Chess and Testing

[Originally on the Ministry of Testing, Jan 2014, now only on the Web Archives]: The Day Testing Died But Didn’t

In May 11 1997 a computer beat the world champion Kasparov in chess [1] – not convincingly, but still. From then on chess could be reduced to a set of scripts and the scripts automated so fast that it was comparable to the human mind [2]. But the human chess players continued to succeed – not by more rote memorisation, but by more intuition and feelings.

Imagine that – to play world champion chess and base your moves on feelings. This is what Magnus Carlsen does [3]. As of January 2014 they are the reigning World Chess Champion [4] and the no. 1 ranked player in the world [5] with the highest rating in history [6]. I must admit that I read about them in the paper [7][8] [9], but the story relates to how even one of the most complex brain games can be automated, and yet there are still moves to explore.

To play according to textbooks is fine, up to a certain level. Perhaps up to master level, but not to grandmasters. [10]

Originally chess was a game played on a board, but even more so in the brain of the players. Grand masters of the cold war super powers played each other with full focus on both the board moves and the body moves.

Encyclopaedias of chess moves have been written; 1700+ chess moves have been given mnemonics like “the Sicilian Defence”, “King Gambit” (SFDEPOT anyone?). And the chess masters have played and played and memorized and played (against) the computer again and again.

There are books, terminology, strategies and schools of chess [11]. To quote Wikipedia:

A school (of chess)means a (chess) player or group of players that share common ideas about the strategy (of the game). There have been several schools in the history (of modern chess). Today there is less dependence on schools – players draw on many sources and play according to their personal style.

After Kasparov there were other world chess champions [12] – and lately 23 year old Magnus Carlsen, as mentioned. Carlsen started playing chess in 1998; they played Kasparov [13] as a 13 year old for a draw and later had Kasparov and the Danish grand master Peter Heine Nielsen as a trainer. Heine Nielsen explains about Carlsen:

“While the existing World Champion Anand [14]’s strength was being able to prepare thoroughly and calculate moves very fast while playing, Carlsen is different – they thrives in the contexts that are not distilled by the computer or text books. When it’s man to man – then their the opposite of a computer; the one that often does the unexpected yet effectual play. They plays a variety of openings – making it really hard to prepare for.”

Carlsen can’t describe, what goes on in their brain, while they play chess. Some moves just feels good; and when the opponent play is somewhat based on computer calculations – that is maybe the best response. [15]

Chess didn’t die with the automation, chess didn’t die by being distilled in text books and templates and mnemonics – but chess evolved. The current unfair advantage for Carlsen is their irrationality and intuition – it’s what sets them apart from the scripts.

The day testing died – but didn’t, is another story Or is it?


  7. The article is my inspiration – and will be paraphrased
  8. Danish and pay-walled
  9. By the way, I don’t know much about chess
  15. Quote from the Danish article, my translation

4 thoughts on “Chess and Testing

  1. I remember a talk by Michael Bolton (though I’m struggling to remember where!), about how when they say a computer beat Kasparov, it isn’t completely true.

    A team of developers, testers, engineers, they are the ones that beat Kasparov.

    It was just a computer they used as the medium to do it.

    By saying a computer beat him, it removes the human element that went into that happening.


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