IM Colin Crouch on The So – Rich – Akobian dispute

The news was announced on the English Chess Forum by Nevil Chan, Sat Apr 18, 2015 8:34 am:

“Harrow Chess Club deeply regret to announce that Colin Crouch has passed away. Colin was 58 years old and a member of the club since 1970.” (http://www.ecforum.org.uk/viewtopic.php?t=7336)

Dr. Crouch was Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick; External Scientific Member, Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, Cologne. (http://www.britac.ac.uk/fellowship/elections/index.cfm?member=4526)

His Principal publications were:
Making Capitalism Fit for Society, 2013
The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism, 2011
Capitalist Diversity and Change, 2005
Post-Democracy, 2004
Social Change in Western Europe, 1999
Industrial Relations and European State Traditions, 1993

IM Crouch published a chess book, one of many, How to Defend in Chess, in 2007. It became one of my favorite chess books. “Many books discuss how to attack in chess, but resourceful defensive play is also a vital ingredient in competitive success. This is an area largely neglected in the literature of the game. This book fills the gap admirably. Following a survey of general defensive methods in chess, Dr Colin Crouch investigates the techniques of World Champions Emanuel Lasker and Tigran Petrosian, both highly effective defenders. Lasker would place myriad practical obstacles in the opponent’s way, and was a master of the counterattack. Petrosian developed Nimzowitsch’s theories of prophylaxis to a new level. His opponents would find that somehow their attacking chances had been nullified long before they could become reality.” (http://www.amazon.com/How-Defend-Chess-Colin-Crouch/dp/1904600832/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429714416&sr=1-1&keywords=colin+crouch+chess)

I enjoyed the blog written by IM Colin Crouch. This is an excerpt from his last post:

The So – Rich – Akobian dispute

“Sadly, the news at St Louis dominates all discussion in the US Championships. The forfeit of Wesley So’s game against Varuzhan Akobian is deeply controversial, and no doubt will have long term implications.

The situation was, at its most basic, that Akobian had made a complaint against So, after move 6. There was no indication that there was any cheating by So, of, for example, using the computer of finding the very best moves in a particular position (the main reason for barring electronic devices).

What then was Akobian complaining about? The answer was that he had been scribbling a few notes, while the game was being started, mainly as motivation techniques. It was along the lines of thinking before you make a move, slow down, don’t hurry. It is more a case of getting more relaxed, for what is likely to be a tense game.

I have heard recently of this type of technique, used in political speaking. At a recent Seven-ways Leader debate (hes, these days there were seven parties, plus minor groupings), just before the British General Election, there were notes placed before the podium, for many of the leaders. With seven players battling it out, there were never going to be long set-piece speeches. It was much more the case of the speakers having written down in advance something like, calm down, don’t get wound up, that sort of thing. It does not even involve the speakers having written notes, and loads of statistical facts and figures o be wheeled out. That would have caused unconvincing lack of spontaneity.

It is in many ways what Wesley So has been doing in the last few months, and maybe before. Maybe it can be claimed that what he was doing was technically in breach of the chess laws, although it is, it can be regarded, as only a slight technically breach. Presumably something will need to be clarified at some later FIDE congress. Again though, such a writing down in such notes is, it seems, acceptable in politics, and in other fields. Is there is no totally clear rule that this should be forbidden during a game of chess? And what happens if, for example a couple of players agree to meet up for a meal after the game, and write down where they should meet up at a restaurant?

The simple point is that unless there is absolute clarity in the regulations, there should be no reason for a player being given the drastic punishment of a loss – after six moves of play!

Akobian claimed that he was distracted by So’s play. Really? It is surely much more of a question of how much Wesley So was distracted by Akobin’s play, and in particular in trying to make a formal complaint. It is of course just about possible that Akobian had only made a casual note to the chief arbiter, and that the Chief Arbiter, Tony Rich jumped the gun. I do not know, and without much clearer information, I cannot be certain.

My suspicions are however that Akobian was at least as guilty as distracting So, than So is of distracting Akobian. It is an unfortunate aspects of chess that one way of “cheating” is by accusing the opponent of cheating. Akobian was clearly able to take full advantage of Tony Rich’s actions. Even so, without 100% knowledge of what was going on, I am reluctant to say whether this was what in fact happened.

