World Computer Chess Champion: Zap!Chess

4/13/2006 – Our new program, Zap!Chess, is the reigning computer chess world champion, written by Anthony Cozzie from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Zap!Chess uses the same singular extensions algorithms as the famous Deep Blue program, and has one of the best parallel implementations in the world. It also uses 64-bit machines to their full potential. Read and buy.

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Zap!Chess is the commercial version of Zappa, the 2005 World Computer Chess Champion. The CD contains two versions: “Paderborn” and “Reykjavik”. Reyjavik is the version that won the World Championship; Paderborn includes some ideas from my work at Illinois. I myself do not know which one is better; you‘ll have to find that out for yourself.

The style of the program reflects my background as a computer engineer. Rather than developing clever search tricks that may or may not work, I concentrated on getting the most out of modern hardware. Zap!Chess contains one of the best parallel implementations in the world to run efficiently on multiple CPU systems, and it also uses 64-bit machines to their full potential. The program contains large amounts of chess knowledge, and like most modern programs it is tuned fairly aggressively – it knows where the opponent‘s king lives. This gives it an exciting style without being unsound. While the program is optimized for long time controls and big hardware, don‘t despair if you own a smaller system. Both versions come with an implementation of Singular Extensions, the famous Deep Blue search algorithm. They are disabled by default, but they increase the tactical strength of the program at the cost of positional strength.

Anthony Cozzie

Anthony Cozzie [Photo by by Rick Kubetz]

About the author: Zap!Chess programmer Anthony Cozzie (MS ECE, CMU 2003) is currently a PhD student in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He divides his time between cutting edge research, computer chess, basketball, and shepherding his hapless flock of undergraduates through basic computer science.

System requirements: Minimum: Pentium II 300 MHz, 64 MB RAM, Windows Me, 2000, XP, DVD ROM drive, Windows Media Player 9. Recommended: Pentium IV 2.2 GHz or more, 256 MB RAM, Windows XP, GeForce5 graphics card (or equivalent) with 128 MB RAM or more 100% compatible with DirectX, sound card, Windows Media Player 9, DVD ROM drive.

Price: €49.99 incl. VAT;
€43.09 without VAT (for customers outside the European Union); US $51.71 (without VAT).
Buy now.

Anthony Cozzie wins World Computer Chess Championship

Urbana, August 31, 2005 - UIUC Department of Computer Science student, Anthony Cozzie, confirmed his world-class programming talent earlier this month when his computer chess program, ZAPPA, defeated the world's most prominent international veterans to take first place in the 13th World Computer Chess Championship, held in Reykjavik, Iceland from August 13th-21st, 2005.

In an eleven-round tournament, ZAPPA came away with ten wins and one draw to beat out former world champion programs including JUNIOR, by Israelis Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky, and SHREDDER, by Stefan Meyer-Kahlen of Germany.

"ZAPPA played really impressively," said Meyer-Kahlen, author and operator of the program that has won ten world champion computer chess titles including the 2003 World Computer Chess Championship. "It undoubtedly deserved the title."

Cozzie, an Iowa native who graduated two years ago from Carnegie Mellon University with a Masters degree in Computer Engineering, entered the department's graduate program this fall. He has spent the last two years working as a government contractor for Sparta Incorporated. Anthony is especially interested in artificial intelligence including computer vision and robotics.

"I came to UIUC for the faculty after a good deal of research on the resources at various top-tier schools," said Cozzie. "I was particularly impressed with Professors Forsyth, Ponce, and Amir and recognized the program here as outstanding."

He traces the inception of his interest in both chess and computer science back to his junior year at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids. Not entirely satisfied with his performance in the school's chess club, he set out to design a computer program that could surpass his own ability to win at chess.

"Whenever I can't do something well enough," said Cozzie, "I write a program to do it."

In this case, the program was called ZAPPA and it has been refined and expanded over the past six years. Although officially recognized as version two, the championship winning program is actually the fifth iteration of Cozzie's effort and represents a substantial improvement over previous versions.

"My cousin," he reported, "could beat the forth version."

His interest in using computers to play chess puts Cozzie in some very distinguished company. The first chess program was written by Alan Turing even before computers had been invented. Turing, of course, is one of history's greatest mathematicians and was the leader of the group that broke the "Enigma" code, helping to determine the outcome of the Second World War. Anticipating the advent of computers, Turing wrote instructions that a machine could use to play chess. He challenged a colleague to a game in which Turing acted as a human CPU, executing the instructions himself and requiring more than half an hour per move. In 1956, a proposal by another great mathematician, Claude Shannon of the Bell Laboratories, led to the first computer chess game played by Los Alamos' MANIAC system.

Chess programs appear to have taken on a life of their own over the last 50 years. In 1997, IBM's Deep Blue beat world champion Garry Kasparov in a highly publicized match and lately, the story of man verses machine has been one in which computers increasingly have exercised the upper hand. All the while, chess programs continue to employ the same, seemingly simple, algorithm that was the basis of Turing's program: if-this-then-that.

The engineering tradeoff central to designing computer chess programs is balancing search speed with the amount of chess knowledge encoded in the machine. Practically speaking, computers emphasize search because they do it so well. The search function generates all possible move sequences to a certain depth. The complexity of chess-playing algorithms is a result of the large number of continuations possible.

There are, on average, approximately 40 legal moves possible for any given position of the chess board. This means that, after a single move (or two ply in the vernacular of chess aficionados), 1600 different positions can arise. After two moves that number jumps to 2.5 million positions, and after three moves it is no less than 4.1 billion. Since the average game lasts 40 moves, the resulting assortment of potential positions is on the order of 10128.

Each end position is ranked, numerically, by an evaluation function that assigns value to the various assets of a given position in chess. The evaluation must reflect chess knowledge, assessing such factors as the value of material in play (the pieces on the board), the safety of the king, the mobility of various pieces, and so forth. Its goal is to identify the move that will result in a position that has the highest score. It is these evaluation and search functions that determine the winner of computer verses computer chess matches.

"The computer's strength is that it sees everything," Cozzie said, "but in some lines, it doesn't see as deep as a human Grand Master can. In the match against FUTE, the only match that ZAPPA did not win outright, ZAPPA was in a questionable position at the end of the opening book, but FUTE didn't know it."

Cozzie is already planning for next year's competition, which is scheduled to take place in Torino, Italy in May 2006. He's actively looking for a sponsor to donate the hardware that he will need for the new system he intends to procure for ZAPPA. This year he arrived in Reykjavik with a system of his own funding, design, and implementation.

"Bringing your own computer does have advantages," he said. "Many of the players struggled with network connections to their remote systems and other problems that I didn't have to contend with."

For his outstanding performance, he was awarded the Claude Shannon trophy, which is proudly displayed in Siebel Center's academic office. The thrill of the victory is still evident on Cozzie's face, although it is undoubtedly lost on ZAPPA. This is a small wonder. As the program's namesake, singer/songwriter Frank Zappa once said, "The computer can't tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what's missing is the eyebrows."

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