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Computers in chess... The conclusion.

Computers in chess... The conclusion.

Mar 18, 2013, 12:00 AM 47 Strategy

It is time to summarize our discussion about all the positive and negative aspects that computers brought to our game and see which side outweighs.

One of the biggest positive sides I see is that computers really enhanced our chess knowledge. Some discoveries are truly mind-boggling.  Who could have thought that the next position is a draw?

I still can't believe that White cannot win with two healthy extra pawns, but Nalimov table bases prove that it is a draw. There are many more surprising discoveries like this. By the way, this position can help you to understand why you should never worry that computers will 'solve' the game of chess one day.  Just try to hold the above mentioned 'theoretical' draw against a computer.  You will never be able to do it.  You will always lose with Black and draw with White because it is just impossible to memorize the whole solution.  So, if one day a computer says that White wins by force after 1.e2-e4, good luck to memorize the quadrillion of bytes of information!

The second great benefit is that chess engines are one of the best learning tools available (providing you know how to use them, see the first parts of this article). As the result, we have teenager Grandmasters and overall, in my opinion, an average  chess players today is stronger than 30 years ago.

Now let's go to the dark side of the computer chess.
One of the most benign and yet annoying effects of computer invasion into the Royal Game is... well it is less and less Royal!  Computers slowly but surely kill the mystery of the game. In the past when for example Tal sacrificed a piece, chess analysts around the World were busy for years trying to find out if the sacrifice was sound. Today you just plug in your favorite engine overnight and in most of the cases you get your answer first thing in the morning.  As the result the Royal status of top chess players is long gone. In the beginning of 80ies of the last century the giant city of Moscow had only three Mercedeses.  They belonged to Leonid Brezhnev (of course!), Vladimir Vysotsky (the legendary actor and songwriter) and Anatoly Karpov.  Karpov's wedding took place on the Red Square and was covered by media almost like the Royal Wedding in London.  These days, when computers are much stronger than any human, just take a look at any live translation from a super tournament. You will hear something like "What?? This guy is in the top 10 in the World? He cannot calculate two moves ahead! My Houdini can see it in less than a second!". The respect to the top chess players is gone forever and so is the Golden Age of chess!
But what really makes me concerned is the computer cheating.  We discussed this subject last week. About ten years ago I told late Jerry Hanken (famous US chess journalist) that we are lucky that so far the cheaters are mostly dumb.  But when a smart person who is rated 2300-2400 FIDE decides to cheat, it will be next to impossible to detect him.  Unlike stupid cheaters who don't know how to play chess at all and depend on the computer every single move, the 2400 guy knows thing or two about chess.  So, all he needs is just a couple of moves or variations in the critical moments of his games. Sometimes just a sheer knowledge of having 'something' in the position is more than enough, so a tiny sign from an accomplice would suffice. Also a smart 2400 cheater would probably understand that a win in a tournament with a score 10 out of 11 and 2900 performance would be suspicious, but winning $4000 as a class prize with a performance of 2600 is nothing extraordinary.  I don't want to give all the advices and pointers to cheaters, but I think you got the idea. And as the chess engines play more and more human-like, it will be almost impossible to detect the fraud. In the long run all the tournaments with big money prizes are doomed.  The organizers won't be able to prevent cheating since jammers and similar tools are not the perfect option because they can interfere with pacemakers and other medical devices and pretty much a clear invitation for a lawsuit.
The side effect of the computer cheating is the suspicion of cheating which is probably even worse. When they accuse Topalov or Kramnik of cheating in the World Championships they played, it is very sad. Of course any reasonable person would realize in less than a minute that these two great players would never cheat.  Why? Just think about it: in the World Championship match in Elista the prize fund of $1 million would be evenly divided between the players - regardless of the outcome of the match. So by cheating Kramnik would not gain any monetary rewards. But in case he gets caught his career would be instantly over. Since you usually need an accomplice it increases the risk. Meanwhile, as the World Champion he earned at least half a million per year from chess related activities. So, who in his right mind risks millions of dollars and his whole chess career for pretty much nothing?  I know Kramnik since childhood and he is a very decent person, believe me.   But even if you never met him in your life, you can assume that he is at least not a fool to do such stupid things. And yet people talk about the "ToiletGate".  Utterly disgusting! It is my deep believe that Fischer was luckiest person on Earth because he played before chess engines could tell a Bishop from the Rook, otherwise his unbelievable double 6-0 against both Taimanov and Larsen would be explained by the latest development of American programmers and engineers.
So, I am very pessimistic and in my opinion in the long run, chess tournaments as we know them are doomed.  FIDE is not doing anything, but truthfully speaking, it is difficult even to recommend them a solution. A delay of the live transmission for 15 minutes (the most popular remedy) is not going to help in the long run, but at least it can make the cheaters life more difficult.  By the way, reportedly in one of the recent tournaments in Russia chess players who got cheated by one of the participants decided to borrow a page from Carrie Underwood:

Now my dear readers, you can understand why if it was up to me, I would prefer to return to the Chess Stone Age before computers. Yes, I would lose a beautiful endgame table bases and the ultimate chess analyst who can tell me almost instantly what is the best move in practically any position.  But in return I will get back the innocence of our beautiful game!

Meanwhile Borislav Ivanov (who we discussed in one of the previous parts of this article) has just won another tournament ahead of a dozen of Grandmasters with the fantastic result 8 out of 9 ! (http://chess-results.com/tnr93301.aspx?art=1&rd=9&lan=1) I cannot wait to see his games. According to his interview he already beat both Rybka and Houdini with the same score 10:0!  Maybe he decided to follow my advice and challenge Carlsen? In this case I'll bet my money on him!

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