Women and beautiful chess – a response to critics

by Azlan Iqbal
3/27/2016 – "I write for ChessBase because, as a kind of ‘community service’, we academics are expected to convey our research to the public in more palatable and widespread forms than just technical papers," writes Dr Azlan Iqbal. Unfortunately some readers interpreted his last article to be misogynistic, having “gratuitous sexist content”. The author replies to his critics and describes the application of the scientific method to an area as nebulous as aesthetics in chess.

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Do Women Play More Beautiful Chess? – A Response to Critics

By Azlan Iqbal, Ph.D.

In response to the original article, I received a lot of feedback; most of which was negative and the rest neutral. This was not entirely unexpected given the subject matter. Regardless, not all the feedback (including the personal attacks) were seemingly from militant feminists and men who felt as if I had just insulted their girlfriends or wives. The former may feel that we are still at risk of regressing to a time when the roles of men and women in society were more clearly defined and the latter are probably just succumbing to what some might say are protective or defensive evolutionary instincts (e.g. mother for child, men for ‘defenseless’ women). There is only so much value or credibility one can attach to anonymous commentators on the Internet. Are they really who they claim to be? One also has to wonder if they would have responded similarly, or in stark contrast praised the work, had I found that women played more beautiful chess (even if just within the scope of mate-in-3 sequences).

Besides, anyone taking single sentences totally out of context and drawing conclusions from that about the whole body of work or writing a long, angry-sounding ‘rebuttal’ the very next day (especially with admittedly little or no background in artificial intelligence or computer science) is doing a poor job of making a cogent argument or providing constructive criticism. For the record, and to assuage any concerns, I did not doctor any of the experimental results and ChessBase did not strike some kind of Faustian bargain with me to exploit women for the sake of a few more mouse clicks. Our relationship goes back many years and has virtually nothing to do with women or money. As academics, we are actually used to negative feedback, especially when it pertains to new or controversial ideas being proposed. I recall in Cambridge University back in 2008 when I first met him, Lotfi Zadeh (who introduced the concept of fuzzy sets) said that when he first proposed some of his ideas, some of his peers said he “should be lynched” for trying to promote a ‘lack of precision’ in computing. Fortunately, to my knowledge, none of my peers feel that way about my work.

Anyway, some of the feedback I received were nevertheless actually genuine questions and concerns (including about my credentials and credibility) that I felt I should address in the interest of science; hence this follow-up article. I will not list the questions individually as many of them overlap. Instead, I will simply begin to address them collectively based on my interpretation of what they were trying to get at. Let me begin by saying that the aesthetics model in chess that I developed for my Ph.D. is considered a seminal piece of work in then uncharted waters. Therefore a realistic and doable scope needed to be set, i.e. three-move mate sequences. This is actually how one goes about doing a Ph.D. You should not bite off more than you can chew or you will never complete the degree. ‘Aesthetics’ was also defined as a common ground between the domains of chess problem composition and real games, since both are not without beauty. The necessary experiments were performed and the results showed that the computer could indeed apply the model to recognize aesthetics within the game (given three-movers) in a way that correlated positively and well with domain-competent human assessment. This had never been demonstrated before and was a significant contribution to the pool of knowledge in artificial intelligence. It also had practical applications, such as allowing the aesthetic analysis of thousands upon thousands of chess problems and winning move sequences in games that would be far too difficult for humans to do reliably.

During my study, I worked with many chess experts as well. In order to understand all this satisfactorily, you will probably have to read my thesis in its entirety. There are no shortcuts, just as there were none for me in preparing it. Even though we tend not to read as much as we used to (we see more pictures and videos now), we are not yet at the stage where we can depend on a computer to comprehend complex written texts and answer intelligent questions intelligently thereby saving us a lot of time and effort. I was awarded my Ph.D. from the University of Malaya which, when I graduated, was the top university in Malaysia. They also had a policy that, in addition to my own supervisor, there would be one internal and two external reviewers, all of whom must be full professors with related expertise. The external reviewers must also be from overseas, which in my case happened to be from renowned universities in the UK and Australia. My thesis was with them for seven months.

Also, unlike some institutions, all four professors (including my supervisor) must unanimously agree that the Ph.D. be awarded. It is not unusual or uncouth for one who has successfully attained their Ph.D. to put the ‘Ph.D.’ title at the end of one’s name in scientific reports or articles, just as medical doctors would put ‘M.D.’ at the end of theirs. Chess grandmasters are also known for putting ‘GM’ at the front of theirs in articles and it is ironic and hypocritical that any of them should think doing this is cocky or ‘showing off’. Given all this, for anyone to suggest that the aesthetics model developed lacks credibility is to declare one’s ignorance or preconceptions about me and the region I am from. While I have enjoyed visiting the West many times on business and pleasure, I have never had any intention of actually working or staying there. Not once at any stage of my education or career have I ever even applied to do so. I am quite happy living in and serving my own country. Thanks to the growth of the Internet, we are living in a virtually borderless world anyway.

The three-mover aesthetics model I developed and tested was furthermore extended in our 2012 IEEE paper, also with the help of chess experts (who also happen to be Ph.D. holders), to include not only three-movers but also studies (and logically, longer mates). The paper, of course, was thoroughly peer-reviewed and had to be revised before being accepted for publication so the extended model is also, ‘experimentally-validated’. It is true that in validating the model, the average of three cycles of evaluation by Chesthetica (as opposed to just one cycle) for each move sequence was tested but using just one cycle in future experiments is valid as well because, like a human judge of aesthetics, Chesthetica may or may not deliver exactly the same evaluation each time it looks at the same sequence (you will have to read the IEEE paper carefully to learn why this works well). This phenomenon is of little concern because the program’s consistency and reliability ‘over time’ has already been demonstrated by taking the average of its evaluations using multiple cycles. It does not imply that multiple cycles should always be used in the future and that only crisp, unchanging aesthetic values are acceptable for each sequence. The possibility of slight variations in an aesthetic evaluation makes the model more dynamic yet still, on average, consistent and reliable (much like a human judge). As for replication of experimental results, that depends on the hypothesis. Should the original hypothesis have stated that a single cycle of evaluation be used, then the replication of the experiment should use a single cycle as well and the result accepted, whatever it may be. Analogously, the p-value for statistical significance should also be determined beforehand and not reset after the experiment to better suit the results (e.g. changing it from 0.01 to 0.05).

While I have written many papers, to the extent memory serves, I do not self-publish at all even though admittedly, some of my publications are certainly better or more prestigious than others (like any academic). For example, when Britannica invited me to write the entry for “computational aesthetics” (my PhD field of study) in their encyclopedia or Springer’s recent publication of our book on the DSNS approach that my Chesthetica software uses to create original chess problems. Not to mention many papers published in the ICGA Journal, a reputable computer games journal with a high standard of publication. Ken Thompson published there too. I also have papers in high ranking AI conferences such as the AAAI and IJCAI. I do not ordinarily like to draw attention to these things but when questioned, I suppose I must set the record straight. As a side note, it is probably not a good idea to prepare conference slides at the last minute because typos may show up and you really cannot tell how seriously some people might take things like that and use it to draw conclusions about you.

As for ‘impact factor’, academics are well-aware of its limitations and interested readers might care to look those up as well, such as explained here. In short, it is not necessarily a good indicator about the quality of any particular piece of research work. For instance, a paper essentially reminding us yet again about the dangers of consuming too many burgers, fries or sodas could have a high impact factor largely because it is published in a popular medical journal, because medical science tends to get the most research funding and because many of them tend to study our eating habits (a lot more people than those looking into say, the computational aesthetics aspect of chess). On the other hand, I write for ChessBase (with no impact factor) because it is a kind of ‘community service’. As academics, we are expected to convey our research to the public in more palatable and widespread forms than just technical papers which tend to be of rather limited distribution and out of the layman’s typical scope of understanding, and in many cases even those from outside the particular field.

With regard to my chess-playing expertise, I never bothered to obtain an official chess rating even though I have been playing casually for 30 years and have won several medals in local tournaments. In fact, I am quite confident I could last at least 20 moves even against Magnus Carlsen under tournament conditions. If I had an official Elo rating, my probability of winning that match (or my ‘expected score’) can indeed be calculated and would probably be so low one might think I would lose faster than Bill Gates. I could probably beat him too, by the way. So, yes, I can say that I do indeed “know how to play” but would not consider myself an ‘official master’ at the game. The truth is, given my line of work, I simply do not need to be a chess master as there are many official chess masters only too happy to assist and work with me on projects. I am frankly quite amazed at how open-minded and forward-thinking some of them are.

The same can be said about scientists who study say, bodybuilding. They are not and need not necessarily be renowned bodybuilders themselves (though they do probably work with a few). Having said all that, I do not think I am smarter or “more intelligent than everyone else”. It is not like my IQ is in the 180-range or anything like that. I took a scientifically-accurate test back in 2003 and it was only 131 with the “unusual distinction of being equally good at math and verbal skills”. It is unfortunate that some people interpreted the original article here on ChessBase to be misogynistic, having “gratuitous sexist content” and claim that perhaps I did not even know any women. I was also ‘threatened’ that my academic standing and credibility would be undermined by all this and that I should think about my future in academia. Untrue on all counts, I would say. I have known plenty of women in my time. At last count, 52 from 23 different countries, as a matter of fact; and most of them would only have nice things to say about me, I am fairly confident.

As for academic standing, I am more concerned about scientific truth than what the effects of revealing it might have on my career. Certainly, not revealing it (the file-drawer effect) or trying to bury it without a good enough reason would have a greater effect on society (myself included). Besides, not all academics are so desperately looking for tenure or its equivalent and would ‘do or conceal anything’ to get it. Some of us (though I am not necessarily claiming to be in this group) – and presumably just like some grandmasters – may also be independently wealthy and could retire tomorrow if we pleased; never having to work another day in our lives. So now, after hopefully having set the record straight on these matters, let us look into some of the other concerns about the experiments in my paper that suggested men play more beautiful chess than women.

The first thing one should realize when reading a scientific paper is that there is probably always a scope specified (e.g. three-move mate sequences). There ought to be. Scientists do not claim to know everything and the scope serves as an indicator about the extent to which whatever was being tested was actually tested or could be tested. This does not mean nothing useful can be said about the subject matter. For instance, we may only know how certain parts of the brain function with respect to certain aspects of human activity, but that does not mean those findings are useless until and unless neuroscientists know how the whole brain works with regard to all of human activity. Science is a cumulative and self-corrective process.

Now, some ‘experts’ may feel their personal or collective intuitions about certain things trump experimental validation. However, from a scientific standpoint they are wrong. What you need to trump experimental validation is more or better experimental validation. ‘Common sense’ is not a scientific argument and has been known to be wrong or misleading. Just like one might be inclined to think that a bowling ball would hit the ground faster than a feather dropped from the same height in a vacuum chamber. So if anyone would like to analyze longer or different types of sequences in chess using say, some other method, you will first need to develop and experimentally validate your own aesthetics model for those types of sequences or all you have is essentially just personal (and quite probably biased) intuitions. Being a master player does not help you scientifically here.

Moving on to the perfectly valid question about whether playing strength correlates with aesthetics. In other words, do stronger players play more aesthetically? In the original study, that was not taken into account but the study does contrast the aesthetics of play between two engines, i.e. Rybka 3 vs. Fritz 8 (10+10) and Rybka 3 vs. Fritz 8 (1+1) scoring, on average, 1.979 and 1.992, respectively. The difference was not statistically significant. So this would suggest that playing strength is not necessarily relevant to beauty. However, I did happen to have two older databases with me with 1,000 randomly selected games that ended in mate between players with an Elo rating above 2,500 and between players with an Elo rating below 1,500. The games were sourced from Big Database 2011 and gender was irrelevant here, even though most were likely games between men, especially given the first set (so perhaps the result does not even apply to games between women). The average aesthetics scores (using the same statistical approaches as described in the original paper) were 1.815 and 1.693, respectively, and the difference was indeed statistically significant. So this suggests further that playing strength is relevant in the aesthetics of three-move mating sequences that result from play between humans.

