Greengard's ChessNinja.com

Freestyle "Chess"

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Call it cheaters chess, anything goes, vale tudo, advanced chess, or anything you like. The semifinals of the "Freestyle Chess" tournament were held today on the Playchess.com server. There is no cheating because there are no rules. Three of the four semifinalists were known GMs working with computer assistance. Even the mighty Hydra was no match for the combination of a strong human playing blunder-free chess.

The anonymous American fourth player/team became one of the finalists today. I won't reveal the identity of "ZackS" here since the ChessBase guys have had fun stoking the fires of public curiosity. ChessBase co-Direktor Frederic Friedel is in town on my sofa, actually for the June 21 Times Square match between FIDE champ Rustam Kasimdzhanov and the "AI Accoona ToolBar" (wince).

Allowing computer assistance in online events makes sense if only because most online human events become "freestyle" chess anyway. If you can't beat'em, join'em. The four-game final match between ZackS and Russian GM Vladimir Dobrov is tomorrow starting at 6:00am NY time. First prize is an impressive $10,000. Quite a chunk of change for coordinated cheating. Crime does pay!


So, if the computer assistance is allowed, why to call it "cheating"? But it is surprising that players are allowed to play anonymously in such event. I think that it would be more logical if all the players would play under their real names.
Best regards to Frederic Friedel!

i am guessing zackS is nakamura.

i agree with the above poster. zacks being the only anonymous participant has an advantage over the others since he/she/it can prepare for the opponent without allowing the opponent the same preparation.

Well, it would usually be cheating, so I just make it a joke to call it cheater's chess. Of course it's the entire point of this event. A human playing without assistance would be killed as easily as the computers playing without human assistance!

Knowing identity couldn't hurt, but online there is no way to know for sure anyway. Many players were in collaborative groups, sometimes with three or four GMs (and three or four PCs running different programs) playing one game. So preparation isn't much of an issue. A red herring at best, I would think. And in most cases the strongest player in the group takes over, and so really plays for four or five entries. (This happened in the ACP blitz events. I watched it personally in one case.)

On anonimity:

1) Nobody forced any of the opponents to use their real names. So if they wanted to avoid their opponents preparing they could have entered without using their real names.

2) Enforcing real names: how? They could not do this in a practical way anyway, so my guess is that's why the tournament left it open.

On the "AI Accoona ToolBar":

Does anybody know which chess program is behind this?
Don't tell me it's some "arificial intelligence entitiy", that's just BS imo.
And as far as I know, internet search engines don't play chess. (It might be cool though, to be able to play chess against Google.)

It seems to me that one very important rule is missing from this (so-called) "freestyle" chess, namely the right to take back as many moves as needed in order to never lose.

I think that in events with big prizes the playing under a real name can be a condition. If I am Golubev, but played under the name Сrocodile3000, than I can not be paid - so simple.

The player's registration for the PAL/CSS Freestyle tournament required the real name (of the participant who had the Playchess.com account), and the name of the account (aka handle, nickname) he was going to play with, anyway. Also, almost all players have given their real name in the public data of their accounts, so the kibitzers had that info too. For example, it never was a secret that "Tank1" (who finished on 3rd rank today) is GM Vladimir Kosyrev.

I'm having a difficult time finding the results for the final game bet. ZackS and Dobrov. Does anyone know if it's over or when or where I can find the results?

The final game was a draw. ZackS won the match by winning the third game. There will be a report up later tonight or tomorrow at ChessBase.com. Talked to the two amateurs playing as ZackS. One rated 1600 something and the other under 1400!

Oh, boy! You were way off, gangsy :-)

What I like about this revelation of ZackS is Chessbase.com's comment to the effect "the most powerful chess playing entity on the planet is a GM armed with a computer."

How on earth do a 1600 player and a 1400 player,who almost everyone here would beat effortlessly,manage to outplay Grandmasters and win such a strong tourney? Okay they have a good comp,but surely the GMs did too,and I am sure Dobrov Kosyrev and Landa armed with computers are very very formidable,what is the secret of ZackS success? Its a million dollar question and its very disturbing that B and C class players can beat Grandmasters.

I agree Prabhat, they must have cheated or something!

The flash report has been posted on chessbase.com. It specifies that the two players behind ZackS are from Main. This gets spookier and spookier... What the heck is Main? Is it some secret government organization? Or is it just a typo and should have been Maine? Still spooky. I am really afraid that the chess game has been solved. And don't give me that number of atoms in the Universe crap, the shortcut must have been found.

