06 July 2015

Computer Chess in the Early 1990s

When it comes to chess history, it takes some discipline to stay on topic. A simple exercise like Searching for Fritz invaribly leads to other subjects, which lead to others, and before you know it, there's no more time left for the original topic. I try to keep this under control by making a note on the side-topic, then coming back to it when I'm done with the first.

Fritz led to many topics which are worthy of a post, but right now I'm going to concentrate on two: the Aegon tournaments and rating lists. What was Aegon? The page Aegon Tournaments [chessprogramming.wikispaces.com] explains,

The Aegon Man-Machine Tournaments, were initiated and organized by members of the CSVN, Cock de Gorter et al., and hosted by the Aegon insurance company in The Hague, the Netherlands. An equal number of human players and computer chess programs were playing six (1986 seven, 1989 five) rounds of a swiss system, with the constraint of man playing machines only. The Aegon tournament started almost with local chess players and anti-computer chess specialists. Later more and more International Masters and Grandmasters were invited, with increasing costs for the sponsor. Apparently due to the 1997 Kasparov versus Deep Blue match, the 1997 Tournament was the last edition.

A related table lists 12 events played from 1986 to 1997. Here is a sample of the many posts from the rec.games.chess (rgc) newsgroups:-

  • 1990-05-25: Aegon Tournament 1990; Hitech best overall • 'Hitech wins International Chess Tournament; beats former World Candidate [David Bronstein]' by Hans Berliner
  • 1993-05-05: AEGON TOURNAMENT [1993] • 'A huge number of top micros are entered, including 2 versions of Zarkov, 4 versions of the Chess Machine, Fritz II, Mephisto, MChess Pro, 3 different Saiteks, Socrates II, Chess Genius, Mephisto RISC, and many others.'
  • 1997-04-10: Aegon Tournament • 'Below is the press release announcing the 12th Aegon tournament.'
  • 1997-04-11: AEGON 1997 breakdown of opponents • 'THE PROGRAMMES [e.g. Fritz] ... The GM's [e.g. Bronstein]'
  • 1997-11-01: AEGON tournament disappears, do we let this happen? • 'I talked with Cock de Gorter and he confirmed that there will be NO 13th Aegon tournament next year.' by Ed Schroder [Rebel]

The concept of rating lists doesn't require much of an introduction. I started by looking for references to the SSDF [chessprogramming... again] list where,

The SSDF - Svenska schackdatorföreningen, the Swedish Chess Computer Association, is an organization that tests computer chess software by playing chess programs against one another and producing a rating list.

Some early rgc references:-

  • 1992-08-15: Computer Ratings/Versions • 'SSDF is an association of computer chess enthusisiasts, some of which help update the list by playing computer v computer matches.'
  • 1993-10-01: SSDF-Computer List • 'Here is the SSDF-Computer List from 6/93 (taken from German magazine 'Computer, Schach und Spiele' 3/93).'

That first link starts with a discussion of Computer Chess Reports [chessprogramming...], which largely predates rgc:-

An American computer chess periodical published quarterly from 1985 until 1996 by Computer Chess Digest Incorporated associated with ICD Corporation, as successor of the annual Computer Chess Digest, released in 1983 and 1984. Computer Chess Digest was primary edited by Enrique Irazoqui, CCR by Robert Sostack and from 1987 by Larry Kaufman.

From all of the above I noted other topics worthy of a future post. Twenty years ago people still had a fighting chance against a chess playing machine, but that would soon change.

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