CHESS MASTER 2000                                                          Henry Edward Fool

In 1983 I bought a clone IBM XT, which was built by two local Chinese computer
genius kids, who had just opened shop a block away from where I lived. That
computer ran at a remarkable TEN
whatevers, when all the other PCs on earth
only ran at a miserable and embarrassing eight
whatevers. Even my lawyer was
jealous.

(I say my lawyer when in fact he was a lawyer I worked for, delivering documents
for an hourly wage, but you don’t have to cling unnecessarily to that. You may
continue to think of him as my lawyer.)

So, then my lawyer caught up with me, and surpassed me maybe just a bit by
purchasing several PCs for his office which ran at, not just a lousy ten
whatevers,
but at an astounding, mind boggling TWELVE
whatevers. And, at that time, in the
spirit of noblesse oblige, he kicked down an illegal copy of Chess Master 2000 to
me, saying something like, “This is the program that beat Bobby Fischer.”

So, I had no idea why he would want to put an illegal copy of that program into my
hands, I hardly ever beat anyone at chess—though I did seem to enjoy being
defeated on a regular basis. I once taught a 12 year-old kid in Encinitas how to
play chess, and by the time he had learned how all the pieces move, he also
began defeating me so easily, repeatedly, viciously and predictably, that I
stopped playing chess altogether for several years. And, in the ancient past,
when I was in college, one time, and one time only, I got so drunk while playing
chess with my friend Howard that I defeated him. Somehow the beer had opened
up a new vision of the board for me, and I defeated him with a few crisp, decisive
moves. That drunken vision didn’t stay with me however and, since that
afternoon, drinking while playing chess only makes things worse, and usually
gives me a big headache. So, since then I’ve pretty much decided that if I am
going to be disgraced and humiliated at chess, I’m going to do it sober, alert, and
with every aspect of my intelligence fully engaged.

All that aside, I went home and loaded up all three (or five or eight) floppy discs
of my illegal copy of Chess Master 2000 and began to play. And, after a few days
of it, something truly wonderful happened. Once I had learned the program and
started really playing my own game, I discovered that I could get Chess Master
2000 so confused that it didn’t know what to make of me or what its next move
should be.

There was a button you could push and it would show you Chess Master 2000’s
thinking. I watched that for a while as it quickly and decisively responded to my
first 6 or 8 moves. But somewhere in there, about 12 moves in, my approach to
chess was so unorthodox and just plain weird, and unexpected, that Chess
Master 2000 began considering so many options that it couldn’t decide what to
do with me.
I thought, “Wow, that’s kinda cool, I’ve stymied Chess Master 2000, the program
that beat Bobby Fischer.”
And I considered, “Does this mean I could play Bobby Fischer and send him into
some kind of mental gridlock?”

I went into my lawyer’s office a few days after making this discovery, and he
asked how I liked my illegal copy of Chess Master 2000, and I told him about
getting the thing so confused it didn’t know what to do. He just laughed. I told him
that I was sincere, but he refused to believe it. He told me again that Chess
Master 2000 had beaten Bobby Fischer. I told him again that I was serious;
Chess Master 2000 became so confused by my approach to the game that it
couldn’t decide what to do with me. He just laughed.
“So, OK,” I told myself, “I don’t care whether he believes me or not, the fact IS…
I can confuse Chess Master 2000.”

But, then, as I was walking home, I began to have my doubts. Maybe, if I’d let it
run a bit more, Chess Master 2000 would have come up with a move in some of
those games, and then, would have gone on to defeat me.
So, I went home and I sat down and I loaded up all the various discs that were
necessary to run Chess Master 2000 and I started a game. And I played until
Chess Master 2000 no longer knew what to do with me. Then I clicked on the
button which allowed me to see Chess Master 2000’s thinking and, man, there
was a LOT of thinking going on. So I watched that for the better part of an hour,
kinda hoping that Chess Master 2000 would come up with something, but it didn’t.
Chess Master 2000 was struggling to reach any conclusion as to what it should
do next. Then I got up and I went into the next room and threw myself on the bed
and picked up some E. B. White. And I read a couple of truly wonderful stories,

Then I wandered back into the other room to see how Chess Master 2000 was
doing.
It was still confused.

So, I left it running and I called a friend and we went out to dinner at the Red
Crane, where the Szechwan prawns cannot be beat, and when I came back I
rushed into the room, only to discover that Chess Master 2000 was still thinking
things over.

That night I slept peacefully, while Chess Master 2000 churned away quietly in
the next room, considering the many possibilities.

In the morning, I discovered that Chess Master 2000 was still thinking things over.
So, I stopped that game. I started a new game. And, with that new game, I started
a new approach to computer chess; from that day on my challenge would be to
see how quickly I could get Chess Master 2000 to go mad.
One time, I did it in seven moves. Honestly, seven moves.

I’d like to see Bobby Fischer do that.
This is an excerpt from:
AMERICAN RACONTEUR    
by Henry Edward Fool