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The ChessBase April Fools revisited

4/10/2012 – Our report on the busting of the King's Gambit was well received. Normally we get between a few dozen 50 Facebook "likes", but this one recorded almost two thousand. And Alexa listed us as one of the top 10,000 web sites in the world for the first time since the London Chess Classic last December. Today we bring you more feedback from our readers, as a humorous interlude.
 

The ChessBase April Fools revisited

First of all an additional word of explanation regarding the impossibility of "solving" the King's Gambit as described in our April Fool's hoax. Some readers were not so convinced that the method was impossible. Why couldn't the pruning of the tree, using Rybka set with a plausible evaluation window, produce a result with the awesome hardware mentioned in the article.

Well, that may be true for certain openings. Let us assume there was one that started 1.f3 e5 2.Kf2 Nc6 3.Kg3 (probably not invented by Steinitz). Then is might be reasonable to expect Rybka to come up with an irrefutable black win, using the method we described. But only if the opening actually loses by force, and if there is a reasonably short win. Once you have the possibility of a drawn outcome, or claim that you have found a forced drawing move, the numbers involved become galactic – many, many orders of magnitude bigger than anything we can envision.

So the joke was fairly obvious to an expert. Vas Rajlich had, as mentiond before, helped us craft it (after considering our proposal carefully, for many nano-seconds). He was afraid it was too obvious and considered changing the outcome to make it more plausible. But we knew: even with the draw line we would be fooling some of the people some of the time.

Another item to mention: we have learnt that in some of the computer chess forums there are members who want to initiate legal proceedings against us for false and misleading advertising. Seriously. You have to be really negatively obsessed with ChessBase and Vas Rajlich to go that far. Just imagine what these guys would have been like in mediaeval times, when spells actually worked, and there were inquisitions. Of course their musings remind us of our report from 2006 ChessBase: no more April Fool's jokes, which said:

"In the past years our web site has published a series of elaborate April Fool's stories. Not this year, and not any more. An international watchdog group which calls itself League for Truth and Veracity, is threatening news services as well as private pranksters all over the world with lawsuits for publishing false information. This unfortunate activity spells the end of an old tradition."

The LT&V group, we reported, was sending out cease-and-desist letters to private individuals who engaged in the practice by post, email or in some cases even verbally. The cease-and-desist letters require the recipient to remit a legal fee of $35.50 for clerical expenses incurred by LT&V. If any jokes were perpetrated they had to be accompanied by the following disclaimer:

We warn you that the above story (letter, message) may contain false or spurious information, fabricated under the pagan tradition of the "April Fool's" joke. It must not be taken seriously. We apologise for any inconvenience this story (letter, message) may cause to the reader.

Naturally this was an April Fools joke. Actually a meta-prank.

Other April jokes

We saw the item below in the April issue of the Britisch magazine CHESS, but did not think anything of it at the time (knowing Kirsan's almost obsessive desire to visit hot spots and try to solve international crises).

However, we later learnt that this was an April Fools prank, perpetrated by the editor of the magazine, whose skills in Photoshop have improved markedly. We also learnt that he pulled it because the publisher was wont to leave the entire pranking thing to the ChessBase news site.

April 1st at Google

The prime pranksters on April 1st are Google, who have raised the entire tradition to a fine art. This year, again, they produced multiple reports duping the public. One of our favourites was the self-driving NASCAR project, which came with fully convincing footage of Google founder Sergey Brin climbing into a racer and doing the "look-ma-no-hands" routine in the computerised car. Other Google pranks were Gmail Tap, which circumvents the problem of the tiny keyboards on smartphones with a two-key morse code input; and the 8-bit version of Google Maps, which was actually implemented on the site on April 1st (as was the low-res Flickr viewing mode). Not to forget the Google Fibre Bar, or Internet-free Youtube DVDs, possibly the funniest of the lot (you get all of Youtube delivered to your home on DVDs by 175 special trucks, with a new truckload added to it each week).

Interestingly Google did a fake April Fools report, using a technique pioneered by us: they published a very implausible report that was perfectly true. In an impressive video they introduced us to "Project Glass", a story picked up by many major newspapers – and decried as an April Fools prank by others. It was of course perfectly true, and people will actually be wearing these devices, probably in 2013. We cannot resist pointing you to a hilarious parody of the Google Glass project produced by a Microfrutstrated user. Watch the Google video first, then the parody, for a first-class humour interlude.

