As chess increased in popularity across Europe in the 1800s, the proliferation in the variety of chess sets caused confusion amongst competitors, especially those hailing from different countries. The English typically used Barleycorn sets:
English saw a different design for every chess club: St. George sets with their appearance of stacked disks, Dublin sets with more rounded middles, and Northern Uprights with columns instead, as well as elaborate, easily tipped Barleycorn sets. Germany had delicate Selenus sets, beautiful beyond belief, but fragile, tippable, and problematic for play. To tell which piece is which on some of these sets one must count the stacked crown. France saw elegant Regence style sets with some of the most confusing signatures in history. As in the English sets, queen's were represented by orbs. The king's floral crown closely resembles the modern Staunton signature for the queen. Knights were always taller than bishops the old French sets. Bishops were represented as fools, not clergymen, and therefore lacked the signature miter. What was worse, the knights in these sets were sometimes simple turned designs, not the recognizable horse's head. This lead to common confusion as to which minor piece was which. The confusion of antique French knights and bishops is still a common problem today.
Then in the 1849, Nathaniel Cook designed and John Jaques began to sell a set that eventually came to be called the Staunton chess set:
Howard Staunton was regarded as the top chess player of his era and organized the first international chess tournament in 1851. Staunton endorsed the set and it soon became the standard in chess competitions and, later, the official standard of the World Chess Federation. The most recent iteration of the official Staunton set is Daniel Weil's design for World Chess:
If you're interested in learning more, Jimmy Stamp has a nice piece about the design of the original Staunton set and Weil's update at Smithsonian magazine.
Grantland has a story about a chess cheating scandal with an interesting section on the the history of chess-playing computers.
The Virginia scandal involved the opposite ruse, in which a machine surreptitiously called the shots for a player. The chess engines this scheme centered on are relatively new: Computers only surpassed humans at the chessboard during young Smiley's lifetime. Scientists had an easier time designing digital brains that could produce atom bombs or navigate lunar landings than they did fashioning a machine that could play chess worth a darn. Plainly, until relatively recently, chess was too complicated for computers. An analysis of chess's complicatedness in Wired determined that the number of possible positions in an average 40-move game is 10 to the 128th power, a sum "vastly larger than the number of atoms in the known universe."
In 1966, MIT brainiacs entered MAC HACK VI, a computer program they'd devised, into the Massachusetts Amateur Chess Championship, making it the first computer program ever to enter a tournament. It drew just one match and lost four.
But by 2007, a chess engine called Rybka was routinely shutting out grandmasters even when spotting the humans a pawn and taking black, thereby letting humans go first, the more statistically desirable position. Computers have gotten noticeably better since then; humans haven't.
The man-machine war in chess is no longer contested: "Computers are better than us," says USCF president Ruth Haring.
Stanley Kubrick didn't give long interviews...or didn't like giving them anyway. But Jeremy Bernstein convinced him to sit down for one, perhaps because Kubrick was a huge chess nerd and Bernstein played chess seriously. So the two of them did this hour-long interview in 1965 that resulted in this New Yorker piece about his life, films, and the then in-production 2001.
During our conversation, I happened to mention that I had just been in Washington Square Park playing chess. He asked me who I had been playing with, and I described the Master. Kubrick recognized him immediately. I had been playing a good deal with the Master, and my game had improved to the point where I was almost breaking even with him, so I was a little stunned to learn that Kubrick had played the Master on occasion, and that in his view the Master was a potzer. Kubrick went on to say that he loved playing chess, and added, "How about a little game right now?" By pleading another appointment, I managed to stave off the challenge.
Deep Blue was able to play chess well because the game is perfectly logical, with fairly simple rules; it can be reduced easily to math, which computers handle superbly. But the rules of language are much trickier. At the time, the very best question-answering systems -- some created by software firms, some by university researchers -- could sort through news articles on their own and answer questions about the content, but they understood only questions stated in very simple language ("What is the capital of Russia?"); in government-run competitions, the top systems answered correctly only about 70 percent of the time, and many were far worse. "Jeopardy!" with its witty, punning questions, seemed beyond their capabilities. What's more, winning on "Jeopardy!" requires finding an answer in a few seconds. The top question-answering machines often spent longer, even entire minutes, doing the same thing.
The match between Anand and Topalov was hard fought, partly because Topalov invoked a rule for the contest that forbids the players from offering draws to each other. The rule, named after the city where the match was being played, insured that there would be no short draws. As the match wore on and fatigue took a toll, both players began to make mistakes with greater frequency.
