Sunday, 15 April 2007

Game Over at last?

Next month marks the 10th Anniversary of Garry Kasparov's infamous match with Deep Blue. That match marked the first time that a chess computer beat a reigning world chess champion in a match. Of course, much recrimination followed that result, not least from Kasparov and his understandably bruised ego. Years later, the computer logs were published by IBM and the last vestige of doubt was removed. It was a fair match and Kasparov lost, which in an unofficial sense at least, made Deep Blue the world chess champion.

Of course, Deep Blue then did a "Fischer" as IBM packed up their bags and decommissioned their chess playing monster, having attained their objective and received a mountain of publicity that even they could not afford to buy.

It's tempting to view the match as a tipping point at which computers finally fulfilled the dreams of the original programming pioneers to surpass all human chess players. It's true to say that the last barrier had been broken for a chess computer, but the success was mainly achieved through brute force processing power rather than programming advances.

The real advances came later as more and more subtle features were built into the evaluation functions of chess engines. As computers 'understood' more, they gained in strength and no longer needed specialist hardware to defeat the best grandmasters.

Which leads us right up to the present day and the remarkable Rybka. Even at a conservative estimate, Rybka is stronger than any other chess engine by around 60 Elo points and now appears to have broken the 3000 Elo barrier.

A challenge has been issued by a poster at the Rybka forums, offering $1000 to anyone who can beat Rybka (under conditions which handicap the computer as much as is reasonably possible without actually giving a pawn odds).

I sincerely hope that no-one attempts to take up this challenge. The time for computer v human chess matches has surely passed. Let's face it - computers can now play better chess than humans. The real point to understand is that it doesn't matter. Chess computers are best used now to help us improve our understanding of chess through analysis of human games.

Can we declare the game over at last?

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Stream of Chess Consciousness 4

Well here it is at last - the finale to my game which I have been posting on this blog. I am attempting to follow the 'stream of consciousness' that swirls through my head when I play a chess game in order to root out any misconceptions and fallacies I might be labouring under.

This post starts off from the position after 23....Kg7 (see the diagram). You can play through the entire game using the arrows under the replay board below.

24. Nb6 I seem to have developed a bit of an initiative over the last few moves, so I tried to keep this going by threatening the bishop.

24...Bc6 25. Nd7 I think this forces the exchange of bishop for knight since the rook at f8 and the pawn at c5 are forked and if the rook moves away then Nxc5 protects the pawn at e4. If then b6 to remove the Knight, the a6 pawn is left hanging.

25...Bxd7 26. Rxd7 b5

Do I exchange pawns or not? I wasn't sure and went after the c-pawn instead.

27. Rc7 bxc4 28. bxc4 e5

Somewhat bizarrely, I missed this completely. I seemed to have forgotten that the e-pawn could actually move out of the attack from my rook!

29. f5 I wanted to avoid exchanging. fxe5 Rxe5 just seems to let Black protect the pawn at c5 and leaves my e4 pawn isolated and weak. I preferred to advance the pawn to f5, keeping the position closed and possibly entertaining thoughts of f6 in future.

29...Rc8 30. Rd7 Rcd8 31. Rfd1 Rxd7 32. Rxd7 gxf5 33. exf5 Kf6 34. g4 e4 35. Kf2 Re8 36. Ke3 h5

I had a long think here. I wasn't sure whether or not to play Rd6+ to win the pawn at a6 and give myself an outside passed pawn. I decided against this move because I like my rook where it is - attacking the pawn on f7 and tying Black's King to it's defense. Instead I tried to improve my worst placed piece - or in this case - pawn, and see what Black would do.

37. a4 hxg4 38. hxg4 Kg5

Abandoning the f pawn doesn't look like a good idea to me.

39. Rxf7 Kxg4 40. f6 Kf5 41. Re7 Rf8 42. f7 Kf6 43. Re8

I had seen this far when I took the f pawn and now expected Black to take back with the rook which should lead to a draw.

Kxf7 ?? Clearly this leads to a lost King ending. The computer is giving me too much now - even I should be able to finish the game from here without mishap. I played the last moves quickly and finished the game with a win - hooray!

44. Rxf8+ Kxf8 45. Kxe4 Ke8 46. Kd5 Kd7 47. Kxc5 Kc7 48. a5 Kb7 49. Kd6 Kc8 50. Kc6 Kb8 51. Kb6 Kc8 52. Kxa6 Kc7 53. Kb5 Kb7 54. Kc5 Kc7 55. Kd5 Kd7 56. a6 Kc7 57. a7 Kb7 58. a8=Q+ Kxa8 59. Kc6 Kb8 60. c5 Kc8 61. Kb6 Kb8 62. c6 Ka8 63. Kc5 Kb8 64. Kd6 Kc8 65.
c7 Kb7 66. Kd7 Ka6 67. c8=Q+ Kb5 68. Kd6 Kb4 69. Qc2 Ka3 70. Qb1 Ka4 71. Kc5
Ka3 72. Kc4 Ka4 73. Qb4# 1-0

I haven't checked the moves of this final post with Fritz, so there may be many things I have missed. I welcome your comments once more on my conduct of the game and if my moves and/or descriptions of my thoughts reveal any misconceptions that I should iron out of my play.

Friday, 6 April 2007

A new website and forum with tremendous potential has recently started up. It's called and is based around a simple idea. You join the forum at the website and then you can either post your own games to be analysed by the website's expert or you can download the open-source software CamStudio which will enable you to record and upload your own game analysis.

The analysis takes the form of a video of the game and an audio commentary. I've just had one of my games analysed by Josh Specht and was impressed by the results (if not the standard of my play!).

I think this is a great idea for a website because it is so interactive. In the spirit of Web 2.0 it allows people to come together to create their own content and benefit from interacting with others.

Join now before they start charging a fee!!!

Monday, 2 April 2007

How Life Imitates Chess?

Since former chess world champion Garry Kasparov retired from to chess in favour of politics to take on the Putin regime in Russia, he has raised his profile in the non-chess playing world and has apparently become a popular speaker on the lecture circuit.

With this in mind, he has published a new book entitled 'How Life Imitates Chess' to explain to hard-pressed business executives how to take the principles of success in chess and apply them to their help their businesses checkmate the competition. He is currently visiting the UK to do some promotional work as reported in some detail by Mig at The Daily Dirt.

I'm far from convinced that the game of chess has any genuine value when it comes to teaching business leaders how to run a successful organisation, although I'm sure Kasparov makes a compelling speaker at conferences.

Despite my doubts, I have to acknowledge that chess is nonetheless a popular subject for creating analogies of many other subjects, including life in general.

From Benjamin Franklin's 'Morals of Chess' which extolled the virtues of chess as a means to learning the appropriate morals for leading one's life, to Alexander Cockburn's impassioned critique 'Chess and the Dance of Death' which viewed chess as being utterly worthless and a waste of time, there are no shortage of opinions.

For what it's worth, I wish Kasparov all the best for success with his book, his lecture circuit endeavours and his campaign to wrest power away from Putin in Russia. However, I will confine my book buying to his more conventional chess books, like the 'My Great Predecessors' series, which I recommend wholeheartedly.

Does chess really have any value as a model for business decision making?