What are the implications of this? Should playing strength have been taken into account in the original study so that only games between women within the same Elo range as the games between men were used? Perhaps it should but unfortunately, this was not possible without tampering with the selection process which is supposed to be random because there is no automatic (and unbiased) way to search for players based on their gender and there were simply not enough games between women in the database ending with ‘exclusivity’ (read the original paper to learn what this means) and mate that were also within any particular Elo range. Of course, most games between strong players do not even end in mate (they tend to resign) but again, the aesthetics of games like that are at present not scientifically testable. Besides, in comparing samples of the same kind (i.e. three-move mate sequences) drawn from a normal population (i.e. whatever was randomly obtainable from the database) the differences between men and women are still valid (within that scope, obviously).

The original study minimized introducing any kind of bias into the samples (of both men and women) by assuming that whatever was in the 6+ million game database used was an unbiased representation of games played throughout the world by both men and women. If it happens that there was a greater number of strong male players than female players in that database and therefore the samples of each used also reflected that and thus the games between females would necessarily score lower aesthetically... well, that begs the question, why, in a normal population, are there more games by stronger male players to begin with? This is not something that can be ‘adjusted for’ without introducing bias into the samples. If I were to select only specific, strong female players to compare against specific, strong male players... that would introduce so much bias I would have to justify how and why each of those players were chosen. It does not reflect what is typically found in the real-world population of players and what can realistically be selected at random from that. Now, imagine the additional biases introduced if arbitrary, ‘manual’ filters based on age were also applied.

Similarly, if I were to test a mixture of longer mates and study-like endings (which Chesthetica can also analyze aesthetically now) along with three-movers, arguments could be made that one sample had more of one type of mate or ending than the other sample and that affected the outcome because experiments also show that studies score, on average, higher aesthetically using the model than mates. Never mind yet the issue of deciding how far back one needs to go from the ending of a game to determine where the ‘study’ starts and how that decision was made for each game (talk about introducing bias!). This is why a doable, testable scope and consistency in experimentation is paramount. Otherwise, it makes the conclusions and implications of the research only more tenuous. So in summary, the original study assumed that the database used had an ‘as-fair-as-can-get-without-introducing-bias’ distribution of games between men and between women and compensated further for bias by using the average aesthetics score.

The two games shown in the original ChessBase article, for instance, should therefore not be seen as comparing apples and oranges but rather what the aesthetics model thinks of the sequences themselves, independent of who the players are or the conditions under which those moves were made (something humans might find very difficult to ignore). Additionally, by themselves, these two sequences are not ‘proof’ of anything and were never intended to be. The samples of 1,069 games each that were used surely also contained some games between women that were of higher quality than some of the games between men. This is the beauty of random selection and the bell curve. Hence the necessity for comparing only averages and not drawing grand conclusions from individual games or sequences. More games, I suppose, could have been used (e.g. by artificially flipping the colors where Black mates and treating the position as White mates in games that never actually occurred in that form) but again, this would have introduced bias, especially if playing with the white or black pieces influences the way people play at all. So since both samples featured only White wins (like the standard for most chess problems), comparisons between them are technically still valid. Besides, the randomly-selected 1,069 games in each sample were considered a sufficient number for experimental purposes.

What, then, about games between men and women or games between higher and lower rated players? How does the aesthetics analysis account for these? In the original study, games between men and women were scarcer still and virtually impossible to obtain automatically and randomly, so that is why they were not used. As was pointed out to me, it is also the case that there are ‘women only’ tournaments but no ‘men only’ tournaments. A strange (perhaps even sexist) double-standard that automatically excludes men (even low Elo ones) from some tournaments but does not exclude women from any. So this would further explain the aforementioned scarcity. As for higher rated players versus lower rated players, this was considered introducing more variability (read as ‘lack of consistency’) into the samples compared to using players of about the same rating. For instance, if the mate occurred as a result of a 2,500 Elo player defeating a 1,600 Elo player (I am guessing such games rarely take place to begin with), the larger gap in rating points (i.e. 900) would inherently introduce more things to be accounted for than if the difference was only, say, 150 Elo points.

There is also no evidence that a large Elo gap necessarily permits the stronger player to play more beautiful chess but it is certainly something I could test in future experiments given sufficient data. I do not know if there were necessarily more games like this in the female sample used in the original study but trying to find out and then arbitrarily deciding which ones to include and which ones to reject (and then doing the same for the male sample) would, once again, introduce more bias than the source database itself yielded automatically and with no interference from me. How about the argument that ‘forced’ three-move mate sequences undermine creativity and aesthetics? Well, in previous research work (Aesthetics in Mate-in-3 Combinations: Part II: Normality, ICGA Journal, December 2010), I have shown that forced mates, on average, are actually no different aesthetically, according to the experimentally-validated model and in the case of games between human players, than those that are not forced.

A human player or composer may be influenced to think somewhat less of a sequence that is not forced upon doing some deeper analysis on the position, however. This is why forced sequences are typically considered more beautiful and preferred in experiments because eventually, humans are going to perceive them. Again, as long as both samples are similar in the sense of being forced (or unforced) mates, the comparisons between them are more credible than say, if one sample was forced and the other was not. Now, do not get me wrong. Overall there are probably several dozen if not hundreds of different variations or permutations of the original study that could also have been done by filtering this out and compensating for that in order to test specifically for this with regard to that, but those, precisely, are other experiments with different scopes and different sets of constraints and limitations. I really do hope there are people who can find the funding and time to do them all; armchair commentators included. I would certainly be interested to read about the results and happy they have contributed to the literature on the subject, in however small a way.

Finally, the conclusions of the original study are actually supported by the fact that in the world of chess problem composition (typically having the highest aesthetics scores, even according to my model), the best compositions (if not just about all of them) are by men. It could be that the male ‘patriarchy’ of the composition world are secretly dismissing some of the most fantastic compositions ever composed simply because they are submitted by women, or it could also be that women, in general, are less interested in the aesthetics of chess for reasons that neuroscientists might be curious about (assuming learning more about the physiological differences between male and female brains and their implications is not yet considered forbidden research). I will leave it to readers to decide for themselves which explanation is more likely. I have no vested interests in the outcome and am more interested in the truth. I doubt women are so feeble-minded and lacking confidence as to be discouraged from chess by findings such as this and even if they turn out to be true, it is not necessarily something that cannot be compensated for with the right tutelage from a man (or woman) with greater skill. If anything, I hope the original study motivates even more women into playing the game and into the world of chess problem composition to prove they are indeed equal or even superior to men in this regard as well.

