Perft

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Perft, (performance test, move path enumeration)
a debugging function to walk the move generation tree of strictly legal moves to count all the leaf nodes of a certain depth, which can be compared to predetermined values and used to isolate bugs. In perft, nodes are only counted at the end after the last makemove. Thus "higher" terminal nodes (e.g. mate or stalemate) are not counted, instead the number of move paths of a certain depth. Perft ignores draws by repetition, by the fifty-move rule and by insufficient material. By recording the amount of time taken for each iteration, it's possible to compare the performance of different move generators or the same generator on different machines, though this must be done with caution since there are variations to perft.

Perft function

A simple perft function in C looks as the following:

typedef unsigned long long u64;

u64 Perft(int depth)
{
  MOVE move_list[256];
  int n_moves, i;
  u64 nodes = 0;

  if (depth == 0) 
    return 1ULL;

  n_moves = GenerateLegalMoves(move_list);
  for (i = 0; i < n_moves; i++) {
    MakeMove(move_list[i]);
    nodes += Perft(depth - 1);
    UndoMove(move_list[i]);
  }
  return nodes;
}

Speed up

Bulk-counting

Assuming the above code used a legal move generator. The algorithm is simple, short but it generates moves for every node even they are the leave (ends of branches). It could improve speed significantly: instead of counting nodes at "depth 0", legal move generators can take advantage of the fact that the number of moves generated at "depth 1" represents the accurate Perft value for that branch. Therefore they can skip the last makemove/undomove, which gives much faster results and is a better indicator of the raw move generator speed (versus move generator + make/unmake). However, this can cause some confusion when comparing Perft values.

u64 Perft(int depth /* assuming >= 1 */)
{
  MOVE move_list[256];
  int n_moves, i;
  u64 nodes = 0;

  n_moves = GenerateLegalMoves(move_list);

  if (depth == 1) 
    return (u64) n_moves;

  for (i = 0; i < n_moves; i++) {
    MakeMove(move_list[i]);
    nodes += Perft(depth - 1);
    UndoMove(move_list[i]);
  }
  return nodes;
}

Pseudo Legal Moves

To generate legal moves some programs have to make moves first, call the function IsIncheck and then undo those moves. That makes the above Perft function to make and undo moves twice for all moves. Below code can avoid that problem and run much faster:

u64 Perft(int depth)
{
  MOVE move_list[256];
  int n_moves, i;
  u64 nodes = 0;

  if (depth == 0) 
    return 1ULL;

  n_moves = GenerateMoves(move_list);
  for (i = 0; i < n_moves; i++) {
    MakeMove(move_list[i]);
    if (!IsIncheck())
      nodes += Perft(depth - 1);
    UndoMove(move_list[i]);
  }
  return nodes;
}

Hashing

Perft can receive another speed boost by hashing node counts, with a small chance for inaccurate results. Sometimes this is used as a sanity check to make sure the hash table and keys are working correctly.

Divide

The Divide command is often implemented as a variation of Perft, listing all moves and for each move, the perft of the decremented depth. However, some programs already give "divided" output for Perft. Below is output of Stockfish when computing perft 5 for start position:

go perft 5
a2a3: 181046
b2b3: 215255
c2c3: 222861
d2d3: 328511
e2e3: 402988
f2f3: 178889
g2g3: 217210
h2h3: 181044
a2a4: 217832
b2b4: 216145
c2c4: 240082
d2d4: 361790
e2e4: 405385
f2f4: 198473
g2g4: 214048
h2h4: 218829
b1a3: 198572
b1c3: 234656
g1f3: 233491
g1h3: 198502

Nodes searched: 4865609

Purposes

Perft is mostly for debugging purposes. It works mainly with functions: move generators, make move, unmake move. They all are very basic and vital for chess engines. By comparing Perft results developers can find out if those functions work correctly or not. If they are incorrect developers can narrow quickly by comparing branches, then call Perft for wrong branches with lower depth, repeat until finding direct positions which give the wrong result.

Other purposes:

  • give a quick glance at how good/bad their generators/make/unmake functions are, compared with the speed of other engines
  • calculate branch factors
  • a factor to estimate how the complexity of chess variants, by comparing branch factors or Perft results at a given depth for their starting positions

History

Supposably, perft was first implemented within the Cobol program RSCE-1 by R.C. Smith, submitted to the USCF for evaluation, and subject of an 1978 Computerworld article [1] . RSCE-1's purpose was not to play chess games, but position analysis, to find forced mates, and to perform a move path enumeration of up to three plies, with the perft(3) result of 8,902 from the initial position already mentioned [2]. Ken Thompson may have calculated perft(3) and perft(4) earlier than this date with Belle. Steven Edwards suggested the move path enumeration in 1995 as implemented in Spector [3] and has since been actively involved in Perft computations, while the term "Perft" was likely coined by a Crafty command, despite its initial implementation was not conform to the above definition [4].

