600m players worldwide prove it’s not checkmate for chess just yet
Tuesday 15 Jan 2013 7:00 am UK
By Ross McGuinness
Writer of In Focus features at Metro
Back in 1993, instead of skimpily-clad college girls roaming around Chester, the station was broadcasting hours upon hours of chess footage featuring a spectacled man from Lancashire.
That man was Nigel Short, who was bidding to become the world chess champion in a showdown with Russia’s Garry Kasparov.
Short may not have been successful – Kasparov won quite easily – but hundreds of thousands of British viewers got a taste of televised chess.
While the game of chess still fascinates, it has not managed to recapture the kind of exposure generated here in the early ‘90s by Short.
It’s not as if it’s short of players – more than 600m people on the planet play chess regularly. Perhaps the game is too convoluted to make it TV-friendly. Perhaps it is too complex for our tiny, little minds.
This is the view adopted by economics and physics experts at the University of Manchester and Oxford University, who published a study last week which said some games are ‘simply impossible to fully learn’.
Researchers ran thousands of computer simulations of a range of two-player games and argued that the more complex the game, the less rational players’ actions become.
‘A simple game would be noughts and crosses,’ said Dr Tobias Galla, senior lecturer in physics at the University of Manchester.
‘A ten-year-old can probably figure out how not to lose in noughts and crosses, so there’s a strategy that makes sure you don’t lose. Once you’ve found that strategy, the game is uninteresting, you stop playing it. That’s an equilibrium point. Once you’ve reached that point, you don’t play any more. With these games with lots of different moves, it’s not so easy to guess these best strategies.
‘There may be games that whatever you do, it’s just too complex. You need such a big brain that maybe there’s some games that we can’t learn how to play them.’
The study said chess is like stock market trading in that there are thousands of different moves available. US company Bankers Trust, which was acquired by Deutsche Bank in 1998, employed several chess Grandmasters in the early ‘90s.
‘A lot of economic theory is built around this concept of equilibrium, this idea that people are able to identify the best possible strategy,’ explained Dr Galla.
‘Under a variety of circumstances, people are not necessarily able to find these types of strategies.
‘In chess, you try a certain opening or sequence of moves and you see whether it works or not. If things work well, you do that more often in the future. If you find that certain things don’t work, you may decide not to do that again in the future. It’s learning from past experience.’
But it’s these complexities in chess which keep players coming back for more.
‘If we find the best strategy for chess – like noughts and crosses – people would stop playing,’ said Dr Galla. ‘I don’t think this will ever happen. There are no professional noughts and crosses players.’
The best professional chess player in Britain is Michael Adams. The 41-year-old from Somerset has been a Grandmaster since the age of 17 and is currently ranked 24th in the world.
‘It is quite an easy game to learn but you can take it to whatever level you want,’ he told Metro.
‘Even someone like me who’s been playing professionally for 24 years, there’s such a huge amount that you don’t know about chess. Even the very best players in the world still make a number of mistakes. It’s a very, very hard game to master. I guess that’s part of the appeal. It’s a game you can never master but you can always improve at.’
He said the key to chess was calculation, rather than thinking a number of moves ahead.
‘It’s no good looking 15 moves ahead if you’ve overlooked something on move 3,’ he pointed out.
Full article here.
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