Beyond the Carlsen-Niemann cheating scandal, a fundamental question: has technology killed chess?

Detectives and amateur forensics by chess enthusiasts in the wake of the Magnus Carlsen-Hans Niemann cheating storm raises a deeper question: how far has technology infiltrated chess and affected them? deprived of the human elements that make their unpredictability its greatest attraction?

After Carlsen refused to play with Niemann, based on his deep reservations about whether the American was cheating, a host of pundits analyzed the outboard match the two played where the Norwegian lost, playing in white. They ran simulations on game patterns and moves, desperately searching for the online chess version of the culprit fingerprints and having found none for this particular game, concluded that there had been no cheating. They then accused Carlsen of lack of sportsmanship, sullen after losing to a lippy upstart. If someone had found a move eerily similar to the past and unfairly aided Neimann, there’s no doubt his damnation — with the internet loving this controversy — would have been just as swift.

We are still far from finding answers to these questions. But in a world of hyper-communication and hyper-technology, where a Twitter feed or a blog post can be judge, jury and executioner, this indiscriminate and all-encompassing reliance on technology to pass judgment in an age-old sport is ridiculous.

On an extended level, this takes chess further away from the unique human aspects of the sport. It’s also why Carlsen said Niemann “didn’t seem tense enough” or focused enough at critical moments — subjective, nebulous, and human motives — when expressing his suspicions. Not that these indications are 100% reliable either. But expecting that every instance of cheating would have a digital log entry, or conversely, that in the absence of those tread marks no hit-and-run cheating occurred, are two inferences that are completely off the mark. To rely on them to modernize either theory is sheer folly.

But here’s the big question: has technology killed the fun of chess? It’s not a rage against machines, given that science has permeated all sports: aerodynamics in speed events, wearable technology for kinesthesia, and the famous repeated and repeated offensive and defensive plays of American sport. , with their in-depth analyzes carried out by wearing a hoodie. the geeks sprawled on their ipads. Not to mention the Breaking Bad of sports – chemical doping, blood transfusions, recovery potions, electromagnetic stimuli and masking agents. But the technology of chess – a sport that doesn’t require terrible physical exertion beyond sitting for a long time staring at the same dichromatic pieces – has methodically negated any improvisation, especially at high-stakes levels. , with preferred draw results.

Even in its preparations, chess seems like an exercise in cramming, with YouTubers, streamers and yuppie Grandmasters happily anticipating, guessing and planning openings, with reams of material available. What happens is a cold, calculated game involving mathematically generated algorithms, with their counters also documented. Whatever joy and fun remains is in tracing similar precedents. When supercomputers started humming in chess – and it was very exciting, that’s for sure – the sport embarked on a no-fork path of “who will be the best in technology?”

It’s no wonder that the technologically superior United States, China, Russia and Europe, as well as India, dominate the sport. But the question to ask is: has this rise in technology put chess beyond the reach of those who don’t have access to these toys? Has technology limited a sport – which works the brain anyway and doesn’t need any other muscles – to those who can poring over databases and devise the best game patterns?

Of course, the question of what move to make at what time is still very human and personal. But a sport in which a player could improve by reading books – and not marginally better but significantly better, defining his career – was always going to be distinguished by exclusion and exceptionalism.

Beyond the moralization of cheating and the unfair help Niemann may or may not have received, lies the fundamental question: what cynical joy can one derive from winning a sport by cheating with the use of technology? and gadgets, where the player’s only effort is to exert the eight carpal bones of the hand to move the pieces on the chessboard? What’s the thrill of winning this way, outsourcing the only thing needed to win – mere thinking power – by allowing your game to be remotely controlled, just to prove you’re smarter?

If all chess exists in a giant database and can be effectively memorized, has it turned into a mere memory game and lost the brilliance of improvisation and human reflex? Technology is inevitable. It is also irreversible. But beyond threatening the integrity of the sport, has it also ended the intuitive thrill of chess? A “sport” that can be played online seamlessly is already enslaved to machines and their lack of originality. It’s no wonder Carlsen’s mode of protest in this hyper-communicative world of social media has been to use the hilarious Jose Mourinho’s few words about silence. Can’t chess even talk anymore?

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