Psycho Chess Cat

The Chess World’s New Villain: A Cat Named Mittens
A ruthless bot with an innocuous avatar is driving chess players crazy

https://www.wsj.com/articles/chess-mittens-cat-bot-11674018529?st=joee0rhfj7i05sz&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink

By Andrew Beaton and Joshua Robinson
Jan. 18, 2023

The heels of the chess world have included Soviet grandmasters, alleged cheaters, and faceless supercomputers. But the game’s latest villain is a fearsome genius who quotes French cinema and has played millions of games in just a couple of weeks.

She also happens to be a mean cat.

Mittens—or technically the chess bot known as Mittens—might look cute. Her listed chess rating of a single point seems innocuous. But her play over the past few weeks, which has bedeviled regular pawn-pushers, grandmasters, and champions who could play for the world title, is downright terrifying. And as it turns out, people are gluttons for punishment.

Since Chess.com introduced this bot with the avatar of a cuddly, big-eyed kitten on Jan. 1, the obsession with playing her has been astonishing. Mittens has crashed the website through its sheer popularity and helped drive more people to play chess than even “The Queen’s Gambit.” Chess.com has averaged 27.5 million games played per day in January and is on track for more than 850 million games this month—40% more than any month in the company’s history. A video that American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura posted to YouTube titled “Mittens The Chess Bot Will Make You Quit Chess” has already racked up more than three million views.

“This bot is a psycho,” the streamer and International Master Levy Rozman tweeted after a vicious checkmate this month. A day later, he added, “The chess world has to unite against Mittens.” He was joking, mostly.

Mittens is a meme, a piece of artificial intelligence and a super grandmaster who also happens to reflect the broader evolution in modern chess. The game is no longer old, stuffy and dominated by theoretical conversations about different lines of a d5 opening. It’s young, buzzy and proof that cats still rule the internet.

The past few months have seen yet another surge in the worldwide appeal of chess. The viral image from the World Cup was a Louis Vuitton advertisement showing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi poring over a board.

https://futballnews.com/how-louis-vuitton-pulled-off-cristiano-ronaldo-and-lionel-messis-picture-that-broke-the-internet/

The picture that summed up the college football national championship was of a TCU fan playing chess on her phone in the stadium while the Horned Frogs got demolished by Georgia. When Slovenian NBA superstar Luka Doncic was asked for his thoughts about Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, he shrugged it off and said he uses his phone to play chess.

None of those moments have driven people to virtual chess boards quite like a cat named Mittens who likes to taunt her opponents while she destroys them.

“I am inevitable. I am forever. Meow. Hehehehe,” Mittens tells her opponents in the chat function of games.

Chess.com, the popular platform where both grandmasters and millions of everyday chess lovers play, has a number of bots ranging in skill level and styles for users to challenge. Some are designed to play poorly and be beatable even by a crummy player. Others, in an age when the computers dominate humans, can topple the chess elite.

This particular bot was the brainchild of a Hamilton College student named Will Whalen who moonlights as a creative strategy lead. He had a crazy idea. What if they put an incredibly strong bot behind some devastatingly cute eyes?

“Then Mittens was born,” Whalen says.

But Mittens didn’t become a brutal troll until a Chess.com writer named Sean Becker led a team that developed Mittens’s personality to become the evil genius tormenting chess players everywhere. Part of why Mittens has become such a notorious villain is because she acts like one.

Mittens doesn’t purr. She references ominous lines from Robert Oppenheimer, Van Gogh, and even a 1960s Franco-Italian film called “Le Samourai.”

“Meow. Gaze into the long abyss. Hehehehe,” Mittens says, quoting German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Even her approach to the game is menacing. Mittens is designed to be skillful enough to beat the best chess players on the planet but uses particularly grueling tactics. Becker thought it would be “way more demoralizing and funny” if, instead of simply smashing opponents, Mittens grinded down opponents through painstaking positional battles, similar to the tactics Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov used to become world champion.

It hasn’t been difficult for Becker to see the reactions to his masterpiece. Nakamura, who could manage only a draw against Mittens, bluntly said in a video, “This cat is extremely patient, which is kind of annoying. I’m not going to lie.”

Becker has also seen it when he rides the subway and notices someone on their phone getting crushed by Mittens.

“You can see their eyes be kind of afraid,” Becker says.

Getting absolutely creamed by Mittens might get old. But her surprising popularity speaks to an underlying current in the chess world as freshly minted fans flow in: People are endlessly curious about new ways to engage with the ancient game. Facing novelty bots is just one of them. There has also been a new wave of interest in previously obscure chess variants.