The next question is how Tony Rich handled things. We must too remember that unfortunately he would have had his clashes with chess authority. We was, for example, not given the expected payment for his contributions for Chess for the Philippines, in a bib Asian sports event, as the excuse was made that chess does not count. He moved to the USA, but it took time to play for the team in the Olympiad in Tromso, while various players originally from Ukraine were given the chance to change qualifications to Russia almost instantly. Where is the justice in that? I do not want to attempt to write about what was happening during his time at St Louis. There were some complications. He did not however complete his university degree there, which is totally understandable, as, unlike the vast majority of even top grandmasters, he is capable of playing at fully equal terms against Carlsen, given time. He also had problems with his mother, on his future in chess and study. There was an unexpected encounter with her at the beginning of the US Championship.

My instincts here is that quite probably he felt that he was being hassled by Tony Rich, and his continuous complaints that Wesley was doing such-and-such a thing, and that quite simply he merely wanted to play chess, concentrate on chess, and try to become the top player from the USA. He could easily be thinking that why does this arbiter keep whinging? It is not as if he is a strong player anyway.

There is an indication that probably Tony Rich is not quite as clued up as one would like. To make things easier, it is simplest that when strong players, including super-strong players, are under the control of the arbiters, the convention is that the arbiters have full knowledge and understanding of what is going on, during the game, and elsewhere in the tournament and surrounds. It is only when suspicions arise, that players have doubts about the arbiters.

A final point. I would hope that the game between Akobian and So is to be expunged from the points gained and lost in their game. Akobian did not win any points through his superior chess knowledge.” (http://crouchnotes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-so-rich-akobian-hispute.html)

The Wesley So Forfeit

The St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center was in its infancy when I played in the St. Louis Open there in the spring of 2009. In the second round I faced a young boy, Kevin Cao, who was an expert at the start of the tourney. Playing my favorite Bishop’s opening the boy did not take advantage of the opportunities my play afforded, putting him in a difficult position. My opponent had been keeping score on a gizmo called “Monroi.” When the going got tough my opponent pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and placed his gizmo on the table, eschewing the actual chessboard in order to focus only on the chessboard on his gizmo. Since this violated the rules of chess, I lodged a protest with the TD’s. The rule is simple and clear: 11.3 a) During play the players are forbidden to use any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse any game on another chessboard. (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/us-champs-r9-so-forfeited-amid-family-turmoil)

The tournament director’s did not see it that way. Since the Monroi was a USCF “approved” gizmo they had trouble ruling the only way they should under rule 11.3. They decided to “compromise” by asking my opponents father have his son not use the gizmo as a chessboard the rest of the game. I agreed to this, and so did the father, albeit reluctantly. This was done because I was playing a child. If my opponent had been an adult I would not have agreed, but insisted he be forfeited because the rule is clear. Things change dramatically when a child is involved.

After a few more moves my opponent’s position deteriorated, and he was in also in time pressure which happens with a G/2 time control. His father, seeing this while constantly hovering over the board, told his son to do go back to using his gizmo. The boy then pulled his hood over his head and placed his gizmo on the table and again eschewed the actual chessboard. I protested, the clocks were stopped and into the TD room we went. This time things became, shall we say, heated. Actually, the father went ballistic. Some time later the USCF issued a ruling castigating the father for “reprehensible behaviour.” The father took his son home and when his time ran out, I was declared the “winner.” The young boy dropped back into the “A” class because of the loss. He is now rated 2300+.

This was written about and discussed on the forum of the St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center, which no longer exists, and some have said it is no longer in existence was because of what was written on it, none of it positive toward me. Simply put, I was vilified. Much was written on the USCF forum at the time, where I was also excoriated unmercifully.

I closely followed the recent US Championship tournament, the one now called the “Open” tournament, as opposed to the one called the “Women’s” tournament. GM Wesley So is obviously a supremely talented chess player. I found the interviews with him intriguing, to say the least. After the interview early in the tournament,maybe the very first round, the one in which he mentions playing weakly in the middle game after not seeing his foster mother for some time, (She had been with Jeanne Sinquefield he said) I told the Legendary Georgia Ironman something was obviously “not right” about Mr. So. I could not put my finger on it, but knew something was wrong.

Much has been written about Wesley being forfeited, and I have read everything found on the interweb. I would like to share some of it with you, then share a few comments of my own.

