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Scid 5 - Review

Scid, is a free, open-source chess program created and first published by Mr. Shane Hudson in 1999.


With its rich capabilities, it quickly gained popularity and recognition in the chess community. Over the years, Scid has been developed by a number of programmers, among whom Pascal Georges and Fulvio Benini have made the greatest contributions.


Along with such giants as Chess Assistant and ChessBase, Scid is ranked among the best programs in its class. And it's free!



Source: SOURCEFORGE



As recently as 15 - 20 years ago, at a time when the best chess software was almost entirely commercialized and paid for, Scid was and still is today, the defining marker of capability and openness. It runs on all popular operating systems.


When writing about Scid, one cannot forget about the Scid vs. PC program.

The similar name of both programs is not accidental. Scid vs. PC is a program - the "younger brother" of Scid. More or less since 2009 Scid vs. PC has gone its own way and is also being actively developed.


What differs between the two programs is the frequency of releases and the pace at which new features are introduced. Scid is more focused on working with chess engines and handling chess databases efficiently and quickly, including the largest ones with millions of games.

In contrast, the development of Scid vs. PC is focused more on introducing new features and more frequent releases, including beta. Undoubtedly, the two programs have a great deal in common.

In fact, the use of them is almost identical, although they differ in some aspects, e.g. Scid 5 offers a new database format, which latest Scid vs. PC 4.x does not support yet. This has implications especially for working with large game databases. You will find more about this in the body of this review.



The reviewed version is Scid 5.0.2 released on March 3, 2023.


Let's take a look at some of the data in the table below.

Table of Scid 5 specifications. Stockfish CCRL Rating: March 18, 2023.



In this review, I will try to answer the following questions:


  • Does the default Dark Theme significantly improve the user experience ?

  • Are the database new format (SI5) and functions that Scid offers at a level that allows it to work efficiently compared to its competitors ?

  • Is the default chess engine well integrated with Scid ?

  • Will the features related to the analysis and use of chess engines meet the expectations of the advanced user ?

  • At what level are the training functions available ?

  • Is Scid a good tool for working with chess openings ?

  • Does Scid 5 offer any online integrations ?


Let's check it out.


On the blog chessengeria.eu, you will find a lot of content related to the Scid (and Scid vs. PC/Mac) program. You will get the most information from the Course consisting of five parts describing the following topics:



In these five parts, in great detail using numerous examples, I have laid out how to use Scid to accomplish all the most common tasks.

The content of the aforementioned course is suitable for Scid vs. PC and also Scid users.


In addition, I described Scid in the article "Tools in a chess player's workshop - Linux".


For this reason, this review will not include detailed descriptions of features that have existed in Scid software for, say, 10 years.


In this review, we will focus on new and most important features and capabilities that have appeared in Scid 5.



DARK THEME


Dark Theme, also known as dark mode, is an option for displaying the interface of chess programs with a dark background and lighter elements. It is a style of content presentation that aims to reduce eye strain and visual fatigue. With a dark background that has less light than a light background, the contrast between interface elements is reduced, which benefits the user experience of chess programs. Dark Theme has gained popularity in recent years and has become an option in many applications, including those for chess. This mode has been introduced in Hiarcs Chess Explorer Pro and ChessBase, for example.


The default (dark) Theme looks like this:


#1

Clear, neat and easy to read interface.


There is a choice of several Themes.


The Dark Theme presents itself as follows:

#2

Definitely the brightness of the interface has been reduced.


Let's take a look to see if anything changes when other windows are opened.

#3

#4


#5


Take a look at the text in the Game Info window (below the chessboard).

#6


In Dark Theme, not everything is readable compared to other (lighter) Themes.

#7


Some other examples.

Scid Help has not been adapted to the Dark Theme.

#8


In some places, the icons displayed in Scid Help are almost unreadable.

#9


The white background stands out unfavorably, interfering with reading.


For comparison, the default Theme with Scid Help enabled. In this case, the composition of colors, backgrounds, subtitles and icons looks correct.


Dark Theme -> some elements of the interface have not been properly adapted to this mode, making some of the text, icons and other content is not always readable.


