A Brief History Of Playing Chess Against A Computer
There seems to be no greater foe to a chess player than a computer. Every player has dreamed of playing against and winning a good online chess game. There is something about this ultimate man-vs-machine battle that sets our imagination alight. It is almost a game of wits between the creator and his creation.
The First Chess Computers
In 1769, a robot chess player known as the 'Mechanical Turk' was all the rage on the court of Queen Maria Theresa of Austria. It turned out to be an elaborate hoax, but the notion of a machine playing against and indeed beating someone at chess became a dream both in engineering and later computer programming.
Claude Shannon, a researcher at Bell Telephone Laboratories, proposed and described a possible computer chess in 1949. The idea behind it was an experiment in analyzing computational properties and principles. Chess, with its calculated movements and specific rules, seemed the perfect game to test these theories.
Alan Turing went a step further in 1950. He actually wrote the first chess program. He himself was a mediocre player, but his goal was to study a computer's cognitive ability in possibly acquiring and rivaling human intelligence. The success of this experiment prompted him to develop the now-famous Turing Test that is used today to determine a computer's 'humanity' (or lack thereof).
While Turing's program never really was able to play a full match, other programmers in the following years built on Turing's model and developed fully functional programs. In 1951, Dr. Dietrich Prinz wrote a program that ran on the Ferranti Mark I computer at Manchester University and could study and find all possible moves in a particular game's instance. It needed about 15 minutes for each move.
Getting To A Full Game
By 1956 Univac's MANIAC I computer was already able to play a game and only needed maybe 12 minutes to get through the first 4 moves, not including a Bishop. Including the bishop, it may have taken several hours.
However, in 1957, IBM had developed the first fully playable chess computer. It needed only eight minutes between moves and it played the first human-vs-machine game against International Master Edward Lasker. Lasker easily defeated the program.
In 1962, MIT developed the first truly credible computer chess. It was able to beat amateurs but later was itself beat by KAISSA, a rival Soviet chess computer in a match that took nine months.
More advances followed in the next ten years with programs getting better and better. MIT's MacHack VI even entered regular chess tournaments. With the shrinking of computers and more and more programs coming onto the market, many beatable chess computers were soon available throughout the 70s and 80s.
However, it would take until 1988 when the chess program Deep Thought shared first place with Grandmaster Tony Miles and even beat Grandmaster Judit Polgar in 1993.
Just a few years later in 1996, IBM's Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov. Since then various other computer chess programs have dominated the chess field, with wins or losses often coming down to handicaps. With the advent of the internet it became possible to play online chess games as well, but overall it has been demonstrated that chess computers can defeat their human creators.
The only chess playing barrier they have yet to break is solving chess by finding the optimal winning strategies at all times, something some mathematicians feel may be impossible.
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