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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Chess Sideshows Are Rubbish

On Jan. 6, 7, chess prodigy Hikaru Nakamura took on Komodo, one of the world’s strongest chess engines and ... oh, blah, blah, blah. I am thoroughly unimpressed. Even though it was a pawn-odds match, meaning the monster engine started each game with one of its pawns missing, it still won. Was anybody surprised, truly?


Image credit: Chess.com

Now, before you go shaking your head at the monitor, silently accusing me of ‘hating computer chess’ or ‘not getting on with the times, man’, I’ll have you know that I virtually lived on various chess sites for many years and have much, much more engine experience than even I’m comfortable admitting.

I love chess engines. They are fun, they are fast, they are strong, they make great study partners, and I’ve written about them substantially in blogs and articles, both good and bad. To this day, I run every long game I play through Shredder running on a Fritz platform. That being said, I’m also very well acquainted with Winboard, ChessPartner, Arena, Dasher, Blitzin, Chesspad and quite a few other engine platforms.

Still, I think matches like these are bad form, bad taste, and bad for chess. In my mind, it makes a spectacle of the world’s elite. Nakamura, for instance, could beat anyone reading this blog post 100 out of 100 games at any time control, assuming the top ten players in the world do not read my chess entries. And yet, he subjects himself to a sideshow of sorts, conceding to technology for the world to see.

Sad.

I feel that we Chess Plebians should only view masters —— especially the FMs, IMs, and GMs ——  as nobles of our game, upper-class wood pushers to be looked up to, emulated. But as one GM after another (it seems to be all the rage today for GMs to make asses of themselves playing against engines for a little coin) gets trampled by chess tech, their ‘clout’, if you will, their street cred, drops substantially.

Today, as public spectacles such as Man Vs. Machine and our world champion being careened through the air in car commercials are on display for all the world to see, I’m betting most of us just want to watch the top players do battle. We just want to see them meet somewhere, off the books, and duke it out at whatever their chosen time control. We want to know what makes them tick, how they study/practice, if they still play for fun sometimes at a club or coffee shop, and whether or not they think they can beat certain engines.

It’s like Fischer vs. Alekhine or Kasparov vs. Morphy: We all say we’d love to see those matches but in reality, the wondering is better.

I’d personally rather wonder if Naka could put the hurt on today’s engines than watch him get slaughtered by them.

But that’s just me.


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