31 December 2018

Kasparov's 1997 Team

At the beginning of the month, in 'Defending the Human Race?', I mentioned the official programs for the 1996 and 1997 matches that Garry Kasparov played with IBM's Deep Blue. The two programs include many details about the matches collected into a single place.

I particularly liked the page about 'Kasparov's Team' in the 1997 program, because it confirmed facts about the relationship between Kasparov and Frederic Friedel that I learned in last week's post, Words Matter. Here's an image capture of that page.

And here's a text version of the same page.

Yuri Dochoian [Dokhoian] was born in the Altai region of Russia in 1964. He entered a special Moscow chess school at the age of eleven. After finishing school in 1982. he entered the Moscow Physical Institute. He became a chess Grandmaster in 1988; a brief summary of his tournament record as a Grandmaster follows:

1988 Plovdiv (1st Place), Erevan (3rd Place), Sochi (3rd Place)
1989 Wijk-ann-Zee (1st Place)
1992 Berlin Summer (1st Place)
1993 Godesburg (1st Place), Lublin (1st Place), Munster (1st Place)

Since 1994, he has been working as Kasparov's head coach and second. He lives in Moscow and is married.


Frederic A. Friedel studied philosophy, mathematics and linguistics in Hamburg and Oxford. After a brief university career he became a science journalist on German television specialising in computers and artificial intelligence. He is the editor of a magazine on computer chess and has staged a number of world computer chess championships. He has also written a standard textbook on the subject in German. In 1987, he founded the software company Chessbase which produces a chess database system used by virtually all professional chess players. The company is also responsible for the popular chess playing program Fritz. For many years Friedel has been a close personal friend and advisor of Garry Kasparov and many of the world's leading players. He is married and has two children.

Similar, brief biographies of other match contributors are also found in the 1997 program.

The Deep Blue Team
- Chung-Jen [C.J.] Tan
- Feng-Hsiung Hsu
- Murray Campbell
- A. Joseph Hoane
- Jerry Brody
- Joel Benjamin

The Commentators
- Michael Valvo
- Maurice Ashley
- Yasser Seirawan

The Match Officials
- Match arbiter: Carol Jarecki
- Appeals Board: Ken Thompson and Monty Newborn

The Wikipedia pages for Kasparov's team are surprisingly skimpy -- Yury Dokhoian & Frederic Friedel -- and the related foreign language pages are not much deeper. Friedel's pages identify the computer chess magazine as Computer-schach & Spiele and the German language version leads to a separate Wikipedia page for the publication. Perhaps more information is available there related to Friedel's having 'staged a number of world computer chess championships'. There is no question that he was an important early promoter of the technology.

30 December 2018

FIDE's Social Commissions 2018

A month of five Sundays with posts scheduled for only four of those Sundays gives me the opportunity to run a second post on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016). Instead of a video, like in last week's Biggest Lesson of Chess, let's go back to Spectating the 89th FIDE Congress and look at the two social commissions. Their reports for the Congress were issued with the minutes as:-

  • Social Action Commission (SAC) - Annex 56, and
  • Social Projects Commission (SPC) - Annex 63

This is not the first time I've covered the two commissions. For the previous reports, see:-

Along with the chairperson, Beatriz Marinello (USA), the minutes of the SAC list five Americans in attendance. By coincidence, the first of those names is Sam Sloan, who issued his own series of reports on the Congress and the concurrent Olympiad, as we saw in Gonzo Chess Journalism (October 2018). Sloan mentioned the SAC meeting in

2018-09-30: Batumi Chess Olympiad 2018 Round Six Press Report • 'I spent almost the whole day attending FIDE meetings at the Sheraton Hotel where some shocking facts came out. First was a meeting for the Social Action Commission chaired and founded by Beatriz Marinello. It is devoted to bringing children into chess to help with their intellectual development. One of the members is Robert Katende of Uganda who taught and trained Phiona Mutesi, whose life was made into a Hollywood movie, The Queen of Katwe. Phiona is here at the Olympiad but she took a rest day today.'

None of the 'shocking facts' had anything to do with the SAC meeting, where half the time was spent on how to encourage girls to become involved in chess. The main speaker on the subject ('how to bridge the big gaps that exist between girls and boys.') was Carol Meyer (also USA), the Executive Director of the U.S. chess federation since October 2017. Attached to the SAC minutes is a 16 page brochure titled 'Social Action Commission Booklet'. It starts,

The FIDE Social Action Commission created and supports programs that have a positive impact on many lives. Using chess as a platform to empower teachers in communities, as well as providing support that will help children to develop life skills and promote positive social development we are helping make a difference.

About half of that brochure also covers girls in chess, leaving little doubt where the focus of the commission lies. The last page of the brochure points to some relevant resources, like the commission's web site, sac.fide.com, which has not been updated in over a year; Chess Educators; and Lens Ethics.

The minutes of the SPC, chaired by Darcy Lima (BRA), are less compelling, but deal with issues that are much wider than the chess community. The three main topics are chess in prisons, chess & autism, and chess & substance abuse. On the second point, the minutes said, 'The final conclusion [of a two year study] can be summarized as':-

The people mentally impaired show difficulties in understanding the rules for social life. The study concluded that chess game teaches that the rules, which are used in the game, can be used in the society, thus these people are able to have more success in the relationship established with family members and the society as well.

As I noted in a recent post, FIDE Commissions 2018, the two commissions (SAC & SPC) appear to have been merged sometime after the 89th Congress. Nothing is mentioned in the List of Decisions of Q4 2018 Presidential Board (November 2018), and I could find no confirmation anywhere else. I hope that their work will continue in some form or other. They provide a ready answer to the question asked by many outside the chess community: 'What use is chess in the grand scheme of everyday life?'.

28 December 2018

Talking About AlphaZero

It's been three weeks since we learned that AlphaZero Is Back!. When the news first broke, what was the reaction from the community of chess engine developers? Taking a few pointers from a recent post, Talking About Chess Engines (October 2018), I checked with the groups behind Stockfish and Leela. First, here's the Stockfish reaction (groups.google.com/fishcooking):-

You might expect a deeper look from the Leela (LC0) crowd, but the reaction was also considerably understated (groups.google.com/lczero):-

  • 2018-12-06: New AlphaZero 2018 Papers (Discussion) • 'Based on AlphaZero 2018's 1000 game matchup between Stockfish 8, AZ 2018 is only +52 Elo to Stockfish 8, which means it is weaker than Stockfish 9.'

  • 2018-12-07: A new blog post!, points to AlphaZero paper, and Lc0 v0.19.1 (blog.lczero.org) • 'The paper contains additional details that were missing in the original preprint from one year before. There were some aspects that were implemented in Leela differently from AlphaZero, and I'm sure we'll find some more.'

The most detailed discussion was on neutral ground (talkchess.com) with participants from the Stockfish & Leela communities, from DeepMind, and from other (mostly) knowledgeable experts:-

As for specific talking points, there were many -- too many to cover in a single blog post.

27 December 2018

Old December Yahoos

Last year, in December Yahoos (December 2017), we had a record number of chess news stories picked up by the mainstream press and redistributed via the Yahoo news service:-

  • 2017-12-06: Google's AlphaGo AI can teach itself to master games like chess (yahoo.com; Engadget)

  • 2017-12-20: People Think The New World Chess Championship Logo Is 'Pawnographic' (yahoo.com; HuffPost)

  • 2017-12-24: Chess federation says Israel excluded from Saudi-hosted match (yahoo.com; Reuters)

This year, December 2018, we have zilch. The last time this happened, in A Year of Yahoos! (September 2018; 'there were no Yahoos for the month'), I fell back on Google News for an end-of-month news roundup. I repeated the exercise for December and found echoes of all three stories from a year ago:-

  • 2018-12-26: One Giant Step for a Chess-Playing Machine (nytimes.com); 'The stunning success of AlphaZero, a deep-learning algorithm, heralds a new age of insight — one that, for humans, may not last long.'