Wrapping up, let me also congratulate Google’s DeepMind on AlphaGo’s victory over humanity’s Go champion, Lee Sedol. I had absolutely no doubt this would happen and can only wonder why it took so long to achieve. By the way, Google, if you happen to have one of your quantum computers just lying around doing nothing, I would love to plug Chesthetica into it for a while for some serious computational creativity DSNS processing if the two are compatible. Just kidding (well, not really). Anyway, good show and respect to all the industry big boys out there breaking new ground and taking board game AI seriously.

This article was first uploaded to ResearchGate and you may contact Dr Azlan Iqbal via e-mail with any further questions or concerns you may have, at his official email address with a c.c. to his private address. Yes, he does reply to the best of his ability.

Previous ChessBase articles by Prof. Azlan Iqbal

  • 2/26/2016 – Do women play more beautiful chess?
    Azlan Iqbal, senior lecturer at the Universiti Tenaga Nasiona in Malaysia, has been working for years in the field of Artificial Intelligence, trying to program machines to evaluate aesthetics. After making the Chesthetica software that is able to create an unlimited number of problem-like chess constructs he has turned his attention to gender-based playing style. Here are first results.

  • 2/24/2016 – Azlan Iqbal: Recomposition contest result
    Over Christmas we showed you an interesting problem: say you have found some moves somewhere, in coordinate notation without piece names – is it possible to reconstruct the original supposedly meaningful position to which they apply? The author, who has a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, tried to do it, but with modest success. A reader presented a more plausible solution and won a valuable prize
  • 12/29/2015 – ChessBase Chrismas Puzzles 2015 (5)
    Here's an interesting problem: say you have found some moves somewhere, in coordinate notation without piece names – e.g. 1.h7g5 d8g5 2.b5d5 d1c2 etc. Can one reconstruct the original supposedly meaningful position to which they apply? Azlan Iqbal, who has a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, retraces his thought processes when he tried, in this unique exercise in forensic chess. Help him and you can win a special prize.

  • 5/31/2015 – Celebrating 300 machine generated problems
    As we reported before, Chesthetica, a program by Azlan Iqbal, is autonomously generating mate in three problems by the hundreds, and the author is posting his selections in a very pleasing format on YouTube. The technology behind the program’s creativity is a new AI approach and Dr. Iqbal is looking for a substantial research grant for applications in other fields.

  • 4/7/2015 – Switch-Side Chain-Chess Revisited
    The search continues for a chess variant which retains the flavour of the original game but does not succumb to the brute calculating power of modern computers. AI researcher Azlan Iqbal has proposed his own unique variant. Now he provides some test games and shows how Carlsen could have won (instead of lost) WCCh Game 3 against Anand in Sochi had Switch-Side rules applied.
  • 2/6/2015 – Computer generated chess problems for everyone
    Now they are composing problems that fulfil basic aesthetic criteria! Chesthetica, a program written by Azlan Iqbal, is churning out mate in three constructs by the hundreds, and the author is posting them in a very pleasing format on Youtube. How long will Chesthetica theoretically be able to generate new three-movers? Quite possibly for tens of thousands of years.

  • 11/7/2014 – A machine that composes chess problems
    Chess problems are an art – positions and solutions, pleasing to the mind and satisfying high aesthetic standards. Only humans can compose real chess problems; computers will never understand true beauty. Really? Dr Azlan Iqbal, an expert on automatic aesthetic evaluation, imbued his software with enough creativity to generate problems indefinitely. The results are quite startling.

  • 7/26/2014 – Best ‘Chess Constructs’ by ChessBase readers
    Chess constructs are basically an intermediate form of composition or chess problem, lying somewhere between brilliancies from chess history – and artistic chess problems, between real game sequences and traditional award-winning compositions. A month ago Dr Azlan Iqbal explained the concept asked our readers to submit compositions of their own. Here are the winners.

  • 6/29/2014 – Azlan Iqbal: Introducing ‘Chess Constructs’
    People love brilliancies from chess history – and artistic chess problems. But there is a big gap between the two. Positions from games demonstrate the natural beauty of actual play, while chess problems are highly technical, with little practical relevance. The author of this interesting article suggest an intermediate form, one you can try your hand at – and win a prize in the process.

  • 9/2/2009 – Can computers be made to appreciate beauty?
    Or at least to identify and retrieve positions that human beings consider beautiful? While computers may be able to play at top GM level, they are not able to tell a beautiful combination from a bland one. This has left a research gap which Dr Mohammed Azlan Mohamed Iqbal, working at Universiti Tenaga Nasional, Malaysia, has tried to close. Here's his delightfully interesting PhD thesis.

  • 12/15/2012 – A computer program to identify beauty in problems and studies
    Computers today can play chess at the grandmaster level, but cannot tell a beautiful combination from a bland one. In this research, which has been on-going for seven years, the authors of this remarkable article show that a computer can indeed be programmed to recognize and evaluate beauty or aesthetics, at least in three-move mate problems and more recently endgame studies. Fascinating.

  • 2/2/2014 – A new, challenging chess variant
    Ever since desktop computers can play at its highest levels and beat practically all humans, the interest of the Artificial Intelligence community in this game has been sagging. That concerns Dr Azlan Iqbal, a senior lecturer with a PhD in AI, who has created a variant of the game that is designed to rekindle the interest of computer scientists – and be enjoyable to humans as well: Switch-Side Chain-Chess.

  • 5/11/2014 – Kasparov in Malaysia
    He was mobbed, but in a good way: a large number of chess fans and autograph hunters sought close contact to the legendary World Champion, who officiated the opening of the PMB National Age Group Championship 2014, and took time to discuss a variety of topics with an expert on aesthetics-recognition technology in chess, our author Dr Azlan Iqbal – who sent us a big pictorial report.

