Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Have the engines killed ROTW matches?

This post was prompted by my reading 'Kasparov Against The World' (KATW). It was described by by Jon Edwards as "A day to day account of his 1999 internet match against the 'The Rest of the World' (ROTW) team, consisting of some 7 million people (according to the organisers Microsoft). One book, one game. Kasparov suggests that it may be the greatest game ever played. It's an exciting game and did much to promote chess world-wide.". The fact that its 202 pages are devoted to a single chess game is, not surprisingly, a record. Jon offers interactive moves for the game and analysis as well as links to all of the games that were referenced in the book.

You don't need to invest in the KATW book itself to find out why Jon is so taken with it - just refer to the links at the end of this post or Jon's links given above (but if you do happen to want to buy the book, you can use the Amazon shopping cart in the right-hand column of this blog). Quite apart from anything else, the game generated a novelty introduced by one of the members of the ROTW (15 year old Irina Krush) on move ten and which was, in itself, a valuable contribution to opening theory.





Here is the position in question - can you find Black's perhaps clumsy-looking, but nevertheless very effective, innovation?

(Solution below)






KATW is like a diary, so you hear about the other things that went on in Kasparov's life during the game - no need for a chess board because a diagram is shown for each move.

Kasparov talks about his appearance in the book, saying that GM Eduard Gufeld told him (in 1978 apparently) "Garry, how can you play the Caro-Kann? You look like one of the Mafiosi - you must play the Sicilian!".

Ah, so that's the reason for him always playing this opening!




Have the engines killed ROTW matches?

All of the players were allowed to use computer programs of their choice. This was in 1999, so perhaps the programs were weaker than they are today - and different computers were capable of coming up with different answers. These days it feels as if computers have all the answers (though I confess to not having much experience of them myself). Having read the book, it occurred to me that this type of ROTW match could not be played in the same way today - it would simply be a match between computers. If a chess engine is left to run overnight it is difficult for me to conceive that a human player would easily be able to discount the analysis it produces. In 1999 it was still worth checking the computer variations to see if it had gone astray.

Once again it seems that we can't discuss chess without also mentioning computers. At this point it is worth mentioning that one of the first computer pioneers, Konrad Zuse, was born exactly one hundred years ago (on June 22nd, 1910). He is commemorated in an article by Frederic Friedel in Chessbase. The article ends with a glimpse into the future - 2030 to be precise - when we will apparently be able to upload the contents of our brains to a computer! We are told that "Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have become involved in this project" ie the "merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence". I'll leave you to dwell on that while I attempt to get back on topic.

One of the ways in which computers have made us chessplayers 'redundant' is the appearance of tablebases. These are "generated by retrograde analysis, working backwards from a checkmated position and have completely solved chess positions with six or fewer pieces (including the two kings)."(Wiki). As I understand it (Page 159 of KATW) you can use a tablebase in the following way. Suppose that towards the end of the middle game you find that your variations all lead to positions with a king, queen and pawn against a king and queen. It is very difficult to see which of these will be draws and which will be wins, but a tablebase can tell you for sure - and then you will know which variations to examine more closely.

Who actually played the moves?

It was fascinating to read Kasparov's KATW book in which he appears to have sufficient nous to know when to reject moves found by a computer (Deep Junior). He even had an expert whose presence on his team depended solely on his ability to know when to accept or reject particular computer moves. It seems strange to then ask the computer to check the proposed move, even though it wasn't even in the computer output list of candidate moves!

In his book, Kasparov had, what I believe to be, a very difficult task. He wanted to show the gory details of how he arrived at his moves (including help from his advisers, chess engines and tablebase) - whilst making it clear that the game was his, that he 'owned' the moves that were actually made. Was he merely a co-ordinator in the same way that Irina Krush (more about her below) co-ordinated the ROTW team? I think he proved the case for saying that he was the 'creator' - but I'm not sure it will be possible for world champions in future ROTW matches to do the same (which is little disconcerting to say the least). It seems to me that their ideas will become completely subservient to massively powerful computers that will become available to everyone and their dog. It just seems to be a question of who can get hold of the better software! Or seconds! One of the attractions of chess is it's 'pure' nature, the idea that you put yourself on the line, that you are testing yourself and you alone.