  • 2018-12-11: The Sharp Game (theringer.com); 'The unpredictable champion Magnus Carlsen and a YouTube-trained, Twitch-streaming generation of young fans has revived one of our oldest games. Is the next great chess boom here?'

  • 2018-12-26: Saudi loss is Russian gain under ex-Kremlin chess boss (theguardian.com); 'The last-minute deal to move the 2018 King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship capped a year of growing international pressure on Riyadh. Long before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the country was condemned in chess circles for denying visas to Israeli players in 2017.'

One other story caught my attention, because it is a rare, in-depth look at a world class player by the mainstream press:-

With that human interest piece, let's close the 2018 Yahoo series. What will the 2019 Yahoos bring?

25 December 2018

A Cropped Christmas

Of the 400 chess images I collected from eBay this past year, a handful were suitable for the blog's annual Christmas post. The caption, stuffed with search keywords, gives all of the info I have on the card.

'Santa Claus on the Village Square with Children and Presents, Chess, Christmas, Postcard. Unused.'

Add this cropped image to the gallery of Christmas cards seen last year in Merry Christmas 2017!

24 December 2018

Words Matter

After the 1985 event discussed in last week's post, 'I walked from one machine to the next', there is one more event from Kasparov vs. the Early Engines that I want to discuss. The reason for that is to correct an earlier statement I made on this blog.

In his book Deep Thinking, Kasparov mentioned the event twice. I've already given a full excerpt of the first mention in another post on a related subject, Null Moves, so I'll just repeat the first two sentences.

In 1992, I played a long casual blitz match against one of this new generation of PC programs, one that would go on to become nearly synonymous with PC chess engines. Fritz was published by ChessBase, which explains the sardonic German nickname.

The second mention was a little later in the book:-

I had played quite a few games against Fritz's predecessor in an informal blitz match in Cologne in December 1992. Frederic Friedel says I played thirty-seven games against his beloved pet, as I poked and prodded it like a lab animal, pointing out when it made a particularly good move or chose a weak plan. It was far from the savage beast it would become, but it wasn't tame either. I lost nine times with a couple of draws, winning around thirty of the games.

Calling this anecdote an 'event' is a stretch, but I can't think of another word. A wrong word led to an error in an earlier post, Searching for Fritz (June 2015), where I wrote,

Kasparov was routinely hired to promote important milestones in the evolution of Fritz.

A sharp-eyed visitor to the blog flagged the following reminiscence by Frederic Friedel in How I did not become a billionaire (medium.com; June 2018):-

There were other ideas in subsequent years, none of which worked out really. Well, one of them did: in 1985 I was visited in Hamburg by a young chess grandmaster who was on the path to World Championship. Garry Kasparov and I spent a number of evenings discussing computers and how they could help professional chess players study the game. We worked out the design for a “chess database” which he entreated me to build. I was not a programmer, but as fate would have it, a few months later I met a young physics student, Matthias, who had actually started implementing such a system.

We founded a company together and launched a chess database software company, ChessBase, which Garry, now a legendary World Champion, supported for more than ten years. He provided ideas and encouragement, but also promotion and endorsements, ads and PR events. Of course we paid him handsomely for these services: a total of $0.00. Garry doesn’t take money from members of his family, which I had nominally become. Today ChessBase has around thirty salaried employees (plus many free-lance contributors) and has completely cornered the market.

For a (partial?) list of those promotional events, see the 'Searching for Fritz' post. Along with the 'Billionaire' article, Frederic Friedel has written about many other subjects for Medium.com in a column titled 'The Friedel Chronicals'. Some of those writings also relate to chess history.

Long story short: 'Garry doesn’t take money from his family'. Got it!

23 December 2018

Biggest Lesson of Chess

For this month's video on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016), I had a selection of interesting clips. The runner-up was The Atlantic's Last Chess Shop in New York City:-

I came here to get a PhD in American literature, and here I am, with pictures of American writers on the wall -- a chess vendor.

Since Imad Khachan and his Chess Forum were already featured in three posts during the last year -- see 'Chess Is Serious Business' (January 2018) for the most recent -- I went with the following video from the Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Maurice Ashley - Reveling in the Ultimate Thinker’s Game as a Chess Grandmaster (5:27) • 'Published on Nov 20, 2018'

The description said,

Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley explains why chess players stay in shape, remembers trash-talking while playing in Brooklyn and reveals the biggest lesson you can learn from the game.

What's the biggest lesson? 'That the other person is more important than you are.' How many chess GMs would agree with that?


Later: At one point in the clip, Ashley says to Noah, 'You trashed chess on this show before'. Here's a link to the sequence: The Daily Show - Chess News Roundup ('Published on Mar 20, 2015').

21 December 2018

An AlphaZero - Stockfish Game

After AlphaZero Is Back! and DeepMind Videos, let's look at an AlphaZero game ... and what a game! From Youtube's Chess.com channel, GM Robert Hess starts the video saying, 'You know those times when you've gotten into trouble, but you never realized your idea was bad until it was too late? That's what happened to Stockfish in this game.'

Google Deepmind's AlphaZero Chess Engine Makes "Inhuman" Knight Sacrifice (8:59) • 'Published on Dec 6, 2018'

Published around the same time that AlphaZero reappeared after an absence of one year, the description of the video informs,

AlphaZero is back with dazzling new games from a fresh 1,000 game chess match against Stockfish! Don't miss this brand new game analyzed by grandmaster Robert Hess as Alphazero pushes the boundaries of understandings of chess, chess engines, and artificial intelligence!

The accompanying Chess.com report can be found at:-

And here are a couple of early reports from other important chess news services:-

The video plus all of the above links have attracted hundreds of comments. One theme the comment threads have in common : let's see AlphaZero play Stockfish under real match conditions, where the Stockfish engine environment is operated by Stockfish experts.

20 December 2018

FIDE Commissions 2018

The previous post, Spectating the 89th FIDE Congress, was a roadmap to further reporting on the current state of FIDE commissions. I ended it with a problem to solve:-

The first challenge is that a number of commissions have changed names or have morphed into something else. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what has happened and will report on the various changes in future posts as I address specific topics.

First I compared a recent list of commissions on Archive.org (from the beginning of November 2018) against the current list on the FIDE site:-

The following table shows what I found. It starts with a list of 15 commissions that have survived intact. The names of commissions marked 'OLD' have disappeared and the names marked 'NEW' were not listed previously.

The rightmost column has a few notes that are explained thusly:-

[A,C,D?] Name change
[B] Merged?
[*] Committees (status unknown)

Commissions marked '?' indicate that I haven't been able to determine their status. The most significant evolution so far is the GSC. A recent FIDE announcement, List of Decisions of Q4 2018 Presidential Board ('8-10 November 2018; London, UK'), mentions,

Q4PB-2018/22 To create the Global Strategy Commission and to acknowledge the FIDE President’s decision to appoint Mr. Emil Sutovsky as chairman.

Another recent document, Rules for the FIDE Open World Rapid Championship & FIDE Open World Blitz Championship; December 25th – 31st 2018 (PDF), mentions,

1.2. FIDE Global Strategy Commission (hereinafter referred to as GSC) is in charge for preparing regulations, communicating with the Organizer and the participants.

1.3. The body responsible for adopting and changing these Regulations is the FIDE Presidential Board, upon recommendation by GSC.


While this little analysis closes a few questions about the current status of FIDE Commissions, it opens many more. I'll address those as I tackle the 'Spectating' roadmap.

18 December 2018

Spectating the 89th FIDE Congress

I was starting to wonder whether the recent change in top-level FIDE management -- see In with the New! (October 2018; on my World Championship blog) -- meant that FIDE communication with the outside world would cease. Then FIDE released a number of documents with reports from the 89th FIDE Congress which took place in Batumi (Georgia), 3-5 October 2018:-

Now I can do a series of posts like I did last year, when I covered the following topics:-

The first challenge is that a number of commissions have changed names or have morphed into something else. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what has happened and will report on the various changes in future posts as I address specific topics.

