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The parable of the large size lollipops and the electrical pliers

  • May 9, 2024
  • 8 min read
The parable of the large size lollipops and the electrical pliers

As the parameters regarding the youngest players ever to win against chess Grandmasters are widened, exemplified by the recent success of Leonid Ivanovic, the first player under the age of 9 years to defeat a Grandmaster in Classical chess, so too does our technological age spread its wings with advances in mind kinesics and its integration into systems beyond itself.

On Wednesday, March 20th, Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain implant company, founded in 2016 by Musk, transmitted a video of a paralysed patient using their latest technology to play a game of chess on a computer. The success they achieved is the result of work conducted over time to create an implant that will connect mind and machine. The success of their results was demonstrated by Noland Arbaugh, 29, who lost movement in both legs and arms 8 years ago in a diving accident. The implant has given Noland the ability to move a cursor across a laptop screen using only his mind. He could switch things off and on, such as the music from the laptop. He said, “… it was like using the force on the cursor”, referencing Star Wars. He went on to say that the implant had already changed his life. The surgery required to implant the brain chip was completed in just one day in the hospital. Elon Musk, whose other companies include the electric car maker Tesla and the Rocketry company SpaceX, says he has ambitious plans for Neuralink, which, although currently focused on disabled patients, aims to market brain chips for the mass market. He believes that human performance can be vastly improved with the aid of technology. Arbaugh’s implant works through a chip, the size of ‘a large coin,’ implanted into a small cavity ‘hollowed out of the skull’. AI is used to read the brain’s electrical activity and translates it into moving a foreign object. Over the past two decades, brain chips have advanced significantly with American scientists demonstrating how monkeys could control robotic limbs with their thoughts after being implanted with neural interfaces. A number of companies developing brain implants are Paradromics in Texas, Precision NeuroScience in New York, and Synchron in Brooklyn and Melbourne, founded in 2012. The latter, for example, has technologically upgraded an Australian patient with motor neuron disease to communicate using text messages. Synchron uses less invasive technology that threads a stent-like device through a subject’s veins. Although it is still early stages, it would be remarkable for all those disabled persons around the world to be brought online via such devices and games, with chess in particular being opened up to individuals previously unable to participate in such joyous activities.

A professor of neural interfaces at Newcastle University, Andrew Jackson, has praised these new technological advances, noting that “the implant was wireless with no physical connection protruding through the skin!” This update in human interaction and the latest technological advances in their immersion into a unified symbiotic state reminds me of Garry Kasparov’s nightmare in May 1997, when Deep Blue, a chess computer developed by IBM, crushed the world champion. It was the first time a computer had defeated a world champion in a match under tournament conditions, and “it sent shockwaves throughout the world” With distance and time from that monumental disaster that the human rational minds around the world suffered, Kasparov became a supporter for “the combination of human ingenuity coupled with the computational power of a computer.” Although the number-crunching approach of computers is markedly different from the self-learning abilities of present-day software systems using AI, these present-day advances add, of course, to the safeguarding measures required in tournaments protecting players from cheating. A new level of detecting electronic devices and implants is being introduced by FIDE and other governing bodies of the sport. So, if going into your next tournament, your opponent has a wire protruding from their head, or if confronted by a player with wires sprouting from every orifice, go prepared! It probably will be de rigueur for future tournament chess players to have electrical pliers and large lollipops at hand. When confronted by the above situation, where your opponent has a wire sticking out of their head, use your electrical pliers to cut it off! And when you sit down to face your opponent, and only their head is visible above the board, and you glean that they are only 8 years of age and already have an international grade, and you’re feeling the horrors of horrors, “what if they beat me?” Then is the time to distract them with your extra-large lollipop!

At the time of writing this column, the FIDE Candidates Tournament, the two most important FIDE events to decide who will challenge the reigning World Champions, has begun in Toronto, Canada. By the time you read this chess column, barring any world interference, the two challengers will have been decided.

The men’s event started on 4th April with perhaps a groan or two, as opposed to a hiccup, when all four games ended in a draw. I say a groan or two because FIDE has a history when it comes to major tournament events where in the past it would ‘seem’ that players had agreed draws before the games had started! A plethora of complaints over constant draws being agreed by players pre-playing led to some hefty rules and fines, and the ‘drawing disease’ eventually disappeared. I’m pleased to say the 2nd round of the men’s championship has led to decisive results in all four matches! Gujrathi, Gukesh, Caruana, and Nepo are all on 1.5 pts after 2 rounds, and Nakamura, Abasov, Firouzja, and the third Indian player contesting this event, Praggnanandhaa, all on 0.5 pts.

Whoever wins has the right to challenge GM Ding Liren in the 2024 World Chess Championship and a share of the €500,000 prize fund. In the Candidates tournament, the winner collects €48,000, 2nd place receives €36,000, and 3rd place gets €24,000. There is an added bonus too, where €3,500 are awarded for every half point each player scores, which should be enough incentive for players not to agree to draws unless the game is, indeed, a draw.

The Women’s FIDE World Candidates tournament receives less prize money in relation to the men’s competition. I must confess I am at a quandary to know why this should be so in this day and age? I thought this attitude of disproportionate amounts in prize money between men’s and women’s competitions was a thing of the past? The players themselves haven’t, to my knowledge, questioned the difference, and probably cannot anyway without causing prejudice against themselves? Their prize money is as follows: 1st place receives €24,000, 2nd place €18,000, 3rd place €12,000, and extras are €1,750 for every 0.5 pts. every player scores. The winner of the Women’s Candidates has the right to challenge the current Woman’s World Champion GM Ju Wenjun.

In Round 1 of the Women’s tournament, there was just one decisive game with GM Tingjie losing to GM Tan Zhongyi. Round 2 had two decisive games where Zhongyi won her second game of the competition, and GM Goryachkina won against GM Anna Muzychuk representing Ukraine. After the 2nd round, GM Zhongyi leads the field with 2 pts., Goryachkina has 1.5 pts., GMs Lagno, Koneru, and IM Salonica have 1 pt. each, and GMs Muzychuk and Tingjie, along with IM Vaishali, have 0.5 pts. each.

The Challenge

 I have taken for this month’s puzzle the concluding moves in the 2nd round of the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, 2024, between GM Aleksandra Goryachkina 2553 v GM Anna Muzychuk 2520. Black has just played her Rook on h8 to d8, doubling up on the d file and protecting her Rook on d7. Although both players have 4 pieces in play, Black’s pieces have adopted a more defensive role, whilst White’s pieces are actively trending towards attacking her opponent’s positions. What was the follow-on to her attitude with her next move that simplified the position? 
See below for the solution.

About Author

Barry Martin

Barry Martin as artist has his work in many collections including: the Tate, V&A Museum, City University, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds City Museum and many more. He is both a chess player and writer about chess. He has written books and articles about chess, and was the official artist for several World Championships including, Short v Kasparov and Kramnik v Kasparov.

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