Checkers Against a Computer

There’s a strong chance that you’ll play checkers against a computer if you compete online, although many prefer to take on other humans in order to make friends or mercilessly taunt their opponents. While the available programs range in difficulty from laughable to unbeatable, a game of checkers against a computer can help you improve your skills at a surprising rate. In this article, we’ll provide a few tips for what to do when playing checkers against a computer, as well as some of the more fascinating moments in the development of artificial intelligence.

Playing Checkers Against a Computer

If you decide to play checkers against a computer (online or tabletop version), keep in mind that it’s the perfect opportunity to improve your game. While human opponents get impatient and often enjoy mindless chatter, the computer will remain silent and wait for as long as it takes. Use this to your advantage by examining each move from every angle, making an effort to understand the strategy behind it.

Most computerized checkers programs allow you to undo or examine previous moves, which is another opportunity for improvement. Once you’ve made a mistake, rewind the game and take time to study what you did wrong and how the computer capitalized on it. Chances are, you won’t make the same mistake again.

I also suggest competing on the hardest available level when playing checkers against a computer. Winning does little but boost your ego, which misses the point of the entire exercise. You want to lose and lose badly. Only then can you begin to recognize the weaknesses in your game and correct them.

Chinook – The Ultimate Checkers Computer

With an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records and a world title to its credit, the Canadian-based computer program known as Chinook has revolutionized computer play in checkers. In this section, we’ll look at the history of the program, as well as detailing some of its more notable accomplishments. Those who get creeped out by the implications of the Terminator movies should be warned, though, as this is only a hint of the things to come.

The history of Chinook started at the University of Alberta in 1989, when a team of designers led by Jonathan Schaeffer set out to develop a computer program that could defeat the reigning world champion in a game of checkers. The first step was to develop an endgame database that could calculate all possible positions (7 million) with four pieces left on the board.

The following year, Chinook completed calculations on a 6-piece endgame database, which included 25 million positions. Also in 1990, the program became the first to earn the right to play for a world championship of any kind.

However, the governing bodies of checkers weren’t keen on a computer entering its competition, and so Chinook was prevented from doing so. Reigning champion Marion Tinsley (considered the greatest checkers player in history), however, relished the challenge. When he was prevented from officially defending his title against Chinook in 1992, he resigned his position in protest and squared off against the program in the first-ever Man-Machine World Championship. Tinsley backed up his reputation, defeating Chinook by a score of 4 to 2 (with 33 draws).

In 1994, the two competitors were to play again, but Tinsley was forced to forfeit after playing Chinook to six draws. A week later, Tinsley would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and pass away in a few months. This made Chinook the first artificial intelligence to win a world title, and the historical event came three years prior to the headlines generated by the chess computer known as Deep Blue. In 1994, Chinook also completed a database for all 8-piece endgames (444 billion possible positions).

The following year, Don Lafferty played checkers against a computer when he challenged Chinook for the Man-Machine title. The match was scheduled for 32 games, and Chinook won by a score of one to zero (with 31 draws).

Chinook was allowed to compete in the U.S. Championship in 1996, and it outclassed its competitors in unprecedented fashion. Following the tournament win, Chinook was retired to devote all its time to solving the game of checkers.

1997 was an eventful year for Chinook and its creators. Project manager Jonathan Schaeffer published his book One Jump Ahead: Challenging Human Supremacy at Checkers, while the Guinness Book of World Records officially recognized Chinook as the first computer program to claim a human championship. Its efforts to solve checkers, however, were put on hold for the next four years.

The project resumed in 2001, and the program’s massive database started to expand once again. An attempt to solve the game failed in 2004, but progress was made the following year when the first-ever checkers opening was solved to a draw. In 2005, the Chinook database expanded to include solutions for 10 pieces or less on the board (a total of 39 trillion position).

Chinook made history once again in 2007, when it was announced that it has officially solved the game of checkers. The best a human opponent could hope to achieve with perfect play would be a draw, regardless of which color they controlled.

As of this writing, checkers is the largest game ever to be solved. By way of comparison, it’s one-million times the size of the previous record holder, Connect Four.

My Game Against Chinook

The University of Alberta has a website where you can play checkers against Chinook, so I decided to represent the human race in a quick game. I lost after 36 moves when the game froze up, although Chinook’s calculations indicated that I had already lost a dozen move before. If you’d like to try your luck against our future computerized overlords, head over to http://webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca/~chinook/play/.

Computer Checkers World Championship

While most scenarios see people play checkers against a computer, the 2002 Computer Checkers World Championship in Las Vegas saw a number of famous programs battle for supremacy in a tournament. Nemesis, Cake, and KingsRow were the participants, and each program played 24 games against one another (18 rounds of 4 games each). Programs that failed to participate included Chinook, Wyllie, and WCC.

When the dust had settled, only three losses actually occurred during the tournament, and one of these was due to a database error. Nemesis won the title with 26 points, and KingsRow finished in second with 24 points. Cake, which notched two of the three losses, finished in third with 22 points.

The next time you play checkers against a computer, keep in mind that you now live in a world where entire tournaments take place between artificial intellects. Before you know it, they’ll be getting celebrity endorsements and finding themselves at the center of doping scandals. We’ve taught them well.