In August 1992, the world checkers champion, Marion Tinsley, defended his title against the computer program CHINOOK. Because of its success in human tournaments, CHINOOK had earned the right to play for the world championship. This event was the first time in history that a program played for a human world championship and might be a prelude to what is to come in chess. This article tells the story of the first Man versus Machine World Championship match.
"The program can achieve at least a draw against any opponent, playing either the black or white pieces," the researchers say in this week's online edition of the journal Science. "Clearly ... the world is not going to be revolutionized" by this, said Jonathan Schaeffer, chairman of the department of computing science at the University of Alberta. The important thing is the approach, he said. In the past, game-playing programs have used rules of thumb -- which are right most of the time, he said -- to make decisions. "What we've done is show that you can take non-trivial problems, very large problems, and you can do the same kind of reasoning with perfection.
So, they sat in the now-defunct Computer Museum in Boston. The room was large, but the crowd numbered in the teens. The two men were slated to play 30 matches over the next two weeks. The year was 1994, before Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue or Lee Sedol and AlphaGo. Contemporary accounts played the story as a Man vs. Machine battle, the quick wits of a human versus the brute computing power of a supercomputer.
The ancient game of checkers (or draughts) has been pronounced dead. The game was killed by the publication of a mathematical proof showing that draughts always results in a draw when neither player makes a mistake. For computer-game aficionados, the game is now "solved". Draughts is merely the latest in a steady stream of games to have been solved using computers, following games such as Connect Four, which was solved more than 10 years ago. The computer proof took Jonathan Schaeffer, a computer-games expert at the University of Alberta in Canada, 18 years to complete and is one of the longest running computations in history.