Miguel Illescas previews Carlsen vs. Caruana

by Miguel Illescas Córdoba
10/15/2018 – We are only weeks away from the start of the World Championship in London, where Magnus Carlsen meets his latest challenger, the American Fabiano Caruana, and the fans wait impatiently for this impending train collision. It's a match which a priori promises great emotions and high-quality games because we will witness the indisputable numbers 1 and 2 of the world ranking. Grandmaster Miguel Illescas reflects on AlphaZero and wonders if secret preparation tools could make the difference. | Photo: Peón de Rey

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Equality of forces

In the next issue of Peon de Rey (to be released November 1st) I will examine the possibilities that I believe each one of the contenders has. For this, I took the time to analyse exhaustively the games in which they have faced each other, but not only the result — which favours Carlsen in classical mode 57% -43% — but also the moves.

An advance on the conclusions: it seems that, within the margins of a prevailing equality, Magnus has the initiative, but there is a factor that could alter that scenario.

Preparation, men and machines

From my experience as coach and right arm of Vladimir Kramnik in the three World Championship matches in which Volodya [a nickname for Vladimir -Ed.]  triumphed (London 2000 against Kasparov, Brissago 2004 against Leko and Elista 2006 against Topalov), I know that the preparation before the match plays a decisive role in the outcome. Kramnik surrounded himself with a complete team, not only of grandmasters, but of other specialists. It is well known that for the London match we had a physiotherapist and a cook, as well as a bodyguard that Kramnik insisted on hiring in the middle of the match! And of course, we also had a complete computer park, because its importance then was already very large.

There is no doubt that the role of machines in chess preparation has increased since then. Now the databases are larger and the programs stronger, both for their strategic understanding and the speed of calculation of modern processors. Therefore, it is natural that a fundamental element in the team of the protagonists of the next match in London has to be the technological one. They need to have powerful hardware and an expert team who knows how to get the most out of it.

AlphaZero and American patriotism

What will be the program or programs that Carlsen and Fabiano will use in their preparation? And which computers? Simple laptops or more powerful machines? In the next issue of Peon de Rey we develop some hypotheses, but one of the questions that floats in the air, and that we raised in the magazine last January is the following: could Google allow Caruana to have the help of ALPHAZERO? There are few nations with as high a patriotic sense as the United States of America, and after all, Google is an American company, and the world chess title an iconic prize.

For those who do not know who or what ALPHAZERO is, I am pleased to share the article I signed at number 132 of Peon de Rey, and that ends with the following reflection: "If any elite player had access to the 1,300 games played by ALPHAZERO or the complete statistics of the 44 million games of training, it would have a huge competitive advantage compared to his colleagues. Everything is in the hands of Google".

AlphaZero games to replay and download


Download the full article by Miguel Illescas from Peón de Rey # 132 (PDF)

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The next issue of Peón de Rey #137 will be released November 1st


Miguel is a Spanish chess player born in Barcelona. He is the editor of the chess magazine "Peón de Rey" and contributes to the daily newspaper "La Vanguardia" where he tests readers with different chess moves.


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Yellowserge Yellowserge 10/27/2018 08:29
Miguel, I wish to comment on the idea of American patriotism. American society is largely divided into two ideological camps (more or less coextant with “political party”).

Google is run by the most anti-patriotic executives in the USA. They collect information on voters and censor American news outlets from showing up in their searches. They recently hired Eric Holder, a former AG under Obama, who publicly downplayed the “American Exceptionalism” idea which has, for the better part of the last 50 years, been the ideology adopted by more patriotic types in USA. Their employees regularly attend seminars on “white privilege” and other Marxist tropes.

While I don’t wish to speculate on Caruana’s politics, he has indeed been a frequent benefactor of Rex Sinquefield, an ardent Republican and outspoken patriot, who has donated millions of his own money to make the USA a top chess power.

I present this info neutrally, as one can take either side of the argument concerning the USA’s role in the world being positive or negative, and make a good case for his or her side. The same can be true of arguments about Google’s politics, or even Marxism. But it’s hardly likely that a company like Google, headquartered in one of the most Democratic/Obamaphilic strongholds in America, would see a Sinquefield beneficiary like Caruana as “our guy”.
Miguel Illescas Miguel Illescas 10/19/2018 02:08
Hi, thanks for your interest. Let me answer to the different questions:
- Some of you who complain about the article maybe missed the link: https://en.chessbase.com/portals/all/2018/10/AlphaZero-PDR/AlphaZero-en.pdf
- In answer to reddawg07 & danieltran : AlphaZero played 44 million games, many of them in the most fashionable openings. That information would be very valuable for a professional.
- In answer to lajosarpad: I believe Kramnik triumphed over Leko, since he retained the title.
- In answer to diegoami: if we know what are the opening best moves, a strong GM can understand it.
regards, Miguel Illescas
diegoami diegoami 10/17/2018 02:03
Not to mention that Alphazero would not be able to "explain" the reasoning behind its moves, as its architecture includes Montecarlo, Neural Networks and Reinforcement Learning AFAIK, which can be pretty obscure to a human. It might not even have a decent GUI.
danieltran danieltran 10/16/2018 12:58
A0 is weaker than the lastest SF already.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/16/2018 11:44
Kramnik didn't triumph against Lékó in Brissago 2004. He won the first game, Lékó equalized in the fifth game, won the eighth game and kept the advantage up until the end, when Kramnik won the fourteenth game to draw the match.
mcplayerus mcplayerus 10/16/2018 08:51
Excuse me but this is not a preview of the coming match' this is advertising for a publication.

I demand you give back the few minutes I wasted reading this!

The people who allowed this to pass as a genuine article should be ashamed of themselves!
AMCA AMCA 10/16/2018 08:44
Is this a preview or an advert?
calvinamari calvinamari 10/16/2018 04:46
What a load of crap.
reddawg07 reddawg07 10/16/2018 02:14
Why do you need AlphaZero when Stockfish, Komodo or Houdini can most probably beat either Caruana or Magnus in a match?
wb_munchausen wb_munchausen 10/15/2018 11:44
Google is a for-profit company. If enough money is involved they would do it.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 10/15/2018 10:52
Highly unlikely that Google would give any access to Caruana. They are interested in their bottom line and would not risk anything that would affect their competitive knowledge advantage. Just look at the recent actions taken by Google - knowingly and wrongly firing an excellent software developer who had done nothing wrong just to avoid a possible PR issue, working with the Pentagon for their drone strike program, removing their motto about not being evil, keeping details of the Alphazero algorithm secret (and giving access to a player could give a public perception of unfaireness, and while they are not interested in fairness, they are interested in the public perception of it).