In Dark Theme mode, most of Scid interface elements are displayed correctly. The deeper we go in, the more functions we start using available in the new windows, some of the content may not be readable/visible to us.


At this point, I have given up on using Dark Theme. I think Dark Theme mode deserves improvements and better integration with interface elements.



INTEGRATION WITH CHESS ENGINE(S)


Chess engine is nowadays one of the most important components of a chess program and especially – a specialized chess program, which is Scid.


On the main page of this program, we can read about the possibility of analysis by means of engines. In the screenshot we even see the Stockfish chess engine.

Source: Scid home page, 2023-03-20.



What was my surprise when, after launching Scid 5, I found none in the chess engine selection window!


Certainly, for some people who would like to use the chess engine(s) after downloading and running Scid 5, this may be a somewhat surprising and disappointing experience.

Especially since Scid vs. PC (Scid's "little brother") already offers several different chess engines after the first launch, including Stockfish.


What's even more puzzling is that Scid will include the Stockfish chess engine (and other engines depending on the version of Scid for different operating systems).


Fedora 37 Linux, Lc0 and Stockfish chess engines available:


Windows, Phalanx and Stockfish chess engines available:


Mac, Phalanx and Stockfish chess engines available:


This example shows a certain inconsistency.


The developers have acquired, compiled and placed chess engines in the Scid program. However, these chess engines are invisible to the user by default and are different:

  • Linux: Lc0 and Stockfish

  • Mac, Windows: Phalanx and Stockfish

This type of situation should not happen.


The user, so to speak, is forced to take his time and must know how to do it in order to install the chess engine in Scid 5.

Fortunately, this is not difficult. To learn how to install and use the chess engine(s) I refer you to the course entitled: Scid vs. PC - Using chess engines


And that's basically the only inconvenience when it comes to the chess engine(s).


Once installed, all chess engine operations work fine.


#1

Analyze with Stockfish chess engine.


#2

With Stockfish, Berserk, or any other modern chess engine "on board", the results of their analysis are of very high quality; finding the best continuation line or moves is not a problem and takes relatively little time.


#3

Of particular note is the new chess engine selection and configuration window.


You can easily add and configure chess engines in a new window, with clear access to all parameters.


Another new feature, the evaluation bar and best move arrow, may be useful - they will make analyses using chess engines more clearly presented to the user.


Evaluation bar and best move arrow.


Evaluation bar, extended engine output and variation board.


Scid, unlike, for example, ChessBase, perfectly supports chess engines communicating via the UCI protocol, giving access to all their parameters (example: UCI Elo).

Highly praiseworthy is the ability to work with engines that use the CECP communication protocol (XBoard, WinBoard), which allows you to use, for example, the famous Crafty and other older engines with an interesting style of play.


Position analysis by Berserk and Stockfish chess engines - at the same time!


The analysis functions offered by Scid 5 are diverse and allow to use chess engines in various ways including changing their parameters.

Analysis of several continuation lines, simultaneous use of different engines, variation board, etc. - the possibilities are many and should satisfy even advanced users.


An example of an automatically analyzed whole game (Berserk engine) with Scid 5 annotations.


The only thing I miss in a program of this class is the ability to put a visible diagram with a given position in the notation of the game. This would certainly make the visualization more attractive during review and analysis.



SI5 - NEW CHESS DATABASE FORMAT


To quote the Creators:

"(...) One of the most significant changes in this version is the introduction of a new database format, SCID5, that allows you to store up to 4 billion games. With this new format you can, for example, import and study the games of your friends from database.lichess.org and use that knowledge to easily beat them :-)."

Source: Scid Wiki


Operations on chess databases are the most important part of functionality in a dedicated software like Scid.

Nowadays, when storage is widely available and their prices are not prohibitive, the speed of operation can be one of the most important criteria for choosing a program in the field of chess databases.



1. Convert to SI5 format.


Scid 5 does not offer base conversion from old formats to the new format. Instead, on request, Scid 5 can take games from the old-format database and paste them into the new-format database. The whole thing is done in a few clicks, and...


The transfer takes literally seconds.


For testing, we will take CaissaBase 2022.

This database contains 4,874,268 chess games.