Finally, if you cannot get enough of these imaginative pranks look at the top nominations of Geeko here, or simply google "april fool 2012". Happy hunting.


More feedback from our readers

Earl Levin, New Zealand
I can only say I have a very short reply to the article on the King's Gambit being busted (again) by IM Vasik Rajlich and that would be: Really??

Jean Efpraxiadis, Montreal
A 99.99999999% chance that a position scored 5.12 is a win is not nearly enough when the "solution" depends on trillions of such leaf-node evaluations. Many of them are bound not to be wins despite the +5.12 score.

Bolduc Steve, Shawinigan, Canada
What a nice try. For a second I thought it made sense...

Kenneth Callitri, Reston VA
I do enjoy being duped by you folks every year. This one was well disguised. Although Be2 seemed far fetched, I must say Vasik Rajlich's rationale for it was so simple that it was clever! You can see Nigel playing 2.f4 and then saying, "Omg, what have I done against Kramnik now. Oh well just push the bishop to e2 and admit your mistake, you nit!"

Michael Bacon, USA
Why do you persist in these ridiculous false stories on or near the first day of April? Chessbase is, the other 364 days of the year, a serious and creditable website. When you publish these farcical stories you only serve to denigrate ChessBase; ALL of ChessBase, meaning any and everyone involved with it. Precursors of April Fools' Day include the Medieval Feast of Fools. You are the snickering little boys, proud of themselves for no reason at all. It is fools like you who continue to perpetuate this juvenile behavior. In lieu of patting each other on the back and telling each other "Good job!" You should be ashamed. Think about what you are doing and the reason behind it, just like a chess move, and grow up and show some maturity. Never, ever, publish a story you know to be false again.

Kenneth Regan, Amherst (Buffalo), NY USA
You had me for three minutes – here is an e-mail at 3:21 p.m. April 2 to Richard Lipton quoting one I sent three minutes earlier titled "Fascinating scary chess analysis":

The King's Gambit has been exhaustively analyzed using Rybka---whose creator claims that after 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4, 3. Be2 is the only move that draws for White. (1. P-K4 P-K4 2. P-KB4 PxP 3. B-K2 (!))
---Ken

It is also possible that Frederic Friedel is a day late with the traditional ChessBase April Fool's item. OK, Pago-Pago makes you not "late". Dick and I did our own April Fool's item under our joint moniker "Pip". Note also that our blog's prior item reports a technical advance which all the publicity (for which I thank you as well).

Dan McCandless, Redondo Beach, California
We should name 3.Be2! the Rajlich Variation? Or perhaps the Friedel Attack?

R.A., Berlin, Germany
Actually, that 3.Be2 is the only move in the King's Gambit isn't so surprising to me. While preparing for a game against Klaus Bolding two years ago I found out that he often played this opening, and always with 3.Be2, with very good results. Of course I could not refute it (now I know why!), but it's not even easy to find a way to equality for Black. To answer V. Rajlich's question: Be2 is just a good developing move and white will simply play for a strong center, not an immediate attack.

Battista Gardoncini, Turn Italy
Well thought out, indeed.

Daniel Abdi, Miami
I am not sure if I agree with the explanation that the search tree is too big for current hardware. It was implied in the original post that Rybka (as it is) is used, not a dumbed down version which only do alpha-beta. Alpha-beta is required for a proof but not for a probablisitic proof as you claimed to have been done to 99.999999% accuracy. Rybka ofcourse does far more prunings that could bring down the complexity of checkers down to the level of checkers for example. In fact with a Rybka BF of 1.7 (which is a reasonable assumption) and a game lenght of 80 half moves (40 full moves) the number of positions is 1.7^80 = 10^18. So 10^18 is possible with current hardware as Vas indicated. Other than that I liked the story very much. Well played, ChessBase.

Michael White, London
Great article on the KG and had me thinking, once again, about the power of computers in chess. ChessBase should know, though, that in countries such as America (and therefore, by territory, American Samoa), it is considered a faux pas to create an April fool after noon, and that anybody who does this is an April fool themselves!!

