IBM and Chess by Bill Wall


International Business Machines (IBM) has been involved with chess for a long time.  IBM has always been a staunch supporter and sponsor of chess tournaments.


In the 1950s, IBM was looking for computer programmers.   IBM put an ad in the December 1956 issue of Scientific American and the New York Herald Tribune newspaper seeking anyone interested in computer programming.  The ad featured a black knight chess piece, and said that "those who enjoy playing chess or solving puzzles will like this work."   One of the applicants that responded to the ad was US chess champion Arthur Bisguier (1929- ).  Bisguier was then hired as an IBM programmer.  Another applicant was Sidney Noble, who claimed he was the chess champion of the French Riviera.  Another applicant was Alex Bernstein, a U.S. Intercollegiate champion who developed the first complete chess program.  Another applicant was Don Schultz, who became president of the United States Chess Federation.  He was with IBM from 1957 to 1987.


Bisguier became a good programmer, but he needed time off for chess tournaments.  Eventually, Bisguier had to leave IBM to spend more time playing chess and becoming a chess professional.


In 1957, Alex Bernstein, a programmer at IBM, developed the first complete chess program at MIT.  It could do 42,000 instructions per second and had a memory of 70K.  It did a four-ply search in eight minutes.


In 1957, Don Schultz was hired by IBM.  He founded the Poughkeepsie IBM Chess Club.  He held several offices with the U.S. Chess Federation and the World Chess Federation (FIDE).


In 1958, IBM had both the first checkers program, by Arthur Samuel (1901-1990), and the first full chess program, by Alex Bernstein.  Both programs were written in assembly language.



In 1958, Alex Bernstein (IBM), Michael de V. Roberts (IBM), Timothy Arbuckle (Service Bureau Corporation – a subsidiary of IBM), and Martn Belsky (Service Bureau Corporation) submitted a paper to the Proceedings of the May 6-8, 1958 Western Joint Computer Conference, entitled, "A chess playing program for the IBM 704."   An article, “Computer v. Chess-Player,”  written by Bernstein and Roberts,  also appeared in Scientific American the June 1958  issue, vol 198, pp. 96-105.  Bernstein and the IBM 704 appeared on the cover of Chess Life in July 1958.  An article about the chess-playing computer also appeared in the Nov 29, 1958 issue of The New Yorker, p.43-44.  In 1958, the IBM Journal of Research and Development published an article called “Chess-Playing Programs and the Problem of Complexity,” by A. Newell, J. Shaw, and A. Simon.


The computer chosen by IBM was the IBM 704, the first mass-produced computer with floating point hardware.  It was the last big computer to use vacuum tube logic.    The 704 could execute up to 12,000 floating-point additions per second.  The Bernstein program took about 8 minutes to calculate each move.  IBM rented out an IBM 704 for $40,000 a month.


An IBM spokesman in the 1950s was confident that there would never be a strong chess program, stating, “We will always be able to out think machines.”


In November 1959, an IBM 7090 was delivered to MIT.  That platform was used to develop the first computer program to play chess convincingly.  The IBM 7090 was a second-generation transistorized version of the IBM 704.


In 1959-60, three-move mate chess problems were written for the IBM 704 at MIT.  However, the IBM 704 was removed in the summer of 1960.  Due to the incompatibility of the incoming IBM 7090, the project to write a three move mating solving program was dropped.  Chess program for the IBM 7090 were written in FORTRAN.


In 1960, IBM had nine different character sets. ASCII had not been invented yet.  Bob Bemer of IBM submitted a proposal for a common computer code, which later became ASCII and used in chess programs after 1963.  IBM was still using EBDDIC punch cards for its chess programs.


By 1961, the IBM 7090 at MIT was playing decent chess, but it took between 5 and 20 minutes per move, depending on the complexity of the position.


In 1961, chess players at the VAS chess club in Amsterdam wanted to gain international chess titles in a tournament.  The player Ernst Wolthuis worked at IBM and asked if IBM would sponsor chess tournaments.  Local Dutch players would play against foreign titleholders, with 12 participants in the major "A" section.  The main bureau of IBM at the Johan Huizingalaan in Amsterdam functioned as the playing hall.


