Random Posts

Monday, August 1, 2016

Belle and Chaos

     Back in 1977 the US Open was held in Columbus, Ohio and I seriously considered taking my vacation and playing in it. This was especially tempting because a friend of mine was home from college for the summer, but was maintaining his apartment in Columbus and offered to let me use it for free. Having been inactive in OTB play for a couple of years and remembering that OTB play was not something I really enjoyed, I decided not to play, but did make the drive to Columbus to spend the day at the tournament. 
     Attendance was poor with 435 players; the record was 750 for Chicago in 1973. Three players tied for first with 10-2 scores, Leonid Shamkovich, Andy Soltis and Timothy Taylor. Shamkovich and Soltis played steady chess, winning eight games and drawing four, while Taylor, at the time only a master, scored 10 wins and two loses! Shamkovich won the event on tiebreaks. 
     The tournament also featured the debut of the youngest player up to that time ever to have a master's rating, 13-year old Joel Benjamin of Brooklyn, New York. Benjamin scored 7-5. The tournament also featured the debut of a computer named Sneaky Pete. The computer was good at grabbing Pawns, but like most 1200 players of its day, it had a bad habit of overlooking mates. It lost its first 7 games, but rebounded by winning its last four. Its rating after the tournament was 1209. 
     As things progressed, a computer named Belle was the first computer designed with the sole purpose of playing chess. The hardware was developed by Joe Condon and the software Ken Thompson at Bell Labs in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the strongest computer chess systems of its time, Belle achieved a USCF rating of 2250 and officially became the first master-level machine in 1983. Belle had many custom boards: three for move generation, four for position evaluation, and one board which controlled the whole contraption. The computer also had one megabyte of memory which was used for transposition tables. At the end of its career, Belle was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. 
     In 1982, Belle was confiscated by the US State Department at Kennedy Airport when heading to the USSR to compete in a computer chess tournament; its shipping was considered to be an illegal transfer of advanced technology to a foreign country. It took over a month and a $600 fine to get Belle out of customs. 
     CHAOS, which first appeared in 1973, was another one of the leading programs. The name CHAOS, stood for Chess Heuristics And Other Stuff. It participated many computer world championship matches and in 1980 it tied for first with Belle, but lost the playoff match. Its last tournament was the in 1985 when it lost two games in a very strong field. 
     In the following game Belle defeats CHAOS in the 1980 World Computer Chess Championship. 
    Just out of curiosity I annotated the game with Stockfish 7. As a check, I also used the old Fritz 5.32 engine as kibitzer, but finally turned it off because it evaluations were often flat out wrong and many of its recommended moves were, according to Stockfish 7, downright inferior! 
     One interesting position occurs at move 23 where Stockfish recommended a move that lead to white having an advantage of a B+N+2P vs R material advantage and a numerical evaluation of about 8 Pawns. As played, white was up a N and P with an evaluation of a little over four Ps. In other words, had white played Stockfish's recommendation his position would have been twice as good. While that may or may not be correct, I am skeptical of engine evaluation scores when there is an imbalance of this nature. Mark Weeks presented a very good post on this at Chess for All Ages back in 2013 that is interesting reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment