17 December 2017

The Grossmeister Creates

After three consecutive posts on Top eBay Chess Items by Price featuring live, high-priced auctions from Sotheby’s...

...I was starting to wonder if we had entered some brave new world of chess auctions. With the item pictured below, we revert to the sort of auction that has kept the series on 'Top eBay Chess Items' running for so long.

Titled 'Russian Lacquer Box by Zhiryakov Alexey "Grandmaster" Palekh Chess Circus', subtitled 'Wow what a box. Use pics as your guide. Fantastic. This is as good as they get. Really!', the box sold for around $975, 'Best offer accepted'.

Although the lighting on the box is uneven, chess pieces are visible in the lower center of the box and chess board patterns serve as background throughout. The description said,

This auction is for another one of the owners favorites from Palekh by Zhiryakov Alexey. Looks like a circus and chess game. Really the best artwork I've seen from Palekh. The drawing around the sides is more than exceptional. Also famous for his fairytale paintings. This one is a masterpiece and big: 8" by 4 5/8". The details are superb.

To understand this piece, I used the keywords in the title to find out more. First, Wikipedia's Russian lacquer art told me,

Russian lacquer art developed from the art of icon painting which came to an end with the collapse of Imperial Russia. The icon painters, who previously had been employed by supplying not only churches but people's homes, needed a way to make a living. Thus, the craft of making papier-mâché decorative boxes and panels developed, the items were lacquered and then hand painted by the artists, often with scenes from folk tales.

Wikipedia's Palekh miniature added,

Palekh miniature is a Russian folk handicraft of a miniature painting, which is done with tempera paints on varnished articles made of papier-mâché (small boxes, cigarette and powder cases, etc.) Palekh Russian lacquer art on papier-mâché first appeared in 1923 in the village of Palekh, located in the Palekhsky District (Ivanovo Oblast), and is based on a long local history of icon painting.

Finally, in Russian Lacquer Art Gallery, Sunbirds.com told me that Alexey Yevgenievich Zhiryakov:-

Was born 1974 in the village of Palekh, Ivanovo region, where he currently resides now. In 1996 he graduated from the Palekh Art School, where he studied under talented Palekh masters Buldakov and Peskov. At present Alexey Yevgenievich works at the Union of Palekh artists. His artworks are held in private collections all over the world.

The artwork shows a young man grinding out chess pieces onto a checkered road. Under his orange feet, the box is titled 'Grossmeister' [Grandmaster] and signed 'Palekh, 2006, A.E.Zhiryakov'.

15 December 2017

Chess in the Street

With 2321 Flickr views and 89 faves (favorites), this photo has received more than the usual amount of interest. But why?

Checkmate © Flickr user Luis Alvarez Marra under Creative Commons.

What are we looking at anyway? There must be more to the image than just two guys playing chess. The photo's description said,

They were so focused that I could spend several minutes photographing. I was seduced by how submerged they were in the game. By the way, I took it on the Pau Buscató Workshop that I attended. It was incredible and I highly recommend it. For those interested, this is the link: www.buscato.net/spw/.

That page is titled, 'WORKSHOPS : Pau Buscató : STREET PHOTOGRAPHY'. Add that to the names of some of the 32 groups to which the photo belongs -- 'Street Photography - Fotografia di Strada', 'Street Photographers', and 'Street Scene Shooters', etc. -- and we start to understand that this represents a particular form of art.

One comment to the photo said (translated from the original Spanish), 'Very original photo with chess players blurred by the reflections.' Another said, 'Very well framed. One is almost the mirror reflection of the other.' The 'WORKSHOPS : STREET PHOTOGRAPHY' page informs,

Pau Buscató is a street photographer from Barcelona, currently based in Oslo, Norway. He studied architecture but after some years of practice abandoned his career to focus exclusively on photography. He is a member of the international street photography collective Burn My Eye.

The Pau Buscató - Burn My Eye page adds,

I walk around looking for those 'poetic accidents' that sometimes take place in our most mundane and repetitive daily lives. An open mind, intuition and fresh eyes will help me see and translate them into a personal photographic language, but as with many translations it won't be exact and literal: I'm not documenting the world as it is, I'm re-presenting it as I see it.

Earlier this year on Flickr Friday we saw a street performer in Posing for Euros (March 2017) and street art in No Monkey Business Here (July 2017). Now we have street photography.