Actually, Main might be short for Mainframe, a secret new version of Deep Blue, that has achieved self-awareness through solving chess and has taken direct control of two humans. Explains their cryptic remarks.

nice ones Michael. Actually they have a device like the Riddler in Batman that enables them to see into their opponents brain and know all the plans. Now if they had played me, they would have lost since there usually are no plans:)

Isn't the Main a river in Germany, as in Frankfurt am Main? They did fix the article to say Maine btw. What is scary is a 1398 USCF and a 1685 USCF with pcs, beat GMs with pcs. I am curious as to whether the whole story about the ZachS team has come out.

what is really scary is that we are both actually from central new hampshire! not maine, or main or even mainframe!


we are in the process of writing a little article for mig and frederic... i'll probably be sending it to them tonight.


steven cramton

Congrats! Incredible story. It's pretty cool to see you hanging out here. Looking forward to learning more. Anything you can tell us would be appreciated. I see you're a school teacher?

Congratulations Steven,to do what you have done is an unbelievable achievment. It would be really great if you could tell us a couple of thingsa) are u guys vastly underrated-u have improved greatly since u last played competitive chess b)or did you guys have some kind of specialized opening selection strategy,how much of your skills did you use in comparison to the computers etc?

Thank you for the kind words!

Zack and I put together a little report and sent it off to Mig and Federic... perhaps they will post it in a few days. We tried to give a specific outline of the hardware we used, move selection, opening preparation, engine use, a few pictures and a few briefly annotated games from the tournament.

To answer your first question I will say that we are probably in fact underrated. The last time either of us played OTB was back in 1999. However we are very passionate when it comes to chess. We work hard and enjoy dynamic play. Before the tournament started we decided to play 1.e4 (only once playing 1.d4) and to play the Grunfeld as Black. We felt that this Defense offered us dynamic positions and chances to win!

We used computer assistance in every one of our games although we did not always play the top recommended moves. We often tried to play creatively in order to have a dynamic position with many imbalances.


Thank you for your interest in our success... we are always happy to answer any further questions you may have.

ps. Brian Ober, I coach soccer, snowboarding and chess at New Hampton School in NH.


Steven Cramton

Zack, Steve

Absolutley amazing well done, some of the comments here and elsewhere are not favourable dont take any notice its just envy pure and simple not only that they just feel that if it was so simple why couldnt they do that? I followed a few of your gamws live and felt that with that level of play that you had to be a PC version of deep blue or a 'Super GM'who was remotely intervening at critical momemnts. How wrong i was!!!!! Once again well done.

hi Steve,
congrats for the fabulous result.
Beating GMs armed with computers is no easy fit.

Can you tell a bit more about move selection ?
besides the opening, what was the thought process to select a move in middle-game . did you look at all engines and manually play out the key moves in main variations to see if the computer alters his evaluation ?
stuff like that ??


hi Steve,


Huge congrats to team ZackS. I had a lot of fun watching the games. I'm surprised so few people were watching the actual chess might be some of the strongest ever played.

We can conclude that whatever the reasons for ZackS superiority in this event, luck wasn't part of it. The team totally dominated at every level from the qualifiers on.

I wonder if the ability to play winning chess with computer aid may not even correlate all that well to actual over the board ability? Maybe a GM gets that way by learning to instantly block out many possible moves and position structures through many years of traning, but a lifetime of human learning may actually hinder him to being open to many computer ideas?

What's strange, is that on a chess site somebody said "anybody know who ZachS is?". Not even following the tournament, I jokingly answered with, "Zachery Smith, rated 1336 from Portland Oregon."

2 out of 4...not bad!

Well, it's nice to see an american making it to the finals of the Sunday Cup, even if with the assistance of chess-progs, databases, grandmasters etc... Apart from the now citizen of Island Bobby Fischer america seems somewhat left behind in the intellectual world of chess...

Since the departure of Bobby from prfessional chess nearly every 'U.S. champion' has been a soviet immigrant at some point!

Well done america!

Thunder 11 has never heard of Hikaru Nakamura or Yasser Seirawan or Joel Benjamin or Larry Christiansen?

Post-Fischer U.S. Chess Champions....

