Computer Chess - PC Programs

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Legal playing positions in chess are estimated to number somewhere in the order of 1043 to 1050 . In non-mathematical terms that's a brain-busting 10 followed by up to 50 zeroes. And if that doesn't make your head throb, the total number of possible chess games is reckoned to be around 10123.

With such huge and unimaginable numbers involved it's little wonder that chess has remained an evergreen pastime for over a thousand years. And little wonder, too, that the mind-numbing permutations have for many decades been tilted at by a steady band of chess computers.

The first serious attempts to harness computing power to the task date back to the 1950s when room-sized computers were pitted against human players. Early computers enjoyed unspectacular success, but over the years as processor power steadily improved, better results were regularly achieved. In about half a century, computers went from zero to whipping Grandmasters; no small achievement most people would agree.

Computer Chess - The Breakthrough

The breakthrough for the computer came in 1996 when the then world number one, Gary Kasparov played a six-game match against IBM's chess computer, Deep Blue. Much to Kasparov's consternation and the world's amazement, Deep Blue won the opening match. This was the first time a chess computer had ever beaten a world champion under normal chess tournament time rules. Regaining his composure, Kasparov then went on to take three of the games and draw two, giving the Grandmaster the match.

A return match was set up for the following year, with the by then extensively upgraded Deep Blue taking the honors 3.5-2.5 over the six game match before being retired by IBM.

Since then Vladimir Kramnik has drawn an eight-game match with the computer program, Deep Fritz. And returning to the fray in 2003, Kasparov drew a six match game with another piece of software, Deep Junior and similarly could not overcome the X3D Fritz program in November of that year, all four games being draws.

Pitting man against machine in the context of chess, though, has been about more than a machine beating a Grandmaster, or rival computer firms vying for the prestige and kudos of being first to crack the challenge. The research and development efforts over the years have brought about a number of innovations, not least the ever more sophisticated computerized chess games that are now commercially available.

In addition to an array of dedicated hand held and mobile devices for solo chess playing, there is a choice of software available to convert your regular desktop or laptop into a fire-breathing chess rival that will have even top players sweating it out. Among the most popular are the free software package GNU Chess or commercial titles Shredder and Fritz.

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