“Akobian complained that this distracted him”!? What is the motive behind this statement? To me it looks like a “sucker punch” from Akopian to get an easy win. Chess referees should according to the rules always apply common sense. And the nature of this incident considering the actual writing of So does not by any means amount to such a serious offence that So should forfeit his game against Akopian.” – thomas.dyhr (Thomas Dyhr, Denmark)

“This decision is absolutely ridiculous I take it So has been writing on his scoresheet sometimes which would show on his copy handed in and is against Fide rules ok and Rich told him this.
He gets a blank piece of paper instead to write some thought positives and Akobian complains to Rich who forfeits So.
Akobian if he was distracted by So’s actions should have asked him to stop first.
Rich should have seen that this was not writing on a scoresheet which he warned him about and if he was not allowing So to write on blank paper as well told him to stop immediately and if So complied let the game continue.
Akobian and Rich do not come out of this with any credit and Akobian should be ashamed of himself as a man of integrity.” – Gilshie (Thomas Gilmore, United Kingdom)

“I guess they wanted to guarantee that an American wins the US Championship…” – Shtick (Nick Daniels, Canada)
(All of the about quotes from: https://chess24.com/en/read/news/us-champs-r9-so-forfeited-amid-family-turmoil)

“PS: editorial comment to myself

Many chess writers and commentators seem to have little better to do this weekend than to talk about a silly forfeit incident in the US championship, so I will throw in a few of my own observations.
The first is that even though some tournament rule might give the tournament arbiter, Tony Rich, the POWER or the AUTHORITY to forfeit Wesley So , no rule –just because it is written–gave Tony Rich the RIGHT to forfeit Wesley So for doing what he did. So offended no one nor did he disrespect his opponent; he caused no disturbence, nor did he cheat. Wesley So’s actions were not designed to give him anything other than peace of mind and a calm spirit.
Please understand that I am not saying that Akobian–who is a perfect gentleman– acted wrongly when he drew to the arbiter’s attention So’s actions. Nor am I saying that Tony Rich acted incorrectly when he decided to act according to the written rules. And especially I am not saying that So was right when he lashed out when interviewed afterwards…there were CLEARLY better ways to have handled the situation.
What I am trying to say is that once more the game of chess DESERVES to be belittled because of this incident. ONCE MORE, mainstream media will target and make fun of us. Chess LOST some prestige on that day. When Jon Stewart recently did a humorous skit on the USCF trying to recruit F.Caruana for the national team, many–including ChessBase–thought it was also a bit insulting to the game of chess. Perhaps it was a bit insulting, even though it might not have been intended to be insulting…
But until the day we (the chess community) STOP allowing silly and poorly written rules to hurt and denigrate the noble game of chess in the eyes of normal and intelligent onlookers (and let us not forget about potential sponsors and patrons), then we deserve to be insulted a little bit more each time…” – Grandmaster Kevin Spraggett
(https://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/2015/04/12/it-took-a-really-long-time-but/)

“Guess my point is – even if he warned So, forfeiting is a staggering over-reaction. Threaten with forfeit = fine. Actually doing it = insane” – GM Jon Ludvig Hammer (Also from the aforementioned chess24 article, and if you click on this, you will find more comments, including this one by IM Mark Ginsburg, “Correct. Time penalty first. This action was wildly disproportionate as GM Hammer points out. Bad call.”)

GM Emil Sutovsky, President at Association of Chess Professionals, wrote this on his Facebook page (taken from the aforementioned chess24 article) “The arbiter’s decision to forfeit Wesley So for writing down irrelevant notes on his scoresheet during the game seems weird to me. Indeed, that can be seen as a violation of rules: ” 8.1 b. The scoresheet shall be used only for recording the moves, the times of the clocks, offers of a draw, matters relating to a claim and other relevant data.” And arbiter has repeatedly urged Wesley to stop it. But awarding a loss is way too harsh a punishment for such a minor sin. Yes, it can be disturbing for the opponent, and the arbiter could and should have deducted the time on Wesley’s clock for disturbing the opponent. And to keep deducting it (2 minutes each time), if needed after each move (warning Wesley, that a forfeit will come after 2nd or 3rd deduction). That was the most painless and logical decision. Unfortunately, the arbiter has preferred the most brutal solution. These things should not happen.”

