Excellent comments.  Incidentally I totally agree with your pessimistic economic outlook and that is a big factor in my wondering about the viability of this model in the near-term.
Parent - - By Uly (Gold) [mx] Date 2009-12-30 20:22
The most striking comment from Vas on the interview to me was:

"in two years, you won’t believe that you previously didn’t have an Internet version to use, but that’s the big step forward now"

If it turns out he's right he'll be a much bigger visionary than I thought!
Parent - - By Bouddha (****) [ch] Date 2009-12-30 23:07
same here
Parent - By Fulcrum2000 (****) [nl] Date 2009-12-30 23:38
Remember he did say the same about Sampled Search, just to put it into perspective...
Parent - By Gaмßito (****) [cr] Date 2009-12-29 05:32

Thank you so much for this interview!

Now, let me see what Vas and you has talked about. :-)

Best Regards,
Parent - - By mindbreaker (****) [us] Date 2009-12-29 08:12
That was great.  And it explained a lot.  The only real concern I have is that I would want to know if I were a professional player that discoveries I made using remote Rybka, or whatever it is going to be known as, are not going to be shared with other users or at least they would have to do the same thing spending the same amount of time to discover.  The machine would not simply learn from my effort and hand out to the next guy who asks in the first microsecond everything I spent time and money to discover.
Parent - By Vasik Rajlich (Silver) [pl] Date 2009-12-30 08:44
Participation in data sharing will be voluntary, of course. The really serious guys will almost certainly prefer to keep their work private. I hope that many amateur players do choose to contribute, though - down the road, we'll try to work out a scheme where people get credit for their contributions.

Parent - - By Uly (Gold) [mx] Date 2009-12-29 09:43
Is there a transcript or summary in the works? For people that have great problems listening to english.
Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 12:44
I abandoned the idea of doing subtitles when it became clear that a long interview would be inappropriate for Chessbase.  At this point my thinking is that the amount of work that would be involved in writing a transcript, having others translate, and inserting the translations to the video would be way out of proportion to the benefits.  If you had gone through the last two weeks over here, where I worked non-stop on this project right through the holidays, you might be reluctant to take this extra step too!  However if there is a clamor of Germans or Spaniards demanding a translation I suppose it could be done.  But I need clear popular demand.
Parent - By Uly (Gold) [mx] Date 2009-12-29 13:00
Not necessarily a translation, just a summary of what was said written in english (no exact transcript is needed, just paraphrasing what was said in a "X was asked, and Vas gave Y explanation" style), and it doesn't need to be in the video. I'm very interested in what was said but being english "deaf" I couldn't understand what is being said, though I understand I'm a minority and that it may require too much work.
Parent - - By Kronicon (*) [us] Date 2009-12-31 21:53
Hi I wanna help you to make the subtitle in Spanish and put the video on youtube. What did you think.
Parent - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-31 22:48
That's generous, but YouTube might not be a viable place to post as they are a little annoyed with me using a tune recorded in 1957 in my video.  Next time I will use something definitely in public domain like "Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty" or "We're All Going Calling on the Kaiser".
Parent - - By oudheusa (*****) [nl] Date 2009-12-29 11:07 Edited 2009-12-29 11:10
very nice Nelson

you failed to ask the most important question: will Rybka 4 be released at all as a standalone engine?

Vas has gone so quiet on the release that I fear he is contemplating to release R4 only as a rental model, which is my (our) worst nightmare.

furthermore i think it is clear (at least to me) that the main consideration for him to release R4 as rental that he is afraid the R4 code may be (mis)used again by others.
Parent - By vdragan (***) [us] Date 2009-12-29 11:22
Why you are so afraid of that?  He can always make strong engine and decide not to release it and we can do nothing about it, but we can always use strongest engine available.
Who knows...maybe somebody is keeping some stronger engine just for himself.  You see for example those crazy Russians :)  That is also loss for all of us.
Parent - - By Nelson Hernandez (Gold) [us] Date 2009-12-29 13:00
I certainly got the impression during the course of the interview that he did intend to release it as a standalone engine.  Certainly if he had no plans for a Rybka 4 release his responses to me would have been quite different.

The real question is "how much will you exclude improvements you have made from Rybka 4 in order to open up a big gap between that version and the remote version"?  But of course he would not have given me an answer to that, as he made it clear these decisions had not yet been made.  But clearly even if he did have an answer he would not be specific on something like this.

I believe you have to listen very closely and think about what he is saying to really understand some of his answers.  I had quite a few "aha" moments while editing.  This interview was revealing not just for what he said but what he didn't say.
Parent - - By oudheusa (*****) [nl] Date 2009-12-29 15:18
interesting though it may be i do not have the patience to sit through it twice.

but definitely something strange has happened since Vas pre announced Rybka 4 on this forum, what two months ago, and the moment Convekta had to withdraw their Aquarium Rybka 4 release last minute.

Vas is free to do whatever he wants but he is insulting our intelligence if he really thinks we buy his argument that this is what the users want. I do not care if he offers this service, but what all of us are interested in i am sure is that he makes the same engine available as standalone as well.

he either:
a) thinks there is more money to be made this way
b) is afraid his most recent / best source code is stolen
c) is becoming paranoid like real real chess giants such as Morphy and Fischer
Parent - - By Uly (Gold) [mx] Date 2009-12-29 15:24
I just hope that Rybka 4 is the strongest build he has at the time of release, if he does that I bet everything will be "forgiven".
Parent - - By Aliven (***) [us] Date 2009-12-29 23:44
Then he would have to achieve the strength of the remote Rybka solely by hardware. Is this realistic? I don't know.
Up Topic Rybka Support & Discussion / Rybka Discussion / A Conversation With Vasik Rajlich - 5 Dec 2009
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