Friday, November 26, 2010

Bazaar Chess Theory

The Final Theory of Chess Project aims to create a comprehensive online encyclopedia of chess openings using what Eric Raymond has called the "bazaar" development model. The bazaar development model differs from most traditional methods of managing projects because of its heavy reliance upon voluntary contributions of members of a community of interest. Wikipedia and Linux are sometimes cited as examples of successful applications of this model.

The bazaar model is particularly well-suited to the study of chess opening theory for several reasons. First, numerous communities of chess players who enjoy studying chess openings already exist. Second, chess software provides an objective yardstick by which to measure the quality of contributions (i.e. the computer evaluation of the position as measured in centipawns). This objective yardstick aids in settling disputes between contributors over whose contribution is most worthy. Third, all contributors to the project necessarily begin their analysis at the same initial position. Because a game of chess always begins with the same piece setup, everyone is "on the same page" to begin with. Fourth, all analysis must proceed within the constraints imposed by the rules of the game.

The rules of chess are the "laws of nature" when it comes to the game of chess and they form the basis for a uniform logic of chess analysis. It is true, however, that chess theory has developed into competing paradigms such as the Classical school and the Hypermodern school. Nevertheless, the rules of chess ensure that the various schools of thought diverge less from one another than in other disciplines such as economics. For example, economists of different schools disagree over something as fundamental as the role of saving in the economy. On the other hand, chess players of any school can agree that a bishop always moves along a diagonal and a king cannot castle when in check.

Lastly, humans and computers make a good partners when it comes to chess analysis. Humans excel where computers are weak and vice-versa.

In 2005, the online chess-playing site hosted what it called a “freestyle” chess tournament in which anyone could compete in teams with other players or computers. ... The teams of human plus machine dominated even the strongest computers. ... The surprise came at the conclusion of the event. The winner was revealed to be not a grandmaster with a state-of-the-art PC but a pair of amateur American chess players using three computers at the same time. Their skill at manipulating and “coaching” their computers to look very deeply into positions effectively counteracted the superior chess understanding of their grandmaster opponents and the greater computational power of other participants. Weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process. Gary Kasparov