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  • Jan 27, 1929
    (b.) -
    Jan 13, 2017
    (d.)

Bio/Description

A Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, he is a former World Correspondence Chess Champion, from 1965–68. He is a Grandmaster of Correspondence Chess, and an International Master for over-the-board chess. He directed the construction of the chess computer HiTech. He is also a chess writer. Born in Berlin, Germany, when he was eight years old his family moved to America to escape Nazi persecution, taking up residence in Washington, D.C. He learned chess at age 13, and "it quickly became his main preoccupation." He studied Physics at Georgetown University, but dropped out to join the Army in 1951. When finished his tour in the army, on the advice of chess player, Isador Turover, he returned to college where he received his degree in Psychology. In 1954 he began working for the government at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. in Human Engineering. Later he worked for Martin Company in Denver, then in Philadelphia; after which he returned to Washington D.C. to work for IBM where they were building their own computer. He learned to code from his instructor who suggested that maybe they could write a chess program. They talked about it and began, but it never got off the ground. That was his first experience with computers. He returned to school in 1969 to continue his education at Carnegie-Mellon as a doctoral student where he finished his dissertation in 1973 and received his degree in 1974 or 1975. He is mentioned in "How I Started To Write", an essay by Carlos Fuentes, where he is described as "an extremely brilliant boy", with "a brilliant mathematical mind". In 1949, he became a master, won the District of Columbia Championship (the first of five wins of that tournament) and the Southern States Championship, and tied for second place with Larry Evans at the New York State Championship. He also won the 1953 New York State Championship (the first win by a non-New Yorker), the 1956 Eastern States Open directed by Norman Tweed Whitaker in Washington, D.C., ahead of William Lombardy, Nicolas Rossolimo, Bobby Fischer (at age 13) and Arthur Feuerstein, and the 1957 Champion of Champions tournament. He played for his country's Olympiad team at Helsinki 1952, drawing his only game on the second reserve board. He played four times in the US Chess Championship. In 1954 at New York, he scored 6½/13 to tie 8–9th places; Arthur Bisguier won. The last three times he played in the U.S. Championship, Fischer won the tournament. In 1957–58 at New York, he had his best result, 5th place with 7/13. In 1960–61 at New York, he scored 4½/11, tying for 8th–10th place. Finally in 1962–63 at New York, he scored 5/11 for a tied 7th–8th place. He was talented at all aspects of chess. He gave a multi-board blindfold simultaneous exhibition at the Washington Chess Divan, winning all six games against top local players. He is remembered most for his feats in correspondence play, most notably his victory in the 5th World Correspondence Chess Championship in 1965. He won with the extraordinary score of 14/16 (twelve wins, four draws), a margin of victory of three points, thrice that of any other winner in these championships. His game in which he played the Two Knights Defense to defeat Yakov Estrin in the 1965 World Correspondence Chess Championship is one of the most famous and important games in correspondence chess. As of March 31, 2005, he still had by far the highest International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) rating of any player in the United States, at 2726, 84 points above the second-highest rated player. His 2726 rating places him third on the ICCF's world list, behind Joop van Oosterom (2741) and Ulf Andersson (2736). In his 1999 book The System, he claimed that the move 1.d4 gives White a large, and possibly decisive, advantage. While programming HiTech, he was having trouble implementing board evaluation. He decided that to explore the problem, he should write an evaluation function for another game: backgammon. The result was BKG 9.8, written in the late 1970s on a DEC PDP-10. Early versions of BKG played badly even against poor players, but he noticed that its critical mistakes were always at transitions. He applied principles of fuzzy logic to smooth out the transition between phases, and by July 1979, BKG 9.8 was strong enough to play against the ruling world champion Luigi Villa. It won the match 7–1, becoming the first computer program to defeat a world champion in any game. He states that the victory was largely a matter of luck, as the computer received more favorable dice rolls. He also developed the B* search algorithm for game tree searching. He currently lives in Florida, and has worked to help develop computer chess programs in his later years. Among the books he has authored are: “The System: A World Champion's Approach to Chess” (1999), Gambit Publications, ISBN 1-901983-10-2; “The B* Tree Search Algorithm. A Best-First Proof Procedure" (1979), Artificial Intelligence 12 (1): 23–40, doi:10.1016/0004-3702(79)90003-1“The System: A World Champion's Approach to Chess” (1999), Gambit Publications, ISBN 1-901983-10-2Burgess, Graham; Nunn, John; Emms, John (2004), The Mammoth Book of the World's Greatest Chess Games, Carroll & Graf, ISBN 0-7867-1411-5
  • Date of Birth:

    Jan 27, 1929
  • Date of Death:

    Jan 13, 2017
  • Gender:

    Male
  • Noted For:

    Directed the construction of HiTech, a chess computer encompassing hardware and software capable of playing chess autonomously without human guidance
  • Category of Achievement:

  • More Info:

Still Alive: