Our April Fool pranks are a tradition that has been carrying on for well over
a decade. We have always attempted to make them do what they are supposed to
do: fool as many people as possible and be entertaining. Of
course it is trivially easy to fulfil the first criterion: "ChessBase to
manufacture bottled drinks" is something nobody can easily check. But
it is not funny.
We believe we have succeeded in the second criterion fairly well in the past:
we produced a gaudy,
blinking news page (for a full day) last year, or told of the discovery
that Matt Damon was the second cousin of Magnus Carlsen the
year before. However, the task of actually fooling people has become progressively
more difficult. Armed insurgents, equipped with advanced Google searches and
massive forum discussions, attack our news page every April 1st and then send
letters or post forum messages telling everybody what the April joke was and
how easily they had recognised it.
So we started hiding the prank behind fake jokes, i.e. publishing reports that
sounded fairly outrageous but were perfectly true. Take for instance April 1st
2010: we started with an
article telling about how grandmasters were worried about the Large Hadron
Collider at CERN in Switzerland/France. Later in the day we reported that authorities
in Reykjavik had decided to exhume
Fischer body to extract DNA in a paternity suit. Both reports were true.
Then finally the Carlsen-Damon report. It was interesting for us to see the
of letters strike our mail box after each report appeared on the news page.
But things are getting more difficult, as the insurgents arm themselves with
ever more powerful tools. This year, when we published our first fake April
Fool report, virtually everyone had googled Capablanca and billiard to find
the story was a hoax – but one not perpetrated, just reported by us.
The yarn was invented in 1950, and the game which was supposedly won by Capablanca
was played by Hoffer in 1880. Everyone found that out from this
detailed account, published on Edward Winter's Chess
The second report
on April 1st was about how you can use Fritz
13 and Let's Check to monitor what the international chess community was
cooking up, and where you could expect your opponents to come up with stunning
novelties. Perfectly true – everything the article said had its basis
And then we published the
press release of the Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen, which will be
selling the historical 1972 Fischer-Spassky chess table 1972 for over 300,000
dollars. As luck would have it the auctioneers had not yet set up a
separate page for this item – or it was too difficult to find. So
many readers fell for that, believing the story was a fake. Not so.
April 1st in Pago Pago
So what did we do this year to throw the predators off our tracks? Well, publish
the real joke
on April 1st at 23:55h, i.e. five minutes before midnight – in Pago
Pago. On the one hand we have lots of friends and fans in the capital
of American Samoa, and on the other we have always felt sorry for the inhabitants
of this Pacific island, which is always the very last place on earth to celebrate
the New Year – or in 2000 to enter the new millennium.
Publishing the article when it was 23:55h in Pago Pago, however, did not override
out content management system's fixation on European Daylight Saving time, to
which it currently adheres. For it we had published the report on April second,
and shucks to the Pago Pagoians and everyone else. Note that our previous stories,
to which it attached the April 1st publication date, appeared when it was already
April 2nd in New Zealand or Petropavlovsk (lots of friends and fans there as
In order to compensate for this slightly devious trick we did put in some glaring
pointers: that our interview with Vas Rajlich, in which he claimed to have busted
the King's Gambit, was conducted one day after his move to Budapest on March
31st (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and the PGN of his analysis was also set to
that date. Many readers picked up on that. In addition, after consulting computer
expert friends, we "preposterised" the original interview, claiming
that IBM had provided their Watson super cluster to Rajlich for over four months
to calculate the King's Gambit. "But that gives it away immediately,"
said Vas Rajlich, who had helped us to craft the prank.
Apparently not, or not at once. We realised this when international journals
and TV stations started contacting us for statements and interviews. One New
York reporter from a prestigious scientific publication was definitely annoyed:
"This interview is over," he said, when we broke into his first question
("Tell me about the history of the King's Gambit"). "Congratulations,
you fooled me completely. And I got up at 04:30 a.m. to do the interview."