17 December 2018

'I walked from one machine to the next'

From the previous post, Kasparov vs. the Early Engines, I learned that Kasparov's first significant event against computers -- as recorded on my page Garry Kasparov's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record -- was

1985-05 Simul, Hamburg +32-0=0

The event coincided with Kasparov's training match against German GM Robert Huebner. The introduction to Kasparov's book 'Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins' starts with a memory of that simul:-

IT WAS A PLEASANT DAY in Hamburg on June 6, 1985, but chess players rarely get to enjoy the weather. I was inside a cramped auditorium, pacing around inside a circle of tables upon which rested thirty-two chessboards. Across from me at every board was an opponent, who moved promptly when I arrived at the board in what is known as a simultaneous exhibition. "Simuls," as they are known, have been a staple of chess for centuries, a way for amateurs to challenge a champion, but this one was unique. Each of my opponents, all thirty-two of them, was a computer.'

I walked from one machine to the next, making my moves over a period of more than five hours. The four leading chess computer manufacturers had sent their top models, including eight bearing the "Kasparov" brand name from the electronics firm Saitek. One of the organizers warned me that playing against machines was different because they would never get tired or resign in dejection the way a human opponent would; they would play to the bitter end. But I relished this interesting new challenge—and the media attention it attracted. I was twenty-two years old, and by the end of the year I would become the youngest world chess champion in history. I was fearless, and, in this case, my confidence was fully justified.

Kasparov used the same event to start an earlier essay, a review of 'Chess Metaphors: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind' by Diego Rasskin-Gutman. From The Chess Master and the Computer (nybooks.com; February 2010):-

In 1985, in Hamburg, I played against thirty-two different chess computers at the same time in what is known as a simultaneous exhibition. I walked from one machine to the next, making my moves over a period of more than five hours. The four leading chess computer manufacturers had sent their top models, including eight named after me from the electronics firm Saitek. It illustrates the state of computer chess at the time that it didn’t come as much of a surprise when I achieved a perfect 32-0 score, winning every game, although there was an uncomfortable moment.

Note the date in the first excerpt: 6 June 1985. Exactly thirty years later Frederic Friedel of Chessbase published an article Kasparov and thirty years of computer chess (chessbase.com; June 2015):-

On June 6th 1985 the 22-year-old Garry Kasparov came to Hamburg to play a preparation match for his World Championship bid – and to do a remarkably critical interview with a leading German news magazine. During the visit he played a simul against 32 of the strongest chess computers of the day.

The event was not only significant to the history of chess playing machines, it also led to the creation of Chessbase. From ChessBase is 25 (chessbase.com; May 2011):-

It is difficult to determine the exact date when ChessBase was born. Was it when a science journalist and a future World Champion discussed computer databases? Or when a very talented programmer started to actually write one? We think it was when the two showed the prototype to the World Champion and decided, at his urging, to commercialise the product. That was May 19, 1986.

For more on the subject, see Garry Kasparov on how it all started (chessbase.com; December 2017), also by Frederic Friedel.

16 December 2018

Over Their Shoulders Wifi Chess

In the previous Featured Flickr Photo post, 2018 Carlsen - Caruana Venue (November 2018), I wondered,

Was last month's 'Chess and Cubofuturism' (October 2018) the last post in this blog's long running Flickr series?

and then used a composite image that came from a Google search. This month I found a few Flickr photos that were worth considering, so I granted a one month reprieve to the series.

Modern era chess © Flickr user clarkmaxwell under Creative Commons.

The description said,

Why would you go pull out one of the 5+ "real" chess sets we have?!? Just play each other WiFi.

The tag said '#overtheirshoulderseries'. I say, 'Maybe this is the best way to get little girls to play chess'.

14 December 2018

DeepMind Videos

Last week's post, AlphaZero Is Back!, ended with a request for more time to understand what had just happened.

This is too much new material to digest in the time available for a simple blog post, so I'll come back to the subject as soon as I can.

This video from Google's DeepMind is partly a restatement of what we learned from their first announcement a year ago, partly a statement of what they have been doing since then, and partly a declaration about where they want to go with the technology.

AlphaZero: Shedding new light on the grand games of chess, shogi and Go (4:38) • 'Published on Dec 6, 2018'

The description explains,

DeepMind's AlphaZero is the successor of AlphaGo, the first computer program to beat a world champion at the ancient game of Go. It taught itself from scratch how to master the games of chess, shogi and Go, beating a world-champion program in each case and discovering new and creative playing strategies that hint at the potential of these systems to tackle other complex problems.

A DeepMind blog post, AlphaZero: Shedding new light on the grand games of chess, shogi and Go (deepmind.com/blog), bearing the same title and publication date as the video, goes into more depth. One paragraph explains the essence of the technology.

An untrained neural network plays millions of games against itself via a process of trial and error called reinforcement learning. At first, it plays completely randomly, but over time the system learns from wins, losses, and draws to adjust the parameters of the neural network, making it more likely to choose advantageous moves in the future.

In other words, an NN plays a few million games, compares its predictions about the outcome of its moves against the result of those games, adjusts its internal NN parameters to eliminate discrepancies between its predictions and its results, then starts the process over with the new parameters. Eventually it reaches a level where the predictions and the results almost coincide. DeepMind has also put together a couple of video courses on the underlying technology:-

I now know what I'll be doing during the year-end holidays.

13 December 2018

Endgame Studies with Timman

GM Jan Timman is best known as a player. Last year, in 1967 World Juniors (October 2017), I gave a brief overview of his career as a World Championship candidate, stopping just before his ill-fated participation in the 1993 Karpov - Timman FIDE Title Match.

After being a player, GM Timman is also well known as an author. His Wikipedia page, Jan Timman, currently lists nine book titles and I am certain that the list is not complete. The last book listed is 'The Art of the Endgame', subtitled 'My Journeys in the Magical World of Endgame Studies' (New in Chess, 2011). The book brings us to a third aspect of his dedication to chess : as a composer of endgame studies. Chapter 1 of the 2011 book, titled 'Miniature Studies', starts,

A miniature study is a study with no more than seven pieces in the starting position. With minimal material, the composer must weave the maximum amount of finesses into the position. A classical example is the following study by the brilliant Russian composer Mark Liburkin.

Any study with seven pieces or less is solved by current tablebase technology, which we saw a few months ago in Seven-piece Tablebase on Lichess (August 2018). The Liburkin study is the first position in the first chapter of Timman's book.

Liburkin, '64' 1933
White to play and win

I'll continue to explore 'The Art of the Endgame' and will report any findings worth further research. I've already discovered that seven-piece tablebase positions are paricularly fruitful for further investigation.

11 December 2018

Null Moves

In yesterday's post, Kasparov vs. the Early Engines, one of the encounters mentioned by GM Kasparov in his book Deep Thinking was:-

1992-12 Match vs. Fritz 2, Cologne; +26-11=3 (?)

Of the two mentions of the match in the book, the first (loc.1880 using the Kindle location attribute) starts like this:-

In 1992, I played a long casual blitz match against one of this new generation of PC programs, one that would go on to become nearly synonymous with PC chess engines. Fritz was published by ChessBase, which explains the sardonic German nickname. Its creator was a Dutchman, Frans Morsch, who had also written programs for tabletop chess machines like Mephisto. As such, he was used to having to cram tightly optimized code into very limited resources. He also helped pioneer several of the search enhancements that allowed chess machines to keep improving despite the increasing branching factor that was supposed to slow them down.

This introduction to Fritz and its search heuristics continues with a discussion of the 'null move' concept:-

One of these is worth a brief technical detour because it's an interesting example of how machine intelligence has been augmented in ways that have nothing to do with the workings of the human mind. Called the "null move" technique, it tells the engine to "pass" for one side. That is, to evaluate a position as if one player could make two moves in a row. If the position has not improved even after moving twice, then it can be assumed that the first move is a dud and can be quickly discarded from the search tree, reducing its size and making the search more efficient. Null moves were used in some of the earliest chess programs, including the Soviet Kaissa. It's elegant and a little ironic that algorithms designed on the principle of exhaustive search are augmented by being less exhaustive.

Humans use a very different heuristic when making plans. Strategic thinking requires setting long-term goals and establishing milestones along the way, leaving aside for the moment how your opponent, or business or political rivals, might respond. I can look at a position and think, "Wouldn't it be great if I could get my bishop over there, my pawn up there, and then work my queen around to join the attack." There are no calculations involved yet, only a type of strategic wish list. Only then do I begin to work out whether it's actually possible and what my opponent might do to counter it.

The first point that caught my attention here was the assertion that a null move has 'nothing to do with the workings of the human mind'. When I'm using an engine to evaluate a position, I often inject a null move to identify the opponent's threats, like threatening mate in four or threatening a Knight fork. It's a useful technique that simulates a mental process that occurs after nearly every move in a game between humans: 'What's the threat?'

The following diagram illustrates the null move at the earliest stage of the game, the start position. It shows the position arising after two possible sequences, both of which use the null move (represented by '--').

1.e4 -- 2.d4 // 1.d4 -- 2.e4

As an added bonus, the diagram shows White's main threat after both 1.e4 and 1.d4, which is to advance the other center Pawn and make a strong central position with plenty of space behind the Pawns to develop the other pieces. After either of those moves, Black's objective is to prevent White from achieving that strong center unhindered. This is the underlying idea behind many of the most common opening variations after either 1.e4 or 1.d4.

As for the last paragraph I quoted from Kasparov's book, it starts 'Humans use a very different heuristic when making plans'. In fact, this type of strategic thinking is also possible using an engine by injecting a series of null moves, thereby preventing the opponent from making any moves at all. Here's an example, again using an engine on the traditional start position:-

1.e4 -- 2.d4 -- 3.Nf3 -- 4.Bd3 -- 5.O-O -- 6.c4 -- 7.Nc3 -- 8.Re1

After that sequence of opening moves, the engine I was using gave White's position a value of +3.00. In other words, White's advantage after eight straight developing moves is nearly the same as the value of a minor piece. With a series of null moves, the engine is helping the human to answer the question, 'What's the plan?'

One concept that applies mainly to engines is called 'Null Move Pruning', which I once covered in Chess Engines : Pruning (September 2015). Even here, the concept is similar to what humans do when they avoid looking at a move because it doesn't address the main threat.

10 December 2018

Kasparov vs. the Early Engines

Last week's post, Defending the Human Race?, about Garry Kasparov's two matches against IBM's Deep Blue computer, reminded me that I had an open follow-up from an earlier post this year: Kasparov vs. Hsu (February 2018). That post compared milestones in the evolution of Deep Blue that are found in both Kasparov's book Deep Thinking and Feng-hsiung Hsu's book Behind Deep Blue. The post closed by saying,

Kasparov's book also gives details about his games/matches against other chess computers. I should compare this to my page Garry Kasparov's TMER.

That cryptic acronym 'TMER' stands for Kasparov's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1973-; Last updated 2014-08-11), a record of Kasparov's career that I've been maintaining on-and-off since the year 2000. The following chart merges references in Kasparov's book with the corresponding data in the TMER.

The 'LOC' references, like the first one '>>> LOC0038', refer to locations in the Kindle version of the book, which is the version I've been working from. I suppose they can be translated to page numbers in the hardcopy version of the book, but I don't know how to do that easily. For explanations of the other codes in the chart, see the TMER page.

The chart shows that Kasparov's book mentions six events where he played against computers before the two famous matches against Deep Blue. If I find any more references in the book, I'll update this current post. In any case, I'll come back to the chart in another post.

09 December 2018

Puzzle Rush

Our featured November video on this blog was 'The World Is Watching', about the start of game one of the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana match for the World Championship. For the December video, let's skip ahead to the match tiebreak.

Puzzle Rush #1: World Chess Championship edition! (7:47) • 'Published on Nov 27, 2018'

The video from the John Bartholomew channel starts,

This is John! I'm back from London. The tiebreaker for the 2018 World Chess Championship is tomorrow, Wednesday, November 28. I'm very much looking forward to it and I'm sure you are as well. What does that have to do with Puzzle Rush? It's been sweeping the chess community and is a new feature on Chess.com where you try to solve as many puzzles as possible in a five minute spin.

The answer to the question 'What does the World Championship have to do with Puzzle Rush?' lies in the following tweet.

While that idea has as much chance of being realized as having all regulation games in the next WCC match end decisively, we can still dream. For more about the new speed game, see Puzzle Rush - Compete to solve Chess Puzzles (chess.com).

07 December 2018

AlphaZero Is Back!

Ding, ding, ding! As I made my way through this morning's reading list on chess topics, the bells were sounding everywhere. Almost a year to the day after their first shock announcement, Google's Deepmind had just released more news about AlphaZero, by all reports the strongest chess player ever.

The news was propagated via Science magazine -- see Table of Contents : December 07, 2018 (sciencemag.org; cover shown on the left) -- which included three articles by world class authorities on computer chess:-

The description for the cover of Science said,

Starting from random play and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, the AlphaZero program taught itself to play chess, shogi, and Go, defeating a world champion program in each game. Blue translucent pieces represent AlphaZero's possible moves; percentages indicate the predicted outcome. A single algorithm that can master several complex problems is an important step toward creating a general-purpose machine learning system to tackle real-world problems. • Image: DeepMind Technologies Limited

This is too much new material to digest in the time available for a simple blog post, so I'll come back to the subject as soon as I can.

06 December 2018

Breaking the 2800 Barrier

A few months ago I opened Breaking the 2700 Barrier (June 2018), by saying,

No, I'm not talking about achieving a 2700 rating. I'm talking about post no.2700 on this blog.

I continued by discussing the history of chess players rated 2700 or more, then closed the post saying,

To break 2800, all I have to do is write another 100 posts.

Post no.2800 was A Conversation with Demis Hassabis a few weeks ago, but given the flurry of posts on this blog for the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana match that finished last week, I'm only finding spare time now. In a nutshell, the following chart shows the history of players rated 2800 or more.

The first column shows the evolution of top ratings during the second half of the 1980s, taken from the January list for each year. Throughout that period there were only two players rated over 2700, and Garry Kasparov was the first to break the 2800 barrier at the end of that decade.

The second column shows the top players after further intervals of five years: 1995, 2000, and 2005. Kasparov continued to head the list, but the number of 2700 players expanded steadily.

A little 'i' after a player's name means 'inactive'. FIDE hasn't always been consistent with the 'i' flag and Bobby Fischer made a sudden appearance in 2005, perhaps because he was in the news for having been detained in Japan.

A little 'w' means 'woman'. It appears only once on the chart, in 2005, when Judit Polgar made the top-10 list of all players. Note that there are not separate rating systems for men and women. All tournaments, even when restricted to women (where Judit Polgar never participated), are rated using the same methods and criteria.

The last column shows top-10 lists for the current decade: 2010, 2015, and 2018. For the first time we see players other than Kasparov rated over 2800.

I'll be back in another 100 posts to write 'Breaking the 2900 Barrier'. It promises to be a short post.

04 December 2018

December 1968 'On the Cover'

Here we are 'wrapping up' another year of covers from American chess magazines 50 years ago. Last year, in December 1967 'On the Cover' (OTC; CR featuring 'Manhattan Chess Club President Jacques Coe'), we were spared the funky green cover seen in December 1966 OTC -- not to mention previous Decembers -- but this year the tradition returns.

Left: 'Bent Larsen Interviewed' (Drawing by Bob Brandreth)
Right: 'Merry Christmas ... to the World of Chess'

Chess Life

The year 1968 was the year of Bent Larsen. Two months ago, in October 1968 OTC, he was featured on both covers, and this month he returns. I've already excerpted a big chunk of the interview ('The Larsen Opinion : An Interview with Bent Larsen' by Ben Crane) in a post on my World Chess Championship blog, An Organization of Amateurs (April 2017). Here I'll add the introduction.

Crane: You have recently become a "chess professional." Most masters, however, have found that they need another line of work to supplement their income. What factors led you to this decision?

Larsen: I don't know whether you can say I've become a chess professional recently. I have made a living as a chess player since I left high school when I was seventeen. But it was only about four or five years ago that it became a real profession, because before that I was just living as a modest student. It has not been a decision that I have taken suddenly, I just drifted into it. Now it appears that is very possible in Denmark to make a living from chess playing, chess writing, and sometimes on radio and TV. Of course it is better when you are winning money prizes than when you don't do well, but I think theoretically it would be possible for me to make a living as a chess player without playing at all -- just writing, giving exhibitions, and so on.

Chess Review

After the green cover, there was little inside CR about Christmas. The 'Announce the Mate!' puzzle page had a Christmas-y title to a non-Christmas-y poem.

The outlook is not brilliant for your chessic foes today.
The score stands 0-0, but they really have no play.
So on the gloomy cross-board foe glum melancholy sits
As it seems but little like you'll miss on any hits.
Your move precedes their turn and calls on you to mate.
So smite them hip and thigh to send 'em to their fate.
And rack up a good score on the old sockdolager slate.

Poems of a similar style introduced each of the ten puzzles on the page.

03 December 2018

'Defending the Human Race?'

In the latest post on 'Top eBay Chess Items by Price', 1958 Portoroz Interzonal, I had a second item on the short list. Titled 'Extremely rare original program for Kasparov vs. Deep Blue Computer Chess Match', it sold for around US $375, 'Best offer accepted'. The description said,

This is an extremely rare original brochure from the match, which was held on May 3–11, 1997 in New York City. This match will echo forever in the history of chess, and mankind, as the first defeat of a reigning world chess champion by a computer under tournament conditions. Several books have already been written of this historic event, including one by Kasparov himself. The audience was small (I was there) and probably not many brochures were kept.

Sensing the historic importance of the event, I made a point to keep mine in pristine condition, but I have never seen another -- other than a copy in a museum -- the Computer Museum. In like new condition, with white glossy pages. 24 pages. The brochure measures 8 1/2 x 11". A special item for collectors of chess or computer and AI memorabilia

The description pointed to a page from the Computer History Museum, Defeating the World Chess Champion | Mastering the Game (computerhistory.org), where the programs for both Kasparov - Deep Blue matches (1996 and 1997) can be downloaded. Here are the front covers of the two programs.

Left: 1996 match; Right: 1997 match

The 'Welcome' page of the 1997 program says,

Greetings! On behalf of IBM. I would like to welcome you to the IBM Kasparov vs. Deep Blue Rematch. Whether you're with us in New York City or participating in the match via the Internet, we're glad you've joined as for this historic event. We're anticipating a very exciting match.

We at IBM are quite proud of Deep Blue and the team of research scientists who have created it. They are among the hundreds of IBM researchers who work everyday on building, inventing and discovering new technologies which improve our lives and help define the future of computing.

So why has IBM built a machine that plays chess? The applications of the technology we are using in this experiment go far beyond a game. The RS/6000 SP system, the technology underneath Deep Blue, is being used everyday to run businesses. perform technical analysis and conduct scientific experiments. By emulating the Deep Blue architecture -- boosting the power of the SP with specialized processors and software knowledge -- we have plans to apply this awesome power to a variety of disciplines, and expect to see amazing results. By introducing the Deep Blue technology to pharmaceutical drug design, financial risk assessment and decision support problems, for example, we hope to realize faster drug development, stronger economic forecasting and smarter decision making. The possibilities are virtually endless.

There has been much discussion in both public and private forums regarding the significance of this match. Are machines taking over mankind? Have we unleashed a monster? Is Garry Kasparov defending the human race?

We at IBM are very pleased that our experiment has caused such a stir. To us, Deep Blue represents innovation leadership and the unlimited promise of technology. It is not simply man vs. machine, but man and machine striving together to reach new heights -- and reaching them. Welcome to the future.

Paul M. Horn, Senior Vice President, Research

I once recorded the results of the two matches on my World Chess Championship site: Kasparov vs. IBM's Deep Blue. I wrote,

It's undoubtedly a minority opinion, but some informed observers of the international chess scene believe that Kasparov lost his claim to the World Chess Champion title when he lost his second match to IBM's Deep Blue computer.

More than 20 years later, I'm still not sure what to think. We say 'World Women's Chess Champion' and 'World Junior Chess Champion' when talking about restricted titles. Shouldn't we be saying 'World Human Chess Champion' and leave the unrestricted title to the machines?

02 December 2018

1958 Portoroz Interzonal

We often see autographs in this ongoing series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price (March 2010), but I can't remember an item where we saw three autographs for each player in a tournament. Titled 'Extremely rare!! Portorose 1958 tournament full set; autographs all chess players, Portorose Yugoslavia', the auction consisted of a half-dozen items, including a signed program and two signed cards.

The full package listed for US $4000 and sold for something between $2000 and $2600, 'Best offer accepted'. To illustrate the auction, I'm featuring the front of a postcard, because it is more visually interesting than the signatures on the back of the card.

The description said,

This is an extremely rare, probably unique lot of chess related historical memorabilia of museum quality. The lot includes the program of the tournament, a postcard of the tournament with all the players pictured, and the official tournament envelope with all the signatures. These items are all fully signed! Even the judges are signed!

A "tourist info" brochure on Portorose - Yugoslavia and two other leaflets comes with the lot. All this was purchased from the same owner who attended the tournament as a visitor.

I compared the names in the program against my page on the 1958 Portoroz Interzonal Tournament, which lists 21 players. The program had 20 photos of players over their autographs, plus Golombek & Vukovic. Benko was missing completely. All players plus Golombek are pictured on the postcard above. This auction complements a previous post for 'Top eBay Chess Items', 1959 Yugoslavia Candidates (December 2017):-

Titled 'Chess book signed by eight masters, incl. Fischer, Keres, Petrosian, Smyslov and Tal', it sold for around $1500, 'Best offer accepted'.

Tal won the Interzonal, won the Candidates, and went on to snatch the World Champion title from Botvinnik. That's Tal ('Talj') in the upper right corner of the postcard.

30 November 2018

An AI/NN Blockbuster

Last week's AI/NN post, A Conversation with Demis Hassabis, quoted Deepmind's CEO saying, 'We had a couple of very strong chess players come in and look at the [AlphaZero] games and help us analyze them.' This week we learned the likely identity of one of those strong players -- Matthew Sadler -- who applied AlphaZero's analysis to the first eight games of the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana match, which finished two days ago. Here is the longest of the three videos that Sadler produced on the match.

DeepMind's AlphaZero on Carlsen-Caruana Games 1, 3, 5 & 8; Sicilian Defence (36:28) • 'Published on Nov 24, 2018'

The description starts,

Two-time British Chess Champion Matthew Sadler uses DeepMind's AlphaZero to analyse Games 1, 3, 5 & 8 (the Sicilian Defence) of the 2018 World Chess Championship between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana.

The two other videos are also on Youtube:-

The three videos copy the remainder of the description:-

Matthew analysed the games together with Women's International Master Natasha Regan, his co-author for an upcoming book on Alpha Zero’s approach to chess: Game Changer. Chess24 is working with Matthew and Natasha to share World Championship game insights from AlphaZero with the chess community. We’re happy to have the opportunity to share this during one of the most exciting points in the year for all chess fans. With thanks to DeepMind for their support.

More about the book ('Expected January 2019') can be found at Game Changer: AlphaZero's Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI (newinchess.com; 'The story behind the self-learning artificial intelligence system with its stunning chess skills'). The book is almost guaranteed to be a blockbuster of a chess book.