"Anand" was briefly a global Trending Topic on Twitter this afternoon, which was unexpected and nice.
All during the filming of 2001 we played chess whenever I was in London and every fifth game I did something unusual. Finally we reached the 25th game and it was agreed that this would decide the matter. Well into the game he made a move that I was sure was a loser. He even clutched his stomach to show how upset he was. But it was a trap and I was promptly clobbered. "You didn't know I could act too," he remarked.
Carlsen: I have no idea. I wouldn't want to know it anyway. It might turn out to be a nasty surprise.
SPIEGEL: Why? You are 19 years old and ranked the number one chess player in the world. You must be incredibly clever.
Carlsen: And that's precisely what would be terrible. Of course it is important for a chess player to be able to concentrate well, but being too intelligent can also be a burden. It can get in your way. I am convinced that the reason the Englishman John Nunn never became world champion is that he is too clever for that.
SPIEGEL: How that?
Carlsen: At the age of 15, Nunn started studying mathematics in Oxford; he was the youngest student in the last 500 years, and at 23 he did a PhD in algebraic topology. He has so incredibly much in his head. Simply too much. His enormous powers of understanding and his constant thirst for knowledge distracted him from chess.
SPIEGEL: Things are different in your case?
Carlsen: Right. I am a totally normal guy. My father is considerably more intelligent than I am.
His comparison of his abilities with Garry Kasparov's later in the interview is interesting as well.
The heavy use of computer analysis has pushed the game itself in new directions. The machine doesn't care about style or patterns or hundreds of years of established theory. It counts up the values of the chess pieces, analyzes a few billion moves, and counts them up again. (A computer translates each piece and each positional factor into a value in order to reduce the game to numbers it can crunch.) It is entirely free of prejudice and doctrine and this has contributed to the development of players who are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train. Increasingly, a move isn't good or bad because it looks that way or because it hasn't been done that way before. It's simply good if it works and bad if it doesn't. Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.
The section about people using computers *during* matches is particularly interesting.
The idea behind Democratic Chess is that the pieces, in collaboration with the players, decide where to move. Each piece communicates with the others through built-in cameras, microphones, and speakers.
Democratic Chess is Chess game where each figure is made of an IP-WLan-network camera each capable of looking arround, listening and talking to the other figures as well as the 2 real person players. With this technology there are many different ways how to play the Game, the next move can be decided in a democratic way among the Figures or they are allowed to discuss with the players and each other the next moves, but at the End the 2 player make the moves.
Perhaps Democratic Chess will crush the evil dictatorial tyranny of the chess player once and for all. (via buzzfeed)
This was the beauty of Bobby Fischer's mind, even then. The boy made very clean, simple lines out of very complex problems, and when the trap was sprung, his style of chess became so transparent you could instantly recognize its brilliance: efficient, organic, wildly responsive and creative.
Blindfold chess is playing chess without a board or pieces...you've got to remember where everything is in your head. The world record holder played 45 games of blindfold chess simultaneously. More at Wikipedia. (via panopticist)
Oh, in other #1 news, Serena Williams will be the new #1 in women's tennis after beating Jelena Jankovic in the final of the US Open. On the men's side, world #1 Rafael Nadal lost in the semis to Andy Murray but won't lose the top spot in the rankings.
Never mind that I'd declined his offer of a lesson, Murphy had gone ahead and transformed our discussion into a formal chess tutorial to which a ticking meter was attached. When the talk wound down, he presented me with a verbal invoice for $20, his standard teaching rate. The chess instruction aside, the $20 I spent taught me an even more memorable lesson about Murphy: When you are in his company, there is often a second, invisible chess game taking place, one that can easily conclude with Murphy's rooks advancing on your wallet.
In recent years, Putin has insured that nearly all power in Russia is Presidential. The legislature, the State Duma, is only marginally more independent than the Supreme Soviet was under Leonid Brezhnev. The governors of Russia's more than eighty regions are no longer elected, as they were under Yeltsin; since a Presidential decree in 2004, they have all been appointed by the Kremlin. Putin even appoints the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The federal television networks, by far the main instrument of news and information in Russia, are neo-Soviet in their absolute obeisance to Kremlin power.
Mashup sport: chessboxing. "The basic idea in chessboxing is to combine the no.1 thinking sport and the no.1 fighting sport into a hybrid that demands the most of its competitors - both mentally and physically. In a chessboxing fight two opponents play alternating rounds of chess and boxing. The contest starts with a round of chess, followed by a boxing round, followed by another round of chess and so on." More from the LA Times and the Guardian.