Games Have Been Terminated!

The thing about writing a blog is that one never knows what an email will bring. After spending an inordinate amount of time in front of Toby, the ‘puter, yesterday learning how to insert diagrams, and then putting together the post in order to have something in which to insert them, I determined that today I would spend time with the Daniel Gormally book, Insanity, passion and addiction: a year inside the chess world, while playing over Chess games on an actual board with pieces one can feel, and possibly “working” on the openings intended for the Senior Championship of the Great State of South Carolina, which is only ten days away, by going to the CBDB and 365Chess. Wrong, Ke-mo sah-bee! An email from my friend Mulfish arrived at 11:42 am, upsetting the Bacon cart…

“Looking forward to the AWs take on AlphaZeros stunning win over Stockfish,” was the message. “What’s this?” I thought, wondering if Mike was referring to the TCEC Computer Chess Championship that is in the final stretch. “But Stockfish is not participating in the Super Final,” I thought. I therefore fired off an immediate response: “To what, exactly, are you referring?” His reply was, “Look in the all things Chess forum.”

Although there are not as many incoming as there were before taking a long break from blogging, I have received several emails directing my attention here and there, and they are greatly appreciated. Checking the AW stats today showed many people in countries other than the USA reading the AW. In particular I noticed that today, as every day, there is one, and only one, reader in the Maldives. Thank you, whoever you are, and feel free to send an email, as I am curious by nature.

Keep ’em coming: xpertchesslessons@yahoo.com

This is the post found on the USCF forum that prompted Mulfish to fire a salvo at the AW:

Postby billbrock on Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:16 am #321974

“AlphaZero learned to play chess by playing against itself. After just FOUR HOURS of self-learning, it was able to decisely (sic) defeat Stockfish 8.0! (EDIT: this statement is slightly misleading. See downthread.) (100 games match: +28 =72 -0)
What’s really impressive: Stockfish was calculating far more deeply than AlphaZero (at least in terms of nodes per second). AlphaZero is just “smarter.”

After reading only this I thought, “Whoa! This will change not only my day, but possibly the future course of history!” The more I read the more convinced was I of the latter.

Bill Brock provided a link to a PDF paper, Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm
(https://arxiv.org/pdf/1712.01815.pdf) which I read immediately, blowing my mind…

Every morning I read while drinking my first cuppa coffee, and today was no exception. Toby is not fired-up until time to sit down and eat breakfast. I check my email, then the quotes of the day, followed by the poem of the day, which was The Writer’s Almanac, by Garrison Keillor, but it has been discontinued, so I’ve moved on to Poem-a-Day (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem-day) & The Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/). Next I click on the Drudge Report in order to understand what the enemy is thinking, and doing. Then it is the newspapers in digital form, the NYT, WaPo, and AJC. For you readers outside the USA, that would be the New York Times, the Washinton Post, and the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. Then I check out the word of the day (https://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day), before heading to check what was on the nightly radio programs broadcast while I am sleeping, Ground Zero with Clyde Lewis (http://www.groundzeromedia.org/), and the Granddaddy of them all, Coast to Coast AM (https://www.coasttocoastam.com/). You may think that Chess comes next, but you would be mistaken. I check out The Hardball Times at Fangraphs (https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/). Then I check out what’s happening in the world of Go (http://www.usgo.org/).

Then it is time for Chess! My routine is to check in at Chess24 (https://chess24.com/en) first in order to learn if there is a new article I will want to return to after checking out Chessbase (https://en.chessbase.com/), where there is usually something interesting to peruse. (Today is no exception because the lead article is, How XiangQi can improve your chess, which will be read. https://en.chessbase.com/). During the TCEC Championships it is then on to Chessdom (http://www.chessdom.com/), where I click onto TCEC (http://tcec.chessdom.com/). And then it is on to the Chess Granddaddy of them all website, TWIC, aka The Week In Chess (http://theweekinchess.com/), which is Mark Crowther’s wonderful website which contains a Daily Chess Puzzle, which I attempt to solve, in hopes it will keep my mind sharp. Why was I writing all this?…Just kidding!

