Genealogy of Chess Programmes


The history of computers and chess trace back to the 1950’s with the names Claude Shannon, Alan Turing and Donald Michie synonymous with the development of some early algorithms and computer programmes.

In 1948 Alan would challenge Donald Michie on who could write the first simple chess playing algorithm and he subsequently won the bet in 1950 when he wrote his first computer chess programme. In November 1951, Dr Dietrich Prinz wrote the original chess playing program for the Manchester Ferranti computer.

The programme could solve simple mates in two moves. By 1956 experiments on a Univac MANIAC, I computer (11 000 operations a second) at Los Alamos, using a 6×6 chessboard, was playing chess. This was the first documented account of a running chess program. It used a chess set without bishops. It took 12 minutes to search 4 moves deep.

Adding the two bishops would have taken 3 hours to search 4 moves deep. MANIAC I had a memory of 600 words, storage of 80K, 11KHz speed, and had 2,400 vacuum tubes. The team that programmed MANIAC was led by Stan Ulam.

A superior processing computer would come in 1957 when chess program was written by Alex Bernstein at MIT for an IBM 704. It could do 42 000 instructions per second and had a memory of 70 K. This was the first full-fledged game of chess by a computer. It did a 4-ply search in 8 minutes.

This creation would then be followed by a series of superior creations offering great computing speeds as well calculating abilities. The vision of most computer engineers when programming chess programme was to build a computer programme strong enough to defeat a human and subsequently a world champion.

The secondary mission was to produce a programme stronger than any other. Several programmes were produced some competing with others while some competing with actual players. In 1962 the first MIT chess program was written. It was the first chess programme that played regular chess credibly.

It was written by Alan Kotok for his B.S. thesis project, assisted by John McCarthy of Stanford. The program ran on an IBM 7090, looking at 1100 positions per second. The first chess computer to play in a tournament was MAC HACK VI (DEC PDP-6) written at MIT in assembly language (MIDAS) by Richard Greenblatt. The computer entered the 1966 Massachusetts Amateur championship, scoring 1 draw and 4 losses for a USCF rating of 1243.

In the spring of 1967, MacHACK VI became the first program to beat a human (1510 USCF rating), at the Massachusetts State Championship. By the end of the year, it had played in four chess tournaments. It won 3 games, lost 12, and drew 3. In 1967 MacHACK VI was made an honorary member of the US Chess Federation.

The MAC HACK programme was the first widely distributed chess program, running on many of the PDP machines. It was also the first to have an opening chess book programmed with it.

In 1970 the first all-computer championship was held in New York and won by CHESS 3.0 (CDC 6400), a program written by Slate, Atkin and Gorlen at Northwestern University. Six programs had entered the first Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) North American Computer Championships. The event was organized by Monty Newborn. The other programs were DALY CP, J Brit, COKO III, SCHACH, and the Marsland CP.

1988 saw an unprecedented event whereby Deep Thought a creation by IBM shared first place with Tony Miles in the U.S Open championship having an amazing performance rating for 2745. The same year also saw a computer programme given a GM rating strength with the HiTech produced one. In November 1988, DEEP THOUGHT had a rating of 2550.

In 1989 DEEP THOUGHT won the 6th world computer championship in Edmonton, with a 5-0 score. DEEP THOUGHT defeated Grandmaster Robert Byrne in a match game. DEEP THOUGHT would analyse 2 million positions a second.

In March 1989, Garry Kasparov defeated Deep Thought in a match by winning 2 games. Deep Thought easily beat International Master David Levy in a match with 4 wins. Deep Thought Developers claimed a computer would be world chess champion in three years.

In 1989 IBM started working on ‘Big Blue’ and later Deep Blue which would be one its finest creations. Deep Blue would defeat Garry Kasparov un a 6-game match held in New York, the first time a computer defeated a reigning world champion in a classical chess match.





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