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An Alien Plays Chess

Chess has a point system and all players know their place in it during a game. Everything else being equal, a pawn is worth one point, a bishop three, a rook five and so on. Am I up two? Down three? That’s always on one’s mind. What, though, if you never worried about this? What if you never thought of evening up the board? Computer programs may show a way out of centuries old thinking about chess.


“Google’s DeepMind has just released a new academic paper on AlphaZero — the general purpose artificial intelligence system that mastered chess through self-play and went on to defeat the world champion of chess engines, Stockfish. In this video chess International Master Anna Rudolf takes a look at a never-before-seen game from a match played in January 2018, and discusses how the playing style and attacking chess of AlphaZero compare to computers and humans.”

AlphaZero was programmed with only rules, nothing else. No database of classic openings, no memorable middle games, no knowledge of Spassky and Fischer at Reykjavik in 1972. Just rules. In four hours AlphaZero’s eclipsed Stockfish, the most powerful open source chess program in the world. AlphaZero concentrated on making its pieces active while at the same time making its opponent’s pieces inactive.

Some of IM Rudolf’s comments from a random point in the game.

“After sacrificing two pawns AlphaZero goes with the very strong King to B1. It doesn’t mind that that it is two pawns down. It doesn’t need to compensate for the sacrificed material with initiative and some brilliant attack.”

“AlphaZero thinks about chess in a completely different way since the only input that was programmed into are the rules and how the pieces move. It doesn’t have a value system that we stick to. It doesn’t count pawns as one point or a bishop as three. It doesn’t give a numeric value to the pieces; it values chess and sees chess in a completely different way and that’s why these games are brilliant because suddenly we can also start seeing this ancient board game from a completely different perspective – from an alien like or superhuman like perspective.”

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By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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