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Correspondence Chess


Brave New World:


Human Intuition and Computer-assisted Chess


How a gang of amateurs bested some of the strongest players on earth By Howard Sandler, Ph.D. and the Chessgames.com World Team


A


Vietnamese woman living in Alaska, a lawyer from Toronto, a polymath from Ireland, an accountant from


India, a scuba diver from Brazil, an elec- trical engineer from Virginia, a biologist from Norway, and over 5,000 others make up the Chessgames World Team. They are all chess fans who registered in Chess games.com’s series of massive online con- sultation games known as the Chessgames Challenge, that pits the members of the website against famous grandmasters (GMs). Is it even possible that such a loose confederation of amateurs could hold their own against strong opposi- tion? Apparently so: The World Team has a record of three wins, three draws, and no losses—all against very strong players, including a scintillating victory


32 Chess Life — August 2011


over a correspondence world champion. To understand their success we need to look at the role of computer analysis in the rapidly-evolving world of correspon- dence chess (CC). After that, we will look at critical moves in each game in an attempt to perceive how the World Team combined human intuition and com- puter evaluations to steer the games to victory. Finally, we will speculate about the future of CC as well as the Chess- games Challenge. The format of the game is straightfor-


ward. The GM makes a move within a specified time control, usually two or three days per half-move. The World Team votes democratically, with each member voting for one move. The move that gets the most votes is actually played on the board and


presented to the GM. Members can also vote to offer or accept draws, actions which require a simple majority to approve. Dur- ing the game, the World Team privately discusses its strategy and analysis to help reach a consensus on the strongest plan. Under this format, the World has played six games to date: two with correspondence GM Arno Nickel (win, draw), and one each with 2008 U.S. Champion GM Yury Shul- man (win), 15th Correspondence World Champion 1996-2002 Gert Jan Timmer- man (win), 13th Correspondence World Champion 1989-1998 Mikhail Umansky (draw), and WGM Natalia Pogonina (draw). Let’s take a whirlwind tour through these modern masterpieces of collaborative chess. Our story starts on August 18, 2006, when the Chessgames World Team played


uschess.org


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