What is the state of the art in computer chess tree searching?
I'm not interested in tiny optimizations giving few percents of the speed. I'm interested in the most important heuristics for alpha-beta search. And most important components for evaluation function.
I'm particularly interested in algorithms that have greatest (improvement/code_size) ratio. (NOT (improvement/complexity)).
PS Killer move heuristic is a perfect example - easy to implement and powerful. Database of heuristics is too complicated.
Not sure if you're already aware of it, but check out the Chess Programming Wiki - it's a great resource that covers just about every aspect of modern chess AI. In particular, relating to your question, see the Search and Evaluation sections (under Principle Topics) on the main page. You might also be able to discover some interesting techniques used in some of the programs listed here. If your questions still aren't answered, I would definitely recommend you ask in the Chess Programming Forums, where there are likely to be many more specialists around to answer. (Not that you won't necessarily get good answers here, just that it's rather more likely on topic-specific expert forums).
MTD(f) or one of the MTD variants is a big improvement over standard alpha-beta, providing you don't have really fine detail in your evaluation function and assuming that you're using the killer heuristic. The history heuristic is also useful.
Extended futility pruning, which incorporates both normal futility pruning and deep razoring, is theoretically unsound, but remarkably effective in practice.
Even though many optimizations based on heuristics(I mean ways to increase the tree depth without actualy searching) discussed in chess programming literature, I think most of them are rarely used. The reason is that they are good performance boosters in theory, but not in practice.
Sometimes these heuristics can return a bad(I mean not the best) move too.
The people I have talked to always recommend optimizing the alpha-beta search and implementing iterative deepening into the code rather than trying to add the other heuristics.
The main reason is that computers are increasing in processing power, and research[need citation I suppose] has shown that the programs that use their full CPU time to brute force the alpha-beta tree to the maximum depth have always outrunned the programs that split their time between a certain levels of alpha-beta and then some heuristics,.
Even though using some heuristics to extend the tree depth can cause more harm than good, ther are many performance boosters you can add to the alpha-beta search algorithm.
I am sure that you are aware that for alpha-beta to work exactly as it is intended to work, you should have a move sorting mechanisn(iterative deepening). Iterative deepening can give you about 10% performace boost.
Adding Principal variation search technique to alpha beta may give you an additional 10% boost.
Try the MTD(f) algorithm too. It can also increase the performance of your engine.
One heuristic that hasn't been mentioned is Null move pruning.
Also, Ed Schröder has a great page explaining a number of tricks he used in his Rebel engine, and how much improvement each contributed to speed/performance: Inside Rebel
Using a transposition table with a zobrist hash
It takes very little code to implement [one XOR on each move or unmove, and an if statement before recursing in the game tree], and the benefits are pretty good, especially if you are already using iterative deepening, and it's pretty tweakable (use a bigger table, smaller table, replacement strategies, etc)
Killer moves are good example of small code size and great improvement in move ordering.
Most board game AI algorithms are based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minmax MinMax. The goal is to minimize their options while maximizing your options. Although with Chess this is a very large and expensive runtime problem. To help reduce that you can combine minmax with a database of previously played games. Any game that has a similar board position and has a pattern established on how that layout was won for your color can be used as far as "analyzing" where to move next.
I am a bit confused on what you mean by improvement/code_size. Do you really mean improvement / runtime analysis (big O(n) vs. o(n))? If that is the case, talk to IBM and big blue, or Microsoft's Parallels team. At PDC I spoke with a guy (whose name escapes me now) who was demonstrating Mahjong using 8 cores per opponent and they won first place in the game algorithm design competition (whose name also escapes me).
I do not think there are any "canned" algorithms out there to always win chess and do it very fast. The way that you would have to do it is have EVERY possible previously played game indexed in a very large dictionary based database and have pre-cached the analysis of every game. It would be a VERY compex algorithm and would be a very poor improvement / complexity problem in my opinion.
I might be slightly off topic but "state of the art" chess programs use MPI such as Deep Blue for massive parallel power.
Just consider than parallel processing plays a great role in modern chess