Alpha Zero and the Break of Chess Traditionalism

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 | by Yamil Duba | Opinion

You can call me a traditionalist, a very closed-minded one. But as a caveman —if you like— there’s something I care the most, and that’s the true foundations of what I love. While thousands of chess enthusiasts went crazy this week discussing online the wonderful moves of Google’s Alpha Zero against poor Stockfish I failed to enjoy once and again the chess revolution they claimed.

Indeed, I disregard Alpha Zero’s achievement as ‘the greatest phenomenon of chess history’ as some redditors put it. This is really great news for AI but I just can’t understand the value for chess itself. ‘It seems to have refuted the Sicilian’, I heard one excited amateur claiming. I respect all and everyone but honestly can’t avoid getting a bit nervous after listening to this kind of commentaries when most of us aren’t able to understand a fundamental rook endgame.

‘Studying Alpha Zero’s games will very likely provide insight into things like which openings really are the strongest’, suggested another redditor. Perhaps I pretend excessive respect for the true chess artists, the Masters who prepared day and night to play over the board. I can say without fear to go wrong that no one —no one— could ever understand Chess better than the elite. Why?

Because Chess is art. Machines do not produce art. They don’t grasp the fact of ‘cause and effect’. There’s no ultimate purpose on a silicon chip-set. The games Alpha Zero played against Stockfish are the future, yes. True, you’re contemplating the future of AI, not the far horizon of chess. I’m really glad for all the publicity our beloved game acquired through this virtual match, but the game remains the same. Two different persons in front of a board exposing one to the other all their fears, their goals and their hearts.

Again, call me a Neanderthal, an obsolete guy from the old era. But I defend my play. I defend Chess. The Royal Game has nothing to do with engines. Never did and never will. Perhaps you borrow a frozen idea from your laptop but ultimately you make it glorious for eternity when developing it by yourself on the board. After all, the chessboard is a deep dark forest where two plus two equals five, and that would be a hard path leading out for Alpha Zero.

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