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January 24, 2012
You remember the old cartoon that went something like this:
Dog and man playing checkers:
Man: “He’s not so smart. He only beat me three out of four games.”
Here's one for today:
Man and computer playing checkers:
Well, you can supply the punch line.
It would help to keep up with your checker computer history.
In the 1990 Southern U.S. National, Chinook, a computer program developed by Jonathan Schaeffer of the University of Alberta, was entered in the Man vs. Machine World Championship and checker champion Marion Tinsley beat Chinook 4-2 with 33 draws.
Some program tinkering later, Chinook won the 1996 National in the same competition and Schaeffer boasted that his computer has solved checkers despite its "500 billion possible positions."
Chinook then retired from active competition to really hone its skills, although you can play a variation of it on the web if you dare.
(Let me know how you make out.)
Checkers or draughts, as it is known in Great Britain, goes back to at least 3000 BC according to recent digs; it was a slightly different board, a different number of pieces and no one is quite certain of the exact rules.
As far as the first checker computer program, Arthur L. Samuel was the culprit in 1952.
Chinook, of course, which uses an algorithm program that includes a library of opening moves and gets more intimidating from there, can whip any of those old computers.
And any humans, if you believe Schaeffer's claim in a 2007 Journal "Science" article that the best a player could do against Chinook is a draw.
What all this proves is that humans can build a machine that is invincible.
But even computers can't obscure the fact that checkers is a great game that requires logic, forward thinking and the ability to know your opponent.
Just make sure your opponent is a person.