Let’s start this off with some well-deserved humility: Assuming that my Android chess program is correctly configured, and that its psuedo-ELO ratings have some correspondence to reality, then this is a list of approximately thirty-five children, aged 7 or younger, who could beat me in chess. My rating in AI Factory’s version of the game, which I have been playing a few times a week for the past six months, has never crested 1210 and currently hovers at 1195. Of course, I have the luxury of contemplating my moves while I sit on an airplane and eat snacks; in the crucible of sanctioned competition against seven-year-olds, I would almost certainly underperform that rating.
Until a year and a half ago, when my son started thinking about chess a bit, I’d never paid much attention to the game. You will laugh, because you should, but I had just a little contempt for it. I thought of chess as a plodder’s hobby, the sort of thing that attracts SAT-test-preppers and tiger-mom spawn and other people whose brilliance is best suited towards refining the quantum-leap insights of others. You can’t be much good at it unless you have spent obscene amounts of time learning the appropriate theory and practice, otherwise you’ll just wind up making the same mistakes made by other lazy players before you. I like to say that the first person to paint a blank white square was an artist, and everybody after that was a square-painter; in much the same way, the first fellow to play a Ruy Lopez or the Slav Defense was a genius and everybody after that merely has a decent memory. It’s not for me. I like to speak, and write, and think, in the sprezzatura of the moment, not with the dogged calculation of an autism-spectrum pedant.
The best chess players of 2019 aren’t even people — they are racks of multi-core processors grinding through all possible permutations of a vast but mathematically comprehensible future. What’s the point of competing against them? Imagine spending your whole life learning to do something as well as a human can possibly do it, only to be supplanted effortlessly by $10,000 worth of white-box computers. Look at it this way: it is apparently beyond the grasp of modern technology to fix broken toilet or drive a cab through any borough of New York City, but when it comes to chess I’m afraid humanity is yesterday’s news. Why bother?
A few things happened to change my mind. The first was that I saw the potential chess would have as a developmental tool for a little bit of needed extra rigor in my son’s developing intellect. The second was that I got fired from a job I hadn’t even started yet.