Reports | May 02, 2011 22:12

Ukrainian 'beats' Rybka 4 blindfolded

Ukrainian 'beats' Rybka 4, using memoryWe've tried hard to resist, but by now it's impossible to avoid the story about Andrey Slyusarchuk, a Ukrainian neurosurgeon and showman who 'beat' Rybka 4 in a 2-game match, playing blindfold, which was shown on national TV. Several Ukrainian grandmasters have already expressed their doubts about the authenticity of this match.

As far as chess media are concerned, the Russian news site Chess News had the scoop, in fact already last Wednesday. They came with the story of Andrey Slyusarchuk, who had allegedly beaten Rybka 4, the latest and strongest version of the famous chess program, playing blindfold.

All of the most important TV channels in the Ukraine reported on the match, which lasted two games: Slyusarchuk won the first with White, and drew the second with Black. It was a sensational story, not because Rybka reportedly ran on strong hardware, thereby playing at a 3000+ rating level, but because her opponent is nowhere near a GM or IM title - in fact he only started studying chess eight months ago!

Chessbase picked up the story last Friday, adding some more details and citing Chinese and Vietnamese sources. The Hamburg based company is a market leader in chess software and publisher of the Rybka 4 program. Not hiding their disbelief, they invited Slyusarchuk to show his capabilities:

Andy, we offer you piece odds against Fritz 4 in our office, with full view of the board.

According to his Wikipedia page, Mr Slyusarchuk was born on May 10, 1971 in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Apparently qualified as a doctor of medical sciences, he is most famous for performances in various shows, which 'demonstrated' his ability to reproduce large amounts of data, sequences of geometric shapes, words, text and other information, from his memory.

Slyusarchuk is nicknamed "Dr. Pi". He became famous when in 2006, in one of his shows, he 'demonstrated' the ability to reproduce 1 million digits of Pi, and three years later he 'proved' that he'd memorised 30 million digits of Pi. This hit the "Ukrainian Book of Records", but was not recognized by the Guinness Book of Records - the official world record is still at 67,890 digits.

So how did he do this? Since the oral transfer of 30 million digits of pi at a rate of one digit per second would take almost a year (347 days) for a continuous transfer of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, a different approach was used to check the results: during the demonstrations Slyusarchuk asked auditors to randomly name sequences of digits of Pi, located at randomly selected locations of arbitrary pages of 20-volume print and grouped into an ordered table. In the show, he repeatedly passes this test.

The Ukrainian 'genius' claims to have memorized 20,000+ books, and says he read three thousand chess books over the past months. He claims to have used this knowledge, and his apparently phenomenal memory, to beat the strongest commercial chess engine 1.5-0.5. Here are the games:

Game viewer by ChessTempo

Ukrainian grandmaster Georgy Timoshenko didn't hide his doubts about the fairness of the events. He was quoted by compatriot and colleague grandmaster Mikhail Golubev on his blog, where Timoshenko describes another show of Slyusarchuk. Before his match with Rybka, the Ukrainian genius had apparently given a number of shows in which he demonstrated his ability to quickly memorize a large number of chess positions on a set of boards.

Timoshenko was present at one of these shows and we give the final part of his story:

Then we returned to the position on the second board. Somehow, returning the knight from f6 to g8 was for him an impossible task, perhaps because he did not know that a knight could jump over a pawn. We stood before this board for several minutes. That was quite enough to remember the position, and I decided to conduct another experiment. I removed all the pieces off the board, and said I could restore the position and invited Mr. Slyusarchuk to do the same. He did not even bother trying.

In my commentary for the film crew, I said that I could be 99.9% certain that the entire show was a scam. Mr. Slyusarchuk clearly had contact with his assistant in the room (remember his friendly camera operator?), and had received the board numbers and the moves I had made. But because of his poor knowledge of the rules of chess, he could not always show these moves on the board.

A few days later I received a call from a girl at the TV company, and was told that the film would not be shown, as Slyusarchuk had threatened legal action. Source: Mikhail Golubev

In Chess Today #3826, last Saturday Golubev gave a 'Ukrainian perspective' to the story.

Mikhail GolubevThe match is discussed by the Ukrainian and Russian players in forums at Chesspro.ru, Crestbook.com, Chessglum.com, Ukraine-chess.go- forum.net, etc. and there is a general view, especially among professionals (I can name GMs Shirov, Khalifman, Shipov for example) that Slyusarchuk's score was a result of ... mystification, to put it mildly.