It should be obvious from the above that the TD, Tony Rich, and the St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center have not come out of this sordid incident in a favorable light. As GM Spraggett says, once again chess has suffered a black eye. I agree with Kevin when he writes, “…no rule –just because it is written–gave Tony Rich the RIGHT to forfeit Wesley So for doing what he did.” The reputation of the St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center has been sullied.

The punishment should fit the crime. As GM Kevin Spraggett writes, “So offended no one nor did he disrespect his opponent; he caused no disturbence, nor did he cheat. Wesley So’s actions were not designed to give him anything other than peace of mind and a calm spirit.”

Contrast this with how I was treated at the St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center. My opponent violated the rule in order to gain an ADVANTAGE! GM Wesley So did no such thing. He is one of the elite chess players in the world and has no need to gain an advantage against any other player in the world.

If one closely examines the rule, “11.3 a) During play the players are forbidden to use any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse any game on another chessboard,” it is clear the meaning is that a player cannot use any “NOTES, sources of information or advice,” to help, or assist him in regard to making his MOVES. A player cannot utilize a book, or gizmo containing chess information, or any “advice” from another person. There is no ambiguity here.

I was not there and do not know EXACTLY what Tony Rich said to Wesley, but from what I heard on the broadcast, and have now read, GM So was under the impression he could not write on his scoresheet, so he wrote on another piece of paper. How culpable is Tony Rich in this matter? Did he make himself COMPLETELY understood? Besides, as “Najdork” (Miguel Najdork, from Nepal) commented, “Also I would like to point out how from rule 8.1 you are allowed to write on the scoresheet any “relevant data”, and that is so vague that I guess you could write almost anything.” Who defines what is “relevant?” Your relevant may differ from what I consider “relevant.” For example, what if your opponent in a Senior event wrote on his scoresheet, “Take heart medication at 3 PM.” Who, other than GM Varuzhan Akobian, would complain? And who, other than Tony Rich would forfeit the man? I know Tony Rich. As Tony reminded me in 2009, I won our game at the Missouri State Championship in 2002 in Rollo. He was nice to me then, and has been every time I have encountered him, such as at the US Open in Indiana a few years ago. I liked Tony until he lost his mind. What could possibly have motivated the man to issue this stupid ruling, which will have lasting repercussions? If you were Wesley So would you join the American team at the Olympiad?

“In love with this rule: “12.2 The arbiter shall: b. act in the best interest of the competition.” Common sense.” – GM Jon Ludvig Hammer.

The forfeit defies common sense. “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rule; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.” – John Roberts, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2005. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/when-the-umpire-is-playing-for-the-other-team/262429/)
No one watches a chess tournament to see the TD. In lieu of watching Wesley So play GM Akobian, the world was instead subjected to a TD try and explain his “logic.” As many a TD has proven over the years, the less involved they are, the better the outcome.

None of this made any sense to me until reading this, “In the final reckoning Wesley So’s forfeit had no effect on the top three standings. Even a win against Akobian would only have tied So with Ray Robson on 7.5/11, and since he lost against Robson he would still have finished third. The person who has a real cause for complaint seems to be Gata Kamsky, who was edged out of 5th place – his goal in order to qualify for the World Cup later this year – by Akobian.” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/nakamura-and-krush-are-2015-us-champions)

There it is, the reason for this whole debacle. It always comes down to “Who profits?”

The whole affair is disgusting, and sickening. It proves only that a TD has only one rule by witch to abide: Do What Thy Wilt! There should be some kind of punishment for a TD who oversteps his bounds. I have seen far too many tournament director’s puff out their chest while strutting around singing, “I’ve got the power,” such as Richard Crespo, the former TD spending his days in prison after abducting a woman and shooting it out with police in San Antonio, Texas a decade ago.
I am embarrassed, and ashamed, to be an American involved with chess. This putrid affair rivals anything I have written about FIDE and the nefarious Russians. United States chess has reached a new low. Tony Rich has now made everyone forget about L. Walter Stephens, the TD who awarded Sammy Reshevsky a win against Arnold Denker in the 1942 US Championship even though it was Sammy who lost on time. The game will die before the shock waves emanating from this debacle subside. The St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center touts itself as the US Capital of Chess. Knowledgable players and fans know that three of the players in the Championship, Sam Shankland, Sam Sevian, and Daniel Naroditsky, cut their chess teeth in the San Francisco Bay area, home of the oldest chess club in America, the venerable Mechanic’s Insitute Chess Room. If any area should be acknowledged as the “Capital of US Chess,” it is San Francisco, in lieu of the neuveau rich, faux chess club AND scholastic center in St. Louis, which has now been tarnished. No longer can it be considered a “leading light,” or “shining example.”

I can only hope this affair does not dessiccate Wesley So’s desire. If one watches the interviews with Mr. So during the US Chess Championship he will see a dramatic change in Wesley as the tournament progressed. Hopefully, this will fire him up and prod Wesley to play the kind of chess of which he is capable culminating in a match for the World Chess Championship.

Discussing How to Cheat in Chess

These two items appeared at the Chessbase website on the same day. Discuss.

Dubai: Fedoseev, Shabalov lead after seven rounds
4/13/2015 – The Dubai Open is in its final stages with just two rounds left, and the event is heating up. Vladimir Fedoseev and Alexander Shabalov are leading jointly with a score of 6.0/7, followed by a pack of seven on 5.5. In round six the tournament was marred when it was discovered that the two-time Georgian Champion Gaioz Nigalidze had been cheating with a smartphone hidden in the toilet. Discuss

50328

Using Deep Fritz 14 on a smartphone
4/13/2015 – Recently, Danny Gormally wrote an entertaining article ‘The Komodo files’ where the Grandmaster describes his experience of working with a chess engine. While it is certainly the Summa Cum Laude of chess engines, the weekend chess warriors may balk at carrying a laptop. In this article you will see how you can easily fulfill your needs with Deep Fritz on a smartphone. Discuss

50403

This was not at Chessbase:

Tony Rich is The Arbiter

Tony Rich is the Chief Arbiter of the 2015 US Championships. Wesley So was until this tournament, one of the top ten highest rated chess players in the world. Mr. Rich had previously warned Mr. So about taking notes during the game, which is a violation of the rules of FIDE, the governing body of world chess. During the game between Wesley So and Varuzhan Akobian in today’s ninth round the latter brought it to the attention of the Chief Arbiter that Mr. So was violating the rules of chess. The Chief Arbiter, Tony Rich, then forfeited Wesley So.

As I watched the live coverage today my thoughts drifted back to last decade when I, too, had to go into the back room with of the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center with the arbiter during a tournament. Fortunately I was not the one forfeited. Until today the incident in which I was involved at the relatively new St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center with a young boys father in which the latter told his son to violate a rule by continuing to look at the chessboard on his Monroi gizmo in lieu of the actual chessboard, even though the father had promised to not advise his son to do so, was the most egregious incident to ever occur at the Scholastic Center and Chess Club. The incident is still brought up and discussed. Thanks to Wesley So, it may well forgotten.

Chess Versus Go

Richard Bozulich is writing a series of essays on various go topics. The first is, The Interplay of Intuition and Brute-Force Analysis in the Game of Go. (http://www.usgo.org/news/2015/03/two-new-books-from-kiseido-and-bozuliuch-launches-online-series/)
The one with interest for the chess world is the second, Chess and Go: A Comparison. (http://www.usgo.org/news/2015/03/spring-sale-at-kiseido/)

“Richard Bozulich (born 1936) is an American author and publisher of go books in English and a college math professor. He co-founded the Ishi Press. Bozulich was born in Los Angeles, California. He attended UCLA and in 1966 graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a BA in mathematics. Bozulich had worked his way through college by buying and selling highly technical used books and upon graduation decided to become a book publisher. He moved to Japan and in 1968 in partnership with Stuart Dowsey founded The Ishi Press, a book and magazine publishing company that primarily published books about the game of go. In 1982 Bozulich founded Kiseido Publishing Company. Richard Bozulich has written or published more than one hundred books and magazine and newspaper articles about the game of go. He is the world’s most prolific author of go materials in English.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Bozulich)

He begins Chess and Go: A Comparison with, “Chess and go are games rich in both strategy and tactics. Because of the relatively small size of the chess board (64 squares), chess is considered to be more of a tactical game than a strategic one, in which gaining a material advantage is the all important first step to the eventual mating of the king. The small size of the chess board does not seem to be conducive to strategic ideas.