We still feel bad about that. The BBC reporter, on the other hand, laughed heartily
over the explanation.
Finally we started to get emails and Skype messages from very strong players
with messages like: "Fred, I know you've probably been asked this quite
a bit recently – but the Be2 not Nf3 stuff is April's Fool's joke, right?
No-one is insane enough to actually do that, I assume (and hope)." Another
very strong young GM wrote: "Hi Frederic, I always appreciate the ChessBase
April Fool's reports. I'm eager to test out 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Be2! equalizer"
(plus smileys). How had he known?
Note: The chess historian Edward Winter has provided (factual)
reading on the opening 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Be2 and its origins here.
The truth – if you can handle it
As the reactions started to pour in we started to panic: how could we explain
the real reason why the Rajlich interview had to be fake? We asked our computer
chess friends to help and got a couple of good pointers. Ken Thompson, one of
the pioneers of these kinds of searches and database calculations, told us that
the task was "too big by huge magnitudes. Especially the draw discussions
(Be2), where all moves for both sides have to be expanded." Vas Rajlich,
sitting in a "funky Internet café in Budapest", explained in greater
It's reasonable to construct a search tree of around 10^18 positions using
modern technology. The chess alpha-beta tree is thought to have at least 10^45
positions. The alpha-beta tree for the King's Gambit will be at most 10x to
100x smaller than that. So, we're still probably a good 25 or so orders of
magnitude away from being able to solve something like the King's Gambit.
If processing power doubles every 18 months for the next century, we'll have
the resources to do this around the year 2120, plus or minus a few decades.
Actually Vas is being overly optimistic, and we are probably overly pessimistic
when we say: it will not be possible in the course of this universe. The Rybka
author added the following caveat:
You must remember that the tree for any specific 32-man position can be much
smaller than we expect – if one side is immediately lost or if there
is an immediate forced draw. Could the King's Gambit have a massively reduced
tree? If the King's Gambit is winning for black, then this is theoretically
possible. It is possible that after 2.f4 White is simply crushed instantly,
no matter what he does. I very much doubt that this is the case. Everything
in my chess experience tells me that any Black win would be long and tortuous.
If the King's Gambit is a draw, though, then there are really no prospects
for a massively reduced tree. In other words, it is (slightly) more preposterous
to claim that 3.Be2 has been worked out to a draw than to claim that 3.Nf3
has been worked out to a loss.
There you have it – Peter Svidler and the other Super-GMs can sleep peacefully,
knowing that something like this "solving chess" thing is not going
to happen – at least not until next April.
Feedback from our readers
In the following we give just a small sample of the letters we have received,
chronologically, with the potentially embarrassing ones anonymized. The chess
forums were full of wild and hostile postings, which you can read if you are
brave. And just google "rajlich bust kings gambit" (without the quotes
of course) and see where this story has been to around the world. Even Wikipedia
has added a paragraph to its King's
Gambit article: "In April 2012, IM Vasik Rajlich, a chess programmer
who created Rybka, claimed to have proven to a 99.99999999% confidence level
that Fischer's article was nearly but not entirely correct. Rajlich's program
utilized IBM hardware similar to its Jeopardy winning Watson system and encompassed
around 3000 cores. The search concluded that after accepting the gambit, black
has a forced win against all white responses except the unusual 3. Be2, which
allows white to hold on for a draw." What have we done, we ask ourselves.
And why do we do it?
Douglas Wiggins, Boston,MA
You have no article for April Fool's day! That's usually a tradition for ChessBase!
N.G., Sussex, England
Jakovenko European champion? Nice April Fool's joke!
Anonymouss, Boston, MA, USA
Was fooled the past two years but was watching for it this time! Once again,
I wonder if you guys will ever run out of ideas for April Fool. Chess + Snooker
was very nice.
E.B., San Pedro, Laguna, Philippines
Clearly a fabricated news on Capa's billiards. This was the first time I heard
of the chess-billiards match, though I read somewhere that Capablanca was a
strong billiards player that if he had devoted more time to the game then he
would have been a world champion. Chessbase rocks!
Dennis Cesar Caluban, Kuwait
Capablanca's Chess plus Billiards match is the April Fool's Day joke, as mentioned
by the great chess historian Edward Winter's article "A Chess-Billiards
Concoction". To be honest, I was fooled into 'watching' Topalov-Kramnik
Friendship Match on Playchess Important Broadcast.
Richard Rose, Fairhaven, MA, USA
Nice try. The Capablanca/billiards story is a fabrication April fools. I would
suggest you check out Edward Winter's Chess Notes site for all of the facts.
N.S., Swansea, UK
You got me thinking this time. Crystal ball Vs Chess & Billiards! I vote
for Crystal ball as there is no way it can be true.
T.T.K., San Diego, California, USA
I suppose you have published an article about the supposed chess-and-billiards
match between Capablanca and Hagenlocher only because it's April 1st. As is
now well known, this story was a hoax, as for example can be read here: http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/chessbilliards.html
Richard Reich, Fitchburg, WI, USA
The articles give it some verisimilitude, but this game has been known to be
a hoax for a long time. Edward Winter wrote a nice expose, but of course you
knew that. But still, it it more credible than the campaign promises of candidates
for the US presidency!
K.N., Suva, Fiji
News Chess Match of the Century table up for sale? I reckon this is an April
Fools Hoax. But nice try. Well done CB.
Mats Winther, Johanneshov
Concerning the solution of the King's gambit. Maybe it is time to make amendments
to the chess rules. "Chess with extended castle" would make the King's
gambit playable again:
Alessandro Mossa, Firenze, Italy
Eh, eh, eh, very clever: three red herrings on April 1st, and one big fat April's
Fool on April 2nd. The technical gibberish is interesting, and portions of it
even make sense, but, seriously, SOLVING the King's Gambit? Not in this world...
I especially appreciate the humour of selecting 3.Be2 as the only forced draw.
On the English
Chess Forum a member reached the following interesting conclusion:
The first paragraph: "Fifty years ago Bobby Fischer published a famous
article, "A Bust to the King's Gambit", in which he claimed to have
refuted this formerly popular opening." Look for what stands out,
people: the gag is in "popular opening", which is a perfect anagram
of "April One Popgun". A popgun is a toy gun, a joke gun. A joke.
It's an April First Joke!
This is fascinating stuff. I myself spent many hours thinking if chess could
be solved. I am of the opinion that chess can be solved. Tablebases are the
clear example that it is possible to solve chess. We have tablebases for 6 pieces.
Guess what, in 2015 more or less will be the 7 pieces tablebases coming out.
If we can improve from 6 to 7, why not in the near future evolve to 8, 9, 10
to 32 pieces tablebases?! It took us 16 years to solve checkers. The outcome
was a draw. Chess will be the same, it will be solved, but it might take decades
or even centuries.
What Rajlich has done is to use a confidence interval in which he can be "almost"
sure that certain variation wins or loses. Thus, it is reducing the amount of
work to be done dramatically. It is theoretically possible that there are some
flaws, but I don't think so. This is fantastic because he is creating "tablebases"
for certain openings, without having to use brute-force method to check every
This means that we will be seeing tablebases for many opening lines in the
coming years. I can wait to see the results. This is absolutely fantastic. I
think this is just a few small steps towards "solving chess". For
people who fear this ever happening, don't worry we won't be alive till then.
Even when it gets solved, people will still play it. Can you memorize a couple
millions of lines? Nah-ah, so our great^10 grandchild will still enjoy chess
just like us!
People like this who can't play but choose to kill the game are sickos! This
is all very disturbing. How can he be smiling? I spit at the photo. This an
evil beast. This is terrible.
