Scientific American and chess

The magazine Scientific American was first published in 1845.  It is the longest continuously published magazine in the United States.  It has a long history of presenting scientific information, as well as chess, to the general educated public.

In the November 14, 1846 issue (Volume 2, Issue 8), there was an article called “The Chess Palladium and Mathematical Sphinx.”

In 1848, Scientific American published an article on a chess automaton.

In the October 30, 1858 issue (Volume 14, Issue 8), there was an article called “Some of the Wonders of Chess-Playing.”

In the January 29, 1859 issue (Volume 14, Issue 21), there was an article called “The Great Chess Contest.”  It was an article on the match between Paul Morphy and Adolf Anderssen in which Morphy won 7 games, lost 2, and drew 2.

In the July 2, 1859 issue (Volume 1, Issue 1), there was an article called “Chess-Playing Excitement” on page 9.  The article begins about how Paul Morphy defeated all of his European competitors and how Morphy was being praised in America.  The author continued, “…some of our scientific friends rather overdid the thing by their adulations; yet all this might be overlooked if such influences extended no further than the time and place when and where these effusions were uttered.  But we regret to state that this is not the case, for a pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country…Why should we regret this? It may be asked.  We answer, chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time, it affords no benefit whatever to the body.  Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, because it requires a strong memory and peculiar powers of combination.  It is also generally believed that skill in playing it affords evidence of a superior intellect.  These opinions, we believe, are exceedingly erroneous… A game of chess does not add a single new fact to the mind; it does not excite a single beautiful thought; nor does it serve a single purpose for polishing and improving the nobler faculties.  Persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises for recreation – not this sort of mental gladiatorship.  Those who are engaged in mental pursuits should avoid a chess-board as they would as adder’s nest, because chess misdirects and exhausts their intellectual energies… It is a game which no man who depends on his trade, business or professional, can afford to waste time practicing; it is an amusement – and a very unprofitable one – which the independently wealthy alone can afford time to lose its pursuit…  No young man who designs to be useful in the world can prosecute it without danger to his best interests.  A young gentleman of our acquaintance, who had become a somewhat skillful player, recently pushed the chess-board from him at the end of a game, declaring, ‘I have wasted too much time upon it already; I cannot afford to do this any longer; this is my last game.’  We recommend his resolution to all those who have been foolishly led away by the present chess-excitement, as skill in his game is neither a useful nor graceful accomplishment.”

In the August 11, 1877 issue (Volume 37, Number 6), there was an article called “Chess” on page 81.  It mentioned that Samuel Loyd would be writing a weekly chess column for Scientific American Supplement.  The article went on to say, “It is a curious fact, that the most distinguished inventors, mechanics, scientists, lawyers, clergymen, musicians, and statesmen, find recreation in the practice of this superior amusement.  There appears to be something about it that both delights the mind and sharpens the understanding.  The ablest men are found among its devotees, and confess to its beneficial influences.”

Sam Loyd reproduced his sketches/woodcuts of chess players in the Scientific American Supplement, from August 11, 1877 to August 3, 1878.

In the September 29, 1877 issue, there was a column called “Scientific American Chess Record.”  It was column on Wilhelm Steinitz with a portrait of Steinitz playing chess.  The drawing had the chess board reversed (black square to the right instead of the white square to the right).

In the April 6, 1878 issue of the Scientific American Supplement, Sam Loyd described Labourdonnais and his plaster cast of his head.

In the June 1, 1878 issue of Scientific American Supplement, No. 126, there is an article called “The New Automaton Chess Player.”  It described a new chess automaton built by Mr. C.G. Gumpel of London, called “Mephisto.”

In the July 6, 1878 issue of Scientific American Supplement, No. 131, there is an article called “Rousseau As A Chess Player.”  It described Jean Jacques Rousseau’s daily chess play at the Café de la Regence and elsewhere.

In the February 17, 1883 issue (Volume 48, Issue 7), there was an article called “The Automaton Chess Player” on page 103.  It mentioned that the police in Bordeaux, France had forbidden the exhibition of the automaton Az Rah because a youth was discovered inside it, and that his health was gravely compromised by this daily torture.  It then went on to describe the history of The Turk chess automaton.