Now let's move on to the psychology of playing chess by 'committee' - with all the attendant paraphenalia of who, if anyone, is in charge. And why should we let that patzer in the corner have one vote when the GM over there only gets one vote too - is democracy really a valid paradigm in all situations? Kasparov insisted on various operating procedures before agreeing to get involved - but even he could not anticipate all the issues that came crawling out from under the woodwork (for both sides)! Incidentally, because team members will not wish to present anything less than perfect lines to their fellows for fear of losing face - there is a big incentive to use chess engines. Individual correspondence games do not have this 'group dynamic'. As far as I am concerned, I trust my opponents when they promise not to use input from a machine/consultant. Anyway, I simply don't care if my opponent is feeding me computer moves.
 
IM Irina Krush


The system as described in KATW seemed to be a reasonable compromise, a sort of 'modified democracy'. And here is the chairman of the committee, IM Irina Krush (FIDE 2476). This is Michael Nielsen's version of what she accomplished:

"Fifteen years old (as she was in 1999 but the picture is more recent), Krush had recently become the US Women’s chess champion. Although not as highly rated as two of the other World Team advisors, or as some of the grandmasters offering advice to the World Team, Krush was certainly in the international elite of junior chess players.

Unlike her expert peers, Krush focused considerable time and attention on the World Team’s game forum. Shrugging off flames and personal insults, she worked to extract the best ideas and analysis from the forum, as well as building up a network of strong chess-playing correspondents, including some of the grandmasters now offering advice.

Simultaneously, Krush built a publicly accessible analysis tree, showing possible moves and countermoves, and containing the best arguments and refutations for different lines of play, both from the game forum, and from her correspondence with others, including the GM school. This analysis tree enabled the World Team to focus its attention much more effectively, and served as a reference point for discussion, for further analysis, and for voting.

As the game went on, Krush’s role on the World Team gradually became more and more pivotal, despite the fact that according to their relative rankings, Kasparov would ordinarily have beaten Krush easily, unless he made a major blunder.".

Other sites report that "In addition to discovering a new move, Krush displayed great patience, tact, and generosity while participating in the bulletin board discussion of the game.".

STOP PRESS!
Irina Krush US Women's Champion 2010
Full report at Chessbase

Conclusion

Well, we know that chess is warfare in miniature - so success at chess depends on the same qualities that result in victory on the battlefield. We may list, for example, such things as strong leadership (in this instance, Irina Krush), a well thought out strategy (her analysis tree described above) and, last but not least, the fighting qualities of the whole army (the ROTW team participated with enthusiasm and dedication, incentivised by playing Kasparov).

Finally, I do feel that, for matches where people play chess as a group, it is vitally important to have an easy- to-visualise and efficient system for proposing, recording and locating variations - possibly a tailor-made online system. Please refer to my post "Cemetary walks / Openings Indexes" to give you an idea of what I mean.

My interest in ROTW games was further enhanced by my participation in a similar type of game at ChessWorld. In this case 277 members of the club are playing against one of our stronger members, Michael Dellman. I must say that I have gained a lot from the experience. The dodgy variations I have submitted to the forum have been gently corrected - which has given me a little more confidence in my game ie not all my ideas are completely crazy!

If this post has sparked your own interest in playing such a match, just click on the ChessWorld ad at the bottom left of this post to see what it is all about (initially as a non-paying guest).

Links

The Salon article is a nice place to start - here

Game moves and comments - here

Michael Neilsen's post (excellent blog) - here

Wikipedia's take on the match - here

Time magazine article - here

ROWT analysis and ideas as it occurred during the match - here

Controversy over a missing email (various links too) - here


Hot water for the organiser (MicroSoft) - here

Deep analysis of a critical moment in the game - here

Shirky's article - here


Solution - 10...Qe6

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