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its first move, 1. e4, against Correspon- dence GM Arno Nickel. Among his many successes, in 2009 GM Nickel finished clear first in the Simon Webb Memorial (a category 15 event) against a field of 12 of the strongest correspondence GMs in the world. According to the Chessgames co- founder Daniel Freeman, “Nickel was chosen as the first opponent precisely because of his success in defeating com- puters, especially his convincing victory over the monstrously strong cluster com- puter, Hydra. We had every reason to expect the World Team would lose, but learn a valuable lesson in the process.” Mr. Freeman’s opinion soon changed, when he witnessed the World organize itself and ultimately defeat Nickel: “The word challenge had reversed its meaning: it wasn’t so much the members we were challenging, it was the grandmasters!” Controversy about computer use was

present from the start, and as computer chess engines have become more and more powerful since 2006, these com- plaints were voiced more loudly in each successive game. Even before the World’s game with Nickel began, lengthy debates emerged about whether computer assis- tance was necessary or appropriate. Why did such strong reactions against com- puter-assisted correspondence games continue to surface? Many team members recall the days when correspondence chess was played on postcards, so their reactions were generational. Other mem- bers had played chess at online chess clubs, where computers are the lowest and most loathsome form of cheating. However, members more familiar with computer-assisted correspondence chess pointed out that the computer’s evalua- tions were often useless (in the opening phase), flawed (in closed positions), or artificially cut off (the horizon effect). They emphasized that to be successful it took people to provide overall strategic guidance, and that blindly following the computer’s advice every move would not be a winning strategy. The World Team was fortunate to have

a member known as “RandomVisitor” who consistently provided a backbone of analy- sis with his high-end equipment and engine. His analysis gave the World a strong start as it branched out in many analytic directions. There is an art to using the computer well: winning requires computer analysis to be skillfully inter- woven with human intuition. All serious correspondence chess players are accus- tomed to this art. The strength of the GMs (even Shulman and Pogonina, who do not ordinarily play correspondence) lies in their keen instinct of when to regard their own judgments higher than the com- puter’s numerical evaluations. GM Nickel commented, “Well of course, correspon-

dence chess and over-the-board chess are nowadays two extremely different dis- ciplines, more so than ever, because correspondence players in contrast to over-the-board players have full access to computer engines and databases.” Neither the World Team nor the GMs

blindly played the moves generated by their computers. In fact, the key move in the World Team’s first game against GM Nickel was generated by human intuition, and only later was it checked thoroughly by computers. Let’s take a look.

The World versus Arno Nickel “Brave New World”

-+-+-+-+ +-+-+-mkp p+-zpr+p+

Pz q+p+-wQ- -+-zP-+-+ +-+-+R+P -zP-+-+PmK +-+-+-+-

White to play It is White’s turn to play, and the move

36. b4! quickly ended the game. (The pawn is immune to capture: 36. ... Qxb4? 37. Qd8 mates in a few moves.) Today’s chess engines are able to take advantage of multi-core computers to find moves like 36. b4!, but in 2006, relatively few World Team members had computer engines of such power. Those that did were rarely able to delve 10 moves deep, even in overnight runs. The move came as a shock to GM Nickel. After the game was over, he praised the choice of 36. b4 over going into a complicated rook ending with 36. Qd8: “Practically speaking, I think 36. b4 was the stronger move, as it left Black without any defense, whereas the rook ending would have complicated things unnecessarily, as the white rook is not well placed in front of its own pawns.” (posted on February 11, 2007). GM Nickel had kind things to say about the World Team’s strength as well. Shortly after the game, he wrote “... in order to illus- trate on which level this very complicated game has been played, I would suggest, that White managed to play on a 2700- 2800 level (ICCF Elo), while Black played about 200 Elo points weaker. ... One can only congratulate the World Team for this fine achievement.”

The Chessgames World Team’s second

game was against GM Yury Shulman. GM Shulman was born in Minsk, Belarus, and moved to the USA in 1999. Since

that time, he has been one of the top American players with an outstanding performance at the 2001 World Open (tied first), and wins at the 2006 U.S. Open Championship and the 2008 U.S. Championship. He also is generous with his time in support of U.S. chess at all lev- els. Once again, the outcome of the game was to be found in the many human moves that were made by both sides. Although the World Team played

“human moves” 17. ... f4 and 25. ... Qf7! (neither was the computer’s first choice), the move that perhaps best illustrates the need for an overarching human strat- egy was played in this position:

Yury Shulman versus The World “Not a Care in the World”

-+r+-+k+ +-+-+-zpp -zp-+l+-+ +-+-zPq+- -zP-zpR+-+ +n+-+-+P -vL-+-zPL+ +-+Q+-mK-

After 35. h3 In this complicated position, the World

played a move not even in the top ten computer candidates: 35. ... h6! The move created a sort of Zugzwang (especially when followed by another non-computer move, 37. ... Kh8) which GM Shulman was not able to overcome. Shulman took his defeat with grace and humor, saying that “You really did show wonderful team- work. When I heard about group forums … I was shocked how serious my opposi- tion is! … I will be happy to answer your questions, if you do not mind advice from someone whom you beat so flawlessly.” As GM Shulman noted, the World Team

had an amazing ability to organize itself in order to best use the talents of all of its members. The development of a forum system for analyzing variations and dis- tributing the work of the computer analysts, the willingness of those with chess engines to run analyses for those without such resources, and the ability of the World to merge human input with computer output all combined to make the team both effective and enjoyable.

The World had the white pieces again

in its third game, this time against the 15th World Correspondence Chess Cham- pion, GM Gert Jan Timmerman. The pressure of playing against a player of Timmerman’s reputation raised the inten-

Chess Life — August 2011 33

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