It takes a very short time to transfer a large database of chess games from one with the old SI4 format to one with the new SI5 format. Even on the old computer it took much less than one minute.



2. Work speed.


We can use the chess database in hundreds of different ways and for different purposes.

I will compare the speeds of most common operations on the database in the old format versus the database in the new format. To make the results as clear and understandable as possible, I will make a comparison between a 2014 computer and a 2020 computer.

The testing methodology adopted is analogous to that used in the ChessBase 17 review.



2a. Preparing an opening report for my favorite Latvian gambit.



Opening Report, is one of the most widely used features in any chess database.

Regardless of the database format used, you get a report in just a few seconds. This is several times faster than we can achieve with ChessBase 17 !


Opening Report, Linux arm64


Unfortunately, the same report run on Macs, is generated about 10 times longer, that is, instead of 3 seconds we wait 30 seconds for the result. I have checked this repeatedly on different chess openings and on different Macs: both those with Intel processors and those with the Apple Silicon M1 processor.


Opening Report, Mac Apple Silicon M1


The result is unequivocal, when creating Opening Report, Scid running on Macs takes much longer to do so.

And although 30 seconds is not long, but the difference in speed reaching ten times (!) is a result that proves the lack of any optimization / testing (?) for Scid 5 for Mac.

Scid 5 running on Windows 64-bit achieves almost the same results in this test as those shown in the chart above - on a Linux PC (arm64 & x64)..



2b. Deleting comments from a selection of 100 000 games.


Also, during this operation, the new SI5 format performs better. The operation time is shorter compared to the execution time of this operation in the old SI4 format.


Again, the difference is only a few seconds between the old and new formats, regardless of whether Scid is running on an older or modern computer.

It is worth noting that the times of this operation are several times shorter than in the ChessBase program.



2c. Pasting previously copied games.






The results speak for themselves. The new SI5 format is faster than SI4, but what are the differences - just a few seconds!

Scid 5 begins to "slow down" only with databases containing 1 million games.


And in this test the Mac version of Scid 5 was slower; the differences reached a maximum of a few seconds to the disadvantage of Macs compared to the same operations performed on Linux and Windows computers.



2d. Search for positions by simple, medium and very complex criteria.



Searching for any item regardless of criteria takes a few seconds at most. That is, it is extremely fast!



2e. CaissaBase 2022 backup.



Backup, in the sense of the function offered by Scid 5, consists in duplicating the selected chess database. When duplicating, there is no compression process to a single file, as, for example, is done in ChessBase.


I think it would be to the benefit of users, to make this function available with a choice of compression.



3. Space.


Databases in the new format take up more space, although given the capacity of even hard drives that are several years old, this does not matter much.


Below is the data on the volume of bases:


The new SI5 format takes up a little more space, the difference is about 5%.

Of course, for smaller bases the difference will be correspondingly smaller.



SI5 - Summary


In all types of most common operations, the new SI5 format is faster than the previously used SI4 format.

Even on a computer that is already 9 years old (on the day of writing this review), most operations are performed in a surprisingly short time - a few, a dozen seconds at most!


The exception is working with Scid 5 on Mac computers. For a reason that is incomprehensible to me, all file operations related to database handling, take much longer than in the same program using the same database, running on a Linux and Windows computer.


It is worth noting that the times of almost all operations counted in a few, at most a dozen seconds on a database of millions of games - this is impressive.

Compared to all competitors, in this area, Scid 5 is the undoubted leader.



CHESS960 SUPPORT


Chess960, also known as Fischer Random Chess, is a chess game variant in which the initial positioning of the figures on the board is random (with some restrictions). Chess960 is popular among chess players and chess fans because it avoids chess openings that are often studied and repeated, giving the chance for interesting and creative play.


Scid chess program in its latest version 5 supports chess games in Chess960 format and allows their analysis.


#1

An example of a loaded Chess960 game in the initial setting.


#2

Openings report with reference CCRL-404FRC database.


#3

Analysis of positions from the Chess960 game by the Stockfish chess engine.


Chess960 became popular thanks to its inventor, former world chess champion Bob Fischer. Fischer believed that chess had always been dominated by openings, and Chess960 allows for more varied and creative play. In recent years, Chess960 has also become popular due to its promotion by the international chess organization, FIDE, which organizes world championships using this formula.