14 December 2017

Chess and Art Movements

It seems like every time I do a post about chess art -- for example, Dube and Chotka (June 2017) -- the discussion touches on the topic of art movements. I thought it might be interesting to map chess art on to the different movements, but then discovered that it's already been done. In Chess Art History (Carolus Chess), more than 40 art movements are listed with an example featuring chess. Wikipedia's Art periods says,

An art period is a phase in the development of the work of an artist, groups of artists or art movement.
and lists six major periods further subdivided into dozens of movements. For example, the major period 'Modern art' encompasses 'Cubism: 1907-1914, France', along with a note:-
The countries listed are the country in which the movement or group started. Most modern art movements were international in scope

Here are examples of cubist art featuring chess, using the same collage technique last seen in Flickrless Friday; 'Call the rows 'A' to 'C' (from top to bottom) and number the images in each row '1' to '7' (from left to right).'

Google image search on 'chess cubism'

About half of the examples show chess sets (e.g. 'A1' in the upper left and 'C6' in the lower right), while the other half are paintings. The image in 'B3' could be a sculpture, but is in fact a photo of Cubism-Inspired Game Pieces : Artistic Chess Set (trendhunter.com).

With so many recognized art periods, there is plenty of source material here. I'll come back to the subject the next time I'm looking for an idea for my daily post.

12 December 2017

FIDE's Journalist Commission 2017

The next group to look at in Spectating the 88th FIDE Congress is the Commission of Chess Journalists, last seen in FIDE's Journalist Commission 2016 (December 2016). For 2017, we first turn to the general report for the 88th FIDE Congress in Antalya, Turkey (fide.com; October 2017). The journalists received three mentions.

Day 1: The 88th FIDE Congress started today at the Avantgarde Hotel in Antalya, Turkey. The Congress is organized by the Turkish Chess Federation and attended by the FIDE Executive & Presidential Board, the FIDE Commissions, the FIDE Delegates and the National Chess Federations. On the first day there were meetings of the Central Board of Commissions, the Marketing Committee, the Technical Commission (TEC), [...] and the Commission of Chess Journalists (CCJ).

Also in the report for the first day:-

The Commission of Chess Journalists reviewed the Media Regulations which should be forwarded to the Executive Board for the final approval. The Commission also reported on the progress on issuing the FIDE Journalist accreditations and the plans for the 2018 SportAccord Convention.

The third mention was as a caption for a photo of the meeting, but the photo was missing due to some glitch. I found it here:-


The agenda for the meeting (Annex_34; all annexes can be located via the 'Spectating' post) was:-

- Media regulations
- Accreditation of journalists
- SportAccord Convention 2018
- Journalists awards
- Proposal from Intonation Ltd / City Legal Translations
- Other matters

Only the 'Intonation' item is not mentioned in the minutes of the meeting (Annex_76), which start...

Commission of Chess Journalists (CCJ) meeting, Goynuk, Antalya, Turkey, 8 October 2017 [...] Chairman: G. Makropoulos (GRE), Secretary: A. Karlovich (UKR), Present: [11 names representing nine federations]

...and end...

Media regulations recommended for the approval of the Executive Board.

The 'Media regulations' were an 11 page attachment to the 13 pages of the minutes. Unfortunately, they are not well structured and are difficult to summarize. They start with a jumble of headings and definitions:-

Media Press Center: A Media Center (Press Office) should be set-up to handle the media matters for the chess event. Its proper work requires technical and personnel conditions. • Technical conditions: Facilities: The press area must [...]

Also covered are the 'Official website' (specified elsewhere: hostcity20xx.fide.com), 'Photography and Television', 'FIDE’s official Youtube channel' (fidechannel - YouTube), 'FIDE Press Officer', 'Interviews' (details for different events), 'Special regulations for FIDE events' (ditto), and 'FIDE Chess Journalists'. The 'Special regulations' start,

World Chess Championship Matches: The players are obliged to attend the "Media Day" (estimated 120 minutes) and are expected to co-operate reasonably with the media.

and contain a long extract, '4.7 Media facilities', from FIDE's Handbook :: Regulations for the Chess Olympiad. The section on 'FIDE Chess Journalists' is mainly a list of how many hotel nights organizers are required to give to 'accredited FIDE journalists during FIDE events', for example, 'FIDE Grand Prix - 9 nights'. One more point from the 2017 minutes worth mentioning is:-

A. Karlovich informed the meeting about the next SportAccord Convention due for April 2018. There is a proposal that Commission Secretary should travel to this world's biggest sports meeting to establish connections with major journalist organizations and exchange the experience with other sports associations.

This promises to be another step forward for chess journalists. The commission has come a long way since I first reported on it in FIDE Journalists' Commission (December 2013; 'A suivre...').