Chess960, for instance, is a version of the game where all the non-pawn pieces are lined up in random order on the back rank. Also known as Fischer Random, for its inventor Bobby Fischer, it has gained traction among elite players as a high-purity test of chess skill and vision, because the random setup makes openings nearly impossible to prepare ahead of time.

In an unprecedented move, chess world governing body FIDE recognized Chess960 and gave it a world championship in 2019. The tournament was closely watched in 2022 when the final featured two of the best players on the planet: Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi, the runner-up at the 2021 world championship of normal chess. (World champion Magnus Carlsen finished third.)

Other variants include: “Fog of War,” where players have a limited view of their opponents’ pieces; “Bughouse Chess,” which is played across two boards with captured pieces potentially moving from one to the other; and “Three Check,” where the objective is simply to put the opposing king in check three times.

The wackiest of all is the chess variant known as Duck Chess. It looks mostly like regular chess—64 squares and 32 pieces. But it also has one rubber ducky on the board.

After every move in Duck Chess, the player moves the titular object to a new square of the board where it blocks pieces in its path. Good luck moving your bishop when there’s a duck squatting on its diagonal.

There are also other cat bots. One is Mr. Grumpers. Another is Catspurrov, which bears a curious resemblance to former world champion Garry Kasparov. None have become a sensation quite like the chess terrorist called Mittens.

“While I still think chess is a symbol of the highest level of strategic thinking,” said Chess.com chief chess officer Danny Rensch, “it’s also a game that is just incredibly fun and enjoyable.”

Just not when you play Mittens.

Write to Andrew Beaton at andrew.beaton@wsj.com and Joshua Robinson at Joshua.Robinson@wsj.com

Appeared in the January 19, 2023, print edition as ‘Chess World’s New Villain: A Cat Named Mittens’.

The Frivolous Frivolity of Chess.com

A new article appeared at the Chess.com website a couple of days ago, CHESSCOM UPDATE (https://www.chess.com/article/view/chesscom-update-october-2022). The header reads: Celebrating New Champions And Exciting Opportunities.
CHESScom
Updated: Nov 11, 2022, 9:22 AM

“It’s been a month filled with thrilling championship action. Check out the latest news and updates from Chess.com and learn all about exciting new features, events, and Twitter memes that we’re particularly proud of.

It is a long article filled with much of which those at Chess.com are proud, including myriad videos one can watch. More on that later, but for now we will focus on the Fair Play segment, which contains these numbers:

Fair Play stats for October:

30,985 Fair Play closures (including 10 titled players)
58,026 mute actions
51,438 accounts muted
68,513 abuse closures

I have never played online at Chess.com and know little about it other than what others, who do, or at least have, played there have reported. The numbers above tell a story, but what story depends on other numbers, like how many humans play each day, and/or the total numbers in the month of October. Because of a background in Baseball numbers are something about which I know something. When it comes to numbers everything is relative. For example, hitting .300 in Baseball is considered an accomplishment. In the low scoring period from 1963 to 1968, when those in power at Major League Baseball changed the rules by lowering the mound and decreasing the strike zone, Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox led the American League with a batting average of only .301. Carl was the only player who stepped up to the plate enough time to qualify to hit .300 or above. The American League hitters batting average that year was only .230. Their is a reason 1968 was called “The year of the pitcher.” Flash back to “The year of the hitter”, 1930, and one finds the league Batting Average in the American league that year was .288. Keep in mind that after the expansion years of 1961 for the AL, and 1962 for the NL, there were ten teams in each league as opposed to only eight in 1930. In the latter year 41 hitters qualified for the batting title, with an astounding 29 hitters hitting .300 or above! That, folks, is 71% of the qualified batters. Simply amazin’, as Casey Stengel would have said. Al Simmons, of the Philadelphia Athletics, led the league with a .381 BA, two points higher than Lou Gehrig, of the New York Yankmees. Only three batters hit above .288, the average for the league in 1930, in the AL in 1968.

This can be found at Chess.com, and it is the only thing found to which the numbers above can be compared:

Play Chess Online on the #1 Site!