IMPROVED PGN SUPPORT


This is the last new feature in Scid 5, which is worth writing about, because it improves the comfort of work.


A few words of description from the Creators:

"

It is now possible to directly modify games without having to convert the PGN files. Additionally, new line characters in comments are not removed or added, preserving the formatting chosen by the user.

"

Source: Scid Wiki


Scid 5 allows direct modifications, so the user saves time and does not need to perform additional steps. It works well and as described. It is such seemingly small improvements that make Scid even better to use - especially if you often use databases in PGN format.


TRAINING FUNCTIONS


Scid 5 and its previous versions, is not a program specialized for chess training. If you are looking for a free chess program dedicated to training, then I suggest you take a look at Lucas Chess.


However, Scid 5 has some capabilities in this area that can be used for basic training.

A few examples.


#1

When analyzing with the engine, after pressing the icon with a barbell (Training) and setting a thinking time, Scid 5 will insert the movement that the engine proposes into the notation window.


Instead of 15...b4, the proposed move is 15.... Rce8.


#2

In the Play menu, we have several training functions, among which Review game is an interesting one.


This function works in such a way that after indicating a move to analyze - in this case 15...b4 - the program after a set time (set to 5 seconds, visible in the picture) provides its commentary on this move and offers to show a solution / another move. If we need Scid to make a more thorough check, we can extend the analysis to even many minutes of thinking time.


Below is a window with an analysis of another move in the same game.


Scid 5, like its main competitors Chess Assistant and ChessBase, can be used as a tool for prepare even very advanced training. Due to the nature and capabilities of this program (chess base support), Scid 5 can be tailored adequately to meet the training needs for chess players at any level.



OPENINGS


For working with chess openings, for creating, changing, expanding and so on - Scid is not the best choice. It is not always a convenient tool.


For example, to create a new opening book (polyglot), according to the Scid help file, it is best to use the command line. Other functions are available through Scid's graphical interface. We also have an opening book tuning function.


In general, for working with Openings, I recommend the Lucas Chess program more.


Chess Openings are obviously very important in Scid 5 as a key component used in database work. One should mention Opening Report and others, which I covered in great detail in a series of Scid vs. PC courses (see the beginning of this review).



I REALLY NEED... HELP!


The help system in Scid is very extensive and functional. What is noteworthy, is that the user gets access to the Help offline, without using the Internet.


Information can be obtained in various ways, such as through thematic sections:


And also through specific keywords:


Also at the user's disposal is a mailing list and... tips of the day :)


In general, due to the popularity of Scid, you can also get constructive a help on various chess forums on the Internet, as Scid has many long-time loyal and knowledgeable users.



ONLINE INTEGRATIONS


Scid 5 offers the possibility to use FICS - Free Internet Chess Server.


You can play over the Internet, observe games and tournaments, train using so-called lecture bots.


As the name suggests, the use of FICS is free.

You can use this server anonymously, or you can create an account and enjoy the benefits of doing so (progress tracking, rating, etc.).



BUGS


During about 100 hours of use of Scid 5, many times the program unexpectedly stopped working.


#1


#2


#3

Few times, the program crashed right after starting.


#4

This occurred while using various functions.


#5


Undoubtedly, Scid, although easy to use, is a complex program that, in addition, has versions for different operating systems.


I make no secret of the fact that I am a little surprised by the bugs found. They did not appear a lot, but as always in such situations - at the least unexpected moments.

For reference, Scid vs. PC - that is, the "little brother" of the reviewed Scid program - during the extremely intensive and very long (about 1000 hours) use by me while writing courses, it worked stably and correctly.



SUMMARY


Here's what the developers of Scid wrote on the project's website.

Source: SOURCEFORGE (2023-03-21)



Does the default Dark Theme significantly improve the user experience ?

No.


Are the database new format (SI5) and functions that Scid offers at a level that allows it to work efficiently compared to its competitors ?

Yes


Is the default chess engine(s) well integrated with Scid ?

No.


Will the features related to the analysis and use of chess engines meet the expectations of the advanced user ?

