Queen’s Quantum Chess Pawns Computer AI

Published on: 2010/08/26 - in News

Developers of Quantum ChessResearchers at the School of Computing at Queen’s University have come up with a version of chess that puts people and machines on equal footing. Called Quantum Chess, it throws the conventional rules of chess out the window.

Long considered the ultimate game of strategy,  the best computers – like IBM’s Deep Blue – are able to beat all but a handful of people at this ancient game.

Queen’s School of Computing Director Selim Akl – who authored a paper on how to bring “quantum weirdness” to the game – says “We are bringing an element of unpredictability to chess.”

An electronic game of Quantum Chess was developed by undergraduate student Alice Wismath, who selected the new rules from the endless possibilities suggested in Akl’s paper.

The game has the same number of squares and the same pieces as original chess, but each piece has both a primary and a secondary type: a rook can also be a pawn, a queen can also be a knight, etc.

With the human playing white, they can see what the piece is – at that particular moment – when it is on a white square. But when it is moved to a black square, the piece shifts to a quantum state: the player has no way of knowing what the piece will be until he or she attempts to move it.

That results in the possibility of there being up to four queens – or as few as none – on the board at any given time. It also results in forethought, which is so necessary in traditional chess, to be far less effective in the quantum version.

Quantum Chess - Play Computer
Queen's University student Alice Wismath with computer version of Quantum Chess. Click image for rules and to play computer opponent.

Ms Wismath’s game has so many variations and possibilities that it is nearly impossible, the researchers say, to program a computer that could play the game consistently well.

“You can throw away all the strategies you used before, because this is a completely new game and it puts the player and the computer on equal footing,” says Dr. Akl.

The Quantum Chess project is part of the on-going research on quantum computation being carried out in the Queen’s School of Computing. The current computer version of Quantum Chess is only a simulation, and the team is hoping to produce a physical board game of QC.

Click here to read the rules for Quantum Chess and to play against a computer opponent


Photos courtesy Queen’s University News Centre.
Top caption:  School of Computing Director Selim Akl and undergraduate student Alice Wismath show off their version of Quantum Chess.