The point is that I read so long this morning (Why Bob Dylan Matters, by Richard F. Thomas; Cover Me: The stories behind the GREATEST COVER SONGS of all time, by Ray Padgett, who has a wonderful website (http://www.covermesongs.com/); and Murder on the Death Star: The assassination of Kennedy and its relevance to the Trump era, by Pelle Neroth) in order to finish the latter. The point being that by the time I got to the email by Mulfish I would ordinarily have already seen the momentous news.

DeepMind’s AlphaZero crushes chess

https://chess24.com/en/read/news/deepmind-s-alphazero-crushes-chess

The excellent article by Colin McGourty begins: “20 years after DeepBlue defeated Garry Kasparov in a match, chess players have awoken to a new revolution. The AlphaZero algorithm developed by Google and DeepMind took just four hours of playing against itself to synthesise the chess knowledge of one and a half millennium and reach a level where it not only surpassed humans but crushed the reigning World Computer Champion Stockfish 28 wins to 0 in a 100-game match. All the brilliant stratagems and refinements that human programmers used to build chess engines have been outdone, and like Go players we can only marvel at a wholly new approach to the game.”

Colin ends with: “And where do traditional chess programmers go from here? Will they have to give up the refinements of human-tuned evaluation functions and all the existing techniques, or will the neural networks still require processing power and equipment not easily available? Will they be able to follow in DeepMind’s footsteps, or are there proprietary techniques involved that can’t easily be mastered?

There’s a lot to ponder, but for now the chess world has been shaken!”

“Shaken?” More like ROCKED TO ITS FOUNDATION!

If games people play are to survive they will be something like that described in the novel I consider the best I have read, Das Glasperlenspiel, or Magister Ludi, aka, The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse. (http://www.glassbeadgame.com/)

Or maybe a book, The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks, which is not only one of my favorite Sci-Fi books, but also one of my favorite book about games.

The stunning news also caused me to reflect on a Canadian Sci-Fi television program I watched, Continuum, in which mega-corporations dominate the world in the future as time-travelers fight one of the largest corporatocratic entities, SadTech, which sounds an awful lot like Google. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1954347/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_6)

The Brave New World is here. The Science Fiction books I read as a youngster are no longer fiction.

The Terminator has arrived.

We are all doomed. DOOMED!

R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World

The End of the World

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Games People Play

Former World Chess Champion Boris Spassky was interview recently by Colin McGourty. Some of the wonderful interview, “I still look at chess with the eyes of a child” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/spassky-i-still-look-at-chess-with-the-eyes-of-a-child) has been translated by Chess24.

Colin: “All sports change over the years, becoming faster, higher, stronger. Is chess also subject to similar trends?”

Boris: “Chess is also changing, but in a somewhat incomprehensible manner. Computers have appeared in chess and turned everything upside down.”

The advent of computer chess programs have drastically altered the Royal game. The natural evolution of chess has been, shall we say, “enhanced” by the programs. The play of the game of chess has taken a quantum leap forward in the lifetime of Boris Spassky. When change this dramatic occurs it is only natural that older humans have trouble accepting the rapid change. For instance, my grandmother was born before the automobile was invented. When Neil Armstrong allegedly stepped onto the surface of the moon and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” it was much more than she could comprehend and she never believed it happened. To her it was just something “they” put on TV.

Colin: “The reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen has the reputation of being a straight-A chess player who does everything correctly on the board and plays out games for a long, long time. Has chess lost something because of that?”

Boris: “Carlsen is a stubborn kid. In general, what a chess player needs has always been the same, with a love of chess the main requirement. Moreover, it has to be loved naturally, with passion, the way people love art, drawing and music. That passion possesses you and seeps into you. I still look at chess with the eyes of a child.”

Colin: “Can chess players of different eras be compared at all?”

Boris: “It’s pretty hard. Each to his own. Everyone should know his place. Chess players are a very difficult crowd who are largely egocentrics, egoists and individualists. Each of them has his own vision of the world and each is a lone wolf who goes his own way. Each World Champion came from more or less that background.”

