Chess is regarded by many as the ultimate game of strategy. The brutal and unforgiving sport requires near-perfect execution at the top level to achieve victory, with Grandmasters having to evaluate dozens of positions before making a move. A study by Robert Sapolsky, Professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Stanford University has shown that Grandmasters can burn up to 6,000 calories a day over the course of an intense, multi-day tournament (ESPN), demonstrating the extreme mental stress these players experience.
The depth of thinking required in chess provided great interest to Alan Turing, the father of artificial intelligence. Having famously created the “Bombe” computer during World War II, capable of decrypting an enigma message every two minutes, Turing was acutely aware of the potential computers had in solving complex problems. Chess was no exception.
In 1946, Turing began his research into the first chess program which was based off the following principles:
A machine will always remain a machine, that is to say a tool to help the player work and prepare. Never shall I be beaten by a machine! Never will a program be invented that surpasses human intelligence.
Garry Kasparov, World Chess Champion, 1984 – 2005
Artificial intelligence has completely changed the way that chess is played. With the help of chess engines, Grandmasters are now able to plan prepare for their games in extreme depth, sometimes memorising up to 15-20 moves of their openings. Although some chess commentators worry that this extreme perfectionism can make top level gameplay tedious, AlphaZero proves that however highly polished chess gets, AI can still blow the sport wide open.