WHO IS THE ALL-TIME GREATEST MIND SPORTS CHAMPION?
Published the 7/9/2008
The automatic answer to the question of who is the greatest mind sports champion of all time would be Garry Kasparov, undisputed number one for over twenty years, international media personality and multi-millionaire. However, Kasparov somewhat blotted his copybook by losing a six-game challenge match, in May 1997, to IBM’s Deep Blue computer and also losing his world title to Vladimir Kramnik in London 2000. Meanwhile, draughts champion Dr Marion Tinsley made such a huge impression during his match in London against the Chinook program in 1992, that this question is definitely worth asking. For example, the implacable Dr Tinsley, aged 65, played four games a day (totalling nine hours), six days a week with only one rest day over a 39 game match. Spectacularly, in so doing, Dr Tinsley turned the ‘Turing Test’ on its head. The Turing Test, famously, posits that if experts cannot distinguish between human and computer output in certain areas, then the machine is said to be ‘thinking’. When analysts were poring over the 39 games played, they found to their surprise, that not knowing whether the human or the computer was playing black or white, they consistently concluded that the mistake-prone, relatively non-elegant moves played by the computer were those played by Dr Tinsley, while the magnificently immaculate moves played by Dr Tinsley were, in fact, by the computer. This provides a fascinating insight into how the human brain still underestimates itself and inappropriately overestimates silicon intelligence when the evidence is quite demonstrably to the contrary. When seeking to answer the enthralling question, who is the greatest Mind Sports champion of all-time, a number of significant factors must be taken into account. Before we enumerate the critical criteria for establishing the greatest Mind Sportsman of all-time, we must be certain that we have selected the leading candidates from the major Mind Sports. Apart from Kasparov and Dr Tinsley the following five grand champions in their sphere should be considered: Oyama Yasuharu Oyama Yasuharu totally dominated the game of shogi for a twenty year period from the early 1950’s to the early 1970’s. He won 80 titles, overwhelmingly the largest number ever, and was still a title challenger in 1989 at the age of 66. He was created 15th lifetime Meijin (or grand champion) in 1976 and died in 1992 at the age of 69. This was in his 45th consecutive season as either an ‘A’ class player or as Meijin. In chess, this would be the equivalent of being World Champion, or a World Championship candidate, for 45 years. Additionally, he holds the record for the most number of games player in a career, 2,214 and the most career wins, 1,433. Go Seigen Go Seigen was the strongest player in the oriental game of go from 1940 to 1955. Born in Fukien Province, China, he emigrated to Japan and vanquished all the Japanese Grand Champions in a series of set matches. Go experts regard him as the greatest genius in the history of their game. Go Seigen achieved one of the dreams of all Mind Sports champions, in that he defeated every major opponent who confronted him on even terms. This forced them into a situation where they could only hope to compete against him with a chance of success while being given odds. Not just a great player, he was also a revolutionary theorist of the openings, developing the New Fuseki, which completely overturned conventional theory in go during the 1930’s. Hu RongHua Hu RongHua won the XiangQi Championship for the first time in 1960 aged 15, thus creating the record for the youngest ever champion in that Mind Sport. In 1985, at the age of 40, he added the record for becoming the oldest champion too! Absolutely the greatest player of Chinese chess of all-time, Hu RongHua logged an unprecedented sequence of ten consecutive victories in the championship during his dominant years. The best Chinese chess players come exclusively from mainland China, and the Chinese National Championship may safely be considered as equivalent to the World Championship. Ely Culbertson Contract bridge was invented in 1925, but within the space of a mere six years bridge fever had swept America. The extraordinary and immediate growth of the game was largely due to Culbertson, one of the strangest and most flamboyant characters ever known in the games-playing world. In 1929 he founded the magazine The Bridge World, which is still a leading authority. His many textbooks became best-sellers and he commanded an amazing $10,000 a week for radio broadcasts on the game. In 1930 he led an American team to England to play the first ever international match. Culbertson won the ‘Bridge Battle of the Century’ in a 75-hour contest against Sidney Lenz in 1931. This success made Culbertson a dollar millionaire three times over. He went on to establish a sort of private fiefdom over bridge, which has never been equalled. Culbertson, like Kasparov, transformed success at his chosen Mind Sport into giant personal wealth. He lived on a private estate in a 45-room house, with several miles of parks, lighted roads, greenhouses, cottages, lakes and an enclosed swimming pool. He always had caviar for tea! Dominic O’Brien Dominic O’Brien is the overwhelmingly dominant force in the Mind Sport of memory testing and performance. He has been joint winner of the Brain of the Year title, awarded by the Brain Trust Charity, and has won the World Memory Championship on eight occasions. Now we enumerate the criteria for awarding the ultimate laurels. Criteria for establishing Dominance in Mind Sports 1 The number of players playing the particular game. 2 The strength of the top players. 3 The complexity of the game. 4 The record of the player in question. 