29 November 2018

November Yahoos

Mid-month, just after the start of the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana match, we had World Championship Yahoos. Now the last move of the tiebreak has been played, the match is over, and just like last month's October Yahoos, FIDE chess is center stage.

2018-11-24: Caruana ‘Suffers Successfully’ In Game 11 Of The World Chess Championship (fivethirtyeight.com). I've already mentioned this article on my World Chess Championship blog in 2018 Carlsen - Caruana, the Third Week, so I'll just note its lead paragraph.

With his last chance to command the white pieces in a regulation game in the World Chess Championship, defending champion Magnus Carlsen was unable to drum up any attacking chances. Game 11 -- like the 10 that preceded it -- ended in a draw.

2018-11-28: World Chess Championship title to be decided today (yahoo.com; ABC News Videos), or so says the main headline. The secondary headline from a day later says, Heartbreak for American challenger in world chess final (yahoo.com; Good Morning America), which is the main story.

The match is over, Magnus Carlsen crushed Fabiano Caruana in the tiebreak after not winning a single regulation game, and that is all most people will remember about this strange match. Congratulations to GM Carlsen on his fourth consecutive victory in a World Championship match!

27 November 2018

Twelve Straight Draws!

Start with Nine Straight Draws!, add three more draws, and the world begins to wonder...

...'What is wrong with professional chess?' From Mark Crowther's The Week in Chess 1255 (theweekinchess.com; Monday, 26 November 2018):-

The World Chess Championship goes to a final tie-break after the classical part was drawn 6-6. Two years ago Magnus Carlsen took a short draw with white against Sergey Karjakin to force a tie-break he dominated. This time in the final game 12 with black, Carlsen was looking so strong on the board and the clock that he should have been pressing for a win but instead offered a draw on move 31 that Caruana was probably glad to accept.

Carlsen is 91 ratings points stronger than Caruana in rapid chess, it remains to be seen if this translates to an easy win for him on Wednesday. Fabiano Caruana has his chances and may feel he escaped today. Perhaps his rapid rating doesn't reflect his true strength. There's still all to fight for on Wednesday.

From the world chess federation's official site, FIDE WCCM Game 12 review: Relief and Pragmatism (fide.com; 27 November):-

After 31 moves of game 12, Magnus Carlsen offered a draw which was accepted by Fabiano Caruana. All 12 classical games have now been drawn - a result unprecedented in world championship history - and the players head for a tie-break on Wednesday. [...] Carlsen revealed afterwards that his intention before the game started was to hold the draw and head for the tie-breaks, and therefore he was not in the right mind-set to take any risks and play for the win.

Like any sporting or cultural activity -- pick your classification -- the main function of chess is to provide entertainment. Twelve straight draws ... that's not entertainment. What to do? Two suggestions which have been many times in the past are (1) prohibit draw offers (the so-called Sofia rule), and (2) play the match tiebreaks before the regulation games. After nearly two and a half weeks, the chess event of the year will be decided by a short series of rapid and blitz games. Let's hope it doesn't reach the final Armageddon game.

26 November 2018

Carlsen's PGN 2000-2018

I could continue last week's post, Update on Two World Champions, with news about both champions, Stockfish and Magnus Carlsen. Instead I'll just close the Carlsen portion by noting that I included games for the period 2017-2018 in the PGN file for Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (TMER; 2000-).

The previous version of the file contained 2117 Carlsen games played through 2016. The new version adds 554 games. For more about the additional games, see Carlsen's PGN 2017-18 (October 2018).

25 November 2018

Rex and the Game of Kings

'At first glance he may look like just another aging retiree...' • This video could be the best clip I've ever featured in the series on The Sociology of Chess (November 2016). It's not just about chess; it's about reviving a troubled American city.

Rex Sinquefield, the American Chess Mogul (Full Segment) | Real Sports w/ Bryant Gumbel | HBO (14:12) • 'Published on Nov 6, 2018'

The description said,

Chess aficionado Rex Sinquefield has spent his life trying to make the classic game fresh again in America. With the help of Grandmasters Fabiano Caruana and Maurice Ashley, he hopes to get the next Bobby Fischer.

Who needs corporate sponsors when you have individuals like Rex Sinquefield? If you need help with pronunciation, it's 'Sink-field'.

The last regulation game of the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana match will be played tomorrow. With the score at 5.5 each after 11 games, the Sinquefield vision might be realized.

23 November 2018

A Conversation with Demis Hassabis

Continuing a series of posts on AI/NN, I'll suspend the nuts-and-bolts overview seen in the previous post, GPU Benchmarks, to cover a rare chess-related appearance of AlphaZero's guiding light, Demis Hassabis, who visited the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana venue. Later he tweeted, A real honour to make the ceremonial first move of match 8 of the World Chess Championships today... (twitter.com). After making the first move, he visited the commentary room.

World Chess Championship 2018, Day 8, First moves
(youtube.com; 'Streamed live on Nov 19, 2018')

At around 23:40 into the Youtube clip, Hassabis joined the official commentators for the match. Left to right: Judit Polgar (JP), Anna Rudolf (AR), Demis Hassabis (DH).

AR: We are so glad that Mr. Demis Hassabis has returned to our studio. Welcome back, Demis. The co-founder and CEO of Deepmind as we discussed already and if you were not here yesterday I don't what you were doing because you missed a very insightful conversation with one of the brightest minds in the world. We started out with AlphaGo and AlphaGo Zero and today we will discuss further topics about artificial intelligence and chess as well.

DH: It's great to be here and great to do the first move, because it was really interesting feeling the intensity in the room. It's quite amazing the amount of energy in the room. You go inside and you see they're superconcentrating. It was quite an interesting experience on that side of the glass. It's almost claustrophobic inside. It feels like the room is not big enough to contain the energy of the two players.

AR: Did you expect 1.e4 or did you think Fabiano would tell you something else?

DH: I wasn't sure what he was going to do. I'm pleased to see the Sveshnikov because I played this for Black. It was quite a coincidence it was this match [game?] I got to do the first move. We'll see how this pans out.

AR: We will definitely ask for your expert advice. As mentioned we are going to discuss further topics about artificial intelligence. Yesterday we were so sorry when we had to say goodbye to you. We thought that there are so many other fascinating topics about artificial intelligence that we wanted to have you here for hours. Thank you so much for coming back. The first topic I wanted to discuss was how differently AlphaZero is thinking about the game of chess -- if we compare it to humans and if we compare it to computer engines.

DH: There are two interesting things to say about that. One is how many moves do the chess engines calculate per decision. Human grandmasters maybe look at 100 moves, something like that order [of magnitude], to be able to make a decision. Something like Stockfish and traditional chess engines, they look at 10.000.000 moves before they make a decision. AlphaZero is somewhere in between, so it looks at 10.000 moves before it makes a decision. It's not as efficient as human decision making but it's much more efficient than traditional engines. It looks at a lot less moves because it's better at evaluating positions.

The second thing that's interesting about it is because it doesn't have in-built moves. It doesn't have 'a Queen is nine points, a Rook is five points'. It doesn't know anything about those piece values, so it senses everything in the context of the current position. We speculate that it's much easier for it to make long term sacrifices; for example, because it doesn't have to overcome its in-built programming. Say it's going to sacrifice an exchange. An engine like Stockfish would have to calculate that it's going to get enough in return for that two points difference. Whereas AlphaZero doesn't have that rule in-built so it can just decide the Rook is an asset, the Knight is an asset, and in the current position that Knight is a stronger asset for the opponent than my Rook. It can make the sacrifice even if it can't calculate explicity that it's going to get enough compensation. It can just sort of decide contextually that in these kinds of positions that exchange is worthwhile.

JP: How does he make a difference between Knight and Rook if he doesn't know that the Rook is worth more?

DH: I guess it's learned over the millions of games playing against itself that the Knight will give a better outcome over the whole experience. In the context of this particular position it can make a decision to make the sacrifice. Stockfish can do that, too, but it would need to calculate quite carefully that it's going to get enough in return to overcome this in-built rule that you are losing two points.

