The article’s title? “Chess is just poker now.” And it starts by noting one inconvenient truth about still-unresolved allegations that Hans Niemann cheated to defeat world chess champion Magnus Carlsen:
Whatever really happened here, everyone agrees that for Niemann, or anyone else, to cheat at chess in 2022 would be conceptually simple. In the past 15 years, widely available AI software packages, known as “chess engines,” have been developed to the point where they can easily demolish the world’s best chess players — so all a cheater has to do to win is figure out a way to channel a machine’s advice….
What once seemed magical became calculable; where one could rely on intuition came to require rigorous memorization and training with a machine. Chess, once poetic and philosophical, was acquiring elements of a spelling bee: a battle of preparation, a measure of hours invested. “The thrill used to be about using your mind creatively and working out unique and difficult solutions to strategical problems,” the grandmaster Wesley So, the fifth-ranked player in the world, told me via email. “Not testing each other to see who has the better memorization plan….”
The advent of neural-net engines thrills many chess players and coaches… Carlsen said he was “inspired” the first time he saw AlphaZero play. Engines have made it easier for amateurs to improve, while unlocking new dimensions of the game for experts. In this view, chess engines have not eliminated creativity but instead redefined what it means to be creative.
Yet if computers set the gold standard of play, and top players can only try to mimic them, then it’s not clear what, exactly, humans are creating. “Due to the predominance of engine use today,” the grandmaster So explained, “we are being encouraged to halt all creative thought and play like mechanical bots. It’s so boring. So beneath us.” And if elite players stand no chance against machines, instead settling for outsmarting their human opponents by playing subtle, unexpected, or suboptimal moves that weaponize “human frailty,” then modern-era chess looks more and more like a game of psychological warfare: not so much a spelling bee as a round of poker.
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