Dr. Azlan Iqbal has a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence from the University of Malaya and is a senior lecturer at Universiti Tenaga Nasional, Malaysia, where he has worked since 2002. His research interests include computational aesthetics and computational creativity in games. He is a regular contributor at ChessBase News.
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scoobeedo scoobeedo 3/30/2016 12:37
@A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88:

I agree with you. The intentions from Mr. Azlan was for sure good.

The problem is that he seems to be not expert enough in chess.
He had not the deep understanding how to make a study like this.

And exactly this study is one of the hardest, because it is a study which get result ... that the reader can see with his pov (point of view).

Mr. Azlan should stop this study, it was a failure. But failures are parts of a future success.

And a advice for him: If he make a study like this again, use not a title like this. Title it "The gender difference of creativity on the chess board" or something like this. My english is not good engought to phrase it perfect.
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 3/29/2016 03:18
Well, perhaps Rickford and his ilk are missing the more important idea here.

While the methodology of Iqbal is scientifically speaking, rubbish, and he really has no idea of what he is doing, his goal – to measure beauty in a chess game – is not. Beauty, whether it be in a chess game, a piece of music, a flower, or in the human form, is something that most people celebrate. And if somebody wants to say that so and so is lovely, then good for them. That is not sexist. It is human, and worthy of study.

Now, as a physicist, beauty can be far more important. Dirac, as all physicists know, was guided by beauty: “It seems that if one is working from the point of view of getting beauty in one's equations, and if one has really a sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress.” – Dirac.
For non-physicists, Dirac is probably second only to Einstein and Newton in the ranking of theoretical physicists. A poll by the American Society of Physics Teaches asked why people majored in physics…and the reason was for many they were attracted to the beauty of the subject.

So from a scientific view, if one could actually quantify and measure beauty, whether in a physics theory, or a chess game, then you have – maybe – another tool to help you improve. Kasparov has stated that INTUITION in chess is an element that has been underrated – but what if his intuition was such that – and I think may be the case – it rejected “ugly” moves. So again this is a useful thing to study.

Pablo Picasso stated --'Art is not chaste. Those ill prepared should be allowed no contact with art. Art is dangerous. If it is chaste, it is not art.'” This is an analogous idea.
So here we have two very great men both guided by beauty in their work. Celebrate beauty, become a great artist. Reject it, remain a hack.
AgainAgain AgainAgain 3/29/2016 07:59
Dear Chessbase,
please do not publish any more of this rubbish.
gmwdim gmwdim 3/29/2016 04:37
I also agree with what Luke Rickford wrote. I like ChessBase much better when they focus on reporting ongoing chess tournaments.
jajalamapratapri jajalamapratapri 3/29/2016 04:23
I also agree with what Luke Rickford wrote there.

When reporting women's events you read comments here like "the lovely X won her game against Y", which is not going to make Y who may not look remotely like a fashion model feel very good.

I feel embarrassed even reading stuff like that.
Exabachay Exabachay 3/29/2016 02:15
3 move checkmates are ugly most of the time, because of how cliche and predictable they are. They may seem beautiful when a 5 year old plays it but if you want beauty go check out some of Karpov's games where he and his opponent apparently do nothing but in the end Karpov wins. lol
jackie jackie 3/28/2016 11:39
100% agree with what Luke Rickford wrote there.
Luke Rickford Luke Rickford 3/28/2016 09:11
Frankly, this and other articles have led me to view Chessbase as a site more suited to reporting results and theory than anything approaching social commentary.

Consistently, the content on the site makes it clear that an embarrassingly archaic and out-of-touch attitude about women remains entrenched among the editors and contributors. Reports on tournaments feature photos of women who are among the few hundred strongest players on the world, male or female, with comments on their attractiveness. That is completely inappropriate. Then you have articles like this one, which contain references to "militant feminists" and spurious speculations about the historical development of men's and women's dispositions ("maybe men will take a while to lose that warrior spirit"), absent any editorial remarks to make it clear that Chessbase.com recognizes how baseless and regressive such misogynistic perspectives are.

This is disgraceful, really, not only in a political sense but also from an intellectual standpoint. You would think that people capable of deeply analyzing the vast intricacies of chess would be less sophomoric in their approach to sociopolitical matters. Or maybe that is an unfounded presumption, too?
sivakumar R sivakumar R 3/28/2016 06:08
I think the author is correct if one takes the "statistical average". Thus, in any field, the average woman always fares better than the average man but the best man always fares better than the best woman.
johnmk johnmk 3/28/2016 02:15
As others said, hard to get past the first few sentences. I would say this is a pointless defense of an article that probably was also of questionable value. Humans judge beauty and that is how it should be. As such it is somewhat subjective but so be it.
scoobeedo scoobeedo 3/28/2016 12:06
Mr. Azlan,

whatever you do to defend yourself here will make you more and more to a clown.

Why you dont shut up and accept that you are wrong. To commit that something is not right is the best what you can do to come with something better. But you stick to your study which I classify as a joke.

Be a man and stop this.

It is time for it. If you want, we can make you to the laugh of the year by going main stream and then you can handle the shit storm. I do not wish this happens to you. But it is time to bet out of this before it is blowing up.

Dont risk it to get stamped as a idiot.

And come back with something better ...
thlai80 thlai80 3/28/2016 10:38
@lmader, I usually do not tolerate foul languages and curses, but for this time I have to 101% agree with everything you said. Very well cursed!!
DropkickIggy DropkickIggy 3/28/2016 10:26
Not this guy again ... Come on, CB-people, you should know better than this!
jackie jackie 3/28/2016 08:53
It's just incompetent buffoonery. Nothing too much to add here, bar a single observation from psychology, of cognitive bias.

Azlan here does offer a wonderful example of what has become known as the 'Dunning-Kruger effect'. This is, essentially, where incompetent people are too incompetent to note their own incompetence. And, it's here in spades.

This research is bad, this writing is bad, and the sexism is simply inappropriate. The '52 women' part is just very socially inept and inappropriate in any circumstance, as a particular example. But ... the writer is insufficiently competent and self-aware to notice the shortfalls. Bluntly put, stupid people may well not realise they are stupid, but may exhibit considerable self-confidence.