JP: Does AlphaZero have intuition?

DH: It is sort of like a very intuitive player. It does it more by feel in effect because it's taking the pattern of the current board and deciding that this is worthwhile. It's not necessarily explicitly calculating out. It's more akin to something like intuition in human terms. Of course, it doesn't know anything about intuition or any of these terms we're using -- it's just a computer -- but it's more like that and it comes out in the style of the play. It really likes sacrifices. It's very positional, I would say.

JP: How many moves ahead does it calculate?

DH: It can calculate quite deep lines if it needs to, but it only looks at 10.000 moves per decision. It's quite a lot compared to a human player, but it's much, much less than you're used to with a chess engine which is millions of moves. In order to compensate for that lesser amount of caculation it has to have better evaluation.

JP: What makes the difference about how deeply it goes into certain lines? We have strategic positional lines and we have tactical. Does it understand that in a tactical line you really have to go all the way?

DH: Not explicitly. Chess engines have this extra calculation. They know that if it's an imbalanced position then they should calculate more : there are special moves for that as well. AlphaZero doesn't have anything explicit about that. If it feels that a certain line is unresolved -- it doesn't quite know what's happening -- it can search in more depth. So there is some implicit way it does that, but not in the explicit way that chess engines do. This is something very interesting for us. We've only just built the system, so the next stage over the next year is to try and reverse engineer it to see how it's making its decisions. At the moment it's more like a black box. It makes these decisions, but I would like to know, for example, what does it rate a Rook and a Knight overall. We don't actually know. It doen't express its evaluation in terms of Pawns, like chess engines do. It expresses it in terms of percentage chance of winning.

At this point, AR discussed the games played during the AlphaZero - Stockfish match. See The Constellation of AlphaZero (December 2017), for the earliest posts on this blog about the match.

AR: AlphaZero not only won the match very convincingly, but it came up with these sacrifices that you mention, not just the positional sacrifices we are used to in human games, which would be a Pawn sacrifice, but it went on sacrificing a Bishop, a Knight, for something very long term, not a calculation that there would be a reward for the sacrifice 10 or 20 moves later. Then there was another move I really loved, a Queen move. I felt like we are learning something from this AI bacause that's neither a human move nor an engine move.

DH: Exactly. There were a lot of examples. I think people were surprised that it was making very unusual moves that were kind of alien. They weren't really the kind of moves a computer engine would do. I hope that's going to give strong chess players new ideas, maybe usher in a new era of creativity, because it's a very interesting style.

We're going to release a lot more games and then people can see even further what this style is. One thing it really favors is mobility. It really likes mobility and optionality for its pieces, and it likes restricting the mobility of the opponent, including using Rooks, especially Rooks, on outposts, very advanced outposts, which is quite unusual for chess.

Here the discussion turned to the match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, where the Korean player learned from AlphaGo's play. Could anything be learned about chess from AlphaZero?

DH: We had a couple of very strong chess players come in and look at the games and help us analyze them. One thing they told me, that stuck in my mind, is that it felt to them as if the board was much bigger somehow. I thing people will see that when they see the games. It plays on one wing, creates a few weaknesses, then it switches all of its pieces to another wing and makes more weaknesses. Then it finally goes back and the opponent's position collapses because there are a few too many weaknesses. It's very interesting how it controls that situation. People are going to find these newer games, with an even stronger version of AlphaZero quite fascinating.

AR: I believe it was former World Champion Garry Kasparov who said that IBM's Deep Blue basically caused the end of an era but AlphaZero is the beginning.

DH: I hope so. It was very kind of him to say so. Garry has spent a lot of time thinking about computer chess and he was right in the middle of the biggest moment of all. It's been fascinating talking to him about that. I think what he meant was that he realized that we're building these general systems not only just to learn all types of different games, including chess, but eventually to apply them to real world problems in science and medicine. These AlphaZero techniques are not built specifically for chess -- it just learns it for itself -- these techniques can be used for other complex domains in the real world.

After further discussion about how each version of AlphaZero learns from its previous version and what the Elo rating of the AI engine might be, the conversation turned back to the Caruana - Carlsen game. For another video showing Hassabis, see Kasparov Talks at Google (June 2017).

22 November 2018

Nine Straight Draws!

The world isn't watching...

...In fact, I think the match is pretty interesting, but I'm not the world.

20 November 2018

World Championships in London

How many World Championship events have been held in London? Here's what I found on my World Championship site (see link in the sidebar). From the 19th century:-

After 1883 London we have to skip ahead a full century to find the next events:-

On top of those, London has hosted a few restricted events:-

Taking all of that into consideration, it's appropriate that London was awarded the venue for the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana match.

19 November 2018

Update on Two World Champions

Before I close the series on Catching Up with Engine Competitions (October 2018), there is one more event to document. Last week's post, Stockfish Wins TCEC Season 13, was left unfinished because the Chess.com event was still running. Today the site announced Stockfish Wins Computer Chess Championship Blitz:-

The highest-rated chess engine of all time added another title to its resume this week as Stockfish decisively won the Chess.com Computer Chess Championship 2 [CCC 2]: Blitz Battle. The victory comes six weeks after Stockfish won the first revamped CCC: Rapid Rumble in October.

Trailing Stockfish by a large margin, the other three engine finalists finished in the order Komodo, Leela (Lc0), Houdini. The announcement carried news about the next event:-

CCC 2: Blitz Battle will conclude with some bonus games before Chess.com begins CCC 3: Rapid Redux, an all-new championship event with the 16 top engines in the world and a time control of 30 minutes per game plus five seconds increment per move.

The PGN for all three finished stages of CCC2 is available via the same Chess.com page. With TCEC S14 already underway and CCC3 promised soon, the engine to engine competitions will carry on for the next few months.


Continuing with an older unfinished series, the overview of Carlsen's career, I went back to Carlsen's PGN 2017-18 (October 2018), and concatenated the World Champion's record for 2017-18 onto the record for his entire career. The result is available in the usual place, Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (TMER; 2000-). The PGN will be added soon.

18 November 2018

2018 Carlsen - Caruana, the Venue

Was last month's Chess and Cubofuturism (October 2018) the last post in this blog's long running Flickr series? When I signed in today to survey the chess items uploaded since the 'Cubofuturism' post, I received the following message:-

Free accounts will soon be limited to 1,000 photos or videos. Flickr isn’t Flickr without the contributions and participation of our free members, and we remain committed to a vibrant free offering. If you are a free member with more than 1,000 photos or videos, you will have ample time to upgrade to Pro (for 30% off your first year) or download your photos and videos.

On top of that, of the 300+ photos newly available in the last month, only two were interesting enough to add to my favorites list. Of those two, neither was suitable for today's post. If a photo doesn't tell a bigger story, it's just an interesting photo. What to do?

Google image search on 'chess holborn college'

I decided to look at images related to the venue for the 2018 Carlsen - Caruana being played in London. All the images shown above, plus the others that I cropped out, are part of a bigger story. For the original announcement about the choice of venue, see News about 2018 Carlsen - Caruana (August 2018), on my World Chess Championship blog.

16 November 2018

GPU Benchmarks

First I got some idea about GPU Pricing in last week's post. Then I got some idea about the AI engines' operating environment in this week's post, Stockfish Wins TCEC Season 13. Both the CCCC and the TCEC offer public information about the setups they use in support of the AI/NN engines.

Computer Chess Championship (chess.com):-

GPU: 4 x Tesla V100 (64 GB GPU memory)
CPU: Intel Xeon @ 2.70GHz
RAM: 256 GB

TCEC Season 14 (chessdom.com):-

GPU: 1 x 2080 ti + 1 x 2080
CPU: Quad Core i5 2600k
RAM: 16GB DDR3-2133

I've listed only the hardware that allows a comparison of the two setups. The V100s used by CCCC were first offered by Nvidia in 2017; the 2080s used by TCEC were first offered in 2018. How do they compare? Here's a chart from the same company that provided the numbers I used in 'GPU Pricing'.

