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Published on October 25th, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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Dr Marion Tinsley: The Checkers Mathematician

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Dr Marion Tinsley

Genius, unbeatable, maestro, these are words that are sometimes idly bandied about. Often the people who are given these labels are undeserving of such accolades, Dr Marion Tinsley is not one of those people.

Checkers King

The true King of Draughts (or checkers), Marion Tinsley dominated the sport in a manner that scarcely seems possible.

His competitive record speaks for itself. From 1955 to 1958 he was World Checkers Champion. After that period he became disillusioned with competition and withdrew from playing championship matches for 17 years.

The Return Of A Champion

Tinsley returned to the Checkers Championship in 1975 and continued where he had left off dominating opponents once more.

What is truly remarkable about Tinsley was that he only lost an amazing seven games throughout his entire career, having not lost a single championship match.

Man versus Machine

Chinook was the brainchild of Jonathan Schaeffer, a Professor who specialises in artificial intelligence. Schaeffer had been a national master in Chess during his early 20’s. During the 1960’s it was widely reported that a computer programmer had mathematically solved the game of draughts. But this was mere myth-making and the truth was far from the tabloid spin that surrounded this news.

Upon discovering the truth Schaeffer set out to solve the game of checkers and pit his programme and team of programmers against the best draughts player, Tinsley.

Dr Marion Tinsley Vs Chinook

In 1992 Tinsley, having retired from competition (as he had been forbidden by both the American Checkers Federation and the English Draughts Association from competing against the Chinook programme), took on Chinook in The Man versus Machine World Championship. Chinook beat Tinsley in two games, but Tinsley won the match, having won four games with 33 draws.

One of the most remarkable incidents about the match was that Tinsley told Schaeffer ‘You’re going to regret that’ after Chinook made a move. 26 moves later, Tinsley won the match. A flabbergasted Schaeffer looked back into the database and discovered that Tinsley picked the only strategy that could have defeated Chinook from that point.

The Rematch

In 1994 Tinsley once more took on Chinook in a rematch. After six games, his health forced him to retire from the match. Seven months later he died of pancreatic cancer.

Dr Marion Tinsley was a one-off, an analytic genius, a checkers and draughts ambassador, even against Chinook he remained undefeated. It is reported that Marion maintained that he had the ability to visualise up to 150 moves in advance. Tinsley’s legacy in checkers and draughts is ensured, and so also will his place in the history of artificial intelligence.


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