Magnus-Carlsen

The reigning  world chess champion and the highest-rated player in the history of the game with an ELO rating of 2872, Magnus Carlsen, was recently in Silicon Valley. Mr. Carlsen was at a Q&A session hosted by Churchill Club, one of Bay Area’s foremost technology and business forums, and PayPal co-founder, entrepreneur, and investor, Peter Thiel.

We are at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, so when I catch up with the 23-year old Norwegian grandmaster after the event, it is technology we talk about.

Here is an excerpt:

What is the technology stack you use?

Carlsen: I use a 8-core laptop from Eurocom, with various chess programs, databases, and engines.

You have been vocal about not being fond of playing with computers. Why is that?

Carlsen: The psychological and emotional aspect is not there in computers. I don’t enjoy playing computers. I prefer to play with humans. Playing with computers does not help me playing against human opponents. I don’t really see the computer as an opponent. I look at the computer as an analysis tool, something that can be used to gain knowledge and broaden our understanding of chess.

(Answering a question from Mr. Thiel earlier, Mr. Carlsen went so far as to say that he found playing against computers ‘depressing’).

Do you think with computers being able to tackle Big Data , and the rise of high-performance computing/quantum computing, the game of chess will be solved in near to mid-future?

Carlsen: Like I said (earlier), chess I don’t think will ever be fully solved. All chess positions with upto six pieces have been solved by the computer. I do not think chess positions with up to seven pieces will solved in our lifetimes.

How active are you on social media? Do you plan on launching a more immersive online engagement platform for your fans, like say soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo?

Carlsen: We are looking into something like that. In the meanwhile, I am on Facebook and Twitter. You can follow me there.

Quick notes:

1] Tablebases are computer databases of chess endings. These databases can provide the best play in any endgame, provided the combined number of pieces does not exceed a certain number. That number has been six so far, though a company called Convekta says its Lomonosov Endgame Tablebases can provide the solution for up to seven pieces.

Tablebases are generated by retrograde analysis, working backwards from a checkmated position. By 2005, all chess positions with up to six pieces (including the two kings) had been solved.

2] It was 1994 when I first interviewed Viswanathan Anand for an Indian newspaper. Anand was the only professional chess player with a laptop at the time. If you owned a computer back then in India, you were considered very, very lucky. I happened to be a chess player at that time, considering becoming a professional. The local chess club where I practiced, had one computer, and it was the only computer used for chess for many many miles. We would scramble to spend time with Fritz, a German chess program, a bunch of us hunched in front of the machine, as the coach showed us the moves.

[Image courtesy: Magnus Carlsen]

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