Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Computers achieve autonomy

In the unofficial world-championship for engines (TCEC) the role of an opening-book has been restricted. The goal of the competition is to measure the pure strength of the algorithms so excluding any influence of manual corrections. A programmed opening-book can assure a significant advantage at least this was the view many shared until recently.

Today this theory is by more and more people questioned. Nowadays so many improvements are discovered in old openingbooks that the decision to early disconnect the engine from the openingbook , becomes increasingly attractive. Programmers start to prefer that the engine finds independently the moves in an opening. So the program plays better without additional human input but not yet without mistakes. To avoid the same errors reoccurring, statistics of the results are stored in a special openingbook. The engine learns autonomously a repertoire.

Nothing new some people will think as this already exists more than a decade. Correct but there is a big difference with the past. This special opening-book was considered only useful for an engine while today I see more and more applications for the otb and correspondence-player. Several current engines play stronger than Magnus Carlsen so it is not optimal anymore to only study the games of the top-grandmasters.

A nice example is the recent theoretical developments of the Fraser defense. The critical move 9.Rg1 which I already mentioned in my previous article, does not pop up in the big database 2015 neither in my correspondence-databases (updates till June 2015). However if we check my database containing a collection of computer-games published on sddfccrl and tcec then it transpires that Rg1 is not a novelty either, at the contrary.
36 computer-games with 9.Rg1
I am a chess-manic in my analysis so I am never satisfied with the number of found games. Therefore the next logical step is to create your own computergames played from a specific position using the available HW and SW. Though such standard games take too long without even thinking about the unattractive energy-bill. By playing shortened games as explained in my article analyze with a computer the process is accelerated. That allows me to achieve 18 games in 6 hours. Not bad but still too slow to my taste. I learned on chesspub from Vass that top-correspondence-players allow their engines to analyze at the speed of 10 seconds per move so I decided to test that strange looking method myself for this specific position. The final-result of several hundreds of games can be viewed below.

I already cleaned up the analysis so it became readable but anyway I am very satisfied of the results for this specific analysis. I used Stockfish 6 supported by the Fritz 14 interface. A further automation of the analysis is possible with the tool Aquarium already 5 years available on the market. That tool allows to execute several projects automatically in a parallel or sequential mode and automatically structures the analysed positions. Another important feature is that no limitation exists in the number of lines you want to analyze as opposed to the old "deep position analysis" mode of the Fritz 14 interface.

So computers achieve more and more autonomy for which we again pay a price. This price is paid e.g. in correspondence-chess as top-players due to the influence of the engines don't succeed anymore to win games.
The wc-finale which ended in 2002 and was won by Gert-Jan Timmerman

  Compare with the still running wc-finale which started end of 2013.
The still running wc-finale which started end 2013.

In 1 decade the drawing-rate went up till almost 100%. We should ask ourselves if such championships still make sense. The former worldclass-player Nikolai Papenin is the only player not performing as expected likely because of an early drop out. Recently the strong German correspondence-grandmaster Arno Nickel published an article on chessbase to get attention for this problem.

We are today entering a phase in which engines neutralize creativity by extensive analysis which can detect the risks in time. On the Utrecht chess-forum in the thread about Norway Chess  the Dutch programmer and fide-master Vincent Diepeveen rightly remarked that he can today in most endgames or advanced middle-game positions tell which moves are the best after a couple of hours extensive plugging on the computer.

Fortunately we aren't allowed to use engines at the chessboard so we should not fear the dead of chess by draws in standard-chess. Neither will our game be solved in the nearby future. However further progression of the understanding of chess will be managed increasingly by autonomous computers.


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