For centuries, chess has been played by people of all kinds, and its basic rules and complex strategies make it popular worldwide.Since its beginning in ancient India, very few changes have been made, leading people to think that the game is old and has nothing to do with technology. However, this perception is far from the truth.
Nowadays, the use of AI for preparation and training is the standard for the chess community, flipping the competitive scenario upside down and the creation of and online platforms made casual play more accessible. In the following paragraphs we will discuss how it all started, as well as mentioning the profound impact technology has made in the sport.
Created by the engineers at IBM, Deep Blue was the first supercomputer projected to compete against the best chess players of the world. The company aimed to push the boundaries of AI and computer power. It was a supercomputer, consisting of 30 nodes, each with custom chips. These specialized chips allowed Deep Blue to evaluate up to 200 million positions per second. The computational power of Deep Blue distinguished it from earlier chess-playing computers.
The first version of Deep Blue, known as “Deep Thought,” made its debut in 1988 but it was only in 1996 that it faced its greatest opponent.
Kasparov X Deep Blue
As mentioned before, in 1996 IBM’s computer faced Gary Kasparov, the world champion and the player with the highest ever chess rating, thus making him the greatest player ever.
This first match ended 4-2 in favor of the human, but this did not make IBM give up on the project and only made them push Deep Blue power even further, improving and adjusting to the system’s algorithms.
In 1997, a rematch was scheduled and it received extensive media coverage, not only within the chess community but also in mainstream media outlets. Newspapers, magazines, and television programs around the world reported on the event, bringing the game of chess and the topic of artificial intelligence to a broader audience. Across six days of intense games between the two chess monsters, Deep Blue emerged victorious after two wins, three draws and a single defeat.
This event was a pivotal moment that showcased the potential of artificial intelligence and stimulated widespread interest in the intersection of technology and human intellect. It remains one of the most iconic events in the history of chess and AI.
Evolution on chess AI
Seeing the huge success IBM had, many other companies started developing their own AI aiming to surpass Deep Blue and help push the boundaries even further. Chess engines evolved by incorporating more sophisticated search algorithms and the application of machine learning techniques and neural networks became a game-changer in AI chess.
Stockfish, an open-source chess engine, emerged as one of the strongest and most widely used chess engines. It incorporated advanced algorithms and improvements in chess heuristics, allowing it to outperform its predecessors.
Another AI that is very famous nowadays is AlphaZero, one that demonstrated an ability to learn chess from scratch without any human knowledge and achieved remarkable success.
Impacts on the game
At the beginning of the 2000’s, AI and technology was all around the chess world and it changed the way the game is played. Many of the old chess theories were starting to be challenged since AI’s were developing new strategies and concepts that were far more advanced than they used to be. In addition the served as an easy opportunity to pro players compete against high level opponents and push their chess skill even further. Nowadays, the algorithm is so robust that, at their full strength, they cannot be beaten.
Another aspect that changed with the acceptance of technology was the creation of online chess platforms. They made the game much more accessible for all levels of play. High rated games became more frequent since there was no need for both players to meet on an over the board game, and casual play increased exponentially since it is faster and more comfortable to face someone in your own computer and in your free time.
As expected, not only good things were brought to the table. Since AI could always make the best decisions, players started to use it during games so they could do what was suggested and came out victorious. It is way more common in online games, over a hundred accounts were banned during 2020 in chess.com, the most famous platform for chess.
But this sad reality also happens in over the board games. Although much less frequent, these are the cases that gather more attention and are more dangerous to the future of the game. The most famous occurrence was when Hans Niemann, a young master of the game, was accused of cheating by the best player of the world, Magnus Carlsen.
Niemann had a terrible lose streak in a tournament but all of a sudden he beat Carlsen like it was nothing. This made the Norwegian GM suspicious and he ended up dropping out of the competition followed by a resignation on move 2 against the same opponent. People started to investigate and found out that Hans had cheated on online games when he was younger but this time he was allegedly using an anal device that could signal what the best move was, thus giving him an unfair advantage over his opponent.
Another discussion that came along was about why humans would play chess if machines could play perfectly, crush everyone and win almost every game. Also, the games would reach advanced positions and serve as an unique display of tactics and positional play.
There is no doubt that chess has undergone a big transformation with the integration of technology and AI, and the potential for further enhancements is very real. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that a game played between computers can never surpass the feeling of a match between two human players. The emotions invested by each one, the potential for mistakes, and the unexpected twists and turns are integral to the viewer’s experience, elements that are notably absent in AI games.
To maintain the integrity of the game, many chess platforms are now implementing advanced anti-cheating algorithms. Additionally, the regulation of official tournaments are continuously being refined, contributing to a fairer and more competitive environment for players.
In reflecting on the evolution of chess due to technological advancements, it is crucial to appreciate the undeniable impact that technology has had on the game. While AI has introduced new dimensions and possibilities, it is important to mention that the human element adds a unique and irreplaceable flavor to the game of chess. Players, in turn, should express gratitude for the evolution of the game and the exciting prospects that lie ahead.
Autor: Thiago Tostes Munck