Do you remember when the world watched IBM’s ‘Deep Blue’ supercomputer challenge grandmaster Garry Kasparov across the chess board?
It was almost 15 years ago now, but it was big news at the time, shocking news for some, because the computer won.
The era of the machine?
Many believed that it marked the beginning of the era of machine supremacy in the realm of board games.
After all, chess is one of the most difficult and elegant board games known to man and the machine defeated our world champion.
But John Tromp, computer scientist and avid fan of the board game Go, disagreed. What’s more, Tromp boldly put his money where his mouth is, saying:
“I would happily bet that I won’t be beaten in a 10 game match before the year 2011.”
He then put $1000 down on the table to prove he was serious. The game? Go.
The game of Go
But what is Go? It’s an ancient game of strategy which originated in China thousands of years ago and is still played by millions throughout Asia today. It also has a growing following throughout the rest of the world.
Tromp’s challenge proved too tantalizing for Darren Cook, who agreed to what became known as the Shodan Go Bet.
Go uses the same grading system that martial arts do and shodan is basically the Japanese term for black belt.
And John Tromp is a black belt of this mental martial art. A player skilled enough to represent a serious challenge for computers to overcome.
The game was on, but that was way back in 1997, so what happened?
Tromping the machine
Cook wisely waited as long as possible, to give the machines more time to improve, politely refusing whenever Tromp cheekily offered to raise the stakes. The dust finally settled at the end of 2010, or did it?
It was no sure thing, but Tromp put on a good showing, destroying the computer four games to nil. Cook coughed up the money.
However, the story doesn’t end there. Just like the machines challenged Kasparov (who also won his first match) to a rematch, they are now challenging Tromp to one.
This time the challenge comes from Japan, where top Go players can earn millions of dollars playing in the professional leagues.
A new challenger
The challenger is Yoji Ojima’s Zen19 computer program and the games will be held from Friday, January 13 – Wednesday January 18, 2012.
When asked whether he was nervous about starting the match on Friday the 13th, Tromp replied “not at all, I was born on Friday the 13th.”
More about the game of Go
As you’ve gathered by now, Go is a fascinating board game that’s been played for thousands of years. It’s also one of the few traditional games that still defy computers.
The rules of Go are simple, and you can learn the basics and start having fun in just a few minutes. However, it takes many years to become a master.
Who do you think will win?
What do you think? Do the odds favor John Tromp or Zen19? Final results:
- Yes, John Tromp will win. (69%, 250 Votes)
- No, the computer will win. (31%, 110 Votes)
Zen ended up winning 3 games to 1. Here are the final results:
- Fri, Jan 13, 8pm US Eastern Time: Tromp won by resignation. View Zen19 vs John Tromp game 1 online or download the SGF.
- Sat, Jan 14, 8pm US Eastern Time: Zen19 won by 18.5 points. View Zen19 vs John Tromp game 2 online or download the SGF.
- Sun, Jan 15, 8pm US Eastern Time: Zen19 won by resignation. View Zen19 vs John Tromp game 3 online or download the SGF.
- Mon, Jan 16, 8pm US Eastern Time: Zen19 won by resignation. View Zen19 vs John Tromp game 4 online or download the SGF.
See a commentary of game 2
If you’d like to see some analysis of one of the games, have a look at my commentary of game 2.
For those of you who are interested in the hardware, Zen19 is sporting a dual 6-core Xeon X5680 (overclocked to 4.2Ghz). The approximate cost of the machine is 350,000 yen (about $4375 USD).
Zen19 uses a Monte Carlo Tree Search algorithm, which is now common among all leading computer Go programs.
A special thanks to Darren Cook and John Tromp for providing details and quotes for this article. You can find out more about the Shodan Go Bet on Darren’s website and visit John Tromp’s site to learn more about him.