In the fall of 1977, I stumbled across a book on the shelf of the University of Toronto bookstore: Computer Chess by Monty Newborn. At the time I was in the third year of my undergraduate computer science program, and the thought of writing a program to play chess fired my imagination. As a chess player, I knew I was not good enough to be the world champion. But as a computer scientist, maybe I could write a program to become the world champion.
It did not take long before I realized my dream was much harder than I thought. Computer access was limited (it cost money), software development was laborious (University of Toronto was still using punched cards), and my time was at a premium (full-time student, part-time job, never enough time for my girlfriend). That is when I made the fateful decision to apply to graduate school. Until then I had no aspirations for graduate work, but I quickly realized that working on an M.Sc. thesis would give me the time to write a chess program.
I did my Masters and Ph.D. degrees on artificial intelligence applied to chess. In 1986, my chess program Phoenix tied for first place in the World Computer Chess Championship, so in some sense I realized by goal of becoming a world champion. But in the next world championship (1989) Phoenix crashed and burned (and did not rise from the ashes). I realized that I could not compete with the deep pockets of IBM's Deep Thought project, soon to become Deep Blue. That is when I moved on to checkers, but that is another story.
For most of the 1980s I was obsessed with computer chess programs. My research has taken me on to many other projects, but computer chess has always been my first love. So in 2016 when out of the blue an opportunity arose to work on a computer chess book, I jumped at the chance.
On November 5, the book comes out. Man vs Machine: Challenging Human Supremacy at Chess is co-authored with chess Grandmaster Karsten Müller. The book tells the human side of man playing machine at chess -- the chess players who wanted to defend humankind's honour and the scientists and hobbyists that wanted to advance technology. Karsten provided the insightful annotations to the key chess games, while I supplied the history and stories.
You can order a copy here. It makes a great Christmas present!
Thank you to Hanon Russell for approaching me about doing the book, Karsten Müller for his excellent chess analysis, and Vladimir Kramnik for the foreword. It is a highlight of my academic career to work with such a talented team of people.