A classic case.

1) Don't, just don't. Never again. Apologise, retract and distance from the idiocy and the sexism.
2) And get someone capable to review the, ahem, 'academic' (term used loosely here) submissions.
Jakub Sevcik Jakub Sevcik 3/28/2016 07:38
I do not understand the article, the sense of scientific work. Is it posssible to measure, count the level of beauty, beauty of anything - chess, art, dance or painting? By what? What, we can estimate the differences of painting level according to e.g. number of used colors, complexity of brush movement or accuracy of painting?
Can we ever measure level of beauty in chess? The scientific work appears as nonsense.
And other problem is, that we can not compare the level of men vs women chess, because the numbers of players are not absolutely comparable.
azlan azlan 3/28/2016 04:27
@genem; Yes, I believe such a program could be developed. In general, for the first of your hypothetical examples, one would simply need to contrast the draw rate of said player (from all the tournaments in the database) against the average draw rate of other players in the tournaments in the database. This database would be assumed to represent the normal distribution of games in the real-world population. If the difference is statistically significant, then that determination could be made.

Your second hypothetical example is trickier. One would first need to develop a computational model that can identify, at a higher than chance rate, the gender of the player (playing black or white) based on say, playing style (this is not necessarily related to aesthetics). It may be that women, in general, tend to play somewhat differently, stylistically, than men. This does not mean the model would always give the correct result. It only means that it is *probably* right in most cases or is right, *on average*. In principle, it really does not matter *how* or even *why* the model works. (It may even be entirely counterintuitive from a human standpoint). It only matters that it holds up experimentally and is able to make correct predictions most of the time or on average when analyzing sets or samples of data.

For your third hypothetical example, a similar kind of model would need to be developed and tested. If it is shown, experimentally, to be able to identify the age or age range of the player at a higher than chance rate, then it can be applied. Again, it may not be right in every case, but most of the time, it should be. I would imagine the last two would be useful in 'investigative' chess, in cases where the gender and age of the player is not known but would help if it was known. These models would - from a scientific standpoint - be better than any particular individual's guess or even group consensus (i.e. "popular" opinion).
brendan omalley brendan omalley 3/28/2016 03:56
Aighearach: With regards to chess composition, you wear your ignorance on your sleeve. Good luck using parry series help-selfmates as a training tool for your competitive (but artistic) OTB chess endeavors.

It's nice for you that you like your hobby better, get more value out of it, etc.--most of us do feel this way about our own hobbies. Since you are using your chess composing acquaintances as back-up...did you ask them if they thought your hobby was superior to theirs? If theirs was "not art" and was only occasionally "marginally creative"?

It doesn't take too long to think of highly successful OTB players who fit the bill of "obsessive compulsion and weeks shut away, alone". And it seems to me that OTB chess is equally "not really relevant to anything". The notion that Shinkman, Lloyd, Vukcevich, Meinking, Petkov, etc. are somehow lacking in creativity (or perhaps were not good enough for other fields) is laughable.

Everyone is telling the author of the above article not to pontificate on a subject of which he is wholly ignorant. Agreed. Perhaps this "tiny, narrow part of chess" requires more imagination than you can muster, mister.
bin bin 3/28/2016 03:35
This is a subjective nonsense. It's even too ridiculous to explain why. . But even the notion that women are nicer is itself boolshit. In the all of the species in the world the males are nicer. There is no reason to say that females are nicer. Its very subjective issue , when I asked a few women they told me that they think men are nicer. So again , to me all these subjects should not be taken seriously. Sorry.
quamvis quamvis 3/28/2016 03:14
First, respectfully for the owners of Chess Base, if you would, please, assign a capable and educated editor for the rubric "post" of your website. Is not it self evident that this Dr. Artificial Intelligence Ph.D. has a knowledge of chess located few standard deviations to the left of the mean of a normally distributed sampling of Chess Base subscribers? I am merely trying to write with a lot of buzz words such as Dr. AI, Ph.D. Pieces titled "Women and beautiful chess" and "Do Women Play More Beautiful Chess? – A Response to Critics" should be mostly about women, beautiful chess, the critical statements, and the responses to these statements. The writing should not be about Dr. AI, Ph.D., and his encounter with 52 women from 23 nations! The 2nd writing is 66% about the writer instead of the subject he is writing about! The remaining 34% is made of offensive statements and little tautologies wrapped in a diarrhea of words.

Second, Dr. AI, Ph.D., sir, You cited “Walls, B. (1997). Beautiful Mates: Applying Principles of Beauty to Computer Chess Heuristics, M. Sc. Dissertation, University of Sussex, U.K.” seven times, basically to say that his work was not worthy. E.g., you say “Walls implemented these beauty heuristics in a rather rudimentary manner.” (Page 32); and again, “In general, Walls may have compromised his experiments to a degree by over simplifying the aesthetic principles he used.” (Page 33). Given the many similarities of these papers, if you were to have someone read both, and ask which writing is lifting ideas from which writing, what would be their answer, you think?

