Garry Kasparov on Chess, Computers, and Grandmasters Using Computers

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In what is nominally a book review, chess grandmaster (and lately, politician) Garry Kasparov discusses how computers have changed chess. Famously defeated by IBM's Deep Blue in 1997, Kasparov railed against computer chess in the 80's and 90's, but now he has some perspective on the matter, and shares his deep knowledge of the subject in The Chess Master and the Computer. This is a really interesting article for those interested in chess, computers, or other games (like poker) where computers are increasingly coming to the fore. Kasparov's discussion is nuanced, and he includes a detailed discussion of something I knew nothing about -- how high-level chess players are now ALSO using computers during some matches, and how that has changed young players. A snippet from the article:

There have been many unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the rapid proliferation of powerful chess software. Kids love computers and take to them naturally, so it's no surprise that the same is true of the combination of chess and computers. With the introduction of super-powerful software it became possible for a youngster to have a top- level opponent at home instead of need ing a professional trainer from an early age. Countries with little by way of chess tradition and few available coaches can now produce prodigies. I am in fact coaching one of them this year, nineteen-year-old Magnus Carlsen, from Norway, where relatively little chess is played.

The heavy use of computer analysis has pushed the game itself in new directions. The machine doesn't care about style or patterns or hundreds of years of established theory. It counts up the values of the chess pieces, analyzes a few billion moves, and counts them up again. (A computer translates each piece and each positional factor into a value in order to reduce the game to numbers it can crunch.) It is entirely free of prejudice and doctrine and this has contributed to the development of players who are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train. ...

... In the pre-computer era, teenage grandmasters were rarities and almost always destined to play for the world championship. Bobby Fischer's 1958 record of attaining the grandmaster title at fifteen was broken only in 1991. It has been broken twenty times since then, with the current record holder, Ukrainian Sergey Karjakin, having claimed the highest title at the nearly absurd age of twelve in 2002. Now twenty, Karjakin is among the world's best, but like most of his modern wunderkind peers he's no Fischer, who stood out head and shoulders above his peers—and soon enough above the rest of the chess world as well.

Read the rest for an excellent overview of the history of computer chess, including plenty of personal anecdotes that I found fascinating.

(Photo courtesy of / CC BY-SA 2.0. Hat tip to for the story!)

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February 3, 2010 - 10:00am
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