Mikhail Tal (November 9, 1936 – June 28, 1992) is often regarded as the most fearless chess player of all time. He rarely adhered to conventional chess theory, opting instead for flourishing attacks and wild sacrifices based almost entirely on intuition. Among elite chess players, his tactics were viewed as unsound – even reckless. Be that as it may, Tal’s boldness was enough to earn him the title of World Champion in 1960 – 1961.
In the last thirty years, computer software has emerged as a vital element in chess instruction. Powerful algorithms have given us a deeper understanding of the game. As a result, modern chess has evolved into a contest of surgical precision, and it seems like the bold tactics of Tal have no place among elite players anymore.
But recently, something interesting has happened in the world of chess – something that might resurrect the spirit of Mikhail Tal. Google’s self-learning AI program named, Alpha Zero, taught itself how to play chess in about four hours. Alpha Zero was then pitted against what was considered to be the most powerful chess engine on the planet – a program known as Stockfish.
Not only did Alpha Zero crush Stockfish, it did so with such brazen tactics that people in the chess community couldn’t help but liken its play to the late Grandmaster, Mikhail Tal. The rise of Alpha Zero marks a sea change, not just in chess, but the world in general.
Some people are a bit rattled by the implications of such a powerful, self-learning program. This kind of technology could be applied to any number things outside of chess. What if the CIA got a hold of it and tweaked the parameters for military purposes? What if doctors could use it to pioneer a cure for cancer? Certainly, there’s a lot to think about as computers continue to take more prominent roles in our everyday lives.
I wonder what Tal would have to say about this new kind of program if he was around today. I like to think it would make him happy to see such a beautiful synthesis of gallantry and astronomical number crunching power. At any rate, here’s a haiku written in honor of Mikhail Tal, my favorite chess player of all time.
a queen sacrifice –
the pieces had some chutzpah
when Tal played the game