Reliving The History Of Computer Chess

In 1769, Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen, a Hungarian engineer, designed a machine that played chess for the enjoyment of the Queen of Austria. It was known as the Turk because of its design. Obviously the strength of its play comes from a chess expert strategically concealed within the device. It was a bogus machine.

Ironically, the first chess program was encoded prior to the invention of the computer. Alan Turing, one of the greatest mathematicians in the world, predicted the arrival of a machine capable of playing computer chess. At the end of World War II, he wrote the directions that would pave the way for chess playing machines.

Since there was no machine that had the capabilities to execute instructions yet, Turing acted as a human CPU that would generate and execute the instructions. Unfortunately, his so called "paper machine" was misplaced by one of his colleagues.

Claude Shannon from the Bell Laboratories was followed the same line as Alan Turing. However, his dilemma was the huge bulk of continuations, so he came out with an "A Strategy" which will monitor the continuations and a "B Strategy" which draws limitations. In modern times, we look at "brute force" and "selective" programs as an example of B-Strategy.

In war times, the United States constructed a massive laboratory in Los Alamos in New Mexico. The main objective of the project was to create atomic weapons. Determining the accurate shape of the implosive charges that would start the chain reaction demands huge number of computations.

The responsibility of creating a strong calculating device was given to Hungarian/American mathematician John von Neumann in 1946. Four years later, the huge machine known as MANIAC I was delivered. It was a programmable device that contained thousands of vacuum tubes and switches and had the ability to implement 10,000 instructions a second.

But instead of beginning the development of bombs, the scientists decided to tinker with the machine. So they wrote a chess program for a minimized 6 x 6 board with no bishops. However, it took the program 12 minutes to look to a depth of four ply.

During the middles of the 1950s, the program was used for three games. The opening match was against itself which was won by the white. The next game was against an expert player who saw it a queen. In a matter of ten hours, the game was finished and it was the master that prevailed. It took the program 23 moves to win. And for the first time a human was beaten by a machine in a game of computer chess.