But a problem is that the event had such wide coverage in the Ukrainian TV and other media (because of the significant sponsorship of a few thousand US Dollars reportedly, and governmental support), which perhaps exceeded the level of the coverage of the Ukrainian 2010 Olympiad victory, that I suspect that the majority of my compatriots are sure now that a real genius is living amongst us.

(...)

So, now it is an immensely difficult task to explain to non-chess-players in Ukraine that something unfair might have taken place. And, for proving that the mystification indeed took place, there is possibly no chance at all.

What can help are Slyusarchuk's numerous absurd statements, which show his complete ignorance of chess (quite unforgivable for a guy who has read, as it is claimed, more than 2000 chess books within several months!), and also some silly mistakes that he made when announcing his moves during the match.

An interesting detail is that a short report about the match with links was posted at the Ukrainian federation website, but then removed.

This morning Golubev posted an update at his blog, quoting GM Yuri Drozdovsky, who was a member of the jury.

"...In my opinion, the match was unfair. I have no clear evidence, but I note the following:
1) It was a strange game by Rybka. Some weak moves, and some were made instantly in a difficult position.
2) Strange statements [by Slyusarchuk - CV] during the game.
3) Refusal [by Slyusarchuk - CV] to play with people, even of novice level.
4) Persistent inconsistencies in his words.
Oh, and much more ..."

Golubev finishes with suggesting that the Association of Chess Professionals could oppose the recognition of Slyusarchuk's victory over Rybka. "After all the ACP was created to protect the rights of players."

We asked one of Ukraine's top grandmasters, Ruslan Ponomariov, for a comment. On the phone from Kiev, where he's currently preparing for a match against America's number one player Hikaru Nakamura, he said:

Ruslan PonomariovIn the beginning I was emotional, like: Yeah! A human beats a computer! I mean, after Kasparov lost to Deep Blue, people thought this was the end of chess, but life continued, and now a human won again.

Later of course I saw many opinions about it, that maybe it was just a trick. But nobody convinced me yet and besides, I understand that there was strict control - he was checked for computers and so on.

Unfortunately was not very well organized. For example, I didn't know when it started; nobody told me. Only later I saw some videos and the games. But I did speak to GM Vladimir Baklan, who worked as a commentator during the show.

What I didn't like about it was that there was nobody from the Rybka team present. When I played against computers, e.g. Fritz or Deep Junior, there was always someone representing the engine.

So maybe it was a trick, it is interesting to know. Maybe he just memorized some games Rybka lost against another computer, but he must have memorized lots of games. He says he memorized 3000 books, but this cannot be enough and these books also contain wrong information.

I cannot prove it but if he used a different trick, it's very interesting to know. It has to be explained how he did it, because chess tournaments need protection against it."

Martin Thoresen, who runs the TCEC competition (which we covered in our recent Houdini-Rybka article), answered two questions for us:

What's your comment on the theory that he might have memorized previous Rybka games, for example after downloading everything from TCEC?
Anyone with an exceptional memory (as it seems Mr. Slyusarchuk has) could probably benefit from memorizing the Rybka games at TCEC, but even if his memory is fantastic it should pale in comparison to the number of legal positions on a chess board. On the other hand, positions or themes actually arising in "real" chess on a high level are much fewer and thus pattern recognition could help in pointing out the next moves. But even so, I don't get an impression that he has much experience with chess. You cannot simply become a Grandmaster strength player over night.

Personally I have huge doubts about this feat - someone that can memorize almost anything shouldn't automatically be stronger than such a chess computer due to the complexity of the game. I have not found any information of whether an opening book was used for Rybka or not, but I assume it wasn't.

As someone who has seen many, many Rybka games, do you think Rybka played at 'Rybka 4 level'?
In the description of the match I can see that an Intel i7-2600K quad-core processor was used, which is a fairly good processor for chess. Right now the TCEC computer is busy running season 3, so I am unable to analyze the two games I have found of the match he played against Rybka 4. My conclusion is that I think this story is too good to be true.

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.

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Comments

Excalibur's picture

This is just sad.I can't wait for the candidates to start.I wonder why he isn't challenging for the championship.I would love to see him play someone like Mamedyarov or Nakamura.Their attacking style would put this clown to shame.Now that would be fun.

Zeblakob's picture

Thanks, I read Shipov comment: he is a poet.

Zeblakob's picture

People seems to have non sense of humour.

Despicableme's picture

I ve also beated rybka 4 , with a beisball bat , it took me like 2 hours because i forgot where it was .

