Checkmate: It’s man vs machine in chess

Checkmate: It’s man vs machine in chess

Like several other sports, Chess too is witnessing the increasing implementation of technologies. How that is changing the brain-game?

India got its first International Master (IM) in chess when Manuel Aaron won the title in 1961. But it took a good 27 years for the country to get its first Grandmaster (GM) in the form of Viswanathan Anand in 1988.

Technology has changed the whole face of chess all over the world.

Does that mean Aaron was not good enough to earn the game’s highest title? Probably no. What ailed the Tamil Nadu player was fewer opportunities to play top-class players of the world at that time and also no exposure to technology.

This affected the growth of India’s second GM Dibyendu Barua also who did not have a good computer during his growing years.

PIC

Technology has changed the whole face of chess all over the world. According to a study published in the journal PNAS, chess players have improved their game over the past century – particularly more recently with the advent of digital technology and online chess engines. The engine tells you the best moves in each position and evaluates each move for you.

People got to know about the role of computers in chess perhaps for the first time in 1985 when legend Garry Kasparov played 32 simultaneous matches against various computer competitors.

Chess was never really developed until the internet came along.

~ Ilya Merenzon, Chief Executive Officer, World Chess

In the Kasparov–Deep Blue match in Philadelphia, Kasparov modified his style and turned the later games into strategic, rather than tactical, battles in which evaluation was more important than calculation. He won three and drew two of the remaining games to win the match 4–2.

In a six-game rematch held May 3–11, 1997, in New York City, an upgraded Deep Blue took the field. With the match tied at one win, one loss, and three draws, Deep Blue won the decisive final game in 19 moves.

Ilya Merenzon, chief executive of World Chess, once told Forbes, “Chess was never really developed until the internet came along.” In a way he is right. In the pre-computer era, teenage GMs were rarities as Bobby Fischer’s 1958 record of attaining the GM title at 15 was broken only in 1991. But it was broken 20 times since then, with the current record holder, Ukrainian Sergey Karjakin, having claimed the title at the age of 12 only in 2002.

Computer programming has now enabled mankind to analyse current and past players based on their games played.

Computer programming has now enabled mankind to analyse current and past players based on their games played. Such programmes look deep into the possible permutations of a chess game and also reveal the best possible move. This has led to technology becoming one of the main training tools to sharpen the minds of the best chess players in the world today.

However, technology has its ill effects too on the game. Chess engines are so powerful and portable that cheating has become a serious issue now. With Covid-19 forcing the game to go online, this aspect has become more serious and has raised the serious question of whether machines will prevail over human elements.

Computer chess is not a battle of ideas, but of programming ingenuity and processing power.

Chess

World champion from 1921 to 1927, the Cuban Jose Capablanca perhaps saw this long ago.

“Chess can never reach its height by following in the path of science,” he had said.

Computer chess is not a battle of ideas, but of programming ingenuity and processing power.

Computer chess has impacted top-level play and coaching as well.

Computer chess has impacted top-level play and coaching as well. Many are even opting for computers rather than a human coach. Coaches too now use software to help analyse the games of their students and trainees. And top players all have to be prepared for their opponents to play the unique, even inhuman moves learned from machine games.

Multiple World champion Viswanathan Anand put forward a good point. “The greatest change computers have brought to the game has been to remove uncertainty from the game. If I know something to be good, I am 100% sure of it. We have gained certainty but also kind of lost that charm,” Anand said.

For the great Bobby Fischer — world champion in the early 1970s — one solution was to re-introduce uncertainty. Accordingly, he created a chess variant where the pieces are randomized in different positions every game, making it useless for players to memorise long opening sequences in advance.

Talking about the difference, Anand said “In the pre-computer days, you could remember 100 odd games, so you could still figure it out and had a 50-50 chance of getting a move right. But with powerful computers we have, it has analysed the next 10 moves, you have to know it or else you are done.”

The India No. 1 hinted at having faith in one’s abilities as he felt it was not the moves that made the difference, as a computer today will be outdated in three years’ time, but the confidence it gives a player will last forever.

Another great GM Vladimir Kramnik believes the game has grown less creative and he partly blames computers for it. “For quite a number of games on the highest level, half of the game — sometimes a full game — is played out of memory,” Kramnik said. “You don’t even play your own preparation; you play your computer’s preparation.”

But an engine move or a computer move which was once regarded as an insult in the game is now looked upon as a move that’s so good that only a computer would see it and see how good it is.

You can praise it, you can disdain it, but you cannot ignore it. That’s the role of technology in modern-day chess.

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