The power of the hive mind shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone by now, but for some reason I assumed chess was an exception. When the creators of Pure Chess [official site] decided to promote their new game by pitting the chat stream of Twitch against British grandmaster Simon Williams, I shrugged and thought: “well it’s nice that they have graduated from Dark Souls and Pokemon” – assuming that they would be soundly trounced. The chess champion went on to win the first two games. But during the third, Twitch struck back and won.
The first game was “tense”, said Williams, but he won in the end. For the second game the Grandmaster blindfolded himself and still managed to keep the positions straight in his head, winning against 500 people. But by the end of the third game, facing 600 people, he was struggling.
“I’m going to and cry in a corner now. Where did you get these people?” he asked of the stream’s organiser. “These guys are like top chess players.” When Twitch delivered its winning move, the chat filled up with “GG”.
There’s all sorts of reasons why this might happen. The collective voting and brainstorming of hundreds of people probably shouldn’t be underestimated. But also those 600 people are all using machines hooked up to a network of millions, which in turns houses countless engines for analysing and providing the best chess move. And while Williams, the GM, was being recorded and watched the whole time, those he was playing were not. The temptation for a few chatfolk to cheat coupled with the incredible ease at which they could do so makes it a possibility that I am too cynical to ignore. However, it’s important to note that even if this was the case, the cheaters – if they existed – would still have to convince thousands of others to vote for and play that move. And anyway, there’s no way of finding out.
You can watch the whole stream for yourself here. The highlight for me is at the end of the first game, at about 2:05, when a mistake by Twitch means Williams will win within the next move and the whole chat starts desperately shouting: “OFFER DRAW”.