The defence

Chess v. artificial intelligence

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  • Published 20230801
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-86-3
  • Extent: 196pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

OF THE MANY face-to-face social pleasures prohibited by Covid lockdowns, the experience of sitting in a quiet pub and playing chess with a friend must count among those I was happiest to return to. No doubt the attraction is partly aesthetic, a reflection of the game’s romantic cachet. Post-impressionist paintings of bearded revolutionaries frowning over the sixty-four squares, and novels in which the great game figures as a metaphor for the human condition, have conferred an aura of existential cool on these meetings over a small wooden board. 

But it is the game itself that really holds me, that induces an almost Zen-like state. Played in person, there is an intimacy and intensity about chess that is difficult to describe without skirting pomposity. (‘Even before the start of play,’ wrote George Steiner in The Sporting Scene, ‘the pieces, with their subtle insinuation of near-human malevolence, confront each other across an electric silence.’) I cannot start a game without the first words of Kenneth Slessor’s ‘Chessmen’ entering unbidden into my head: ‘Chafing on flags of ebony and pearl, / My paladins are waiting.’ Sadly, I’m also unable to finish one without recalling Martin Amis’ description of the amateur game as ‘an uninterrupted exchange of howlers’.

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