Ed Gaillard, New York, NY
I don't know about other countries, but the USA has various holidays that are
observed on the following Monday when they fall on a weekend. However, April
Fool's Day is NOT one of them. Just thought you might want to know.
Francesco Tosi, Latina, Italy
Nice try, it almost got me, but there is a dead giveaway. "The next
day, in spite of the bustle of moving boxes and setting up phone and Internet
connections Vas, kindly agreed to the following interview, which had been planned
some months ago... A nearly successful try, indeed.
E.W., Princeton NJ
Concerning your article on the "bust'' of the King's Gambit, your interviewer
did not explore what may be the most surprising claim here. It is not surprising
that a computer could determine the outcome of the very sharp lines that can
follow from the King's Gambit in which one player has a forced win. What is
surprising – enough so that I am a bit skeptical – is the claim
that the computer has demonstrated that the line with 3. Be2 is a draw. Unless
there is a demonstrably forced draw – one side has to force perpetual
check, or something, but this was not claimed in the article – the best
the computer analysis is likely to have been able to show is that the play after
3. Be2 is close enough that it was not possible to determine for sure the outcome
with best play. Still, it is fascinating that the main line 3. Nf3 has been
shown to be a loss for White (I find this highly believable) and that Bobby
Fischer had the main points right.
Stanislav Tsukrov, Germany
The King's Gambit story is an April Fool's joke, right? Please tell me it is!
Okan Isbilir, Istanbul, Turkey
Is your article about the King's Gambit a post-April Fool's day joke? if so,
congragulations! it is so amazing and believable!!
Omer Tunali, Ankara Turkey
But even with the evaluation function > 5.21 is decisive assumption it is
impossible to prune the tree in such an early stage, using current technology.
Perhaps Rajlich learned how to program quantum computers?!
Does it mean that the King's Gambit will be forrbiden in tournaments, to avoid
Evan Katz, Manhattan, New York (Former Contributing Editor
of Chess Life Magazine)
As always, a hearty congratulations and thank you to everyone at ChessBase –
and this year also to Vas Rajlich as well – for a very funny, highly amusing,
and quite original April Fool's article regarding the alleged "solving"
of the King's Gambit! The April Fool's article was extremely clever and greatly
appreciated, even if it actually did come out on April 2, one day after April
Fool's Day! Thanks again.
Yibing Fan, Toronto, Canada
Very good writing! At beginning I 99.9999999% believed it. And then those slight
chance made me think: if the King's Gambit is solved, then there are only limited
openings, and then after all chess is solvable, isn't it? Then I realized it's
April 1st. Ha ha, very nice try! Anyway, this is best April 1st article. I am
99.9999999% sure many people will be fooled.
Martin Bennedik, Germany
Congratulations on being Slashdotted.
However I am calling this your April Fools. I think it is possible to prove
a win in some positions, but you also claim that a draw was proven. However,
there should be too many positions in the drawing lines to prove a draw. In
checkers this is different, as you can peek from the opening right into the
endgame database – because every move brings you one step closer to the
endgame. Not so in chess. You can make too many moves forth and back while still
being in the drawing zone. There would be too many drawn positions even for
the Watson Jeopardy cluster.
Frank Pi, Vienna, Austria
No! please!!, don't say this Rybka-King's Gambit story is a tardy April 1st
joke. It has the date 02.04, but the game inside has 01.04!!?! don't let me
H. Steinenacher, Karl-Marx-Stadt, GDR
Surely you jest! To go from computers just having solved six piece endings to
having them solve the entire King's Gambit! I believe this to be yet another
clever hoax, though much more plausible than your first two. What other "fools"
will you think up next, dear Chessbase??
Randy Hoch, Spring, TX USA
I must admit I'm stumped this year. You have three stories which could equally
pass for authentic or a prank! Although the auction of the Fischer-Spassky chess
table is corroborated on other sites, I have a difficult time believing historical
items like this would be auctioned off. Of the two stories left, I give greater
credence to the Capablanca chess/billiards face-off. So the April Fool's article
is probably the Bust to the King's Gambit!
