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The Year 2006 in Review

The 14th World Computer Chess Championship (WCCC), played in May/June at Turin, Italy, was a sideshow event for the Olympiad. Junior, developed by Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky (both of Israel), with a score of 9.0/11 won the prestigious tournament for the third time. Sharing 2nd/3rd a half-point behind were Shredder and Rajlich, better known as Rybka. Zappa, the winner of the 13th WCCC, finished 4th.

In November, World Champion Vladimir Kramnik played a six game match in Bonn, Germany, against Deep Fritz. Kramnik missed an endgame win in the first game, overlooked a mate in one move in the second, drew the next three games, and lost the last. This gave Fritz a +2-0=4 match win, and prompted many observers to admit that the machines were finally superior to people at chess.

A new phenomenon that burst into the public consciousness was players using computers to cheat in tournaments offering big cash prizes. The first incident involved two players at the World Open in Philadelphia in July. One player was expelled from the event, while the other was allowed to continue, but was searched before each round.

When the Toiletgate accusations were raised a few months later during the Kramnik - Topalov unification match, most people understood that Kramnik was being accused of cheating. After the sixth game, Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov issued a press release pointing out that '78% of GM Kramnik's moves match the first line of Fritz 9'. There was no other proof offered and most people outside Bulgaria shrugged off the accusations.

In December, Indian player Umakant Sharma was banned from playing for 10 years by the All India Chess Federation (AICF). He had been caught using a Bluetooth stitched into a cap which was pulled over his ears. He used the device to communicate with accomplices outside the playing area. Another Indian player, whose rating had risen sharply in a short period of time, was also suspected of cheating, although no physical evidence was located.

The combination of computers playing better chess than people, of the increasing sophistication of wireless communication, and of bigger prize funds, meant that tournament organizers had to contend with an entirely new problem.

Next : Passages 2006

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• Computers 2005