Artificial intelligence is powering chess and India is taking note

From immersive platforms and chess engines to smart chess boards and coaching software, AI is reimagining the game in different ways, enabling chess fans and learners to benefit immensely.
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Imagine you are playing a chess game online and you’ve just made your move. Then you are told how Magnus Carlsen would probably respond. You now have to think and make your counter move. Sounds exciting?

This is what IT services and consulting company Tech Mahindra, the digital partner of the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad in Chennai, is working on—to create an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered “immersive” digital platform for fans, chess lovers, and aficionados. Through this, fans could feel they are part of the game played by the world’s top chess players and try to match their move. The platform could also tell you if your move is right or not and what could be done next time something similar happens.

According to Jagdish Mitra, Chief Strategy Officer & Head of Growth, Tech Mahindra, chess lends itself well to an AI-powered model as users get the same experience on a digital platform that they would while playing on the physical board.

Tech Mahindra said it expects to launch the AI-enabled platform in the near future. Towards this, the company is looking to study the games of top 100 players in the world. “All this is possible through analysing insights via machine learning over a period of time. This ultimately enables learning for young players, who can now approach the game in a whole new way,” says Jagdish. 

The company also wants to facilitate a “gaming community” of like-minded players coming together and sharing their experiences.

As part of its association with the Chess Olympiad, Tech Mahindra has also rolled out Fan Nxt.Now, a digital app for fan engagement, through which the company plans to understand what fans like/dislike, their favourite players, etc. This will help analyse user behaviour and predict possibilities. In future, the company plans to capitalise on opportunities around metaverse and hologram-based virtual chess boards as well.

Indian chess legend Viswanathan Anand has also joined hands with Tech Mahindra to advise on next-generation chess tech and engagement. In fact, Anand has spoken a lot about AI, as he believes it is rewriting the game in a big way the world over.

Tech Mahindra launches its fan engagement app at the Chess Olympiad in Chennai.

Image credit: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Startups in the fray

AI technology is exciting startups too, though it’s still early stages.

Mumbai-based Square Off, which also has operations in the US, offers physical chessboards with adaptive AI, integrated with automated movements. It also has a rollable version. While you play at one end, the pieces on the other end move on their own, powered by an app. According to Atur Mehta, CTO & Co-founder, Square Off, these smart boards will help you track your progress in real-time, analyse your game, and improve your skills.

The company recently soft-launched its products in the Indian market (priced Rs 10,000 to Rs 35,000) and is doing an official launch sometime soon. It has also launched its products in the US and Europe. “There has been a huge demand for these products, especially post-COVID when activities went indoor,” says Atur.

Square Off is also planning to launch an AI/ML based 'coaching' software that will be compatible with its existing boards.

Square Off's smart chessboard with adaptive AI

Chennai-based sports tech company Roanuz, which powers fantasy apps such as MPL and Starpick for cricket, football, and kabaddi, is loving the noise around chess in the country today. Gamification of chess could happen in future, says Anto Binish Kaspar, Founder and CEO, Roanuz, although he says it’s hard to put a timeframe to it.

“We could use the same engine we have for other sports to teach and coach children. AI could give players feedback on how they should have played a fantasy game,” he adds.

Around the world

While the recent incident of a chess-playing robot breaking a child’s finger in Russia is disturbing, the power of AI in shaping the future of the game cannot be ignored.

AI in chess is not something new, though it has taken newer forms over the years. Back in 1997, AI came into the limelight when computer Deep Blue defeated the king of chess, Garry Kasparov. Today, AI is driving the way the game is played and analysed. Many grandmasters and super grandmasters use AI chess engines to analyse their games and that of their opponents.

AlphaZero is a computer program created by AI research company DeepMind, which was acquired by Google, to master the game of chess. Then there is Microsoft's Maia, which tries to show the human side of the game. It is a chess engine that learns from human games and tries to make human-like moves, rather than engage in optimal play.

(The story was updated to correct a typo.)

Edited by Megha Reddy

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