All square in draughts challenge

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The Independent Online
AT THE half-way mark in the world draughts championship, man and machine are neck and neck: Dr Marion Tinsley and Chinook, the computer program challenging for his title, have each won two games, with 16 draws.

To combat the notoriously drawish nature of top-class draughts, the rules for this contest specify that the first three moves of each game (two black moves and one white) will be decided by ballot. There are 142 such three- move combinations that are generally agreed to be playable. Some have been analysed out to dull draws; others place one player immediately in a difficult position, but any element of luck is balanced out by playing two games with each sequence, reversing colours for the second.

Playing four games each day, as the schedule demands, can therefore involve the contestants either in the effortless replay of four well-known draws or 14 hours or more of extremely hard work.

The machine may be weakening, however. Signs of fallibility first appeared in game 11, with a breakdown of the program linking the computer to the graphics screen. The game was suspended to correct the fault, but when it resumed Chinook seemed to have lost its train of thought. To avoid a dispute, games 11 and 12 were declared drawn.

Worse happened in game 18, when Chinook conceded defeat after appearing to slip into the computer equivalent of a coma. In game 20 it seized again.

Nobody is certain what is afflicting Chinook. Some say it is overheating; some suggest a programming error; others a hardware fault. Divine retribution has also been suggested.

In yesterday's Independent on Sunday, however, Chinook's programmer was quoted as saying: 'My computer is dumb. It'll only do what I program it to do.' Perhaps Chinook is simply peeved.