The doctor brings Chinook down to earth: William Hartston sees the world draughts champion triumph over a machine

Dr MARION TINSLEY proved that he is still the best draughts player in the world by defeating the computer program Chinook, 20 1/2 -18 1/2 in their world championship match, which ended in London on Saturday.

By winning the 39th game, Dr Tinsley, who first won the world title in 1955, took a two-point lead, whereupon the final game was dispensed with as irrelevant.

When Chinook's programmers, led by Dr Jonathan Schaeffer of the University of Alberta, Canada, found themselves one down with two to play, they did a little tinkering with their machine to give it at least some chance of saving the match by steering it away from safe drawing lines.

In game 39, however, playing on the stronger side of the feared 'White Doctor' opening (the first three moves in each game are decided by random ballot), the machine, following orders, tried too hard to win and came unstuck. With the computer assessing its own position as hopeless, and Dr Tinsley in full agreement, the programmers resigned the game and the match. There was long applause from the spectators, a mixed bunch of interested draughts players, curious chessplayers and groupies wallowing in the atmosphere of intellectual might.

Then one of the arbiters came on to the stage to explain why the machine had given up. One white king would have wandered down the board, he said, to hold two black pieces, after which it was an easy win with three men against two on the rest of the board. 'I hope that's clear,' he added.

The crowd nodded sagely, some mumbled 'yes, it's clear', and the vast majority continued looking bemused. Perhaps the graphic display, on which it was hard to distinguish the kings from the other men, contributed to the general air of puzzlement, but the whole fortnight-long match had been a convincing demonstration of the incalculable difficulty of the game of draughts.

Go-As-You-Please draughts, without balloted openings, has been effectively dead at a top- class level for many years. Enough variations are known to lead to forced draws, for anyone with a sufficiently good memory to avoid losing.

When one world title match ended with every game drawn, they spiced up the game with the introduction of balloted openings. Dr Tinsley, 65, and Chinook needed to know the 142 balloted variations, all considered playable but ranging from a certain draw to excruciatingly difficult.

The playing schedule of four games a day seemed to favour the computer, especially when a jet- lagged and sleepless Dr Tinsley spent some 14 hours fruitlessly probing the machine's defences on the opening day's play. By the end of the week, he was borrowing sleeping pills from one of his opponent's programmers.

Dr Tinsley won the fifth game by calculating 25 moves ahead, while Chinook could only manage 20, but he lost the eighth through an oversight. For a man who has averaged around one loss every seven years for the past four decades, it was a disaster. Dr Tinsley went behind after game 14, forgetting a piece of analysis that he had discovered and published 30 years ago.

It was the computer, however, that wilted at the crucial stage of the match, overheating during game 18 and having to resign when its operators were unable to repair a fault that had caused it to seize up in mid-game.

By now, Dr Tinsley understood his opponent better and, in game 25, tricked it with a neat inversion of moves in the opening. Distracted from its book of published variations, the machine immediately went wrong. It had a chance to save the game later, but once again needed to see beyond its 20- move horizon.

By now sleeping much better, Dr Tinsley never looked in trouble as he steered the next 15 games to a draw. It was an impressive demonstration of precision, emphasised by the general inability of even the grandmaster draughts players among the spectators to understand many of the games.

Chinook had confirmed its position as second best in the world, with play that would have been called highly creative had it come from a human. With the certainty of exhaustive, brute-force calculation, it frequently demonstrated the playability of moves that humans would have rejected as reckless.

The result of the match, however, proves that one man is still the master of machine at the draughts board. To err is electronic, but Dr Tinsley, in a forgiving mood, has already indicated his willingness to give Chinook a return match next year.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - Kent - £43,000

£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: C# and .Net Developer - n...

Guru Careers: Digital Marketing Exec / Online Marketing Executive

£35 - 40k: Guru Careers: Our client has a new role for a Digital Marketing Exe...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'