SCIENCE WATCH; AND STILL CHAMPION: CRAY'S CHESS COMPUTER
Published: June 17, 1986
TO the surprise and dismay of its electronic challengers, Cray Blitz has narrowly held off a field of 22 computers in Cologne, West Germany, to retain its title as computer chess champion of the world.
The champion, a supercomputer program running under the stewardship of Robert Hyatt of the University of Southern Mississippi, came from behind on the last round Sunday by beating Hitech, the favorite, from Carnegie-Mellon University.
The tournament ended with four programs tied 4-1, with the defending champion awarded the title in a system of tie-breaking points.
The four leaders reflected a growing diversity in the chess-computer world: Cray Blitz, the most traditional, runs on a state-of-the-art supercomputer. Hitech, a paragon of parallel processing, uses independent computers for each of the 64 squares. Bebe uses custom designed hardware. And Sun Phoenix uses a network of 20 Sun work stations.
All the contenders have a level of prowess that lets them overmatch all but the top rank of human chess masters. But they still make occasional blunders that mark them as computers. It was such a blunder that undermined Hitech in the final game, according to one of its operators, Murray Campbell of Carnegie-Mellon.
Playing a Queen's Gambit Accepted, Hitech proved blind to a passed pawn developing in an unexpected configuration. Its operators saw the problem coming, but Hitech did not recognize the passed pawn until it was too late to prevent it.
A drawn-out ending followed, with Cray Blitz winning in 60 moves. Hitech needed only a draw for the championship. But it didn't know that.