Chess has long been considered a battle of wits between two humans. But with the rise of artificial intelligence, this age-old perception is slowly being challenged. With the latest introduction of generative AI, the situation has become sharper. Deep learning algorithms and neural networks have allowed AI-powered chess engines to become increasingly sophisticated, becoming a new challenge for even the most skilled grandmasters. In this blog post, we will explore the world of generative AI in chess and how, in general, the domain of chess influenced the evolution of artificial intelligence – as well as how top players are responding to this new foe on the board.
AI and generative AI in chess
The first and most important thing to know is that generative AI is an area within the broader field of AI that specifically deals with creating new content, while AI encompasses a broader range of technologies and applications beyond generative tasks.
In the context of chess, AI is used in computer programs or algorithms that are designed to play chess at a high level, often surpassing human capabilities. But there are much more common applications of artificial intelligence in the chess game:
- Chess engines: AI-powered programs that play chess at a high level, using algorithms and search techniques to analyze positions, calculate move possibilities, and make intelligent decisions.
- Position evaluation: AI algorithms assess the strength of a chess position by considering factors like piece activity, pawn structure, king safety, and other positional aspects to determine positional superiority.
- Move generation and search: AI algorithms employ search techniques, such as the alpha-beta algorithm, to explore the space of possible moves, analyze resulting positions, and determine the best move in a given position.
- Cheat detection: AI-based systems can help detect cheating in chess by analyzing player moves, identifying suspicious patterns, and comparing them to known databases or expected behaviors.
- Opening books: AI algorithms are used to create comprehensive opening books that contain well-analyzed moves and variations, providing players with guidance and recommendations for the initial phase of the game.
- Game annotations & analysis: AI tools analyze completed chess games, providing annotations and insights into critical moments, mistakes, missed opportunities, and strategic evaluations, helping players improve their gameplay.
- Chess databases: AI algorithms organize and search through vast collections of chess games and positions, enabling players, trainers, and researchers to study historical games, identify trends, explore the opening theory, and analyze specific positions.
Chess engines can be considered as predecessors for the development of AI in chess. Chess engines, with their ability to analyze positions, calculate move possibilities, and make intelligent decisions, paved the way for the broader field of AI in chess. Chess engines, such as Stockfish, Komodo, and others, were among the earliest examples of AI applications in chess.
Over time, AI in chess expanded beyond traditional chess engines to incorporate newer techniques, such as deep learning and generative AI. The introduction of generative AI, as demonstrated by AlphaZero, introduced new undiscovered approaches to playing and understanding chess. For example, in a series of 100 games against Stockfish, one of the strongest traditional chess engines at the time, AlphaZero won 28 games, lost none, and drew the remaining games and showcased unconventional, strategic moves that had never been used previously. Estimations based on these results suggest that AlphaZero’s playing strength was well above 3,400 Elo, while Stockfish is typically rated around the 3,300 Elo mark.*
FYI: For 2017, the highest Elo rating achieved by a human in classical chess was 2843 held by Magnus Carlsen, Norwegian chess grandmaster and World Chess Champion.
*The estimations may vary depending on the specific rating system used, the time of evaluation, and relative strength compared to human grandmasters.