In 1961, IBM started sponsoring a strong chess tournament in the Netherlands.  The series, held in Amsterdam, was sponsored by the Dutch IBM from 1961 to 1981.  The winners were:


1961 - Kick Langeweg

1962 - Moshe Czerniak and Hong Ghee Tan

1963 - Lajos Portisch

1964 - Bent Larsen

1965 - Jan Donner

1966 - Mikhail Botvinnik

1967 - Lajos Portisch

1968 - Lubomir Kavalek

1969 - Lajos Portisch

1970 - Boris Spassky and Lev Polugaevsky

1971 - Vassily Smyslov

1972 - Lev Polugaevsky

1973 - Tigran Petrosian and Albin Planinc

1974 - Vlastimil Jansa, Vladimir Tukmakov, and Boris Ivkov

1975 - Ljubomir Ljubojevic

1976 - Viktor Korchnoi and Tony Miles

1977 - Tony Miles

1978 - Jan Timman

1979 - Vlastimil Hort and Gyula Sax

1980 - Anatoly Karpov

1981 - Jan Timman


The first IBM tournament in Amsterdam used a computer to draw lots of the 12 particpants.  Max Euwe and Ossip Bernstein were guests of honor.


In 1962, Alan Kotok submitted a B.S. thesis for the department of electrical engineering at MIT, entitled, "A chess playing program for the IBM 7090 computer."  The program was written on FORTRAN.  All the inputs were on IBM Hollerith cards.  The program looked at 1,100 positions per second.


By 1963, there were 120 participants in the IBM Amsterdam tournament, broken down to grandmaster group, master group, reserve master group, etc.


In 1964, the first IBM 360 was delivered.  Chess programs were soon written for the IBM 360, which later participated in the world computer chess championships.


In 1965, Hans Berliner, a systems analyst for IBM in Washington D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland, entered the Fifth World Correspondence Chess Championship.  Three years later, he emerged was the new World Correspondence Chess Champion.  While working at IBM, he became interested in computer chess, and eventually designed computer chess programs himself.  His first computer program he ever wrote was a chess playing computer program, written on an IBM machine. 


In the mid 1960s, the IBM tournament was held at the De Ark Protestant church, then the Cartesius lyceum, then the Crest Hotel.


In 1966, an IBM 7090 at Stanford University was programmed to play chess using the Kotok-McCarthy program.  It played a telex game with a USSR chess program at the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics, but was defeated, winning 1 game and losing 3 games.


In 1969, Hans Berliner left IBM and went to Carnegie Mellon as a doctoral student.


In 1970, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) hosted the first major chess tournament for computers, the First United States Computer Chess Championship, in September 1970 in New York. One of the programs (COKO), written by Hans Berliner, was played on an IBM 360/91.


In 1973, in the movie “The Thief Who Came to Dinner,” an IBM System/360 was shown that was used to calculated chess moves.  The moves were left at the scene of each robbery by the thief.


In 1974, a chess program called Master was programmed for the IBM 370/195 and was entered in the 1st World Computer Chess Championship, held in Stockholm.  It finished in 8th place with 2 points.


After the 1976 IBM Amsterdam tournament, Viktor Korchnoi of the USSR defected to the west after winning the event.


In 1980, IBM started designing its personal computer under the code name, "Project Chess."  The IBM PC was launched on August 12, 1981 at the price of $1,565.


In 1989 the IBM Deep Blue computer chess project began when the Deep Thought team from Carnegie Mellon University joined IBM Research.


By 1995, the IBM computer Deep Blue and earlier versions had defeated Grandmasters Walter Browne, Robert Byrne, Bent Larsen, and Tony Miles, as well as International Masters Calvin Blocker, Igor Ivanov, David Levy (four times), Jack Peters, and Jeremy Silman.


In February 1996, Garry Kasparov defeated a powerful IBM custom-bult chess computer known as Deep Blue in a match (Kasparov won 3 games, drew two games, and lost one game).  Kasparov and the team of Deep Blue programmers agreed to have a rematch in 1997.


In 1996 IBM hired Grandmaster Joel Benjamin to assist in the opening preparation of Deep Blue for its match with Kasparov.


On May 11, 1997, IBM's Deep Blue (unofficially nicknamed "Deeper Blue") supercomputer (IBM RS/6000 SP) defeated world champion Garry Kasparov in a 6-game match.  Deep Blue won two games, lost one game, and drew three games.  The IBM web site was overloaded by chess fans (IBM had one of my articles on computer chess and trivia on the site).


In 1997, the $100,000 Fredkin Award went to the inventors of IBM Deep Blu - Feng Hsu, Murray Campbell, and Joseph Hoane, all at IBM.


In 2002, IBM sponsored chess championships in Botswana.


In 2007, the International Computer Games Association (ICGA) staged a World Computer Chess Championship in Amsterdam.  The event was sponsored by IBM.  The event was won by Rybka.


In 2010, Veselin Topalov used an IBM Blue Gene/P computer to train for the world championship match with Vishy anand.  The Blue Gene computer has 8,792 processors with an operating speed of 500 teraFLOPs.