Bert de Bruut's picture

It must have been the blindfold that handicapped you so severly :-)

OnSlaught's picture

Feller should hire this guy as a trainer. But did you cover the Feller saga update (monies missing and more) and I miss it?
http://www.europe-echecs.com/actualites/les-accusations-erronees-de-s.-f...

jonald_fenecios's picture

It does not even deserve a slightest comment. :)

jonald_fenecios's picture

Now, you got it right on the head! If indeed he is a chess genius he must have abandoned his profession long time ago. ;)

Shumly's picture

It is interesting the Chess Vibes page says he can only orally transfer pi at 1 second per digit. I can talk much faster, but not in Ukrainian.

Shumly's picture

He probably earns billions of roubles as is, an extra order of magnitude or two more. There is no real money in chess, you only get a million every other year if you are a champion to defend, and then if Kirsan doesn't balls it up.

mishanp's picture

Sergey Shipov takes the "magician" line: http://www.chessintranslation.com/2011/05/sergey-shipov-on-ukraines-othe...

It's entertaining stuff: e.g. "And who’d believe a magician really is capable of giving birth to eggs from his mouth, or annihilating a rabbit with a wave of his hand?"

He doesn't have many doubts: "Therefore Slyusarchuk’s achievements won’t be believed by anyone with even the slightest grasp of modern chess."

Andy's picture

It is good that chessvibes did run this article, even if only to expose Slyusarchuk who seems to be little more than a professional liar. Just about everything here screams 'fake'; not even a beginner would mistakenly suggest c2-c4 instead of d2-d4 in an open sicilian. Hopefully the actual Rybka team are onto this and will launch a lawsuit of their own to put this oaf in his place.

Arne Moll's picture

I agree Mark, but not that it doesn't matter which method he used. If the game wasn't prearranged, it is still interesting how he did it - others might try the same!

AS's picture

Arne, the case was very simple. First Rybka (possibly on a handicap level) played games against let's say Houdini. Then they selected two of those games and programmed the book that rybka wouldn't deviate. So, the guy only had to memorise two games. Still, he was so stupid that he needed an external help during the show, some half invisible signs on the screen, it seems. And those who helped him had a fast machine, of course, rybka was only playing on 32 Kn/s.

Arne Moll's picture

Thanks, that's indeed the standard way of beating silicon monsters - I used to do it on my old Mephisto chess computer whenever I needed a confidence boost :-)

leigh's picture

come on. obviously a cheat case!

Joeri's picture

Use google translate on http://chess-news.ru/node/2328

You will see a certain date...

Lange leve de Geuzen en Den Briel!!

Joeri's picture

Hmm, Just translated it in english, after dutch...
It says 1st of april is already behind...
I'll have to learn to read...

noone's picture

The rook maneuver is nothing special. Also I think it is possible to beat rybka if you just study enough. In the end you will find some trick to which the computer always falls in no matter the hardware. Humans play too randomly for that to work.

Arne Moll's picture

Sure, that's an opinion. But what about 23...Qh5? and the fact that White plays all of the engine's first choices in the endgame? Also "nothing special"?

By the way, I wonder why this guy is still a modest doctor. He could earn millions by just playing in regular elite tournaments and win the World Championship title. What's stopping him?

ChessGirl's picture

Allegedly, he is not interested in becoming a chess player or playing chess in general. He just took this as a challenge to compete against a machine. The point is he can´t play chess, and he doesn´t claim to be able to, I think he just wants to prove he can retain as much information as the machine (or more, if he is able to beat it). But just for the record, this is only a clarification, I am not defending him since I have no idea of how (im)possible this is to achieve.

Bert de Bruut's picture

But it is interesting that the advent of computer chess creates chances to cheat not only to chess players, but also to laymen. He would never have been able to pull off this trick ("beating the strongest") with a human opponent!

lex's picture

I didn't understand the first sentence. Why did you try hard to avoid this story?

Peter Doggers's picture

Well, the whole thing seemed so ridiculous that we weren't sure whether it deserved coverage. But when many other chess media wrote about it, and the thing turned out to be pretty big in Ukraine too, we decided that it was, despite quite silly, also quite newsworthy.

Ben's picture

Just leave him alone - if his genius is true, it will show up many times over this lifetime; if not true, no harm done. Anyway, he seems happy enough with his work (education, entertainment, or swindling), and it's not our job to criticize.

