Revolutionising the 64 squares

Garry Kasparov in deep trouble against Deep Blue.-

In a cerebral sport like chess, the use of technology has brought about a revolutionary shift. Today, the wide range of software, aimed at luring anyone from the uninitiated to the elite names, has transformed the way the game is played. By Rakesh Rao.

Today, there is hardly a field of human excellence that remains untouched by the use of technology. Once considered imperative for space scientists to assimilate and analyse the data collected in their pursuit to explore new worlds, advanced technology in different forms continues to impact various areas of human endeavour.

If computers and mobile technology have changed forever the way we live, ever-improving software has made a significant difference in the field of sports.

From the way the game is brought on television for a wider viewership to the manner in which champions are made these days, technology’s role continues to be paramount.

In a cerebral sport like chess, the use of technology has brought about a revolutionary shift. Today, the wide range of software, aimed at luring anyone from the uninitiated to the elite names, has transformed the way the game is played.

In a sport, whose origin dates back to 600 AD, the introduction of a chess computer in 1985 to test the then World champion Garry Kasparov’s capabilities over the board succeeded in getting the attention it was aimed at.

Kasparov, arguably the best chess brain of that era, took on 32 computers in a simultaneous display and, in the space of five hours, beat them all. The talks of the human brain being far superior, to the artificial intelligence of a machine designed to play tirelessly and emotionlessly for hours, gained currency. Not many took the IBM-made chess computer seriously.

But when IBM’s super computer “Deep Blue” defeated Kasparov in 1997, the world sat up and took note of the power of a man-made machine. Those who advocated that it was only a matter of time before machines would think faster and more accurately than a human mind stood vindicated.

The time had come for chess players to think differently. Before long, the debate of man versus machine ended. Soon chess software and databases made it possible for players at all levels to improve their chess playing skills by using technology as a friendly tool.

If Deep Blue of 1997 was a game-changer, the technology available today is understandably far superior. Importantly, the technology is available to players across all levels. If the elite players acquire custom-built computers with the desired configuration with much higher processing speed, the beginners can today buy software and chess engines, complemented by a mega-database with over five million games that helps players and trainers analyse the moves made with a click of the mouse. The database of the world’s leading players is estimated to have over 20 million games!

Like the five-time World champion Viswanathan Anand said in 2004 while referring to a prodigy named Magnus Carlsen, “Obviously he is very good. He represents a generation that grew up moving the pieces on a monitor with the help of a mouse. They are more tech-savvy and can’t wait to access the latest innovations.”

Looking back, Anand continued, “When I made it among the chess elite, I was one-third the age of Viktor Korchnoi. Today, Magnus (Carlsen) is just over a third of my age. Obviously, he is picking up the nuances much faster with the help of technology, a luxury that I didn’t have as a teenager.”

Anand, now 45, is obviously from the ‘old school’, but was quick to adapt when the computers first made their mark. He had the awareness and the accessibility to make the most of whatever the technology of the early 1990s offered.

Viswanathan Anand has introduced many a youngster to the computer. Anand himself adapted to technology pretty quickly.-

If technology has changed the way players prepare before a competitive game, its benefits have penetrated down to those beginning to play the game.

Coaches have gained immensely as the audio-visual teaching methods help a child understand the intricacies of the sport better. There are several softwares that analyse the move played and almost in real time, present an evaluation of the pros and cons of the chosen move. No wonder, many young players with modest ratings end up testing the preparedness of the old timers like never before.

As five-time National ladies champion Bhagyashree Thipsay says, “Unlike the time when I was actively playing, these days I find it so difficult to win against these young players. They come so well prepared.”

Even a much younger Mary Ann Gomes, also a former National woman champion, feels that use of software and coaching methods have helped in producing stronger younger players. “I think, today’s player of 1900 is much stronger than a player of similar rating a few years ago.”

Obviously, the computer-aided training methods continue to play a part in building the foundation and the confidence needed to excel.

Another area where technology has made a path-breaking impact is the live transmission of the games in tournaments across the world. The introduction of DGT (Digital Game Technology) electronic boards in the 1998 Elista Olympiad saw a whopping 328 boards being part of the live transmission through internet.

In 2015, the advancement in technology has made it possible for a player to attach the electronic board to the computer through USB or Bluetooth and play the game online by physically moving the pieces on the board against a player sitting across the globe!