Humans have always played games, and, most, will continue to play some kind of game. As Colin said, “All sports change over the years…” Chess is not an exception.

Whatever credibility Checkers had has been lost to the computer program Chinook, the “World Man-Machine Checkers Champion.” (http://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/) Have humans stopped playing Checkers? They have not because they changed the game. Take a look at “International Checkers.” It is not the game your father played.

Consider Three Dimensional Chess, popularized by the Star Trek TV show. (http://www.chessvariants.org/3d.dir/startrek.html)
“Three-dimensional chess (or 3D chess) refers to any of various chess variants that use multiple boards at different levels, allowing the chess pieces to move in three physical dimensions. Three-dimensional variants have existed since the late 19th century, one of the oldest being Raumschach (German for Space chess), invented in 1907 by Dr. Ferdinand Maack and considered the classic 3D game. Maack founded a Raumschach club in Hamburg in 1919, which remained active until World War II. The inventor contended that for chess to be more like modern warfare, attack should be possible not only from a two-dimensional plane but also from above (aerial) and below (underwater). Maack’s original formulation was for an 8×8×8 board, but after experimenting with smaller boards eventually settled on 5×5×5 as best. Other obvious differences from standard chess include two additional pawns per player, and a special piece (two per player) named unicorn.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-dimensional_chess)

It could be that in the future when one speaks of chess, it will be in regard to only 3D Chess.

GM Walter Browne, an avid gamesman, has created a game he named, “FINESSE.” Walter calls it, “The 21st century version of Chess.” He writes, “In 1988 I started to wonder why over two thousand years no one ever thought of another board game besides Chess, that was a “purely” intellectual struggle. There are many chess variants, but none of them are very appealing, so I dared to take up the challenge. I invented Finesse in 1993 and I thought it’s nice, but I put it away for almost twenty years. Then in 2012 I made a few key changes which made all the difference! I had a “Voila”! moment in August 2012 when I realized the chemistry between the pieces would create an endless variety of dynamic positions.”(http://www.finessebybrowne.com/#!history/c1sf)

Check out this “Finesse” video:

Could the game Walter invented be the future of chess? My favorite science fiction novel is, “The Player of Games,” by Iain M. Banks. “Curgeh is the best, the champion. In the ancient, all-embracing Culture in which there is no disease or disaster, only the endless games, he has beaten them all. But an empire’s challenge will teach him what the Game is really all about.” (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18630.The_Player_of_Games)

My favorite novel is, “The Glass Bead Game,” by Hermann Hesse. It is known as “Das Glasperlenspiel” in German. It has also been published under the title “Magister Ludi,” Latin for “Master of the Game.” (http://www.glassbeadgame.com/)

“It was begun in 1931 and published in Switzerland in 1943 after being rejected for publication in Germany due to Hesse’s anti-Fascist views. A few years later, in 1946, Hesse went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In honoring him in its Award Ceremony Speech, the Swedish Academy said that the novel “occupies a special position” in Hesse’s work.”

“The Glass Bead Game takes place at an unspecified date centuries into the future. Hesse suggested that he imagined the book’s narrator writing around the start of the 25th century. The setting is a fictional province of central Europe called Castalia, which was reserved by political decision for the life of the mind; technology and economic life are kept to a strict minimum. Castalia is home to an austere order of intellectuals with a twofold mission: to run boarding schools for boys, and to nurture and play the Glass Bead Game, whose exact nature remains elusive and whose devotees occupy a special school within Castalia known as Waldzell. The rules of the game are only alluded to—they are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of music, mathematics, and cultural history. The game is essentially an abstract synthesis of all arts and sciences. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Bead_Game)

Games will always be played, as long as humans inhabit Earth, which may not be long the way we have polluted the planet. (http://www.ora.tv/offthegrid/big-media-blindspot-continuing-fukushima-cover–0_300vfa5puqb8) Even then I like to think humans may be able to travel to an unpolluted planet, where they will, no doubt, play some kind of game.