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Behind Deep Blue

February 9, 2014

Behind Deep Blue (wikipedia)

I’ve always had interest in computing power’s ability to overtake professional human players in abstract strategy games. IBM’s Deep Blue win over then World Champion Garry Kasporov in 1997 was historic. Since then, computing power has grown immensely and while chess is not a solved game, it’s much closer than other games. The shear size of chess’s game tree complexity is 10^123 and is quite impressive what computers have been able to accomplish with this size of complexity. A more interesting game is Go which has a game tree complexity of 10^361 which just eclipses Chess.

Back to the book, Feng-hsiung Hsu was a Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) graduate student who worked for many years on the hardware and software necessary to build a computer that could play chess. Once IBM noticed his achievements they brought him in with an ambitious marketing idea of building a computer that could beat the world chess champion. The book described the history, and the bumpy road of successes and failures along the way to the championship game against Kasporov.

Even though the book was a fun read, because it was so heavily based on technology it felt very dated. The processing power they were trying to achieve and data sizes they dealt with are tiny by today’s standards, but their efforts were Herculean at the time. By today’s standards, a relatively cheap chess engine named Houdini would destroy Deep Blue in a chess match. In fact, at the time of this writing, the current Chess World Champion, Magnus Carlsen with an Elo rating of less than 2900 would have problem with Houdini 4 with a rating of 3251As it stands today, there are many computer chess engines with ratings beyond the highest a human player has achieved.

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