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.