11 December 2017

Houdini, Komodo, Stockfish, and AlphaZero

Last week's report on TCEC Season 10, Engine-to-engine, Head-to-head, finished with a prediction:-

The engines are slugging it out as I write this and have finished 80 games out of the 100 scheduled for the event. Houdini leads [Komodo] with a score of +13-7=60, meaning that we can project a final score of something like +16-9=75. I'll come back to the event when it's over.

With the score at +14-9=73 after 96 games, Houdini was declared the winner; Houdini is TCEC Season 10 champion! (chessdom.com):-

With its gold medal Houdini becomes the engine with most titles in TCEC history. Robert Houdart shared, "I’ve worked non-stop for the past two years to bring Houdini back to the top level, and I’m really happy that this has resulted in a new TCEC title, which is the equivalent of World Champion status."

Houdini won one more game to achieve a final score of +15-9=76. The match was punctuated by two events. The first was a technical problem; Houdini with a six point lead near the halfway point of TCEC:-

Komodo Team Reports Compiler Glitch – Version Update Rejected [...] At the beginning of the Superfinal many noticed that Komodo’s speed (in nodes per second) was lower than previously seen. Tournament director Anton Mihailov, with the help of the server administrator Martin Thoresen, double- and triple-checked that the engine was installed correctly. The details were sent to the Komodo team and everyone agreed there was no problem during the Superfinal setup.

Statement by team Komodo [...] In summary, there is indeed a slowdown in the version now running in TCEC, which appears to be due to a compiler bug.

In a software development chain, the compiler is the tool that translates the high-level code that the developer writes into the low-level code that the processor understands. The Komodo team asked to submit a substitute executable, but the request was rejected by Houdart and Mihailov. TCEC openings for all games of the superfinal were announced in advance and any new version of an engine introduced mid-match might conceivably take advantage of this knowledge.

The second event, external to the TCEC, was the publication of a paper by Google's DeepMind titled, 'Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm'. The paper appeared a few days before the TCEC's close, when the winner was nearly certain. Its abstract said,

The game of chess is the most widely-studied domain in the history of artificial intelligence. The strongest programs are based on a combination of sophisticated search techniques, domain-specific adaptations, and handcrafted evaluation functions that have been refined by human experts over several decades. In contrast, the AlphaGo Zero program recently achieved superhuman performance in the game of Go, by tabula rasa reinforcement learning from games of self-play.

In this paper, we generalise this approach into a single AlphaZero algorithm that can achieve, tabula rasa, superhuman performance in many challenging domains. Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess) as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case.

The phrase 'tabula rasa' can be understood as 'blank slate'. In Tabula rasa, Wikipedia says,

Tabula rasa refers to the epistemological idea that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception.

In other words, starting with only the rules of chess, AlphaZero progressed in a few hours of computational time to a level where it 'convincingly defeated a world-champion program'. For chess, its opponent was '2016 TCEC world-champion program Stockfish' (TCEC season 9). In the season 10 semifinal, Stockfish finished a half point behind the two eventual finalists. Informed observers consider the three engines to be of approximately equal strength, comfortably ahead of the competition. The DeepMind paper continued,

We evaluated the fully trained instances of AlphaZero against Stockfish, Elmo and the previous version of AlphaGo Zero (trained for 3 days) in chess, shogi and Go respectively, playing 100 game matches at tournament time controls of one minute per move. AlphaZero and the previous AlphaGo Zero used a single machine with 4 TPUs. Stockfish and Elmo played at their strongest skill level using 64 threads and a hash size of 1GB. AlphaZero convincingly defeated all opponents, losing zero games to Stockfish and eight games to Elmo (see Supplementary Material for several example games), as well as defeating the previous version of AlphaGo Zero.

We can quibble about whether the AlphaZero - Stockfish match was indeed a fair fight -- 1 GB hash size is a severe restriction -- but the final score of +28-0=72 for AlphaZero was more than convincing to all but the most vehement skeptics. The new TCEC champion expressed his thoughts just after the TCEC finished; Interview with Robert Houdart, author of the champion engine Houdini (chessdom.com):-

Q: AlphaZero just defeated last year’s champion Stockfish 8. Your opinion on the paper published and the match that took place?

A: It’s fascinating and amazing, and at the same time very much expected! We even discussed this during the interview with Nelson and the Komodo authors. It opens entirely new, astonishing possibilities for chess engines! I do hope Google will publish more details about their approach, so that the chess world in general and the computer chess world in particular can benefit from their achievement.

Q: Now that Houdini is the reigning champion, would you issue a challenge for AlphaZero? Under what conditions?