10,943,634 Games Today

260,504 Playing Now
11/13/22 12pm

Being not well informed about the workings at Chess.com caused me to reach out to some who play at the website. I did not understand the difference between “mute actions” and “accounts muted,” and I was not alone. “The latter means “Shut the Fork Up!” said one wag. Ditto for the “Fair Play closures” and “abuse closures.” And ditto for those to whom I reached out. “Chess.com is not too good with specifics,” said one. What we do know is that over one hundred thousand people have been “Shut up,” and 99,498 accounts have been closed for violating “Fair Play” rules and/or “abuse.” Which begs the question of what constitutes “abuse?” ‘Back in the day’ there was much “trash talkin'” at the House of Pain in the so-called “skittles room” prior to it being taken over by the parents of all the children flooding the House. My all-time favorite “trash talker” was none other than Dauntless Don Mullis, the player who forced me to play until the wee hours of the morning to win a game that lasted at least eight hours. You might out play the Dauntless one, but you could never out trash talk the legendary wonder!

When I think of Chess.com the words that come to mind are those spoken many decades ago by SM Brian McCarthy, (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2021/04/24/brian-mccarthy-r-i-p/) who said, “It is nothing but a frivolous frivolity.” All was quiet for a few moments while it sank in before everyone erupted with laughter. The picture that follows succinctly illustrates what I mean:

https://www.chess.com/article/view/chess-trolling-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly

Maybe much younger people like the above cartoon but it is simply silly and denigrates the Royal Game. Unfortunately, Chess.com is replete with frivolous frivolities like the above. For example, here are two videos contained in the aforementioned article that perfectly illustrate the silly nature of Chess.com:

Pleas note the ever present grin found on the face of Danny Rensch, one of the movers and shakers at Chess.com. It seems Mr. Rensch always has a smile on his face, and maybe you would too if you had his revenue stream…

Maybe silly crap like this has a place on a Chess website…maybe…but I am more like Brian McCarthy, who was famous for saying, “Just give me the MEAT!” Substitute “moves” for “meat” which is exactly what Brian did when someone criticized him for using a book sans cover. “It don’t need no cover as long as it has got the MOVES,” he said, followed by the above “MEAT!” quote. How can any self-respecting Chess player take Chess.com seriously?

Oh well,

Remember to,

Because, after all,

“Where’s the beef Magnus?”

The following comment by Brian Lafferty was the first one published at Chessbase in reply to the article, Wall Street Journal: Niemann ‘likely cheated’ more than 100 times

ChessSpawn Vermont
The mantra of Niemann cheated online is wearing very thin because a) it has no demonstrable relevancy to the otb game at issue in St. Louis and b) Carlsen has not presented any factual proof that Niemann cheated otb in St. Louis (factual proof as in factually detailing HOW Niemann cheated against him otb).

Given the corporate business dealings between Chesscon and Carlsen, the innuendo raised by Danny Rensch and Chesscon is suspect. Chesscon and Danny Rensch have a business motive to support Carlsen and his bald otb cheating accusation against Niemann knowing full well that online cheating is far easier to accomplish than otb cheating at a tournament like the one at issue in St. Louis.

Carlsen has made an accusation that Niemann cheated against him in a specific otb game in St. Louis, but has thus far offered NO proof to support his accusation. As the one leveling this serious charge, Carlsen and Carlsen alone has the full burden of proving the charge. Niemann has no obligation/burden whatsoever to prove that he did not cheat otb against Carlsen in St. Louis. Contrary to Carlsen’s false and self-serving claim that he has asked Niemann to allow him (Carlsen) to present his evidence, Niemann has no such obligation and Carlsen does not need Niemann’s permission to present clear and convincing proof of how Niemann cheated otb in St. Louis.

Where’s the beef Magnus? Where?
https://en.chessbase.com/post/wall-street-journal-niemann-likely-cheated#discuss

International Master Danny Rensch,

the man who defeated the Play Magus Group (https://playmagnusgroup.com/), decided to publish his latest salvo in the late afternoon prior to the beginning of the United States Chess Championships. This was a reprehensible act for which only Mr. Rensch can explain. The AW is calling you out, Rensch! You are welcome to leave a comment at this blog post explaining why you chose to publish your screed the day before the US Championships were to begin. If you decide to leave a comment please explain how you came to the decision to “rain on the US Championship parade.” In addition, please answer the question on the minds of many, “Why have you decided to destroy Chess?” While you are answering questions concerning your questionable behaviour, how about publishing the name of each and every player you suspect of having cheated at your website, Chess.com. How widespread is cheating at Chess.com? What percentage of players cheat at Chess.com? What is the total number of players you consider to have cheated at Chess.com? Why not “let it all hang out?” You, sir, need to “come clean” because your actions have been those of a dirty, rotten, scoundrel.

I am, unfortunately, unable to put into words what I think of you because of Libel Law. (https://legalbeagle.com/13711859-what-is-libel-law.html) Therefore much of what is felt can be seen in the following video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k76IGLi6jWI