Go, on the other hand, with its enormous playing field of 361 points, is generally considered to be a game in which both strategy and tactics are equally represented.

For sure, there are a large number of principles that govern go strategy. With respect to tactics, there are at least 45 different kinds of tesujis that can be used to gain a tactical and, ultimately, a strategic advantage. Many of the strategic and tactical principles of go are encapsulated in a hundred or so go proverbs. In addition, there are a large number of other strategic principles which make up go theory and are instinctively understood by all strong players.

What about chess? What are the principles that guide a player to make sound strategic moves?

When I first started to investigate this, I didn’t expect to find too many strategic principles. I was sure that there would be many more chess ‘tesujis’. ((teh-soo-djee) (skillful play) (http://senseis.xmp.net/?GoTerms) To my surprise, I found more than 60 strategic chess principles, but only 13 chess tesujis.

In spite of the paucity (compared to go) of its tesujis, chess is still a game rich in tactical maneuvers that require deep and accurate analysis. However, due to the small size of the chess board, a small slip in reading is often catastrophic, whereas in go, small mistakes in reading are not necessarily fatal, as compensation can be obtained in other parts of the board.

In a game of chess, there is essentially one battle going on. Only one opening can be played and the opening chosen sets the strategic theme of the game. In go, each corner of the board can feature a different opening (joseki) each with its own strategic theme. Skirmishes also arise on the sides, so there are numerous battles going on simultaneously in different parts of the board, but they are all interconnected and coordinating them into one coherent strategy is what makes go a very difficult and profound game.

There are a number of strategic concepts that exist in go but not in chess. They are analogous to the ones used in decision-making situations in business, geo-politics, or in everyday life.” (http://www.magicofgo.com/roadmap9/chess%20and%20go.htm)

Richard then contrasts Go principles with the principles of Chess in the rest of this highly interesting and provocative look at the differences between the Royal game and Go.

Programmers Attack Go With Brute Force

Last June an article by Jonathan Schaeffer, Martin Müller & Akihiro Kishimoto, AIs Have Mastered Chess. Will Go Be Next? was published. “Randomness could trump expertise in this ancient game of strategy,” followed. “Jonathan Schaeffer, a computer science professor at the University of Alberta, in Canada, had been creating game-playing artificial intelligence programs for 15 years when Martin Müller and Akihiro Kishimoto came to the university in 1999 as a professor and graduate student, respectively. Kishimoto has since left for IBM Research–Ireland, but the work goes on—and Schaeffer now finds it plausible that a computer will beat Go’s grand masters soon. “Ten years ago, I thought that wouldn’t happen in my lifetime,” he says.” (http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/artificial-intelligence/ais-have-mastered-chess-will-go-be-next)

Jonathan Schaeffer is the man behind Chinook, the computer program that solved Checkers. You can find the paper, Checkers is Solved, to learn about the proof here: (http://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/)
He has also revised his book first published in 1997, One Jump Ahead: Computer Perfection at Checkers, which I read years ago. Jonathan Schaeffer is like E. F. Hutton in that when he talks about a computer game program, you listen.

For years I have followed news of computer Go programs. Before sitting down to punch & poke I searched for the latest news, coming up empty. This as good news for humans because Go is the last board game bastion holding against machine power. It is also the world’s oldest, and most complicated, board game. It “originated in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago. It was considered one of the four essential arts of a cultured Chinese scholar in antiquity. Its earliest written reference dates back to the Confucian Analects.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_%28game%29)

Schaeffer and his group have developed a Go-playing computer program, Fuego, an open-source program that was developed at the University of Alberta. From the article, “For decades, researchers have taught computers to play games in order to test their cognitive abilities against those of humans. In 1997, when an IBM computer called Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov, the reigning world champion, at chess, many people assumed that computer scientists would eventually develop artificial intelligences that could triumph at any game. Go, however, with its dizzying array of possible moves, continued to stymie the best efforts of AI researchers.”

In 2009 Fuego “…defeated a world-class human Go player in a no-handicap game for the first time in history. Although that game was played on a small board, not the board used in official tournaments, Fuego’s win was seen as a major milestone.”

They write, “Remarkably, the Fuego program didn’t triumph because it had a better grasp of Go strategy. And although it considered millions of possible moves during each turn, it didn’t come close to performing an exhaustive search of all the possible game paths. Instead, Fuego was a know-nothing machine that based its decisions on random choices and statistics.”