In the February 1, 1908 issue (Volume 98, Issue 5), there was an article called “Chess in Three Dimensions” on page 76.  It was called a new chess variant, designed by Dr. Ferdinand Maack, a Hamburg medical doctor, with an illustration in the magazine.  The game was introduced at the International Chess Tournament at Karlsbad and used 8 chess boards (512 squares).  The game was called tridimensional or cubic chess.

In the November 6, 1915 issue of Scientific American, Supplement 80, there is an article called “Torres and His Remarkable Automatic Devices: He Would Substitute Machinery for the Human Mind  It described the electrical connections of an automatic chess player designed by Leonardo Torres y Quevado.  He called it El Ajedrecista, which first appeared in public in 1914.  It used a mechanical arm to makes its moves and electrical sensors to detect its opponent’s replies in a King vs. King + Rook endgame.  The writer of the article was worried that machinery might someday  substitute for the human mind.

In the February 1, 1950 issue (Volume 182, Issue 2), there was an article called “A Chess-Playing Machine” by Claude E. Shannon on pages 48-51.  The article was concerned with the problem of constructing a computing routine or “program” for a computer to enable it to play chess.  This was the first appearance of Shannon’s technical paper on computer chess.  It was the earliest appearance of an attempt to understand the necessities of a computer for playing chess.  A more technical and longer article, “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess,” by Shannon appeared in the Philosophical Magazine, March 1950.

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.

In the June 1, 1958 issue (Volume 198, Issue 6), there was an article called “Computer v. Chess-Player” by Michael de V. Roberts and Alex Bernstein.  It showed a picture of Alex Bernstein playing chess using an IBM 704 computer.

In 1959, Martin Gardner (1914-2010) wrote a column in Scientific American called “Sam Loyd: America’s Greatest Puzzlist.”  Gardner wrote, “For ten years Loyd apparently did little except push chess pieces about on a chessboard.  At that time chess was enormously popular… During the next five years his output of chess puzzles was so prodigious that he became known throughout the chess world… In 1877 and 1878 Loyd wrote a weekly chess page for Scientific American Supplement, beginning each article with an initial letter formed by the pieces of a chess problem.

Martin Gardner wrote Scientific American’s Mathematical Games columns for 25 years (1956 to 1981), often including chess in his column.  He was a lifelong chess fan.

In the March 1, 1962 issue, Martin Gardner, in his Mathematical Games column, mentioned hexapawn.  Gardner invented the game using a 3x3 chessboard.

The September 1, 1966 issue had an article called “System Analysis and Programming” by Christopher Strachey.  It was reprinted in the August 23, 2011 issue.  It discussed how positions on a chess board could be represented by a computer.

In the October 1, 1967 issue (Volume 217, Issue 4), there was a column, written by Martin Gardner, called “Mathematical Games” which covered problems that were built on the knight’s move in chess.

In 1969, Martin Gardner wrote a column called “The Eight Queens and Other Chessboard Diversions.”

In the January 1, 1971 issue (Volume 224, Issue 1), there was a column, written by Martin Gardner, called “Mathematical Games” which discussed lessons from Dr. Matrix in chess and numerology.

In the May 1, 1972 issue, Martin Gardner’s “Mathematical Games” column included challenging chess tasks.

In the June 1, 1973 issue (Volume 228, Issue 6, pp. 92-105), there was an article called “An Advice-Taking Chess Computer” by Albert Zobrist and Frederic Carlson.

In the April 1, 1975 issue, Martin Gardner reported a computer program had been running for months at MIT and had determined the best first move in chess was “Pawn to Queen Rook Four.”  It was an April Fool’s joke. 

In the June 1, 1979 issue, there was a column, written by Martin Gardner, called “Mathematical Games” that discussed chess problems on a higher plane, including mirror images, rotations, and the superqueen.

In the October 1, 1976 issue, Martin Gardner, in his Mathematical Games column, posed the following problem: “What is the smallest number of queens you can put on an n x n chessboard such that no queen can be added without creating three in a row, a column, or a diagonal?”

In the February 1, 1986 issue, there was a column called “Computer Recreations: The King (A Chess Program) is Dead, Long Live the King (A Chess Machine)” by Alexander Dewdney.  It was an article about the 1985 North American Computer Chess Championship, held in Denver.  The computers were: Awit, Bebe, Chaos, Cray Blitz, Hitech, Intelligent Software, Lachex, Ostrich, Phoenix, and SPOC.  Hitech won that year.