October 2018: 2080 Ti TensorFlow GPU benchmarks - 2080 Ti vs V100 vs 1080 Ti vs Titan V (lambdalabs.com) • 'The 2080 Ti comes out on top as the best GPU in 2018 for training neural nets.'

Although the 2080s don't offer the same throughput as the V100, a cost/benefit comparison improves in favor of the 2080s when you factor in the price of the GPUs. Note that these numbers are for training the NNs listed to the right of the top chart. The performance of a system running a specific chess engine with its trained weights would be different.

15 November 2018

Chess @ 538.com

At the 2018 World Championship we've had four games, all draws, and the assembled journalists search for any scrap of info that might be considered newsworthy. For me, that means looking at the journalists. I ended the previous post, World Championship Yahoos, with,

It's the second time in a month that I've used FiveThirtyEight.com as a reference. The first was Out with the Old!, about the forced retirement of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Maybe I should give that news resource a deeper look.

The chess writer for 538.com is Oliver Roeder ('He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied game theory and political competition.'). His reports on games three and four demonstrate that he knows his chess:-

A unique feature of the reports is a graphic overview of the match so far. Let's call it, 'How to summarize a World Championship match in 100.000 pixels or less'.

Match overview through game four (538.com)

We can easily see that Carlsen held a significant advantage in game one and that the success of the Black pieces in all games has been the main story so far. But what about that 'Biggest Blunder' in the headline for game four? Was Woody Harrelson knocking over pieces again? No, that pre-game excitement from the first game was overshadowed by a more sinister incident. The report went on to explain,

The day’s humdrum play was overshadowed by some excitement off the board, though. A chess-world controversy -- or at least what qualifies as one -- erupted. Before the game, the posh Saint Louis Chess Club posted, and quickly deleted, a YouTube video appearing to show aspects of Caruana’s pre-championship preparation sessions.

The report included a still shot of a computer screen where the image could be expanded to make everything on the screen readable. And, yes, it's the sort of information that might prove valuable to the opposition. Some of the less knowledgeable comments on the incident wondered, 'Why the fuss?' In brief, because match preparation is opening preparation, nothing more and nothing less -- how do I press for a quick advantage playing White and how do I avoid a quick knockout playing Black? A couple of old posts on this blog delved into the nuts and bolts:-

The resulting brouhaha convinced one respected chess journalist, GM Ian Rogers of Australia, to resign his job working with the American team: @GMIanRogers: Sadly parting ways with @ChessLifeOnline after a decade... (twitter.com):-

...I declined to accept edits to my round 4 World Ch'p report which would downplay responsibility of editors of the Caruana video, downplay the effect of the video on Caruana's chances, and omit the key image from the video.

On top of that, all of the videos produced by the St.Louis Chess Club disappeared from Youtube. Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. Someone in St.Louis is guilty of an unprofessional lapse of judgement. That's the person who should resign -- not a journalist doing the job he was paid to do.

13 November 2018

World Championship Yahoos

In last month's wrapup of chess news reported by the mainstream press, October Yahoos, I wrote,

Let's hope that 'November Yahoos' will be filled with stories about next month's 2018 Carlsen - Caruana match.

No need to wait until end-November to survey the results. Under headlines like 'Trump's last-minute cancellation draws criticism' and 'Entire teams penalized after wild college football brawl', chess was the top story.

2018-11-10: The World Chess Championship Is Deadlocked After Game 2 (yahoo.com; FiveThirtyEight)

Heavy rain showers, a gentle breeze and 57 degrees [F = 14 degrees C] in London, the BBC reported this morning. The top American grandmaster Fabiano Caruana was unprepared for such weather, arriving for Game 2 of the World Chess Championship sporting a wet blazer. Never mind the sartorial dampness, however. He arrived excellently prepared for the chess.

Along with that main story, the accompanying stories were also about games one and two of the match.

2018-11-10: Chess stars draw again in world tournament (yahoo.com; AFP)

The second round of the 2018 World Chess Championship in London between three-time defending champion Magnus Carlsen and American Fabiano Caruana ended in a draw on Saturday. The two young chess stars, both under 30, have one point each after drawing their opening two games of the tournament

Almost all Yahoo stories have a comments section, and although the comments are often a mindboggling display of ignorance, sometimes they are on target. The story above continued, 'Italian prodigy Carlsen is seeking to cement his reputation as one of history's greatest chess players', and drew snorts of derision like 'Italian, Norwegian they're all the same'.

2018-11-09: World Chess Championship starts with Harrelson blunder (yahoo.com; Reuters)

World Chess Championship officials might rethink the role of ceremonial starter after Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson knocked over a king and moved the wrong pawn in a comical start to the 2018 event in London on Friday

That story gathered more than double the number of comments of the other two stories combined, stuff like:-

  • 'Why rethink? Woody was hired to alter the image a bit, and he did that. Also made the internet news, giving the competition a wider audience, if only briefly!'
  • 'The errors seems a little too convenient. He technically conceded the world championship on the first move. It's just a fun publicity stunt like announcing the wrong Miss Universe.'
  • 'Never knew Woody was a chess man.'

Looks like it's once again time to point out Woody Harrelson vs Garry Kasparov; "Cheers!"; Consultation (1999), Prague CZE (chessgames.com). The game started 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, the same opening seen in another celebrity game, Boris Becker vs Garry Kasparov; CNN exhibition (2000); New York, NY (ditto).

Back to that first story, it's the second time in a month that I've used FiveThirtyEight.com as a reference. The first was Out with the Old!, about the forced retirement of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Maybe I should give that news resource a deeper look.

12 November 2018

Stockfish Wins TCEC Season 13 (and Everything Else)

In Catching Up with Engine Competitions (October 2018), I took a checkpoint on the progress of two major computer chess tournaments. What has happened in the four intervening weeks?


Stockfish beat Komodo +16-6=78 to win the TCEC Season 13 Superfinal. Only one opening resulted in a win for both engines, an Old Indian (1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4), played in games 85 and 86. For a report on the superfinal of the previous season, see Stockfish Wins TCEC Season 12 (July 2018).

In the TCEC Cup that was played before the S13 Superfinal started, Stockfish beat Houdini +1-0=7 in the final match of the knockout event. The two engines beat LC0 (Leela) and Komodo in the semifinal matches.

Details for both the Superfinal and the Cup, including PGN game scores and crosstables, are available in the TCEC Archive. The archive also covers TCEC previous seasons.


What about TCEC Season 14? It starts today: TCEC Season 14 – Let’s get ready to !boom (chessdom.com). The announcement began,

Season 14 of the Top Chess Engine Championship, the premier chess software competition, starts this Monday, November 12th, at 16:00 CET. It will involve the strongest chess programs and neural networks in the traditional division system. A total of 36 engines with ELO 3000+ will divided into five divisions and a Superfinal.

The action can be followed on TCEC - Live Computer Chess Broadcast.


Some of those 'C's stand for Chess.com. The others stand for Computer Chess Championship, as in CCC: Computer Chess Championship, which happens to be the main page for the event.

Chess.com hasn't issued any news updates since the links mentioned in my 'Catching Up' post. Stage three, the final stage of the CCCC2 blitz competition, started today. The results of stages one and two must be somewhere, although I couldn't find them. I could work out stage one for myself from the PGN file (NB: Similar format for 'ccc1/stage1', etc.):-


Four engines have reached the final stage -- Houdini, Komodo, Lc0, and Stockfish (which jumped quickly into the lead) -- the same four that reached the semifinal stage of the TCEC Cup. For an overview of the engines that competed in stage 1, here is a colorful graphic from Chess.com's most recent news item. The little green and yellow trophies show the number of TCEC/CCC(C) competitions won by the top engines.

I calculate that the games are played at the rate of about three games per hour, which means 72 games per day. With 600 games total, the event should be over some time next week.