In December 2003, Albert Bertilsson started a distributed project [5] to calculate perft(11) of the initial position, taking over a week to calculate [6] . Exact Perft numbers have been computed and verified up to a depth of 13 by Edwards and are now available in the On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences [7] , and are given under Initial Position Summary. A so far unverified claim for perft(14) of 61,885,021,521,585,529,237 was given by Peter Österlund in April 2013 [8], while Daniel Shawul proposed Perft estimation applying Monte carlo methods [9] [10]. In August 2017, Ankan Banerjee, who already confirmed Peter Österlund's perft(14) in September 2016 [11], computed perft(15) of 2,015,099,950,053,364,471,960 with his GPU perft program [12], running it several days two times with different zobrist keys on a cluster of Nvidia DGX-1 server systems [13]. His program starts exploring the tree in depth first manner on CPU. When a certain depth is reached a GPU function (kernel) is launched to compute perft of the subtree in breadth first manner [14]. Ankan Banerjee dedicated his computations in honor to Steven Edwards - whose tireless efforts for verifying perft(14) encouraged him to verify perft(14) and take up the challenge to compute perft(15) [15].

Quotes

by Robert Hyatt in a forum post, June 12, 2020 [16] :

I believe I was the first to use this. Back in the 80's. We rewrote the move generator in Cray Blitz in assembly language. It was a pain to debug. I decided on the "perft" approach solely to test/debug the move generator. We'd run two versions, one FORTRAN, one assembly, and we tested and debugged until they matched.
I carried this over into Crafty as early versions went through several different approaches on move generation. Starting with the Slate/Atkin approach, then rotated bit boards (which took some time to debug), and the magic. It was really intended solely for that purpose. Then several started to use it as a benchmark for speed. I never followed that path since move generation is a very small part of the overall CPU time burned.
Speed here is not so important. I doubt anyone's move generator takes more than 10% of total search time, which means a 20% improvement in perft numbers is only a 2% overall speed gain. I would not worry about anything but matching the node counts exactly...

Results

Publications

Perft in other Games

Forum Posts

1995 ...

2000 ...

2005 ...

2010 ...

2011

2012

2013

Re: Perft(14) estimates thread by Peter Österlund, CCC, April 02, 2013 » 61,885,021,521,585,529,237
MC methods by Daniel Shawul, CCC, April 11, 2013 » Monte-Carlo Tree Search
Re: MC methods by Daniel Shawul, CCC, April 13, 2013

2014

2015 ...

2016

Re: yet another attempt on Perft(14) by Ankan Banerjee, CCC, September 09, 2016

2017 ...

Re: perft(15) by Ankan Banerjee, CCC, August 25, 2017
Re: Perft(15): comparison of estimates with Ankan's result by Ankan Banerjee, CCC, August 26, 2017

2020 ...

External Links

Implementations

Video Tutorial

References

  1. Written in Cobol - Program Written as Chess Buff's Research Aid by Brad Schultz, Computerworld, April 17, 1978, Page 37
  2. Perft(3) from 1978, with a twist! by Steven Edwards, CCC, December 08, 2011
  3. Re: Speed of Move Generator by Steven Edwards, rgcc, August 16, 1995
  4. Re: complete opening tree stats by Robert Hyatt, rgcc, February 05, 1998
  5. Distributed perft project by Albert Bertilsson, CCC, December 09, 2003
  6. Distributed Perft Project (Wayback Machine)
  7. A048987 from On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (OEIS)
  8. Re: Perft(14) estimates thread by Peter Österlund, CCC, April 02, 2013
  9. MC methods by Daniel Shawul, CCC, April 11, 2013
  10. Daniel S. Abdi (2013). Monte carlo methods for estimating game tree size. pdf
  11. Re: yet another attempt on Perft(14) by Ankan Banerjee, CCC, September 09, 2016
  12. ankan-ban/perft_gpu · GitHub
  13. DGX-1 for AI Research | NVIDIA
  14. Re: Perft(15): comparison of estimates with Ankan's result by Ankan Banerjee, CCC, August 26, 2017
  15. Re: perft(15) by Ankan Banerjee, CCC, August 25, 2017
  16. Re: Perft speed and depth questions by Mark Buisseret, CCRL Discussion Board, June 12, 2020
  17. Re: MC methods by Daniel Shawul, CCC, April 13, 2013
  18. Written in Cobol - Program Written as Chess Buff's Research Aid by Brad Schultz, Computerworld, April 17, 1978, Page 37
  19. ankan-ban/perft_gpu · GitHub
  20. Auriga by Giuseppe Cannella
  21. Fast perft on GPU (upto 20 Billion nps w/o hashing) by Ankan Banerjee, CCC, June 22, 2013
  22. Auriga - distributed and collaborative Perft by Giuseppe Cannella, CCC, November 28, 2015

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