Rensch To Host Chess And Machine Learning Panel At MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference


With interest soaring in machine learning and its role in all kinds of games, chess will be in the spotlight at the prestigious MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this year, organizers announced today. The chess program is scheduled for Saturday, March 2.'s The panel places chess at the famous Sloan conference, which has deeply influenced the landscape of sports and social science analytics in recent years. The session is called Chess AI Transformation: How Self Learning AI Taught Chess Computers (and Humans) a Lesson. "The game of chess continues to act as a barometer for the leading edge of artificial intelligence, and [...] artificial intelligence continues to fundamentally transform the game at the highest levels," according to the conference promotional materials.

How Chess Computers Work

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If you have ever watched a person first learning to play chess, you know that a human chess player starts with very limited abilities. Once a player understands the basic rules that control each piece, he or she can "play" chess. However, the new player is not very good. Each early defeat comes as something of a surprise -- "Oh, I didn't think about that!" or "I didn't see that coming!" are common exclamations. The human mind absorbs these experiences, stores away different board configurations, discovers certain tricks and ploys, and generally soaks up the nuances of the game one move at a time.

Louis Kessler's Chess and Computer Chess Links

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Of particular interest to me is the earlier stages of development of computer chess programs, primarily through the 1970's (which I was involved in). The main contenders for best program from that era until today also has my interest, as does Kasparov and his "deep" involvement with computers.

The Chess Master and the Computer

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In 1985, in Hamburg, I played against thirty-two different chess computers at the same time in what is known as a simultaneous exhibition. I walked from one machine to the next, making my moves over a period of more than five hours. The four leading chess computer manufacturers had sent their top models, including eight named after me from the electronics firm Saitek. It illustrates the state of computer chess at the time that it didn't come as much of a surprise when I achieved a perfect 32–0 score, winning every game, although there was an uncomfortable moment. At one point I realized that I was drifting into trouble in a game against one of the "Kasparov" brand models. If this machine scored a win or even a draw, people would be quick to say that I had thrown the game to get PR for the company, so I had to intensify my efforts. Eventually I found a way to trick the machine with a sacrifice it should have refused. From the human perspective, or at least from my perspective, those were the good old days of man vs. machine chess.