Ukrainian 'beats' Rybka 4 blindfolded

| 2 | Chess Event Coverage
Ukrainian 'beats' Rybka 4, using memoryWe've tried hard to resist, but by now it's impossible to avoid the story about Andrey Slyusarchuk, a Ukrainian neurosurgeon and showman who 'beat' Rybka 4 in a 2-game match, playing blindfold, which was shown on national TV. Several Ukrainian grandmasters have already expressed their doubts about the authenticity of this match.

As far as chess media are concerned, the Russian news site Chess News had the scoop, in fact already last Wednesday. They came with the story of Andrey Slyusarchuk, who had allegedly beaten Rybka 4, the latest and strongest version of the famous chess program, playing blindfold.

All of the most important TV channels in the Ukraine reported on the match, which lasted two games: Slyusarchuk won the first with White, and drew the second with Black. It was a sensational story, not because Rybka reportedly ran on strong hardware, thereby playing at a 3000+ rating level, but because her opponent is nowhere near a GM or IM title - in fact he only started studying chess eight months ago!

Chessbase picked up the story last Friday, adding some more details and citing Chinese and Vietnamese sources. The Hamburg based company is a market leader in chess software and publisher of the Rybka 4 program. Not hiding their disbelief, they invited Slyusarchuk to show his capabilities:

Andy, we offer you piece odds against Fritz 4 in our office, with full view of the board.

According to his Wikipedia page, Mr Slyusarchuk was born on May 10, 1971 in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Apparently qualified as a doctor of medical sciences, he is most famous for performances in various shows, which 'demonstrated' his ability to reproduce large amounts of data, sequences of geometric shapes, words, text and other information, from his memory.

Slyusarchuk is nicknamed "Dr. Pi". He became famous when in 2006, in one of his shows, he 'demonstrated' the ability to reproduce 1 million digits of Pi, and three years later he 'proved' that he'd memorised 30 million digits of Pi. This hit the "Ukrainian Book of Records", but was not recognized by the Guinness Book of Records - the official world record is still at 67,890 digits.

So how did he do this? Since the oral transfer of 30 million digits of pi at a rate of one digit per second would take almost a year (347 days) for a continuous transfer of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, a different approach was used to check the results: during the demonstrations Slyusarchuk asked auditors to randomly name sequences of digits of Pi, located at randomly selected locations of arbitrary pages of 20-volume print and grouped into an ordered table. In the show, he repeatedly passes this test.

The Ukrainian 'genius' claims to have memorized 20,000+ books, and says he read three thousand chess books over the past months. He claims to have used this knowledge, and his apparently phenomenal memory, to beat the strongest commercial chess engine 1.5-0.5. Here are the games:

Game viewer by ChessTempo

Ukrainian grandmaster Georgy Timoshenko didn't hide his doubts about the fairness of the events. He was quoted by compatriot and colleague grandmaster Mikhail Golubev on his blog, where Timoshenko describes another show of Slyusarchuk. Before his match with Rybka, the Ukrainian genius had apparently given a number of shows in which he demonstrated his ability to quickly memorize a large number of chess positions on a set of boards.

Timoshenko was present at one of these shows and we give the final part of his story:

Then we returned to the position on the second board. Somehow, returning the knight from f6 to g8 was for him an impossible task, perhaps because he did not know that a knight could jump over a pawn. We stood before this board for several minutes. That was quite enough to remember the position, and I decided to conduct another experiment. I removed all the pieces off the board, and said I could restore the position and invited Mr. Slyusarchuk to do the same. He did not even bother trying.

In my commentary for the film crew, I said that I could be 99.9% certain that the entire show was a scam. Mr. Slyusarchuk clearly had contact with his assistant in the room (remember his friendly camera operator?), and had received the board numbers and the moves I had made. But because of his poor knowledge of the rules of chess, he could not always show these moves on the board.

A few days later I received a call from a girl at the TV company, and was told that the film would not be shown, as Slyusarchuk had threatened legal action. Source: Mikhail Golubev

In Chess Today #3826, last Saturday Golubev gave a 'Ukrainian perspective' to the story.