1966 Robert Fischer

1968 Larry Evans
1969 Samuel Reshevsky
1972 Robert Byrne (playoff)
1973 John Grefe, Lubomir Kavalek
1974 Walter Browne
1975 Walter Browne
1977 Walter Browne
1978 Lubomir Kavalek
1980 Walter Browne, Larry Evans, Larry Christiansen
1981 Walter Browne, Yasser Seirawan
1983 Walter Browne, Larry Christiansen, Roman Dzindzichashvili
1984 Lev Alburt
1985 Lev Alburt
1986 Yasser Seirawan
1987 Nick de Firmian, Joel Benjamin
1988 Michael Wilder
1989 Roman Dzindzichashvili, Yasser Seirawan, Stuart Rachels
1990 Lev Alburt
1991 Gata Kamsky
1992 Patrick Wolff
1993 Alex Yermolinsky, Alexander Shabalov
1994 Boris Gulko
1995 Patrick Wolff, Alexander Ivanov, Nick de Firmian
1996 Alex Yermolinsky
1997 Joel Benjamin
1998 Nick de Firmian
1999 Boris Gulko
2000 Joel Benjamin, Alex Shabalov, Yasser Seirawan
2001-2002 Larry Christiansen
2002-2003 Alexander Shabalov

Lubomir Kavalek
Yasser Seirawan
Roman Dzindzichashvili
Lev Alburt
Alex Yermolinsky
Alexander Shabalov
Boris Gulko
Alexander Ivanov

"Grandmaster Yermolinsky is one of the strongest players in the United States. He was US Champion in 1996, and won the US Open Championship in 1995 and 1997. He has represented the USA in four Olympiads, and played board two for the team that won the World Team Championship in 1993. His credentials as a teacher are no less impressive. He assisted Irina Levitina in her bid for the Women's World Championship in 1982-84, while his former pupils include top-class grandmasters such as Alexander Khalifman and Vladimir Epishin. After his arrival in the United States in 1989, he has continued coaching, with one of his pupils, Boris Kreiman, winning the US Junior Championship in 1993..."

"GM Roman Dzindzichashvili, born May 5, 1944, resides in Northern California. Roman was born in Soviet Georgia, and played in two USSR Championships before emigrating to Israel in 1976. He came to the U.S. in 1980, and has won the U.S. title twice (in 1983, tied with GM Walter Browne and GM Larry Christiansen; and 1989, tied with GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Stuart Rachels). Dzindzichashvili is a cofounder of the chess.net chess server, and a popular commentator. As a trainer, he has worked with a number of the world's top players and rising juniors, including GM Gata Kamsky..."

"Alexander Shabalov is an American chess grandmaster, the multiple winner of the US Chess Championship. He is of Soviet Latvian origin, and is - like his fellow Soviet Latvians Alexei Shirov and Mikhail Tal -- known for courting complications even at the cost of objective soundness. Shabalov as of Dec 09, 2004 had the United States Chess Federation rating of 2685, ranking him 7th best among American chess players.

I could go on but I think it might be a good idea to leave the rest to your imaginative american imagination...

It has to be said though that america is not the only beneficiary of the soviet left-overs...think about France (who should be proud of having Korchnoi), Spain (Alex Shirov), Beliguim (Mikhail Gurevich), Israel (Boris Gelfand, Emil Sutovsky) and the list goes on...

France has nothing to do with Korchnoi, did you mean Spassky?

Korchnoi is living in Switzerland and is Swiss citizen.

Pardon, you are right Moscow-born Spassky plays for France...Moscow-born Korchnoi plays for Swizerland!

O.K. just to clarify...I don't have anything aganist americans, in fact I think they are very nice people and there's nothing wrong with benefitting from migrant talant, after all these second-hand russian GM's couldn't make it at home so they immigrated to Spain, France, USA etc. BTW america gets not the cream of russian, japanese (Nakamura), iranian (J.Shahadeh)chess...

the problem is americans are very loud and this is why you have to be reminded from times to time that humbleness is probably man's best quality. Even when you have the edge, say in baseball for example, you should still downplay your success. Take a look at the current World Champion Rustam Kasimjanov (who is from the ex-soviet Uzbekistan) and learn how humbleness makes one look even better.

Man's best quality is probably not his modesty, but his intellect and ability to synthesize technology for his own uses.

i thought the games were breath-taking! i myself have seen both zack and steven play in person, and they are very amazing players and people. I hope this event starts a larger tour of the same style chess. and i think zackS should play a match against hydra in NYC for 25,000 a game.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on June 18, 2005 6:25 PM.

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