Yes.


At what level are the training functions available ?

Basic.


Is Scid a good tool for working with chess openings ?

No.


Does Scid 5 offer any online integrations ?

Yes.


Upon first launching Scid 5, the user is greeted by a neat, clear and almost minimalist interface.

We don't see too many options, there are no ribbons occupying a significant area of the screen space and additional menus overloaded with dozens more functions.


Scid 5 GUI draws handfuls from the best solutions seen in Linux distributions and macOS systems.

Despite the program's very large capabilities, it is easy for the user to find them, as everything is literally in front of him on the sole and main bar.


The entire interface is highly customizable. You can work with one window, and you can have multiple windows open, and in addition, they don't have to be docked - that is, the user can place them where he wants and in the size he needs.


Of all the advanced chess programs, I was most comfortable using Scid 5. It's a bit of a pity that the whole thing is disrupted by the somewhat underdeveloped Dark Theme, which makes it difficult or impossible to read some information from the screen. I think that improving this mode shouldn't be a big challenge for the developers, as it's just a matter of some subtle changes in the color scheme.


At the heart of a program like Scid 5 is the level, speed and quality of support for chess databases. Here Scid stands out from all its competitors.


Databases containing up to hundreds of thousands of games and more are in all - even the most advanced ways - Scid 5 handled extremely fast and at a very high level.

If we add to this that even on older computers the processing speed is very high - we have the undisputed Leader in this segment of operation.

In a modern chess program, the possibility of using chess engines cannot be missing. Also in this area, in terms of the possibilities offered, Scid 5 positively stands out. The user can use one or multiple engines at the same time for various tasks related to position and whole-game analysis, automatic annotations or accurate verification of specific moves.


The training functions, and those for handling chess openings, are aimed at users who need them at a rather basic level. Nevertheless, they are not poorly implemented, on the contrary, you can train, for example, the different phases of the game, tactics, move prompts, etc.


Nowadays, it is hard to imagine an advanced chess program without any web/online integrations. Here, Scid doesn't have much to boast about; the user is only offered integration with FICS (Free Internet Chess Server) for free. We don't have, for example, the possibility to connect to an extensive database of openings / tablebases / engines, etc.


Scid is a program that has been known and used by a large chess community for many years. Among other things, it owes its popularity to the fact that it is available for many operating systems.

Unfortunately, in this case, quantity does not always go hand in hand with quality. The Mac version significantly deviates in speed compared to the Linux and Windows versions. On Mac, the speed of execution of some operations is up to 10 times lower than in Linux and Windows environments. Scid 5 has no officially available version for the latest and fastest Macs using Apple Silicon cpu's. Only the x64 version is available. Interestingly, the Mac version of Scid 5 is the most stable and least crashing.


Bugs and underdeveloped functions are Scid 5's biggest weakness.

I don't remember a chess base program that unexpectedly closed or crashed so often and in so many different situations. The Mac version is the best in this regard, followed by the Windows version, and I have noted the most errors using the Linux version (x64 and arm64).

So what if Scid 5 processes data even a few faster than its competitors, if it crashes unexpectedly during or after completing this activity. Unfortunately, more than once I found such situations where I lost my work and had to start all over again.

It is clear that the testing phase and, consequently, the elimination of bugs - this was not a particularly heavily exploited activity before the release of the fifth version of Scid.


Another weakness of Scid is underdeveloped features. One I have already mentioned, I mean Dark Theme. Another example is the lack of integration of Scid 5 with the default chess engine. I showed exactly what this consists of in the text of this review. This type of situation has a negative impact on the user experience. I'm sure this can be corrected relatively easily, and that's what I'm hoping for in the next release of Scid.


Scid is a program that sometimes just stops working. And this is unacceptable in a program of such class and reputation built over the years.

Scid is also a program that has some capabilities at a higher level and in better quality than its competitors, including commercial ones.


Is it worth giving Scid 5 a chance ?

In my opinion, yes, but it suggests waiting for updates, which I hope so - will eliminate the biggest pains of this program, which I described in this review.



SCID 5 SCORE





 

In the Files area you will find free Scid 5 for download.

 




 

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