Chess is just poker now | So Good News
March’s underdog looks to topple top team Madness: American teenager Hans Niemann snapped world champion Magnus Carlsen’s 53-game unbeaten streak at the Sinquefield Cup chess tournament in St. Louis earlier this month. , perhaps the game’s greatest player of all time. But the real buzz came the next day, when Carlsen released a cryptic statement tweet “If I speak up, I’ll be in big trouble,” the meme, which included a video, announced his exit. The king appeared to make a public accusation of fraud, and the chess world in turn exploded.
While some of the biggest names in chess attacked Niemann in the days that followed, others rushed to his defense. Niemann, according to his latest confession, had already cheated at least twice in online chess at the age of 12 and 16. Those past infractions, along with what some felt was poor chess analysis in his post-game interviews, fueled suspicions of foul play. On Twitch and Twitter, players and fans theorized that Niemann may have received secret messages encoded in the vibrations of electronic shoes or remote-controlled anal beads. No concrete evidence of cheating has emerged, and the 19-year-old grandmaster vehemently denied allegations of misconduct in St.Louis, promising an interviewer that he had never cheated at a table game and had learned from his past mistakes.
Regardless of what really happened here, everyone agrees that it is conceptually simple for Niemann or anyone else to cheat at chess in 2022. Over the past 15 years, widely available AI software packages known as “chess engines” have been developed to the point where they can easily destroy the world’s best chess players, so a cheater has only one way to win. machine advice. That’s not the only way computers have recently changed the landscape of a 1,500-year-old sport. Human players, whether novices or grandmasters, now find inspiration in the results of these engines and train themselves by memorizing computer moves. In other words, chess engines have redefined creativity in chess, leading to a situation where the best players in the game can’t just get away with playing the strongest chess, but must engage in stealth, deception, and other psychological techniques. In this sense, the latest cheating scandal only shows the dark side of what chess is slowly becoming.
The computer takeover of chess, at least in the popular imagination, happened 25 years ago, when the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue defeated world champion Garry Kasparov. Editors at the time declared the match a “Greek tragedy” in which the silicon “Hand of God” destroyed humanity. But 1997, despite its cultural resonance, was not really a turning point for chess. Weighing almost 3,000 pounds, the Deep Blue supercomputer didn’t change the game by itself. His genius seemed to be the unimaginable processing power of the time, and the grandmasters who advised on its creation, after Kasparov’s defeat, accused IBM of cheating the machine by providing it with human help. the game is reversed.
In the mid-2000s, upgrades to chess engine software and commercial hardware made more powerful algorithms available; In 2006, an engine running on a standard desktop computer beat then world champion Vladimir Kramnik. Players have already used engines to evaluate individual tactics. But Kramnik’s defeat ushered in the first era of computer chess dominance, where even chess elites rely on software to help them evaluate their strategies, grandmaster Matthew Sadler, who has written several books on chess engines, told me.
As engines became more common, the game changed. Elite chess has always involved rote learning, but “the amount of things you have to prepare, the amount of things you have to remember, has just exploded,” Sadler said. Motors can calculate positions much more accurately and quickly than humans, so there is more material to explore than ever before. What once seemed magical has become calculable; required rigorous memorization and machine training where intuition could be relied upon. Chess, once poetic and philosophical, has elements of the spelling bee: the battle of preparation, the hours spent. “It used to be a lot of fun to use your mind creatively and come up with unique and complex solutions to strategic problems,” Grandmaster Wesley So, the world’s fifth-ranked player, told me via email. “We don’t test each other to see who has the best memorization plan.”
Emil Sutovsky, director general of the International Chess Federation, told me that computer cheating became a serious threat after computers reliably beat grandmasters. The Federation implemented the first anti-fraud measures in 2008.
This does not mean that chess is “solved” (in the sense that a perfect set of moves has been worked out for each position), like checkers; More chess games are possible than atoms in the universe. Sadler believes that the “frailty of man”—that we are not machines—has kept the game of chess interesting: people still forget their pregame analysis, fail to predict their opponent’s strategy, and find themselves in unprepared positions. Computers in this first era of chess engines were very good defensively, but they still had weaknesses, such as Sutovsky, who struggled to determine the value of sacrificing a piece for long-term gain.
But that all changed on December 5, 2017, when Alphabet’s AI researchers announced a new algorithm, AlphaZero, that beat the best chess engine by playing games against itself in four hours. AlphaZero used a neural network, an approach to artificial intelligence that mimics the human brain and allows for machine learning in a sense. Other chess engines quickly incorporated the new technology, heralding the modern era of computer dominance.
In the first era, humans would come up with attack strategies and then refine them in games against machines. AlphaZero defeated these earlier engines “by playing very aggressive chess,” Sadler said. Modern, neural network engines are willing to sacrifice; and they have a strong understanding of openings, positional structure, and long-term strategy. “It’s starting to look a little bit more [like] a human game,” Sutovsky told me as he described the change. Or even superHe said the new chess engines “can understand tactical conflict but also plan long-term compensation for material losses.”
To understand how superior machines are, consider the Elo rating system, which compares the relative strength of chess players and was developed by a Hungarian-American physicist. Carlsen’s highest human ranking was 2882, which he achieved twice in the last ten years. DeepBlue’s Elo rating is 2853. A chess engine called Rybka was the first to reach 3000 points in 2007; and Stockfish, the most powerful program today, has more than 3,500 Elo points by conservative estimates. Stockfish therefore has a 98 percent chance of beating Carlsen in the match, and a 2 percent chance of a draw on one count. (An outright victory for Carlsen is almost impossible.)
While chess engines once evaluated human strategies, newer, more advanced versions (including those freely available online like Stockfish) now generate surprising ideas and determine the ideal way to play the game. ” (one hundredth of a pron) is a loss compared to what the computer can play. During practice, a player might ask the software to suggest a set of moves for a given situation, then decide to use the computer’s sixth option instead of the first to confuse a similarly trained human opponent. algorithms. Or they may choose a move tailored to a particular opponent’s weaknesses. Many chess experts have embraced the aggressive style of the new engines, and algorithms have introduced many tactics that human players previously underestimated.
The advent of neural network engines excites many chess players and coaches, including Sutovsky and Sadler. Carlsen said he was “inspired” when he first saw AlphaZero. Engines made it easier for hobbyists to improve and opened up new dimensions of the game for experts. In this view, chess engines have not destroyed creativity, but rather redefined what creativity means.
If computers set the gold standard for gaming and the best players can only try to emulate them, then it’s unclear what humans are creating. “Because of the dominance of the engine these days,” Grandmaster So explained, “we’re forced to stop all creative thinking and play like mechanical bots. It’s very boring. So it’s beneath us.” And if elite players have no chance against machines, opting instead to defeat their human opponents by playing subtle, unpredictable, or suboptimal moves that weaponize “human weakness,” then modern-day chess looks more and more like a game of psychological warfare: no. A bee like a round of poker.
In this context, cheating scandals can be nothing less than a natural step in the evolution of chess. Poker has been plagued by allegations of foul play over the years, including cases where players were accused of receiving help from artificial intelligence. When the highest form of creativity overwhelms your opponent, as always happens in poker, it’s only natural to break the rules.