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Chess has a reputation for cold logic, but Vladimir Kramnik loves the game for its beauty. “It’s a kind of creation,” he says. His passion for the artistry of minds clashing over the board, trading complex but elegant provocations and counters, helped him dethrone Garry Kasparov in 2000 and spend several years as world champion. Yet Kramnik, who retired from competitive chess last year, also believes his beloved game has grown less creative. From a report: He partly blames computers, whose soulless calculations have produced a vast library of openings and defenses that top-flight players know by rote. âoeFor quite a number of games on the highest level, half of the game — sometimes a full game — is played out of memory,” Kramnik says. “You don’t even play your own preparation; you play your computer’s preparation.” Wednesday, Kramnik presented some ideas for how to restore some of the human art to chess, with help from a counterintuitive source — the world’s most powerful chess computer. He teamed up with Alphabet artificial intelligence lab DeepMind, whose researchers challenged their superhuman game-playing software AlphaZero to learn nine variants of chess chosen to jolt players into creative new patterns.
In 2017, AlphaZero showed it could teach itself to roundly beat the best computer players at either chess, Go, or the Japanese game Shogi. Kramnik says its latest results reveal beguiling new vistas of chess to be explored, if people are willing to adopt some small changes to the established rules. The project also showcased a more collaborative mode for the relationship between chess players and machines. “Chess engines were initially built to play against humans with the goal of defeating them,” says Nenad Tomasev, a DeepMind researcher who worked on the project. “Now we see a system like AlphaZero used for creative exploration in tandem with humans rather than opposed to them.” People have played chess for around 1,500 years, and tweaks to the rules aren’t new. Nor are grumbles that computers have made the game boring.
Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.
– John Keats