Grrr. Engines.

This week, one of the world’s top chess tournaments is happening. Unless you’re dutch (where it is hosted) or into chess, you’ve probably not seen a lot of press coverage!

I’ve been following some of the interesting games.

In the day two action between world champion (and world ranked #2) Vishy Anand and erstwhile British hopeful for the World Championship, Nigel Short, Vishy held up nicely under onslaught from Short and at one point conjured up a possible win, before strong defending forced a draw. Through a good chunk of the late opening and middle game ‘the engines’ (various pieces of chess playing software running on fast computers) were saying that Anand was in trouble. A commentator pointed this out to Garry Kasparov (who’s not playing – he’s advising world number #1, Magnus Carlsen). Kasparov disagreed, and saw the logic in what Anand was attempting. He is said to have replied ‘Grrr. Engines.’

The Deep Blue Chess Computer. Credit: IBM

Great quote. But it made me think about the changes to chess since I started playing nearly 30 years ago. In the last few years it has become the game of the digital nerds. Now a geek with a $100 program can stand shoulder to shoulder with the C20 greatest chess player (imho) and chat about strategic possibilities, about opening variations, and about likely outcomes. A few thousand bucks will buy you databases of every professional game on record, of more opening variations that can possibly be learned, of GM and possibly World Champion beating analysis.

I’m not sure how this makes me feel. On one hand as a nerd, I’m proud that through teamwork, ingenuity and hard work, other nerds have won their place standing and kibitzing with the world’s best players.

On the other hand I’m sad. It feels wrong that some software and a mediocre playing history should be enough to let you stand shoulder to shoulder with the chess gods. I find it hard to shake the awe and authority that these players held, towering over my chess playing youth.

I’m learning Go at the moment. One thing I’ve learned is that there is a huge amount more cultural depth in Go than chess. It resonates and informs various eastern cultures in ways that the relatively young game of chess doesn’t for us in the west. When Go falls to the nerds (and it will, though not for a while), and geeks like me can talk tactics as peers with the top pros. I suspect their culture won’t let it pass without comment and without conspicuity, as it has in chess.

I’m sure there’s a theological analogy there somewhere, but I’m blown if I can find it!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Grrr. Engines.

  1. When concordances, research tools, bible databases and one-click access to apologetics became possible. Any moderate bible student could thrash theological swords with the best of them on-line and sound far more in command of the literature that was possible 20 years ago.

    Hell, Wikipedia makes us all on-line geniuses !

    The beauty of all this — it shows us the emptiness of knowledge. It reveals that knowledge is but a tool and not a feather to be preened.

    How is that for a theological analogy. Atari !

  2. ian

    Ten points for the analogy! Yes, definitely.

    Although, for some reason, I have a hard time feeling wistful about the days where there was more theological ignorance than I do about chess ignorance.

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