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’.

Chess Is Weird At The Charlotte Chess Center

They are back at it in Charlotte. The first round of four different tournaments was played last night. Before I begin let me say I have no bone to pick with the good people in Charlotte. I have written about the Charlotte Chess Center because they are located in the South, the region from which I sprang over seven decades ago. I am proud there is such a wonderful place as the CCC and the same goes for the Atlanta Chess Center, home of GM Ben Finegold, who is famous all over the world. When I began playing back in the 1970s the South was not exactly a hot bed of Chess activity. When traveling to an out of state Chess tournament I met many people who told me they had never met anyone from the South who played Chess, and some who had never met any Southerner, period. Therefore when anyone causes opprobrium down South I am not pleased. Someone who refused to give permission to use his name said, “Everyone knows Charlotte is the place to go to draw. It was that way before you began to write about it, Mike. All you did was shine a light on it.” Like it or not, that is the reputation of the Charlotte Chess Center.

Mr. Grant Oen,

Grant Oen

who is the “Chief Arbiter and Organizer of the Chess tournaments held at the Charlotte Chess Club and Scholastic Academy,” and is also the “Assistant Director, Charlotte Chess Center, and a National Tournament Director, International Arbiter,” has previously written, “If he is fine with several quick draws, that is acceptable for with us as long as the rules are followed.” (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2021/06/03/reply-to-grant-oen/) A draw culture has been fostered in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The rules do need to be changed. You may think me crazy especially since Chess is currently riding a cresting wave because of the popularity of the Queen’s Gambit movie, just a Chess enjoyed a boom after Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky to win the title of World Chess Champion. What follows a “boom”?

Back in the late seventies and early eighties the game of Backgammon “boomed” before going “bust”. I mean it busted like a poker player being dealt a 2-4-6-8-10! The Backgammon craze, or fad ended like a Chess game that ends with the word, “Checkmate!” One week Gammons was full of people every night, the next it was empty…

In an article at Chess.com dated 9/2/21, How Chess Can Make You Better At Business, written by “Chesscom” begins: “When you see chess in movies, it’s always associated with great minds—and there’s a good reason for this: chess is the ultimate intellectual game.” (https://www.chess.com/article/view/how-chess-can-make-you-better-at-business)

I beg to differ. The statement is false, and is a perfect example of the hubris shown by the Chess community. There are far more people who play, and consider the ancient game of Wei-Chi to be “the ultimate intellectual game.” I am one of them. One of the reasons what is called “Go” in the West is “the ultimate intellectual game,” is that there is a winner in 99 and 44/100, if not more, of the games played. Seriously, it is would probably be better to say 99.9%, but there was this Ivory snow commercial ‘back in the day’ that used 99.44.

To back up my point this is what World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker said about Go:

Emanuel Lasker Quote: "While the Baroque rules of Chess ...

And this:

Go uses the most elemental materials and concepts — line and circle, wood and stone, black and white — combining them with simple rules to generate subtle strategies and complex tactics that stagger the imagination.
Iwamoto Kaoru,

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftse1.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DOIP.v5RlqwVR0GXupLN6HGehnAAAAA%26pid%3DApi&f=1
senseis.xmp.net

9-dan professional Go player and former Honinbo title holder.

Go, ultimate strategic game (https://dragallur.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/go-ultimate-strategic-game/)

Billionaire Res Sinquefield

https://media2.fdncms.com/riverfronttimes/imager/u/blog/3007837/sinquefieldupi.jpg?cb=1454775102
UPI Photo/Bill Greenblatt
Rex Sinquefield has been a major donor to institutions in the city, including the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis — and a host of conservative politicians.

instituted a NEW RULE in the series of Chess tournaments named after him, the Sinquefield Cup. Players are not allowed to offer a draw. Unfortunately, they can repeat the position three times and the game ends in another dreaded draw…Listen up, Rex! You have got the money and are like E.F. Hutton. When you speak people listen. How about instituting the Ko rule from Go in the next Sinquefield Cup tournaments. If a player repeats the same position for the third time YOU LOSE!!!

Now if I had a billzillion digits I would go even further and change the stalemate rule to a win for the player that forces the enemy King into a position without having a legal move at his disposal. What, you think the AW is crazy? I’ve been called worse…I would not stop there. The Royal game needs NEW LIFE! The AW would FREE THE PAWN! That’s right, folks, I would allow the pawn to RETREAT! Why not allow the pawn advance one square to the rear?!

This game was “played” in the first round of the Charlotte Labor Day GM A 2021 last night:

GM Kamil Dragun 2555 (POL) vs GM Cemil Can Ali Marandi 2530 (TUR)

D14 Queen’s Gambit Declined Slav, exchange variation, 6.Bf4 Bf5

  1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. cxd5 cxd5 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Bf4 Bf5 7. e3 e6 8. Bd3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Bd6

If you go to the Big database at 365Chess.com you will find that 99.4% of games that reached this position were drawn! (https://www.365chess.com/opening.php?m=19&n=5693&ms=d4.d5.c4.c6.Nc3.Nf6.cxd5.cxd5.Nf3.Nc6.Bf4.Bf5.e3.e6.Bd3.Bxd3.Qxd3.Bd6&ns=7.8.23.36.307.350.965.868.130.49.50.50.51.51.4988.5186.5593.5693)

The “game” concluded after:

  1. Bxd6 Qxd6 11. O-O O-O 12. Rfc1 Rfc8 13. h3 ½-½
    https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2021-charlotte-labor-day-gm-a/01-Dragun_Kamil-Ali_Marandi_Cemil_Can

The opponents rank first and second in the event. It is more than a little obvious they did not come to play; they came to draw. It makes me wanna PUKE!

Then in the first round (FIRST ROUND!) of the Charlotte Labor Day GM B this game was recorded:

IM Levy Rozman 2353 (USA) vs GM Mark Paragua 2475 (PHI)

Charlotte Labor Day GM B 2021 round 01

D92 Gruenfeld, 5.Bf4

  1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. Rc1 Be6 7. e3 dxc4 8. Ng5 Bd5 9. e4 h6 10. exd5 hxg5 11. Bxg5 Nxd5 12. Bxc4 Nb6 13. Bb3 Nc6 14. Ne2 Qd7 15. O-O Rad8 16. Qd2 Bxd4 ½-½
    https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2021-charlotte-labor-day-gm-b/01-Rozman_Levy-Paragua_Mark

What did the fans of Chess think about the game? This is from the CHAT at ChessBomb:

ZikoGG: they agreed to a draw


jphamlore: Well that was an abrupt ending.


Nero: what the


Nero: chess is weird

And you know it makes me wonder what’s going on…

Levy Rozman

WHO AM I?

My name is Levy Rozman, also known as “GOTHAMCHESS.”

I’m an International Master, Twitch Streamer, Content Creator on YouTube and former scholastic chess coach.

I have been playing chess for almost 20 years, and teaching it for nearly 10 years. 

During my time as a scholastic chess coach I learned how to best teach the game to players of all levels.

This includes players that fall between ‘Beginner’ and ‘Intermediate.’

I’ve learned all the methods and strategies that help players in that level range advance to the intermediate level and beyond. 

This course is my attempt at compiling this knowledge and making it accessible to anyone in the world!