Chess Is Being Forever Changed by Technology
December 18, 2014 By Josh Hoffert
Since its origins in 600 A.D., chess has truly proven to be a timeless game. What started in India as a war game called Chatarung, evolved throughout the centuries.
Anything that lasts 1500 years has a tendency to pick up traits directly related to the eras in which its weathered. For instance, the NBA wasn’t always the fitted suit, patterned bow tie, faux-glasses league it is today. The 1970’s offered large collars, heavily patterned suits, and lush fur coats (looking at you Walt Frazier).
Likewise, chess wasn’t always a tech-infused game, meaning computers haven’t always been around to evaluate and rate a player’s every move. Throughout the ages, chess has picked up some timely characteristics.
As the game made its way into Europe, it actually endured the delinquencies of romantics during the middle ages. Not only did adolescents use the game as a means of intimate time, but the Europeans changed the role of the queen entirely.
Up until the medieval period, the queen was known as the ferz, and was, in fact, the weakest piece on the board. The bishop was also weak, which created an incredibly slow-paced game.
Tabiyas–mid-game starting points–were often used to speed up matches. But by the time the medieval period was wrapping up, the queen had become the strongest piece on the board and the bishop increased its range.
Later on, the print press helped solidify these new rules, making the game more violent and harsh.
A quick spin in the Delorean and we have the game in its present, high-tech form. Computers entered the world of chess, notably in 1985, when legend Garry Kasparov played 32 simultaneous matches against various computer competitors. From that time on, chess would start to attract a new breed of players, unlike Grandmasters that had preceded.
During that period of five hours, Kasparov was able to beat each of the computers to retain a perfect status of 32 – 0. But part way through, he found himself in trouble in one of the matches:
“Eventually, I found a way to trick the machine with a sacrifice it should have refused.”
It was a narrow escape, but, at that time, it proved that humans could certainly outwit computers because the machines had the lack of intellectual reason like a human does.
Kasparov went on to face IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer and put a tally in the “W” column for man, but just barely. Upon rematch in 1997, and after the doubling of Deep Blue’s processing power, the almighty Kasparov was defeated.
Truly, it was only a matter of time. Perhaps this is when we saw a divide. At this point, there were those who were deeply revered Grandmasters, and then there were those that stood by the side of supercomputers.
Looking back at this short time-period, it’s almost as if old-school Grandmasters had been cheated and felt they had submitted to technology. The transition seemed instantaneous in the grand scheme of things.
Some people feared that players would lose interest in chess. What really is a game that cannot be won besides a monotonous task in which one develops a fit of rage?
It appeared then, that man versus machine could have dire consequences, yet humans continue to fight the good fight. Computer programs can now analyze chess play up to 25 moves ahead.
According to The Gaurdian: “This means that, when the game is not quite two-thirds over, a program can see to the very end and thus play perfectly.”
Doesn’t that sound daunting? But today’s Grandmasters don’t just try to defeat their technological foes. They use them to their advantage against human competitors.