Mathieu Buard, St Etienne, France
Aren't you late for this year's April Fool? published 02.04.2012, but I can't
belieave it's true while yesterday news are very credible... But still lot of
fun to read! Keep on the good work.
Vincent Gagliano, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA
This has to be the annual April Fool's day story. First, forget the King's Gambit.
Imagine the upheaval in the chess world if Rajlich solved the Ruy Lopez (as
in, beginning after Bb5) or the Open Sicilian, which are both the same number
of moves in. It would make revolutions by Steinitz, Nimzovitch et al. look tame.
Second, the square root of 10^100 (10^50) is a pretty big number in its own
right, but even with 10,750,000 hours of single core time, 10^20 positions would
be a reach, which is a tiny, tiny fraction of all possible positions.
Sam Trenholme, Puebla, Mexico
You really need to restrict posting of April Fools jokes to April 1; it's unethical
and shoddy journalism to post an April Fools joke with a posting date of April
Jimmy Liew, Puchong, Malaysia
Every ChessBase reader in the world was searching for the traditional April
Fool article on April 1st. But ChessBase was sneaky this year and publish it
on April 2nd! I declare "Busting the King's Gambit" the April Fool
article for 2012!
Michael Viking, Portland, USA
The article is posted on 02.04.2012. I understand the premise, but people understand
time. If it was posted on 2.4.12, it's posted on April 2nd and is therefore
no an April Fools joke. Not sure about Germany, but in America, doing an April
fools joke on April 2nd is a big faux pas...Great concept...too bad it came
out the 2nd.
Pablo Pena, Irvine, CA
I find the accuracy of this article very suspect. Perhaps it's an April fool's
joke! The alpha-beta model of pruning variations is hardly 100%. As I understand
it, the only reason he gave an accuracy of less than 100 was because the cut-off
of evaluations is around 5 and it's rare that the weaker side can draw such
a position. However the computer is pruning by "best" moves until
it reaches 5.16 (or thereabouts) but it's "best" moves can often be
fallacious due to the "horizon effect" (which if it tried to remedy
would result in the analysis of 10^100 moves). I can't tell you how many times
I put in a position in Rybka that showed a 2.5 + for white only to have the
computer play itself and completely flip-flip after say 10 or 15 moves (this
is particularly true of dicey tactical positions as in the Dragon or Botvinnik
Samuel Siltanen, Espoo, Finland
Thanks for the article "Rajlich: Busting the King's Gambit, this time for
sure". It was a great April Fools' joke. As a computer programmer and chess
enthusiast I know that chess could be solved in theory if we had enough computing
power. However, it is not possible with the current hardware even with the obscure
optimizations suggested by Rajlich in the interview. Also, if one can solve
the King's Gambit, why could not one solve Najdorf as well or the initial position?
This logical contradiction, in addition to the date of the interview, was what
revealed that this was the April Fools' hoax in 2012.
Leonard, Blackburn, Champaign, United States (Associate Professor of
In your article "Rajlich: Busting the King's Gambit, this time
for sure" Ralich states that "if Rybka is displaying +5.12 or more
the outcome is 99.99999999% secure" (which is probably a guess, but I won't
argue it). Then from this Rajlich erroneously concludes that "That is approximately
the confidence number we give to our King's Gambit results: 99.99999999%."
If their engine reaches +5.12 n times, then the probability that it is correctly
concluding a forced win all n times would only be (0.9999999999)^n. So, the
more times it is reaching a +5.12 position, the lower the probability gets that
it didn't make a wrong conclusion somewhere. It would only take about 6.9 billion
times of reaching +5.12 and ending the analysis before the probability sinks
below 50% that it didn't make a mistake somewhere. Otherwise I enjoyed the article
(and your website in general) immensely.
Ed Zator, Toronto, Canada
You suckered me again!
– Probably more to come –