Computer Chess Club Archives




Subject: Shredder wins in Graz after controversy -- rebuttal

Author: Darse Billings

Date: 00:52:44 12/21/03

I have read the hundreds of replies in this thread.  I don't read
this forum regularly, and I do not wish to spark more pointless
discussion (though it is likely inevitable).  Nevertheless, many
things have been said that are simply wrong, so I will try once
more to clarify some of the points of contention.

As usual in public forums of this kind, a few people are able to
combine knowledge and reason to draw correct conclusions about
the topic at hand.  And as usual, their voices are drowned out by
loud and obnoxious people vociferously spewing false information
and illogic.

It is somewhat appalling to hear that some long-time participants
of computer chess competitions have never known the actual rules.
Either that or they are just taking a position, and like to argue.

When asked about the actual rules governing the competition, their
response is effectively: "I don't NEED no steenkin' *rules*, and
I don't CARE about no fargin' _facts_, 'cuz I have an OPINION!!1!"

Then they proceed to brow-beat anyone who has the temerity to ask
a fair question, or disagree on points of fact or logic.  The more
they are shown to be wrong, the louder and more abusive they become.

This is precisely why so many knowledgeable and reasonable people
do not participate in this kind of circus.  Same as it ever was.
If you are looking for Truth, do not expect to hear it from people
who see the world as black and white, with no grey.

I do not mean to sound condescending, but it irks me to hear such
nonsense proclaimed with such certitude.  Perhaps I care too much
about Truth.  (That's my fault).

Regardless, I do know the rules for computer chess competitions,
as well as the FIDE rules that govern all situations not otherwise
covered.  I've directed more than 100 chess tournaments, including
two National Championships, a Zonal qualifier, and the Canadian Open.
I've read the rules pertaining to the WCCC, and I understand them,
which is apparently more than some of the objectors have done, or
are willing to do.

That doesn't mean you should just take my word for it.  It means
that I invite you to READ THE RULES, and to THINK ABOUT THEM; to
put yourself in the role of arbiter, and make a *fair* decision.

One of the fundamental flaws in reasoning is the premise that the
WCCC is a competition strictly between programs, and that the human
operator plays no role whatsoever.  That is demonstrably false, and
it is trivially easy to see that it is false.  A slow operator can
affect the outcome of a game.  What if an operator refuses to enter
a move, or refuses to execute a move and hit the clock?  There is
no rule that forces him or her to do so within a fixed time period.

It is comically absurd for someone to say that the operator plays
absolutely no part in the game, and then in the next breath say
that when a draw is offered _he_ decides whether to accept or
decline for his program.  In another post, the same person gives
two more perfect examples of operator involvement, contradicting
his previous bellowing assertion.  Unfortunately, such strident
buffoonery also causes harm and confusion, with no accountability.
He should be ashamed of himself (but that also appears to be beyond
his capability).

Under the current format, the human operator is an integral part of
the game, and that has always been the case.  Ultimately, this is
still a competition between *humans* -- the programmers.  The role
of the operator is intended to be minimal, but it is not zero, nor
has it ever been.

That may or may not be desirable, but some people are confusing
the way they would *like* things to be with the way things _are_.

Many people feel that WCCC programs should be fully autonomous,
and should handle all of the various circumstances that can arise.
I wouldn't disagree with that (I'm in favour of a fully automated
communication protocol, and perhaps a simple referee program for
technical matters).  However, to assert that that *is* the case is
extraordinarily dense and uninformed (or deliberately contentious).

As usual, reality is not as simple as the Opinionated Man would
like it to be.  Complications and disputes can and do occur.
There are grey areas.  Rules are necessary, along with arbiters
to interpret them when new or tricky situations are encountered.

In overseeing these events, the arbiter should keep in mind the
actual purpose of the competition.  The original intention of such
tournaments was for researchers to get together and exchange ideas,
in an atmosphere of friendly competition and social interaction.
Winning was never the be-all and end-all (except for a sorry few).

Sadly, that noble goal has been eroded in the WCCC of today, as
a result of a few belligerent people.  (However, it should also
be said that the attitudes in Graz were generally very positive,
especially after the ban on smoking in Dom Im Berg was imposed).
Fortunately the troublemakers are still in the minority, and most
participants still stand for honour and mutual respect, including
this year's champion, Stefan Meyer-Kahlen, and runner-up, Frans

Incidentally, here's a rhetorical question for those who claim that
only the program is competing: At the end of the day, who wears the
medals?  See
and for a clue.

Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of the ruling.

Theorem: Deciding whether to take a draw is not a trivial matter.

Proof: That result might clinch first place in the tournament, or
it might have no value at all (winning might be essential).  The
utility of a draw depends on context, including the time remaining
for each player, and the strength of the opponent.  (Incidentally,
that is why such decisions should be made by the core program, and
not some simple-minded interface).

Suppose you have a position with three distinct threats to choose
from: A, B, and C.  In each case, the opponent has exactly one
correct answer, after which you can do no better than to return to
the initial position.  After you unsuccessfully try A and B, the
initial position occurs for the third time.  This does not mean
that you choose to draw -- you still want to try C.  It is up to
the opponent to claim a draw -- not you, not the TD, and certainly
not some brain-dead GUI that pops up a window proudly proclaiming
that it has detected a third occurrence.  While that is definitely
a useful thing to know, it does not change the game state one iota.
It is no more than _trivia_.  It is *NOT* an official draw claim.

If you don't agree, then READ THE RULES.

No amount of repeated huffing and puffing by loud-mouth schnooks
is going to change this fundamental fact.

When *you* get that same GUI pop-up window, you simply ignore it,
because you still have a good chance to win, and nothing to lose.
You are not *forced* to claim the draw, nor should you be.

The information printed to the screen could easily be modified to
conform to the FIDE rules for claiming a draw.  In that case, the
operator would have no choice but to relay the claim, and the game
would be over.  However, that is not *required*, and there would
be no advantage in doing so.  The repetition draw claims made by
operators on behalf of their programs in the past are perfectly
valid.  Nothing has changed.

It can even be the case that a draw is worthless to both players,
in which case a position might be repeated indefinitely until the
clock decides the outcome.  If some third party demanded that the
two players immediately agree to a draw, or that the TD declare
a drawn game, I would politely tell them to go soak their head.
(Or at least, I hope I would remain polite).

Traditionally, the programmer could make these decisions on behalf
of his program because few people wanted to waste their time on
such rare (and often complicated) circumstances.  Naturally the
programmer will act in his or her own best interest, but even that
is not always easy to determine.  Sometimes there are grey areas.

One such grey issue arose in Graz.  A participant was conflicted
between doing what he felt was right and honourable, or scoring
a cheap and hollow half-point.  The author and operator of Jonny,
Johannes Zwanzger, chose honour.

Had he made his choice quietly, there wouldn't be any controversy.
The trouble arose only because he also had the integrity to first
ask if it was allowed.  Third parties later challenged his right
to do what he genuinely felt was in his own best interest.  [Those
who cannot understand how this could be in his own interest should
perhaps consider studying ethics, and the concept of self-worth.]

There has been some speculation on how the situation should have
been handled, and what I would have done if I was the TD.  First,
I wouldn't have been the TD for the WCCC.  It is a thankless job,
and no matter how well the job is done there will always be jerks
who complain incessantly, usually holding a ridiculous position.

It is easy to sit in judgement after the fact, but no one can say
with absolute certainty how they would have acted at that moment.
It depends on many factors.

Ideally, I would have determined that the 3-fold repetition was
discovered by the GUI, and not by the Jonny program itself.  This
*is* relevant, regardless of what some might choose to believe.

Since neither of those voices claimed a draw in the exact manner
prescribed by the FIDE rules, the decision falls on the operator
(this is normal for computer competitions, and does not make past
draw claims any less valid).

In this case, the author of Jonny gave a legitimate reason for
continuing the game: that he did not want to score a meaningless
draw after his opponent had earned a completely won position.
In my opinion, this is not even remotely similar to deliberately
throwing a game, and Johannes should in fact be applauded for
upholding the original spirit of these competitions.

Furthermore, he could have forced the issue by refusing to enter
Shredder's previous move, losing on time.  He also could have made
the bogus claim that he wanted to continue in the hope of winning
due to a bug, and no one could argue that that was not possible.
Instead, he tried to do the right thing, asking the director if it
was technically legal to not claim the draw.  I'm not in the habit
of punishing people for being honest.

Since it *is* legal to decline an opportunity to draw, I would have
asked the operator of Shredder if he had any objection, and if not,
I would have permitted Jonny's move to be executed on the board
without any draw claim.

Now if the operator of Jonny had asked if he could resign on the
spot, I probably would *not* have allowed that.  This is not a
contradiction.  The operator is allowed to resign when the game
is (for all intents and purposes) hopeless, but that would not be
the case with a valid draw claim in hand.  I would tell him that
he is permitted to continue the game, and can resign if and when
Shredder deviated, if he still felt it was in his best interest.

Notice that I've been saying *his* best interest, not that of the
program.  Again, this is still a competition between *people*, not
circuits.  Perhaps that isn't the way things *should be*, but that
is a different issue.  I'm dealing with the reality of the matter.

Computer programs don't have feelings (at least, not yet), and I'm
pretty certain that Jonny wasn't upset with the decision.  Other
people might have been, but the honourable wishes of the program's
author are more important.

That is my opinion.  It is entirely possible that another arbiter
might have decided differently, and been justified in doing so.
There is not always a single definitive answer.  (Sorry to mess
with your worldview, Opinionated Man).

The real world is not an ideal world.  Nor is it black and white.
The actual situation in Graz (which was not as difficult as the
hypothetical case described above) might not have been handled
ideally, but on the whole I support the ICGA's decision.

I have no intention of debating the issue further.  The essential
facts are clear, and the decision was justified; but it is futile
to try to convince those who have closed minds and open mouths.

  - Darse.

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