I like the part about it being a “know-nothing machine.” I have often wondered if humans, like Jonathan Schaeffer, who are devoting their lives to the development of “thinking” machines, will be reviled by future generations of humans as is the case in the Terminator movies. It could be that in the future humans will say, “Hitler was nothing compared to the evil SCHAEFFER!” If I were supreme world controller a command would be issued ending the attempts to crack Go, leaving my subjects one beautiful game not consigned to the dustbin of history, as has been the fate of checkers. I fear it is only a matter of time before chess meets the same fate. GM Parimarjan Negi was asked in the “Just Checking” Q&A of the best chess magazine in the history of the universe, New In Chess 2014/6, “What will be the nationality of the 2050 World Champion?” He answered the question by posing one of his own, “Will we still have a world championship?” Good question. I would have to live to one hundred to see that question answered. Only former President of the GCA, and Georgia Senior Champion, Scott Parker will live that long, possibly still be pushing wood in 2050, if wood is still being pushed…

The article continues, “The recipe for building a superhuman chess program is now well established. You start by listing all possible moves, the responses to the moves, and the responses to the responses, generating a branching tree that grows as big as computational resources allow. To evaluate the game positions at the end of the branches, the program needs some chess knowledge, such as the value of each piece and the utility of its location on the board. Then you refine the algorithm, say by “pruning” away branches that obviously involve bad play on either side, so that the program can search the remaining branches more deeply. Set the program to run as fast as possible on one or more computers and voilà, you have a grand master chess player. This recipe has proven successful not only for chess but also for such games as checkers and Othello. It is one of the great success stories of AI research.”

Voilà, indeed.

“Go is another matter entirely,” they write, “The game has changed little since it was invented in China thousands of years ago, and millions around the world still enjoy playing it.”

But for how long?

“Game play sounds simple in theory: Two players take turns placing stones on the board to occupy territories and surround the opponent’s stones, earning points for their successes. Yet the scope of Go makes it extremely difficult—perhaps impossible—for a program to master the game with the traditional search-and-evaluate approach.”

This is because, “For starters, the complexity of the search algorithm depends in large part on the branching factor—the number of possible moves at every turn. For chess, that factor is roughly 40, and a typical chess game lasts for about 50 moves. In Go, the branching factor can be more than 250, and a game goes on for about 350 moves. The proliferation of options in Go quickly becomes too much for a standard search algorithm.”

Hooray! That is the good news, and there is more…”There’s also a bigger problem: While it’s fairly easy to define the value of positions in chess, it’s enormously difficult to do so on a Go board. In chess-playing programs, a relatively simple evaluation function adds up the material value of pieces (a queen, for example, has a higher value than a pawn) and computes the value of their locations on the board based on their potential to attack or be attacked. Compared with that of chess pieces, the value of individual Go stones is much lower. Therefore the evaluation of a Go position is based on all the stones’ locations, and on judgments about which of them will eventually be captured and which will stay safe during the shifting course of a long game. To make this assessment, human players rely on both a deep tactical understanding of the game and a clear-eyed appraisal of the overall board situation. Go masters consider the strength of various groups of stones and look at the potential to create, expand, or conquer territories across the board.”

This sounds good so far, but then they continue, “Rather than try to teach a Go-playing program how to perform this complex assessment, we’ve found that the best solution is to skip the evaluation process entirely.”

Oh no, Mr. Bill!

“Over the past decade, several research groups have pioneered a new search paradigm for games, and the technique actually has a chance at cracking Go. Surprisingly, it’s based on sequences of random moves. In its simplest form, this approach, called Monte Carlo tree search (MCTS), eschews all knowledge of the desirability of game positions. A program that uses MCTS need only know the rules of the game.”

I do not know about you, but I am hoping, “What happens in Monte Carlo stays in Monte Carlo.” Do you get the feeling we are about to be Three Card Monte Carloed?

“From the current configuration of stones on the board, the program simulates a random sequence of legal moves (playing moves for both opponents) until the end of the game is reached, resulting in a win or loss. It automatically does this over and over. The magic comes from the use of statistics. The evaluation of a position can be defined as the frequency with which random move sequences originating in that position lead to a win. For instance, the program might determine that when move A is played, random sequences of moves result in a win 73 percent of the time, while move B leads to a win only 54 percent of the time. It’s a shockingly simple metric.”

