From New York: it's Kasim vs the Accoona Toolbar

6/21/2005 – Today's the big day. Reigning FIDE world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov will play a match against the "AI Accoona ToolBar" in the Times Square ABC Studios with live web coverage. This weekend "Kasim" arrived in New York City and got to know his computer opponent, which is driven by the latest version of Fritz.

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Accoona's Ultimate
“Man vs. Machine” Chess Match

June 21, 2005, 5pm at the ABC Times Square Studios
Watch LIVE on the web or in the Playchess.com Broadcast room

The computer opponent of the FIDE world champion is officially known as the "Accoona Artificial Intelligence Search ToolBar". It is a utility you can download and install on your computer to search the web and your hard disk. The toolbar, somewhat surprisingly, also has a chess link which takes you to a special site where you can read news, solve chess puzzles (a new one every day), and play against a small Java applet that loads in your browser and is ready to play within seconds. The Accoona AI chess engine has different levels of skill for beginners, medium and strong players.


New York's world famous Times Square, where the event will be staged

The Accoona ToolBar chess program is very special in one way: it learns from experience. Every game it plays against users on the net is sent to a central server, where it is analysed by AI engines, which locate weaknesses and suggest possible improvements. These are automatically integrated into the Accoona ToolBar chess program, which becomes progressively stronger as it plays tens and then hundreds of thousands of games.

Big brother Fritz

The AI engines in this experimental project are being developed jointly by Accoona and the leading German chess software company ChessBase. The basis is the world-famous Fritz program which is used by chess professionals to analyse their games and improve their skills.

The latest version of Fritz, which is under development, is based on strategic and tactical understanding rather than just on a brute force search. It contains vast amounts of chess knowledge, gained by human chess experts over the centuries, and it uses this to try and find meaningful plans in the course of the game.


The ABC Times Square studio, where visitors will be given entrance until the venue is full (over 200 tickets have already been distributed)

Since the program no longer relies on speed to maintain the highest level of play, it will operate on a simple, off-the-shelf notebook computer in its game against Kasimdzhanov. The program will be running at just over a million positions per second and searching to a depth of about 15 moves. The openings book contains full statistical information on around 2.8 million positions, and for the endgame it is equipped with "tablebases" which allow it to play perfect chess when there are five or less pieces on the board (or in parts of its search tree).

Kasim in the City


The view from the Accoona New York office


Discussing the upcoming event with main organiser Armand Rousso


With Rousso and GM Ron Henley, who is also part of the Accoona team


Rustam Kasimdzhanov tries out the Accoona Toolbar chess engine


Working the phones: CEO Jonathan McCann, who was dealing with press contacts from many different countries. Over 100 newspaper and TV journalists are expected to attend the Times Square chess match.


In Chess, Masters Again Fight Machines

There is a feature article on the match in today's New York Times. It announces the Accoona match and describes the current boom in Man vs Machine events – Adams vs Hydra also begins in London today, in July GM Jan Ehlvest will play a program called Zappa. For the match against the computer, Kasimdzhanov said he would receive a five-figure sum but insisted that he was playing to promote chess and that he was interested in the challenge as a sportsman.

"So why are the grandmasters tilting at windmills?" asks NYT staff writer Dylan Loeb McClain, "All of the participants in the current matches admit that the odds are against them. Still, the grandmasters say they think they have a chance. Mr. Kasimdzhanov expressed optimism. 'The difference between the playing strength of a human being and a computer,' he said, 'is not as serious as the difference between a person running against a car.' Whatever the prospects, he said it was important to compete against the computers: 'Sports are not about reaching a result. Sport is about developing your inner qualities.'"


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