Twitch Plays Chess Against A Grandmaster And Wins

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”.

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  1. gunny1993 says:

    This seems fairly analogous to how computer based chess programs work (I think), generates a numerical value for each possible move and moves that come from it. The # of votes for the numerical weighting and people cheating forms the tree forming aspect.

  2. gruia says:

    pretty sure dark souls is more complex

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Complexity is irrelevant. In Dark Souls it’s generally at least somewhat clear what the ideal next move is. Once you understand the enemy’s pattern and your own moves, it’s just a matter of spot the tell, dodge/block, attack, repeat until victory. Obviously the execution is very difficult, but you’re never expected to anticipate your opponent a dozen moves ahead.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        Also, in Dark Souls you can try over and over and over until you get it right. A three-game match against a human player lasts three games, period.

    • ilitarist says:

      In Dark Souls you win eventually even if you’re really bad at the game. Bad player will complete Dark Souls in 60 hours, good player will do it in 30 hours.

      Playing chess against good player will make you lose every time.

  3. tyrsius says:

    I think this is evidence that twitch is turning people into computers

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Wait until they roll out the Twitch headset. It’s currently only in testing right now, but basically it will use the processing power of the unused portion of your brain to support an AI that’s being developed to play Pokémon faster and more efficiently.

      Normally I’d be skeptical, but it’s being developed in partnership with the U.S. military, so you know they’ll have enough money to make it work. Apparently NORAD has some sort of plans for it, but that’s none of my business.

      • gunny1993 says:

        See I genuinely cant tell if you’re joking, NORAD has invested in some seriously stupid shit over the years.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        Oh come on, there is no unused portion of the brain! You don’t use the whole brain all the time and there is no telling what kinds of feats the brain is able to complete, but there is no unused/unnecessary part of the brain. That myth needs to die, like right now.

  4. GrumpyCatFace says:

    This is so awesome. 1000s of mediocre chess players take down a Grandmaster with a digital knowledge-condenser (internet). What a great time to be alive!

  5. notenome says:


    I ended up watching a good bit of the stream out of curiosity. A few things jumped to my attention. The first was that the host (not sure if that’s the right term) realized by the second game that if chat was to have a chance he needed to give them a bit of time. By the time of the third match he was regularly buying time for twitch by asking as many questions as he could of the grandmaster.

    The reason for this, I’d say, is that the decision making dynamic eventually congealed into a variety of moves being spammed in the opening seconds, and then solidifying as people looked at the proposed moves and saw which was best. This is important, because it’s much easier to judge a move than to come up with one yourself. It’s also clear, by the questions being asked of the grandmaster by the host, that some of the people in the chat knew a lot about chess. It seems that they were really the ones ‘playing’ the game creatively, proposing the moves that the rest of the chat would then take into consideration.

    That said, I think the third game was a throw. Even to my innocent know-nothing-about-chess eyes (I play it about as well as a lobotomized cucumber) that around the 3h38-3h40 mark the grandmaster could have done a check mate in two moves, taking the bishop at E2 with the queen at E3. Far as I could tell the only option then would be king to E2, which then would get taken by the bishop at G4.

    The host had said that if twitch chat beat the grandmaster everyone would get a free copy of the game, and the grandmaster in turn said during the third game that he thought chat should be getting a prize regardless. But the host shot down this idea and said that they had to win to get a prize. I’d hazard to guess then that the host was being a good sport and threw the last game so that chat could get a prize after a 4 hour stream.

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