Cyberchess champ has Israeli accent
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Cyberchess champ has Israeli accent

IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue has nothing on the Israeli reigning world champion in computer chess, affectionately called Deep Junior. The program has won five world computer chess championships, beginning in 1997.

"The program is distinctive from other chess programs in its search strategies and evaluation," proudly explains one of the creators, Shay Bushinsky.

Mutual friends introduced chess lovers Bushinsky and Amir Ban in 1993. By 1995, the pair — who designed Deep Junior in their spare time — shared third place in a computer chess competition with IBM’s Deep Blue.

According to Bushinsky, Deep Junior isn’t as fast as Deep Blue because it is a program, as opposed to Deep Blue, which is an entire computer specifically designed to play chess. It can calculate the potential outcome of about 9 million moves per second, compared with Deep Blue’s ’00-300 million, but is more selective about the positions it analyzes.

Deep Junior’s achievement this year at the world championship games in Torino, Italy (where it won its fifth world title), left Bushinsky and Ban elated, but surprised. "The rather short time between the ‘005 championships [in which Deep Junior lost to a program called Zappa] and Torino made our preparations much more difficult," said Bushinsky.

"We understood that fundamental changes must be made in Deep Junior’s code, including its search algorithm and evaluation function," he said. "In previous championships, Deep Junior was notorious for dropping points to weak opponents in the opening round. But this time, it started strong and scored three wins out of three games after two days of competition, which was an excellent sign that the version is doing fine."

The world’s leading chess player at the time, Garry Kasparov, challenged the Deep Junior program to a match in ‘003: Man vs. machine. Kasparov said, "I wanted to prove that the human race was not hopeless. This was not just a game but a scientific experiment that is important for the whole human race."

The match ended in a draw (3-3 tie) but received much publicity and fanfare. According to Bushinsky, Deep Junior actually shocked Kasparov with one of its moves.

Now the two partners are hoping to persuade Bulgarian World Champion Grandmaster Veselin Topolov to play the new and improved Deep Junior program that will be coming out in the summer. "The stumbling block is raising the prize money for the competition," said Bushinsky.

Laura Goldman is a freelance writer for ISRAEL’1c.

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