Mikhail GolubevThe match is discussed by the Ukrainian and Russian players in forums at,,, Ukraine-chess.go-, etc. and there is a general view, especially among professionals (I can name GMs Shirov, Khalifman, Shipov for example) that Slyusarchuk's score was a result of ... mystification, to put it mildly.

But a problem is that the event had such wide coverage in the Ukrainian TV and other media (because of the significant sponsorship of a few thousand US Dollars reportedly, and governmental support), which perhaps exceeded the level of the coverage of the Ukrainian 2010 Olympiad victory, that I suspect that the majority of my compatriots are sure now that a real genius is living amongst us.


So, now it is an immensely difficult task to explain to non-chess-players in Ukraine that something unfair might have taken place. And, for proving that the mystification indeed took place, there is possibly no chance at all.

What can help are Slyusarchuk's numerous absurd statements, which show his complete ignorance of chess (quite unforgivable for a guy who has read, as it is claimed, more than 2000 chess books within several months!), and also some silly mistakes that he made when announcing his moves during the match.

An interesting detail is that a short report about the match with links was posted at the Ukrainian federation website, but then removed.

This morning Golubev posted an update at his blog, quoting GM Yuri Drozdovsky, who was a member of the jury.

"...In my opinion, the match was unfair. I have no clear evidence, but I note the following: 1) It was a strange game by Rybka. Some weak moves, and some were made instantly in a difficult position. 2) Strange statements [by Slyusarchuk - CV] during the game. 3) Refusal [by Slyusarchuk - CV] to play with people, even of novice level. 4) Persistent inconsistencies in his words. Oh, and much more ..."

Golubev finishes with suggesting that the Association of Chess Professionals could oppose the recognition of Slyusarchuk's victory over Rybka. "After all the ACP was created to protect the rights of players."

We asked one of Ukraine's top grandmasters, Ruslan Ponomariov, for a comment. On the phone from Kiev, where he's currently preparing for a match against America's number one player Hikaru Nakamura, he said:

Ruslan PonomariovIn the beginning I was emotional, like: Yeah! A human beats a computer! I mean, after Kasparov lost to Deep Blue, people thought this was the end of chess, but life continued, and now a human won again.

Later of course I saw many opinions about it, that maybe it was just a trick. But nobody convinced me yet and besides, I understand that there was strict control - he was checked for computers and so on.

Unfortunately was not very well organized. For example, I didn't know when it started; nobody told me. Only later I saw some videos and the games. But I did speak to GM Vladimir Baklan, who worked as a commentator during the show.

What I didn't like about it was that there was nobody from the Rybka team present. When I played against computers, e.g. Fritz or Deep Junior, there was always someone representing the engine.

So maybe it was a trick, it is interesting to know. Maybe he just memorized some games Rybka lost against another computer, but he must have memorized lots of games. He says he memorized 3000 books, but this cannot be enough and these books also contain wrong information. I cannot prove it but if he used a different trick, it's very interesting to know. It has to be explained how he did it, because chess tournaments need protection against it."

Martin Thoresen, who runs the TCEC competition (which we covered in our recent Houdini-Rybka article), answered two questions for us:

What's your comment on the theory that he might have memorized previous Rybka games, for example after downloading everything from TCEC? Anyone with an exceptional memory (as it seems Mr. Slyusarchuk has) could probably benefit from memorizing the Rybka games at TCEC, but even if his memory is fantastic it should pale in comparison to the number of legal positions on a chess board. On the other hand, positions or themes actually arising in "real" chess on a high level are much fewer and thus pattern recognition could help in pointing out the next moves. But even so, I don't get an impression that he has much experience with chess. You cannot simply become a Grandmaster strength player over night.

Personally I have huge doubts about this feat - someone that can memorize almost anything shouldn't automatically be stronger than such a chess computer due to the complexity of the game. I have not found any information of whether an opening book was used for Rybka or not, but I assume it wasn't.

As someone who has seen many, many Rybka games, do you think Rybka played at 'Rybka 4 level'? In the description of the match I can see that an Intel i7-2600K quad-core processor was used, which is a fairly good processor for chess. Right now the TCEC computer is busy running season 3, so I am unable to analyze the two games I have found of the match he played against Rybka 4. My conclusion is that I think this story is too good to be true.
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