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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Anyone For Checkers...

Sort of a side topic today...

Pat Ballew recently ran an interesting entry on Marion Tinsley over at his "This Day In Math" postings... well, interesting to me because I'd not given much thought to the complexities/strategies in the game of "checkers" -- such discussions being more commonplace in relation to chess. But it turns out that even in checkers some players are vastly superior to others, and Tinsley seems to rank as the best of all time! (losing only 7 games in a 45-year career!; he retired from championship play in 1991). He was an intense student of the game, and perhaps not entirely surprisingly, had a PhD. in math focusing on combinatorial analysis.

Reminiscent of IBM's famous chess-playing "Deep Blue" computer, there was similarly an expert checkers computer, named "Chinook" (which accounted for 2 of Tinsley's 7 lifetime losses). Interestingly, both computers were developed over a similar span of time, though Chinook (developed by Canadians) was successful at defeating a human champion sooner than Deep Blue accomplished the feat in chess.
Eventually those who programmed Chinook were able to prove they had "solved" the game of checkers (and its "500 billion billion checkers positions"), meaning their Chinook algorithm could be played to a draw, but could not be defeated.
You can actually compete against Chinook on the Web here:

Pat's piece was part of this post:

...or you can read about Tinsley at Wikipedia:

or from this profile:

...or finally, his NY Times obituary:

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