Third, in page 205 of your "dissertation", you write a wordy paragraph, of which content you say “Beauty in the game is appreciated by players (and composers) yet computers were still unable to tell the difference between a beautiful game or combination and a bland one.” So what? Were you expecting something to the contrary when starting your collection of wordy statements? Are you serious?
firestorm firestorm 3/28/2016 02:05
mozartiano123, you've missed my point. Its not whether men play better chess or not, its comments like the surprise that a woman who is a model might like playing chess- typical unthinking sexism, which is why I say its not misogeny, the author simply cannot understand he's sexist.
genem genem 3/28/2016 01:59
Scientific question I wish Dr. Iqbal could hone in on, *concisely*:
"With Elo rating held in constant constant narrow range in an otherwise random sampling of recent post-2000 games from Mega Chessbase --- Can anyone write a computer program that can tell us anything about the players with an accuracy greater than chance?"
For hypothetical examples:
** The White player has an above average draw rate.
** The Black player is probably female.
** The White player is younger than the Black player.
Whatever, anything?
gmwdim gmwdim 3/28/2016 01:58
There isn't much for me to say, chess-wise or sexism-wise, about this article that other readers haven't already pointed out, but I will add that as an academic with a PhD and many published papers myself, that it seems to me that the author suffers from a case of insecurity as evidenced by his constant need to point out his credentials. Nobel prize winning scientists never need to write about how they obtained their PhD degree to try to justify the validity of their work. Also, the part about dismissing impact factor to explain away the author's lack of citations is hilarious. Yes, impact factor is not a perfect measure of research quality, and doesn't correct for differences between different subjects, but it's a pretty good first-order estimate when dealing with huge differences in magnitude. If one author has published 60 papers that have a total of 3000 citations, and another author has 60 papers with 30 total citations, there is no question that the first author has a much superior record. The publication record of the current author is dubious at best, and you'd think he'd be better off not drawing attention to it when defending his research.
Ingo Zachos Ingo Zachos 3/28/2016 01:06
No, when you replay a game it is alwasys betwee two individuals, no matter which sex one or the other (or both) players have.
There is beauty in chess, but is is obviously not linked to gender, age, nationality, hair color or shoe size.
It is linked to the indvidual styles and the ablity to create something beautiful.
A 7 year old girl and a 107 year old man may find a beautiful resource and create a masterpiece, but it a question of opportunity and individual skill. Some of the most beautiful combinations btw. have also been played by club players, so it is not even always linked to playing strenghts. Chess offers opportuities to shine for everyone, and that is why it is so fascinating and deep, and a norwegian boy may be the next world champion or a girl from greece, who really knows...?
yesenadam yesenadam 3/28/2016 12:48
I didn't get past the first few sentences. You just aren't worth reading.

Uh no. Most of the criticism wasnt about the sexism-related aspects of your "work" at all. It was the laughable shoddiness of every area of your papers.
"I write for ChessBase because, as a kind of ‘community service’, we academics are expected to convey our research to the public in more palatable and widespread forms" That is a joke. What you did was tell people that they don't understand science or your work, that they should have instead criticized you years ago when your thesis came out etc.

The community doesn't want your (arrogant and ignorant) "service". Nuff said.
will64 will64 3/28/2016 12:43
What this guy don't get (and will never get aparently) is that 3-move mate is not a valid aesthetics parameter, as many chess players with a decent amateur level (sadly he isn't one of them) can attest, and so the whole experiment has zero reliable foundations (Azlan if you haven't found another good asthetic testable parameter is your problem, but 3-moves mates are not, simple as that). Plus as many have already posted, elo ratings are to be taken into consideration.
That and the fact he has a clear bias to men over women which shows in his condescending and sexists words make his findings highly suspicious and irrelevant. Surprised Chessbase allowed this thing to go on their page, they should have known better when reviewing it.
jajalamapratapri jajalamapratapri 3/27/2016 11:16
Is this a joke? April 1 is not till Friday.
mozartiano123 mozartiano123 3/27/2016 10:55
Well firestorm, that is your opinion. Your words are just subjective with no background to support it.

Women play great chess, but is evident (just look at the rankings) that men play it better.

The reason for that? I have no idea, and I am not here to claim that I know everything and call others ignorant.

Why is it important to notice that men and women play different chess?

In My opinion, if women (overall) would like to fight against Magnus Carlsen for the world's chess crown, then the first thing is to find out what is different and why it is different. After realising it, one can develop new concepts for trainning chess and the results will be seen. Otherwise, if nothing changes, the thing will stay as it is, with only a single woman (Hou Yifan) within the top 100.

I feel sad about that because I really like watching the girls' tournaments and to those tournament to keep going,
it is necessary to improve the level of the female chess players and that would bring more sponsors.

Anyway, if you keep ignoring that there are differences in the CURRENT level of play and prefers to call everybody sexist just because they notice them, the things will stay as they are.

P.S. Rooting for Hou Yifan to qualify for the Norway Chess because I believe she can do it. But currently, no other woman is at the same level.
scoobeedo scoobeedo 3/27/2016 10:00
Mr. Azlan,

you dont get it!

How can you compare Carlsen and Marya Muzychuk???

They play in different worlds.

If you want to give your study at least a little credibility then you should compare a male and female player which are at the same Elo level. Then you should choose chess positions in which are different ways possible to win, and show them this positions.

Then you can compare the creativity of this players. But you can still not make any conclusion, because what is beauty and what not is not a objective measurement.

To say it again in short words:

Your study is a joke!
firestorm firestorm 3/27/2016 09:59
I often skip the opening paragraph by Chessbase introducing an article, but this one has an interesting comment- " Unfortunately some readers interpreted his last article to be misogynistic, having “gratuitous sexist content”."

I don't think the author is misogynistic. I think he genuinely cannot see that his comments about women are patronising, insulting, unfounded, unjustified and gratuitous. They aren't connected to his "model" of aesthetics (which produces the ugliest 3 move mate problems I have ever seen), but opinions he has tacked on to his "research". It really isn't worthy of chessbase.
Van_Phanel Van_Phanel 3/27/2016 09:58
The fact that the author still tries to defend himself without acknowledging the obvious flaws to his work is sad yet unsurprising.

This is only the minor part of the problem. "Academics" like this will be seen as what they are in the near future (when equality is not just a word anymore): academically inferior and misogynistic.

The real problem is that chessbase, a company that I used to respect is providing a platform for this person. Once might be justifiable because there's no way to know about an author beforehand (even though having an editor who actually reads and understands the texts you publish might help - this critique is not just limited to this author). Doing it again and again neglects your duty as a publisher. The only assumptions a reader can make are incompetence, indifference or malignancy.

Letting the commentators and the author duke it out while looking elsewhere is just unprofessional. Please provide a comment regarding your views on this matter, otherwise your readers will have to assume you share the author's views. Otherwise I will have visited this site - and bought from your shop - for the last time. As a company that is marketing their own products you are probably aware of the fact that for every complaint that reaches you there are about 100 more where the customer feels the same but doesn't care enough to reach out. I do care and hereby give you the chance to rectify the situation (I will also send this comment to you via email in case you don't read any comments).