“Shockingly simple,” my jackass. There is much more to the article, including this, “The best policies for expanding the tree also rely on a decision-making shortcut called rapid action value estimation (RAVE). The RAVE component tells the program to collect another set of statistics during each simulation.”

As in “Raving lunatic.” The article provides a list of what current computer programs have done to games, and how they rate in “…two-player games without chance or hidden information…”

TIC-TAC-TOE (Game positions, 10 to the 4th power) = Toast

OWARE (Game positions, 10 to the 11th power) = Fried

CHECKERS (Game positions, 10 to the 20th power)= Cooked

OTHELLO (Game positions, 10 to the 28th power)= Superhuman

CHESS (Game positions, 10 to the 45th power) = Superhuman

XIANGQI (CHINESE CHESS) (Game positions, 10 to the 48th power) = Best Professional

SHOGI (JAPANESE CHESS) (Game positions, 10 to the 70th power) = Strong Professional

GO = (Game positions, 10 to the 172th power) = Strong Amateur

They end the article by writing, “But there may come a day soon when an AI will be able to conquer any game we set it to, without a bit of knowledge to its name. If that day comes, we will raise a wry cheer for the triumph of ignorance.”

I would much prefer to raise a stein and drown my sorrows to that…

Dana Mackenzie’s Key Lime Pi Openings

The interweb is a wonderful thing because I enjoy reading chess, and other, blogs. Occasionally the “other” is contained in a chess blog.

The Legendary Georgia Ironman has recently been memorizing the digits of Pi.

Dana Mackenzie is “a national master, two-time former champion of North Carolina, and a regular lecturer at http://www.chesslecture.com.” He says, “Don’t let all of that stuff impress you, though. Deep down inside, I’m just an ordinary player. I don’t play chess for money or glory, just for the love of the game.” How can you not like a guy like this? His blog is dana blogs chess.

The title of his last post, dated March 14, 2015, was, Happy Pi Day… April 3? It begins, “Going off topic today!” Dana proves chess players do not live on chess alone…

This blog is mainly about chess, so I will leave Pi to Dana and the Ironman. Dana also writes about chess, except in “real life,” where he is a freelance science writer. You can read all about his scientific writing, and learn things such as his favorite writer, and poet, at: http://www.danamackenzie.com/blog/

Dana has written a most interesting three part Grading the Openings, which I wholeheartedly recommend. He begins Part One by setting the stage with, “Rob Weir, the statistician whom I mentioned in my last post, graciously shared with me a data base of the performance of all the openings, organized by ECO code. This allows us to create something that I’ve never quite seen before: a “report card” of all the chess openings. Which are best for White? Which are best for Black? Which are the most drawish? Which are the most or the least popular?”

Part two begins, “First of all, let me announce that my last post, Grading the Openings (Part One), unexpectedly turned into the biggest hit I’ve ever had on this blog. The blog had 1136 visitors yesterday, which is three times more than I have ever had in a single day (except during the 2012 World Championship match, when I was translating Sergei Shipov’s commentaries).”

In Part three I learned one of my favorite openings with White, the Closed Sicilian is one of “…the top five variations for Black.” Oh no, Mr. Bill! Unfortunately it gets worse because the line I play(ed) with 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 d6 6. Be3, known as “B26,” is the second top scoring line for Black, with only the D01 (Richter-Veresov) scoring better for BLACK. Say it ain’t so, Joe…

I also learned, from one of the many comments, of the “Zombie Apocalypse Tournament, March 14 – 15, 2015.”
I kid you not. If the High Planes Drifter had known of this tournament I am certain he would have imitated the Nashville Strangler and driven all night in order to make it to the round on time at the Lory Student Center, CSU Campus Rooms, Grey Rock Room, on the CSU campus in Ft. Collins, Colorado, because David Vest loves all things Zombie! Bill Wall left the comment and let us know it was “Open to all USCF members and “Zombies.” I cannot make this up, folks. “First round starts at 10 AM but free pie will be served at 3/14/2015 at 9:26:53 AM following the sequence of pi. Shirley Herman has asked for Peach Pie ala mode and Philipp Ponomarev has asked for Key Lime Pie.”

Is this a great blog, or what?!