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[Computational Complexity] Bobby Fischer (Guest Post by Ken Regan)

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  • Lance
    When I watched the Fischer-Spassky match on TV back in 1972, there was a young chess prodigy, just a few years older than me, helping with the commentary of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 18, 2008
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      When I watched the Fischer-Spassky match on TV back in 1972, there was a young chess prodigy, just a few years older than me, helping with the commentary of the games. That kid grew up to be Complexity theorist Kenneth Regan and I asked Ken to give some personal comments on Bobby Fischer, who passed away today.

      Bobby Fischer lived 64 years, one for each square on the chessboard. Unfortunately most of those squares were empty of playing the game he loved at the highest levels, but the brilliance and spirit of his games and ideas will ensure his board is remembered as more than half full.

      What impressed me from Fischer's games was that clear logic and dynamism can both be harnessed. He produced scintillating attacks of the kind we associate with Tal and Kasparov, and positional masterpieces worthy of Capablanca and Karpov—including Game 6 of his 1972 match with Spassky. Kasparov is known for researching new ways of sacrificing pawns in the opening to increase the energy of one's position, while Fischer always maximized the potential of the position to hand. Almost uniquely with him there were no early draws while there was fight left. Other champions are known for how many years they went without losing a game, whereas Fischer won 19 games in a row, in the world championship stages. This ethic rubbed off on me even when I found myself paired against a fellow teen master I'd just shared a long bus ride with from Princeton to NYC. He proposed an immediate draw so we could rest, but I was there to play—and I lost!

      I was attracted to the game just before the "Fischer Boom" years, and had nearly reached master level at age 12 when the Fischer-Spassky match began. I was on the nationwide PBS live broadcast of two of those games as an expert commentator assisting Shelby Lyman's TV coverage. My own rise was aided much more directly by the tournaments organized on a nationwide scale by William Goichberg, who is now President of the US Chess Federation. I never played Fischer—I met him only once in an elevator when he visited one of those tournaments. I was the age to feel the letdown most deeply when he did not play after 1972 and did not defend his title against Karpov in 1975, though what we've learned about his personal travails since then removes blame and much regret over this. Still, a piece of Brooklyn died with me yesterday.

      Fischer will also be known for innovations of "Why didn't anyone else think of that?" caliber. The Fischer Chess Clock is now standard equipment. It regulates a player's time allotment in the manner of Social Security so that each move always has some thinking time. The Fischer Castling Rule enables the game to be started from different initial configurations while retaining its character. FischerRandom chess has both players start with the same random choice from 960 placements of pieces on the back row, and is gaining traction as more people agree with Bobby that computers and vast encyclopedias of opening analysis are causing the standard opening configuration to be "played out." I favor "non-random" placements with Black allowed to differ from White in my proposal Baseline chess with Fischer rules. Fischer also feared that computers would ruin the mystery of chess, but I can personally vouch that the game's incredible complexity remains. In response to the "challenge compliment" from Grandmaster Susan Polgar's premier chess blog, I undertook to tell whether (now ex-) World Champion Vladimir Kramnik missed a win at Move 50 on the slippery slope to losing his title last September. After four months and 300+ pages of analysis, aided by Deep Fritz 10 and two other chess programs running on faster hardware than DF10 used to beat Kramnik a year ago, having sifted over 20 trillion search nodes and tried out almost 100,000 moves, I'm about to throw up my hands and say I have no opinion more definite than "flip-a-coin" on whether White can win!

      Posted By Lance to Computational Complexity at 1/18/2008 02:34:00 PM

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