Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why can't a computer be more like a man?

While I was looking up something else yesterday, I stumbled across Bruce Weber's 1997 essay, written in the wake of the second Kasparov-Deep Blue match.
Positional chess, as opposed to tactical chess, involves a situation in which there are no clear objectives on the board, no obvious squares to be commandeered, no threats to be made. It is a kind of jockeying, with the two sides maneuvering for position, from which to begin long-term plans. It is the kind of chess that grandmasters generally say they play better than machines, because the power of individual moves is subtle, deeply resonant, rather than calculable.

[Frederic] Friedel tried to explain it with an anecdote about the development of Fritz. He once asked grandmaster Walter Browne about a particular position in which each side had the same number of pawns and pieces and the same number of controlled squares.

"Any amateur would have said the position was a draw," Friedel said. "I said, 'Walter, who is better here?' And he said, 'White is winning.' I said, 'Why?' and he said white controls more space." When Friedel pointed out that in fact each side controlled exactly the same number of squares, Browne continued, "Oh, these squares here don't count. They aren't important." 
How to tell important squares from unimportant squares? Friedel didn't understand.

"But two years later," he said, "I was driving with the former world champion, Max Euwe, and I had the position in my pocket, and I asked him, and he said: 'White's winning. White's better. It controls more squares.' I counted them for him. And he said, 'Oh, these squares are not important.' "
The intuition of grandmasters is not mystical.  But it's difficult to put into words, let alone program.

1 comment:

Frederick Rhine said...

It would be interesting to see the position. I would guess that White controlled more of the squares in the center. Having an iron grip on, say, a4 isn't worth much.

Incidentally, I recall that while I was analyzing my immortal correspondence game Thompson-Rhine (http://tinyurl.com/26blszx) during the game, I was struck by how often centralizing moves were superior to other moves. Nimzowitsch wasn't kidding!