If someone must though, can you explain how a respectable team of people can take a 20-volume set of pi digits, read him a sequence and have him correctly cite the continuation multiple times at random places? How could an assistant even help out there? Unless you suggest the whole team was in league...

steve's picture

zzzzzzzz........ they should have at least made it even more unbelievable by having sarah palin beat rybka blindfolded.

Luxusohr's picture

well spoken Matt!

umpteen_trains's picture
jussu's picture

The standard magicians' rhetorics is that what they do is real.

Mark Crowther's picture

Didn't have chance to write on this, just too busy.

But the guy is an illusionist, I frankly believe almost nothing in his wikipedia is true. His whole life story sounds like self-invention. Think Uri Geller, combined with Derren Brown with a bit of David Blaine thrown in.

Just shows that the media will believe almost anything they are told.

It doesn't really matter which method he used to do it. My guess, the whole game was prearranged.

But it is 100% a magic trick.

Which even if you pause only for a moment, is the only explanation.

Ben's picture

According to the Wikipedia page: he has claimed to have set a world record by memorizing 5100 digits in 117 seconds! That would shorten the necessary time considerably!

Andrey Gullible's picture

Well done. Just testing. ;)

Fireblade's picture

He could be a Savant !
But what i find suspicious is him trying to avoid chess games with novices or threating litigation against Timoshenko. Appears to be more of 'attention seeking' at this point.

Zeblakob's picture

GMs MUST be jaleous.

KingTal's picture

This guy and the whole story is a hoax... 30 million digits of pi, 2000 chess books in several months ... come on. The most crappiest bullsh*t i´ve ever heard. It´s not worth writing articles about it...

Zeblabob's picture

Will he play in the candidates ?? Could he beat all the 8 top GMs blindfolded??
I think he has the same illness of El-Keddafi: he wants to be a genius at all costs.

Paul's picture

Joke

Jack's picture

You should see some of the feats done by david copperfield and other magicians. But they acknowledge that it is a trick after all. I think news papers should be more responsible before publishing such hoaxes......

Solomon's picture

Everything about him smacks of showmanship. It is all about the image - there is no substance. However, people still need to explain how he did it. For someone who learned to play just 8 months ago, his game is pretty good! Did he memorize a sequence of moves and then have someone force Rybka to make specific moves? Curious to know how he pulled it off. Of course, the idea that he beat Rybka in a honest match is ridiculous. It is a trick, but what was the trick? I a very curious to find out!

lefier's picture

Fantastic!
A genius ... in hoaxing the media.

Sven Bakker's picture

"We’ve tried hard to resist"

Please try harder next time.

Hortensius's picture

30 million digits of the number pi!!?? That's stupidly hilarious! It would take 24-7, 52 weeks to read, let alone memorizing...

Andrey Gullible's picture

If he memorized 2 numbers each second it would take him more than 50 years (non stop).

All too absurd for words and anybody with half a brain should immediately see that.

Milo's picture

actually if he memorized 2 number each second, it would take him half a year.
30000000 seconds=8333 hours=347 days. divide that by two and the result is half a year. and not 50 years

Sergio's picture

Ok almost everybody (including me) seems to think it is a scam. But i am still very curious how he did it.

bhabatosh's picture

I think he should have tried something else , this will/should definitely end his adventure.
I am trying to think who can believe this story ?? I thought Ukraine
have very strong tradition in chess - Karjakin , Ivanchuk , Ponomariov etc .
People still believes these nonsense and airs them in TV ??
such a shame....

For me he is a fraud , I would not call this magic show since he is making no attempt to accept the fact he can not play chess.

Gens una sumus's picture

What a fake!!! He also looks like a fake! You can always use tricks for this.

Felix's picture

Some guy contacted me some time ago trying to organise a match against Rybka with that guy. Of course the whole stuff is ridiculous and a fake. Memory doesn't help you that much in chess and it's a pretty obvious swindle. As far as I know there was no contact between Vas and those guys, as the emails were blocked by me (the human spam filter ;) ). The Rybka team isn't that naive :)

Bread makers fan's picture

Its amazing to see that people even want to go through the hassle of creating such a scam...what on earth are they thinking...

ah well...we all need some entertainment here and there...if its not the royal wedding to distract us...its weird stories like this.

On to more fun things: bring on the worldcup matches!

Krunoslav's picture

One possible trick is to play games against Rybka before the show, with the help of some strong engine or even Rybka itself. Once a game is won, take it and replay it during the show.
Because in my opinion the point is, that no member of the Rybka team was present, and in this case no one can control if the real Rybka was running during the show, or just some simple program which replayed the moves Rybka played before the show.

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