Tech Wrecks Havoc, Mind Doesn’t Mind
By Vishnu Prasad – CHENNAI
Published: 06th April 2014 02:00 AM
Last Updated: 06th April 2014 01:01 AM
Lost your job to a computer? Get in line, a number of Grandmasters have the same problem!
Much had been made of Viswanathan Anand’s and Magnus Carlsen’s team of seconds during their world championship match in Chennai and all the fuss is bound to be repeated when the two meet again in November. But over the years, the technology that players use and how they use it have become just as important as members of their backroom team.
While the competence of their team of seconds played a large part in the superiority of players like Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov in the 1980s, it is all about state-of-the-art technology for players like Carlsen and Anand, as former women’s champion Susan Polgar knows.
“You can buy world class chess software for $50-$100. However, it makes a difference which hardware you are using. Faster computer chips with more RAM will be better. I know some players spent tens of thousands of dollars for state-of-the-art hardware. Some even has access to multimillion dollar super computers,” she says.
While the idea that computers could play the game better than humans have been around in science fiction novels for centuries, it was not until 1996, when IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer beat then world champion Kasparov in a classical game, that it made the jump from fiction to fact.
While conspiracy theorists were expounding doomsday prophecies, a more constructive idea was sprouting in the mind of chess players around the world — if a computer could play the game better than humans, then surely they would make a better second than a human!
“Players have been dependent on computers for more than a decade now. It all started out around 1996-97,” says GM RB Ramesh. “Earlier they were dependent on books for games, but there were only so many books you could carry to a tournament. Now you have databases that have up to six million games.”
While human seconds still remain as vital as their electronic counterparts, there is no questioning the fact that their role has been greatly diminished. Take the case of American GM and World No 9 Hikaru Nakamura. Kris Littlejohn, who frequently works a second to Nakamura is not even an International Master. An article written by his mother for a tech website provides an intriguing insight into the role he plays for Nakamura.
“Kris has built a computer for Nakamura, a Nehalem i920 3.2 GHz processor-based tower with 6 GB of RAM. Once he knows which players Hikaru will be going up against, he analyses the openings commonly used by Hikaru’s opponents. He uses branching to predict possible moves that a given opponent could plays,” she writes.
But will a computer ever fully replace humans in a player’s backroom team? Polgar, for one, doesn’t think so. “The role of seconds is equally important. Different software give different evaluations. Therefore, you need competent seconds who are able to properly translate the evaluation and make the correct judgement.”