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Turochamp (1948) | World's first computer chess game program

Turochamp (1948) | World's first computer chess game program

Developer(s):- Alan Turing, David Champernowne

Genre(s):- Computer chess

Mode(s):- Single-player


Turochamp is a chess program developed by Alan Turing and David Champernowne in 1948. It was created as part of research by the pair into computer science and machine learning. Turochamp is capable of playing an entire chess game against a human player at a low level of play by calculating all potential moves and all of the potential player moves in response, assigning point values to each game state, and selecting the move with the highest average possible point value.


Turochamp is the earliest known computer game to enter development, but was never completed by Turing and Champernowne, as its algorithm was too complex to be run by the early computers of the time such as the Automatic Computing Engine. Turing attempted to convert the program into executable code for the 1951 Ferranti Mark 1 computer in Manchester, but was unable to do so. Turing played a match against computer scientist Alick Glennie using the program in the summer of 1952, executing it manually step by step, but by his death in 1954 had still been unable to run the program on an actual computer. Champernowne did not continue the project, and the original program design was not preserved. Despite never being run on a computer, the program is a candidate for the first chess program; several other chess programs were designed or proposed around the same time, including another one which Turing unsuccessfully tried to run on the Ferranti Mark 1. The first successful program in 1951, also developed for the Mark 1, was directly inspired by Turochamp, and was capable only of solving "mate-in-two" problems. A recreation of Turochamp was constructed in 2012 for the Alan Turing Centenary Conference. This version was used in a match with chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who gave a keynote at the conference.


Turochamp simulates a game of chess against the player by accepting the player's moves as input and outputting its move in response. The program's algorithm uses a two-move heuristic to determine the best move to make: it calculates all of the potential moves that it can make, then all of the potential player responses that could be made in turn, assigns a point value to each resulting state, then makes the move with the highest average resulting points. Points are determined based on several criteria, such as the mobility of each piece, the safety of each piece, the threat of checkmate, the value of the player's piece if taken, and several other factors. Different moves are given different point values; for example taking the queen is given 10 points but a pawn only one point, and placing the king in check is given a point or half of a point based on the layout of the board. According to Champernowne, the algorithm is primarily designed around the decision to take a piece or not; according to Turing, the resulting gameplay produces a low level game of chess, which he considered commensurate with his self-described average skill level at the game.


Alan Turing was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist. Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general-purpose computer.


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