In the April 1, 1989 issue (Volume 260, Issue 4), there was an article called “Deep Thought.”

In the October 1, 1990 issue (Volume 263, Issue 4), there was an article called “A Grandmaster Chess Machine” by Hsu, Anantharaman, Campbell, and Nowatzyk.

In the November 1, 1991 issue, an article by Lewis Stiller showed that a computer found a solution of a king, rook, and bishop checkmating a king and two knights in 223 moves.  The computer worked 5 hours, considering 100 billion moves by retrograde analysis – working backward from a winning position.

In the November 1, 1994 issue, there was an article called “Playing Chess on a go Board.”

In the October 1, 1995 issue, there was an article called “The Never-Ending Chess Game” by Ian Stewart.  It talks about recent computer analysis that can force a win in the endgame, but involves making more than 50 moves without capturing any pieces or moving pawns.

In the March 8, 1996 issue, there was an article called “The Deep Blue Team Plots Its Next Move” by John Horgan.  Horgan interviewed the Deep Blue team at IBM for Scientific American.

In the April 21, 1997 issue, there was an article called “Kasparov vs. Deep Blue.”

In the August 9, 2001 issue, there was an article called “Brain Study Shows Grandmaster Chess Players Think Differently Than Amateurs Do” by Harald Franzen.  The conclusion was that grandmaster chess players tap into different parts of their brains than amateurs do when plotting their next move.

In the July 24, 2006 issue, there was an article called “The Expert Mind: Overview/Lessons from Chess” by Philip Ross.  Because skill at chess can be easily measured and subjected to laboratory experiments, chess has become important in cognitive science.  Researchers have found evidence that grandmasters rely on a vast store of knowledge of game positions, and that GMs organize the information in chunks.  GMs are motivated by competition and the joy of victory.

In the August 1, 2006 issue (chess is on the cover), there was an article called “The Expert Mind” by Philip Ross in which studies of the mental processes of chess grandmasters have revealed clues to how people become experts in some other fields as well.  The article summarizes the research that has been done in an attempt to explain such feats of the human mind as grandmaster play.

In the October 20, 2006 issue, there was an article called “Flipping Colors” by Dennis Shasha.  It discussed the knight’s tour and a new puzzle with the knight moving two squares vertically and one horizontally without jumping.  The walk flips the colors of all the squares.

In the June 1, 2007 issue, there was an article called “Silicon Smackdown.”  It was about a new Go algorithm that would be able to beat humans.  It started out, “A decade ago IBM’s chess program, Deep Blue, beat world champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match.  The event marked a milestone, forsing to yield dominance of yet another strategic diversion – Go.”

In the December 1, 2008 issue, there was an article called “Moving the Chess Pieces.”

In the December 29, 2008 issue, there was an article called “Men’s Chess Superiority Explained” by Karen Hopkin.   A study by the Royal Society found that men’s superiority over women at chess at the top levels could be explained by population size.

In the April 20, 2009 issue, there was an article called “From Risking Check in Chess to Checking Risk in Energy Futures.”

In the January 10, 2011 blog, there was an article called “Could chess-boxing defuse aggression in Arizona and beyond?”  Chess-boxing made its first appearance in a science fiction comic book (graphic novel) called Cold Equator (Froid Equator) by Enki Bilal.  The blog covers the history of chess-boxing.

In the March 24, 2012 Scientific American blog, there was a letter called “Deep Thought is Dead, Long Live Deep Thought.”

In the April 1, 2013 issue, there was an article called “From Chess to Dreams.”

In the February 10, 2014 issue, there was an article called “The Mind of the Prodigy.”

In the March 1, 2014 issue, there was an article called “How Psychologists Study the Einstellung Effect in Chess.”  This article discussed cognitive bias preventing strong chess players from finding the fastest way to checkmate.  The Einstellung effect is the brain’s tendency to stick with solutions it already knows rather than look for potentially superior ones.

In the April 15, 2014 issue, there was an article called “Are Girls Bad at Chess?” by Dr. Daisy Grewal of Stanford University.  It discusses the “stereotype threat” as an explanation for real-world performance gaps.  Psychology professors looked at whether stereotype threat affects young girls who play in chess tournaments.