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Computer Checkers Programs – Modernizing Checkers through Computers

The origins of computer checkers can actually be traced the efforts of programmer Alan Turing during the Second World War. While he did not actually create a computer checkers program, Turing did experiment with several machine routines for playing chess. These efforts to use a set of clearly defined rules to play chess would later lead to the computer checkers program of Arthur L. Samuel.

Samuel's Checkers Program

The first real computer checkers program was developed in 1952 by Arthur L. Samuel. Samuel did not actually set out to develop a game-playing program, instead intending his work to be a learning program. He managed to develop more powerful versions of his early work by pitting two copies of his program against each other. The weaker version was then eliminated with newer more powerful computer checkers version resulting.

While Samuel's program was much celebrated–mostly as a result of it beating a blind checkers master from Connecticut named Robert Nealey–it would later lose 8 games in a row against Walter Hellman and Derek Oldbury in 1966. Nevertheless, Samuel’s program represented a significant milestone in the history of computer checkers as well as in artificial intelligence.

The Duke Program

Some members of Duke University would later write another computer checkers program in the 70s. This effort by Eric Jensen, Tom Truscott and Alan Bierman would later beat Samuel's computer checkers program in 2 games, and although it later lost to grandmaster Elbert Lowder in 5 games that ended in 2 losses, 2 draws and a win. The authors of this program planned to challenge the then world champion, Marion Tinsley, although the match never took place.

Chinook

Probably the most famous computer checkers program in the world was developed by Jonathan Schaeffer in 1989. Schaeffer previously worked on a computer chess program, but later decided to switch to a computer checkers program. Among the team that Schaeffer enlisted to help him with his program were Norman Treolar, who served as the resident checkers expert and was responsible for the program’s evaluation function and book, Robert Lake who was tasked with the databases of the endgame, and Martin Bryant who later wrote a comprehensive book on Chinook. This game was noteworthy for introduced endgame databases and compiling the largest endgame database at the time.

Chinook would later be used to play against Marion Tinsley in 1992, but it lost the match with 2 wins and 4 losses. Chinook later beat Don Lafferty in a closely contested match, and in 1996 managed to win the US national tournament by a wide margin.

With the advent of powerful personal computers in the 90s, computer checkers programs have taken off in a big way. Some of the more noteworthy ones are Checkers by Gil Dodgen, and Colossus by Martin Bryant. Colossus was by most account the best computer checkers program around, although its development has since been ceased. Gil Dodgen would later create World Championship Checkers along with Ed Trice, and numerous other programs have cropped up over the years since then, among them Sage, Nexus, Nemesis and Wyllie.

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