Please respond or I will have been a reader and customer of your site for the longest time.

a concerned reader.
Aighearach Aighearach 3/27/2016 08:55
I wanted to add, no, it doesn't offend me on behalf of my wife. I doubt she cares what you say.

It offends me _because_it_is_stereotyped_idiocy_disguised_as_something_academic_, and also because it _intentionally_misrepresents_opposing_views_.

Also, composing chess problems is not art. It is marginally creative, at times, but the field is vastly dominated not by creativity but by obsessive compulsion and weeks shut away, alone. It is a tiny, narrow part of chess, that leaves out the central feature of competition. It is very valuable; as a training tool! Not as art. A person who composes chess problems and is also very creative is unlikely to be a GM at the task, because there are many, many other more interesting creative outlets available in life; including specifically in chess! Now, I don't mean any insult to people who are vastly entertained by the practice; but all the such people I have met also admit that it is not really relevant to anything.

It is like saying that maybe men are less creative than women because so few men win prizes and public recognition for knitting. Or, maybe there are reasons having nothing to do with creativity that lead more women than men to attempt the activity.
Aighearach Aighearach 3/27/2016 08:42
Stopped reading your human-hating diatribe at "militant feminist."

You should be advised that that isn't an actual group, but a misogynistic stereotype that angers both men and women. Absolutely disgusting,
diegoami diegoami 3/27/2016 08:37
You, sir, are the trolling master.
lmader lmader 3/27/2016 07:39
"I have known plenty of women in my time. At last count, 52 from 23 different countries, as a matter of fact; and most of them would only have nice things to say about me, I am fairly confident."

WTF? What are you bragging about here? Seriously, you have counted the women you have known in your life, and you have known 52 women? Is this supposed to represent some measure of your credibility regarding whether or not you're a misogynist? Or are you implying, because you have a count like notches in a bed post, that you have slept with 52 women? Do you not get how either of these interpretations paints you as a complete ass?
quamvis quamvis 3/27/2016 07:29
Dr. The Author, Ph.D. writes too much about himself instead of the subject at hand. Was it for this article only, whereas Dr., The Author, Ph.D. appears to defend himself against some trifle hints at sexism? After checking Mr. Dr. The Author, Ph.D.'s other posts, it is clear that in each he describes and advertises himself over about 33% to 66% of the writing, leaving only some casual glances at the main topic. Do good and real academics need to broadcast and to advertise this much to get recognition?
Zdrak Zdrak 3/27/2016 06:49
I like the scientific truth as much as the next guy. Revealing the truth is a worthy endeavor. But passages like this:

"It may be that women have less artistic appreciation of the game or play in a less artistic fashion even though they may generally be good players. This may explain the relative non-existence of master/grandmaster female composers of chess problems, for instance."

Have nothing to do with science, nor truth. It's a mere conjecture, revealing nothing except Mr. Iqbal's personal biases.
azlan azlan 3/27/2016 05:30
@tomohawk52; Yes, but the findings would also only apply to the scope of three-mover endings, which is the only type of sequence consistent enough and scientifically testable at this time with regard to aesthetics in chess. The results may also be suggestive of what might eventually be found looking into the aesthetics of longer sequences. If I had access to a team of dedicated human expert judges willing to go over thousands of longer sequences to decide where the starting and ending points of analysis should be (and assuming they could be consistent and would even agree with each other), then I could feed that data into Chesthetica as well for a better result on the aesthetics question compared to what is attainable looking at just three-movers.
thlai80 thlai80 3/27/2016 05:13
Please, you have become the joke of chessbase, do yourself a favor by refraining from further posts that only went as far to point your lack of knowledge in chess. Your community service is not appreciated and not needed ... you should continue publishing your useless articles within academic circles and your university where you can self indulge in your superficial achievement and satisfaction.
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 3/27/2016 04:19
Scientists should be motivated by a desire for actual knowledge, not self-aggrandizement. If you know what you are talking about, you don't need to constantly point out you have papers and are an academic...it will be apparent. Non-chess players who watch Kasparov talk on youtube are constantly pointing out his obvious high intelligence.

If you have developed a theory of chess aesthetics, the only thing that is relevant is it valid. Does its PREDICTIONS agree with EXPERIMENT. Test on a variety of groups, and if most chess players agree with the results, you have something. (THAT is Iqbal’s problem…He first has to develop a valid theory.) Once you have a model that everybody agrees with, then apply it to women and see what you get.

Does the model show Morphy and Tal play the most beautiful games? They did not always you should know. Some of their games were dreadfully dull. So the problem you have may be very hard to define precisely, or in a way that most chess players will accept. What you don’t want is a model that academics accept, and that allows you to publish and even write a dissertation, but does not agree with the assessments of chess players. That would be an exercise in self-deception. Positional games can possess a beauty, as anyone who has played over the early games of world champion Petrosian can attest.
A beautiful game is generally not considered beautiful if it contains a lot of weak moves. We look at the whole game. Beautiful games tend to be rare as the strength of the player’s increases, the beautiful variations being confined to the notes. Andersson lamented that Morphy would not let him play his beautiful combinations.

I notice Iqbal looks at positions, not the whole game. That will tell you next to nothing about the beauty of the game. Looking at a single position is easy, but not so useful. Looking at the whole game will tell the whole story, but requires much more chess knowledge. Did the player intentionally make a risky move to muddy the waters, or make a move that was stylistically difficult for the opponent to meet, even if was it just a mistake? The computer is never going to know the answer to that, and so I suspect the computer is never going to accurately gauge the beauty of a chess game in the same way a human chess player does.

As Feynman said: "It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong."

But with regard to Iqbal’s theory, perhaps Pauli said it best:
“That is not only not right, it is not even wrong.”

TheSame Wastrel TheSame Wastrel 3/27/2016 04:15
I agree with the comments last time and this time. Dr. Iqbal's previous article was extremely flawed. Briefly, he was trying to measure the unmeasurable while lacking a basic understanding of the way chess is played. (There were much more detailed and rigorous criticisms. I am just trying to summarize.) Now he mischaracterizes the criticism he received as coming from people "who felt as if I had just insulted their girlfriends or wives." That is clearly ad hominem. Can Chessbase just PLONK this guy and get on with the game?