Shape the future of the game

For decades, the Institute’s experts have been determining the future of the game.

Chess has a long history WITH It began decades before 62 million families tuned in to Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit mini-series. Although the show was Netflix’s No. 1 pick in 63 countries in its first month and caused a global surge in chess sets and book sales, several members of MIT’s chess club laughed and said they hadn’t seen it yet.

Tyrone Davis III, a junior computer scientist, US National Chess Master and president of MIT’s chess club, said he plans to watch the miniatures at the end. He said it was exciting to see the growing public interest around the game he has been playing since high school.

“The most difficult thing about chess is the beginning,” says Davis. “Once you learn how the pieces move, you can have fun. But that’s after a hard start time to learn how everything works. Hopefully it can help motivate people in these difficult start-up stages so they can really start having fun. ”

With chess

In March 2020, several members of the MIT Chess Team gathered in front of the Stratton Student Center, including Will Cuozzo (third from left), Aileen Ma (center), Tyrone Davis III (third from right), and Howard Zhong (right). .
Credit: Howard Zhong

History of chess at MIT

“The Queen’s Gambite” premiered on Netflix last October and is based on a 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. The novel and television show follows a rising chess star named Beth in the 1950s and 1960s, rising from a child miracle to international success.

At the same time (in real life) at MIT, artificial intelligence specialists were shaping the future of chess.

In the early 1900s, scientists and chess players around the world dreamed of a chess machine. In 1951, the English computer scientist Dietrich Prinz successfully created one, but it was not strong enough to play a full game. Then, in 1958, an IBM programmer developed a more powerful chess machine, but inexperienced players still could easily beat it.

The first computer to play chess “convincingly” was the Kotok-McCarthy computer program developed by MIT students between 1959 and 1962. The students worked at MIT with John McCarthy, a computer scientist and cognitive scientist. In 1966, the Kotok-McCarthy program took part in the first chess game between two machines and was defeated.

The first chess program to date, which was won by one person during the tournament, was also developed at MIT. As the program is called, Mac Hack was written by computer programmer Richard Greenblatt. As a student and amateur chess player at MIT, he published Greenblatt in 1967 in an article entitled The Greenblatt Chess Program.

Hubert Dreyfus, a prominent MIT professor of philosophy at the time, had previously noted the shortcomings of chess machines. Then Greenblatt lost to the car.

Meet the MIT chess team

In 1996, the IBM machine Deep Blue became the first computer to defeat the world chess champion. Now artificial intelligence can play better than most people.

Online chess platforms are already extremely popular and allow players to connect to the world and practice against artificial intelligence. The Covid-19 pandemic was very favorable.

Several hundred members of the MIT community subscribe to the MIT Chess Club’s email list. Between 15 and 20 of these individuals regularly attend club meetings on a Friday afternoon, and these meetings now take place online, allowing players to train against each other.

“There are a lot of hidden energies in MIT that are vaguely interested in chess,” says William Cuozzo, a junior in physics and computer science and a board member of the MIT chess team. “A lot of people are a little bit interested in chess, but they just don’t play that much or they haven’t passed the first peak of learning to play.”

Aileen Ma, a junior in computer science and a board member of the MIT chess team, said she hoped the show would inspire people to take chess as a new hobby.

“Even though I hadn’t seen the show, I had a lot of friends and they said, ‘I can’t imagine chess being so exciting,'” said Queen Gambiti. “And it’s really great to see a female representation because there are so many female grandmasters out there.”

Before the pandemic campus ceased operations, MIT’s chess club hosted one U.S. Chess Federation tournament each academic year. He has previously participated in Pan-American Collegiate, Ivy League Challenge and World Amateur Team tournaments and played with many universities in the Boston area.

The club often turned to websites such as lichess.org to continue playing chess remotely with new opponents.

In The Queen’s Gambit, Beth confronts Russia’s (then USSR’s) most formidable rivals in Moscow. In mid-October of this semester, MIT’s chess team met with players from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) for the weekend lichess.org tournament. After 171 games and a total of 12,000 moves, MIPT won little.

“I think one of the best parts of these online matches is that everyone has a chance to participate and score points for the team,” Ma said. “It was a lot of fun. Many people who did not attend meetings came to us to help us improve our account. ”

Learn the game

Davis grew up in the Bronx, where he played chess in Union Square and other parks around New York City. At a young age, being able to sit on a board for six hours at a time develops Davis’ ability to concentrate, he says.

“Depending on when you find the game in your life, it can definitely affect you in different ways,” Davis says. “It definitely helped me sit for hours and apply my brain to certain long tasks that require a lot of attention.”

Cuozzo learned to play chess at a very young age, but said he was really interested in playing high school when a friend challenged him and later “crushed” him. “At least I wanted to be able to play with him,” he says.

The Queen’s Gambit aroused public interest in learning chess. Howard Zhong, a second-year computer science and math student and U.S. National Master, says the flood of excitement is coming at a good time – there are more resources to learn chess than ever before. Zhong learned to play chess at the age of 6 and is currently a member of the MIT chess team. “Five or 10 years ago, there weren’t that many resources online,” says Zhong. “Most of it was just reading a book or having a coach,” he said. But now with so many online resources, I think it’s made it much easier to develop. ”

Zhong and Cuozzo recommend watching chess lessons like ChessNetwork on YouTube and researching sources of experience on sites like chess.com or lichess.org. Davis says it’s important not to get discouraged by the first learning curve Learning the exercises can take several days or weeks.

MIT’s chess club accepts people of all levels. Members of the MIT community who wish to participate can register on the mailing list. The club plans to participate in more virtual tournaments and games in the coming months.

“Sometimes the public perception of chess is that if you’re not really good, it’s not worth playing,” Ma says. “But lately, I think there’s a lot of effort to try to get people involved, even though they’re at a higher level of chess.”

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