A: It’s normally up to the challenger to issue a challenge, not the reigning champion :) A big discussion point about a possible match between a "normal" engine and AlphaZero would be the hardware to use -- how can you make sure that hardware is comparable? If I can run Houdini on 2000 cores it will be a lot stronger than when running on 64 cores. That said, I’m not sure how Google is viewing their project -- is it a research/marketing project (like Deep Blue was for IBM), or do they intend to use AlphaZero competitively or as an analysis engine available to the general public?

The 'interview with Nelson [Hernandez] and the Komodo authors', which appeared two weeks before the end of season 10 was Interview with Robert Houdart, Mark Lefler and GM Larry Kaufman (chessdom.com). Now that the TCEC event has finished, I would like to look a little more at the technology behind AlphaZero. I started with yesterday's post Giraffe and AlphaZero, which included a link to the DeepMind paper, and will spend the next few Mondays following up.

10 December 2017

Giraffe and AlphaZero

Start with the sociology of chess, last seen two weeks ago in FIDE's Social Commissions 2017, and add artificial intelligence, as in the previous post, A New Style of Chess, about Google/DeepMind’s AlphaZero. What have you got? I didn't know, so I asked Google.

The first answer it gave me (in fact, the first three answers) was a paper by Nathan Ensmenger: Is chess the drosophila of artificial intelligence? A social history of an algorithm. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed; February 2012):-

Abstract: Since the mid 1960s, researchers in computer science have famously referred to chess as the 'drosophila' of artificial intelligence (AI). What they seem to mean by this is that chess, like the common fruit fly, is an accessible, familiar, and relatively simple experimental technology that nonetheless can be used productively to produce valid knowledge about other, more complex systems. But for historians of science and technology, the analogy between chess and drosophila assumes a larger significance.

As Robert Kohler has ably described, the decision to adopt drosophila as the organism of choice for genetics research had far-reaching implications for the development of 20th century biology. In a similar manner, the decision to focus on chess as the measure of both human and computer intelligence had important and unintended consequences for AI research.

This paper explores the emergence of chess as an experimental technology, its significance in the developing research practices of the AI community, and the unique ways in which the decision to focus on chess shaped the program of AI research in the decade of the 1970s. More broadly, it attempts to open up the virtual black box of computer software -- and of computer games in particular -- to the scrutiny of historical and sociological analysis.

A little further down the list of Google's results was An AI computer learned how to beat almost anyone at chess in 72 hours (qz.com; September 2015):-

Matthew Lai, a computer scientist at University College London, recently published his master’s thesis, which demonstrated a machine learning system -- called Giraffe, after this cartoon about evolution -- that can learn to play at the International Master level of chess in just 72 hours. According to MIT Technology Review, Lai’s machine is a deep neural network -- a computer system that’s inspired by the structure of the brain and attempts to learn and make decisions in a similar way. According to Lai’s paper, Giraffe performs "moderately better" than contemporary computer programs that analyze every possible move at once, as opposed to the few that might actually lead to success.

Matthew Lai and Giraffe. Where have we seen those names recently? They were in the paper that announced AlphaZero to the world: Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm (PDF). Matthew Lai was listed as one of the 13 authors of the paper and received a mention in the references:-

Matthew Lai. Giraffe: Using deep reinforcement learning to play chess. Master’s thesis, Imperial College London, 2015.

Giraffe was mentioned again in the section titled 'PriorWork on Computer Chess and Shogi':-

Giraffe evaluated positions by a neural network that included mobility maps and attack and defend maps describing the lowest valued attacker and defender of each square. It was trained by self-play using TD(leaf), also reaching a standard of play comparable to international masters.

Looks like we're on the right track:-

Chess + Sociology + AI => Matthew Lai + Giraffe => AlphaZero

Where to take the subject from here? That will have to wait for another post.

08 December 2017

A New Style of Chess

Historical moments in chess are few and far between. Here are a half dozen events from the past 50 years that made a big impression on me. Almost all were World Championship matches.

Add to these significant career events in the lives of the greatest players.

  • 2005 Kasparov retires
  • 2008 Fischer dies

Twenty years ago, chess engines started to take over as the best players.

This week we learned of another historical event.

  • 2017 Google's AlphaZero - Stockfish

One of the best known chess channels on Youtube is Agadmator's. Of the five games he analyzed from the match, here's his first.

Google Deep Mind AI Alpha Zero Devours Stockfish (13:22) • 'Published on Dec 6, 2017'

Although it's still too early to measure the impact of AlphaZero's accomplishment on the future of chess, it will be profound. Earlier this year, in another episode of Video Friday, we saw Kasparov with DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis: Kasparov Talks at Google (June 2017). There will certainly be more discussions to come.