5 The duration of time at the top. 6 The opinions of those who are the champions’ closest rivals. In spite of their superlative achievements, none of Hu RongHua, Culbertson, Oyama Yasuharu or Go Seigen ever faced the test of extended battle against a giant, tireless number-crunching computer, as Kasparov and Tinsley did. While, in Dominic O’Brien’s chosen sphere of memory challenge, contests against a computer would simply be inappropriate. We must therefore narrow the field down to Kasparov and Dr Tinsley. When assessing the relative claims of Kasparov and Dr Tinsley it should be noticed that there are more draughts players in the world (500 million) than there are chessplayers (350 million). However, there is a distinctly higher number of top chessplayers, and chess certainly has the lead in terms of the quantity of young players taking up the game as a profession. As to the relative complexity of chess and draughts, chess according to our research, has 11 skill levels, while draughts has 8, a clear lead to chess. Kasparov has dominated chess as no other player ever has, and has continually put his title on the line to challengers, but Dr Tinsley essentially maintained himself at the top, dominating all aspects of the game, including knowledge, opening, middlegame and endgame theory, brilliance, creativity, speed and marathon playing for a total of 43 years. If Kasparov had had ambitions to duplicate Tinsley’s span as the undisputed top player, instead of retirng from chess, he would have had to stay world champion until the year 2028 and he would have had to improve his record against the world’s best computers! CONCLUSION "The Cloud Of Unknowing" Part of the thrill of any sport is uncertainty as to the outcome and the relishing of the infinity of possibilities in play which have rendered many situations virtually impervious to definitive solution or accurate prediction –mental sports, specifically, fall into three categories: 1) Opponents battle against each other with the objective of winning, scoring points, achieving ratings and earning titles; chess, draughts, bridge and go, for example, fall into this category. In such games the truth –in an objective fashion –often falls victim to the overriding imperative to win the game. 2) Competitors battle against themselves, seeking to overcome their own limitations whilst maximising their personal potential to claw ever improving results out of the granite of set standards and norms. Such activities, always competitive but involving rivals rather than opponents, include –notably – Memory Championships, where the target is invariably to surpass previous records and shatter known barriers. 3) Finally we come to those mental activities, often highly testing, and again fiercely competitive, but where the challenge is to rediscover what is already known, perhaps in a race with other contestants against a time limit or clock. The competitions which fall into this category include crossword solving, IQ tests and chess problem solution. Ipso facto, the setter of the questions, problems or puzzles already knows the answer. The trick for the winners is to penetrate the mind of the composer and divine the intentions behind a query to which the answer is already established. "The Blurring Of The Lines" In recent times a particular technological phenomenon has caused variants 1 and 3 to veer much more closely towards each other. The advent of supercomputers, such as IBM’s Deep Blue, Fritz and now the monstrous Hydra, has created a situation where games such as chess, draughts and to a lesser extent Go can be analysed out to a correct conclusion, once the basic tactical and strategic environment has been adumbrated by the chosen opening moves. So strong have such programs become –with High Street devices on sale for a few tens of dollars able to defeat masters and on occasion grandmasters of the games concerned –that we are rapidly reaching a situation where a chess or checkers game may be seen as an examination rather than a pure combat. The players produce their moves, a result is obtained and then the analysts switch on the machines to discover who was right, who went wrong and where, and what the result should have been. The experience of contesting such a game now is beginning to resemble an examination with right and wrong answers, rather than a work of art or a battle. How to React? It has been established by impeccable scientific research that playing chess and dancing are the two sovereign remedies against Alzheimer’s Disease and any general deterioration of mental faculties. However, it is also well established that any strenuous mental activity will assist the brain in cultivating new connections and perhaps even growing further cell tissue. Hence mental sports and the striving for fresh mental records is an indisputably good thing, whether one battles against an opponent, oneself or an objective norm. That said, the possible transformation of face to face mind warfare of type 1 into a more objective testing of the type 3 variety, should not overly concern us. What the leading practitioners must do, and in this sense all they have to demonstrate is the way forward for other enthusiasts, is to learn from computers, to draw and publish detailed conclusions when they fail to win or even lose. This occurred with Kasparov in 1997 against Deep Blue and more emphatically when Britain’s number one Michael Adams was crushed by Hydra in 2005. After such reverses analysis must be produced, both strategic and tactical to show how losing positions came about and how they are to be avoided. If necessary copy machine stratagems and employ them in reverse against the machines themselves. This way the frontiers of knowledge will be advanced and the human brain will demonstrate that in the mental sphere miracles can be achieved. In the Olympic games Formula One racing cars are, of course, not permitted to enter the 5000 metres or the marathon, but in the mental sphere computers are allowed to do just that. It is within the parameters of both the duty and the capability of the best mental warriors to prove that they can still survive in such an intense competive environment, digest the lessons to be learnt and go on to win. How Difficult are They? The number of possible positions available in different Mind Sports is as follows: Mind Sport Possible Positions Go 10 to the power of 170 Scrabble 10 150 Poker 10 72 Shogi 10 70 Chess 10 50 XiangQi 10 50 Bridge 10 30 Draughts 10 20 Backgammon 10 19
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