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Subject: Re: Artificial Intelligence in Computer Chess

Author: Steven Edwards

Date: 14:06:17 03/28/04

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On March 28, 2004 at 16:18:41, Artem Pyatakov wrote:

>I have not posted here in about 3 years, but it's nice to be posting again. My
>college years have flown by, and I am now using the amateur program I had
>written during the summer of my Freshman year as a basis for my Senior thesis.
>Where did the time go?!?

Many undergradutes report the same problem.  Recent scientific surveys suggest a
link between missing time/missing money and the typical undergradute's
preoccupation with the pursuit of women and alcohol.  I myself would selflessly
volunteer for further research into this profound mystery, but I am unable to
convince any funding agency to award a grant.

>I wanted to get your educated input on the topic I am covering in my thesis,
>before I actually get down to writing the actual text of it (I have spent some
>pretty large number of hours during the year working on the experimental
>results). Disclaimer: The ideas contained below are pretty self-critical of the
>field, but please do not take them personally, since I myself have written a
>chess program that has all the shortcomings I talk about. I am purposefully
>trying to be controversial here, so as to spur debate. Any input at all is very
>much appreciated.

Criticism is acceptable and often welcomed if it is accurate.

>The thesis is titled "Improving Computer Chess through Machine Learning", and
>its main idea is to attack one aspect of an interesting gap I noticed between
>the field of A.I. and Computer Chess. Specifically, in my opinion, the field of
>computer chess has become obsessed with *tricks* (human-generated ideas that
>happened to work without a good theoretical justification and cannot be easily
>generalized to other games). Because these tricks work really really well, the
>field has strayed from research into A.I. techniques. At the same time, any AI
>work has to compare itself with chess engine filled with excellent
>human-generated tricks, so it seems to perform poorly.
>Some examples:
>*ordering captures first during move ordering
>*check extensions
>*futility pruning
>*evaluation function (trick-filled, but probably has to stay that way for a

In my opinion, you are essentially correct in your assessment of the
"bag-of-tricks" approach for traditional A/B searchers.

>On the other hand, I think a lot of researchers have been overly ambitious and
>have tried to replace Alpha-Beta & tricks with a neural network or some totally
>different approach. I think that with the current state of AI tools, these
>efforts are bound to fail.

A lot of researchers?  Other than myself, I don't know of any other workers who
are attempting a complete and competitive chess playing program that doesn't
tread the oft traveled A/B bag-of-tricks road.

Bound to fail?  I've been doing programming for thirty-five years and computer
chess for for almost thrity, and I don't feel I have enough experience to make
such a claim.

>In my thesis, I take the middle-road and keep the alpha-beta and general
>framework while at the same time trying to get rid of as many tricks in my
>original program as I can (while hopefully keeping it competitive). Given the
>very limited time, I have focused my efforts on move ordering tricks - such as
>the history heuristic, killer heuristic, SEE, etc. Most of these heuristics are
>designed to share information found in one part of the tree with the others,
>which I think is a great area to tackle, because it can lead to great
>improvements in search while at the same time not requiring precise answers.

My thought is that the better idea is to use chess knowledge extensively at the
start of a search instead of applying the knowledge to a search that threatens
to grow out of control.  An ounce of prevention is worth 453 grams of cure.

>CCC, what do you think of this whole approach?

It seems to be worth a try, but ...

>Do you want more details?

... more details are needed.

>Any comments, questions, ideas?
>Any related research or work I have missed?
>To clarify, the Senior Thesis is a significant project but is not anywhere close
>to a Ph.D. dissertation, which is why I am not addressing question in
>excruciating detail or with great precision.
>Thanks guys, you are the best!

Flattery will get you everywhere.

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