Grantland has a story about a chess cheating scandal with an interesting section on the the history of chess-playing computers.
The Virginia scandal involved the opposite ruse, in which a machine surreptitiously called the shots for a player. The chess engines this scheme centered on are relatively new: Computers only surpassed humans at the chessboard during young Smiley’s lifetime. Scientists had an easier time designing digital brains that could produce atom bombs or navigate lunar landings than they did fashioning a machine that could play chess worth a darn. Plainly, until relatively recently, chess was too complicated for computers. An analysis of chess’s complicatedness in Wired determined that the number of possible positions in an average 40-move game is 10 to the 128th power, a sum “vastly larger than the number of atoms in the known universe.”
In 1966, MIT brainiacs entered MAC HACK VI, a computer program they’d devised, into the Massachusetts Amateur Chess Championship, making it the first computer program ever to enter a tournament. It drew just one match and lost four.
But by 2007, a chess engine called Rybka was routinely shutting out grandmasters even when spotting the humans a pawn and taking black, thereby letting humans go first, the more statistically desirable position. Computers have gotten noticeably better since then; humans haven’t.
The man-machine war in chess is no longer contested: “Computers are better than us,” says USCF president Ruth Haring.
And here are a couple articles about chess-playing computers because I was curious:
Gary Kasparov in the NY Review of Books, Humans and computers in Slate, and Newsweek’s ‘The Brain’s Last Stand’ from when Deep Blue beat Kasparov.