Mike Fellman
I am not so sure that this joke is not really asking for it in the future. It was very, very creative to post the billiards thing on April 1, which took everyone off the trail. However, I fear that actually projects like the fictitious one in the joke are really on the horizon....

F.D., Los Angeles, USA
I believed every word of the article. Then again I fell for the famous Sports Illustrated article years ago about the baseball pitcher who could throw a ball 168 miles per hour. Apparently it doesn't take much to fool me.

Ronald Fucs, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Gentlemen, in New York 1924, Tartakower played more than once the move 3. Be2 in the King's Gambit. Alekhine didn't like it. I love your site, by the way. Nothing compares to it. Congratulations.

Manuel López, México city
I read the King's gambit article and I was suspicious, but it looked to me so serious. Anyway, I was fooled, I have to admit.

B.M., Mexico City, Mexico
I was excited when I read the article and thinking about the consequences of that advance for almost two days! I discussed it with my girlfriend, and now I will look like a [expletive deleted] idiot, just because I was not paranoicly trying to find which article was a joke. I have always enjoyed ChessBase articles, but never liked the April's Fools jokes. I do not like to wase my time with some stupid article. However, I never found them really that insulting until this time, when it was absolutely overinsulting!! I really demand an apology and hopt to get an official email from ChessBase with this apology. It is one thing is to use "trivial" topics for the April's joke, such as Carlsen being related to Matt Damon, and entirely another to use a main topic such as openings theory on such a supposedly serious news page. If you need further proof that you went too far this time, then note that Wikipedia added a paragraph! I am waiting for my apology.

We apologise. Half-heartedly – ed.

Alex Jablanczy, Sault Ste Marie
I was waiting for chessbase April fools joke when the CBC had an item on spider goats in Montreal zoo which produce milk spun into spider web. Now that had to be it right? Wrong. Apparently it was no Michurin or Lysenko story but real Wisconsin goats into which transgenic spider genes were introduced two or three years ago. The lunacy of that GM experiment left me catatonic. Morbid demented reality stumps the craziest fantasy. No ChessBase hoax can stump that one. [Check it out here]

Viktor Lulea, Sweden
Ok, on 1st of April one was looking around. I recognized Capa but didn't check it because it wasn't so funny after all. Why couldnt Capa play billiards?! An 1 April joke? Maybe, but who cares? Second come Let´s check. No problem. No joke. And last, I thought, came the Spassky-Fischer table, and I know about this too after reading about it in your reports on Reykjavik open. No joke. At this time I was thinking "Lame, ChessBase joke, something about Capa playing billiards. Not even funny". I checked if it was something more on April 2nd 00.05, but nothing and I went to bed. Next day when I was going up early I as usally logged in, living in Sweden (same time zone as Germany) it pops up: "Rajlich: Busting the King's Gambit" and I was thinking "Why do they post reports late at night? They aren't working at night! I have never seen they do this." But I was fooled anyway... I was even talking to my friends about this "Bust" and they had also looked and we talked about it as if it was real. This was dry humor/joke, subtile pushing the joke further and further. Bravo ChessBase!

Edward Witten, Princeton NJ
Granted the King's Gambit is too hard - would it be practical to get a definitive answer about an ultrasharp opening like the Fried Liver?

Jamshid Begmatov, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
It was one of your greatest 1 April jokes! I saw people posting on Facebook and very seriously discussing it. I knew you'd come up with something very different this time, and spotted it immediately, including the time zone trick.

Ken Thompson, USA
Why do you do it? Because of your masochistic nature. If you didn't do this you'd be cutting yourself with a knife.

Links

Rajlich: Busting the King's Gambit, this time for sure
02.04.2012 – 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. Now chess programmer IM Vasik Rajlich has actually done it, with technical means. 3000 processor cores, running for over four months, exhaustively analysed all lines that follow after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 and came to some extraordinary conclusions.

The ChessBase April Fool's prank
04.04.2012 – Over the years – over a decade, actually – it has become progressively more difficult for us to hide our traditional (and very popular) April Fool's stories. And keep them entertaining in the process. Armed insurgents with advanced Google searches and forum discussions are waiting to hunt them down. This year we used a particularly devious tactic involving the South Pacific town of Pago Pago.

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