Friday, August 22, 2008

Bill Buckner & Ben Landy...All is Forgiven

Bill Buckner & Ben Landy - All is forgiven.

One afternoon in the late 70's at The Boston Chess Studio on Newbury street Gisbert Helmreich opened a box and pulled out a chess playing machine called Chess Challenger. Jim Rizzitano
and I summarily beat the machine so easily we had a good laugh and we lost interest in a few minutes, our first experience playing against a computer left us unimpressed.

There was a time when Red Sox player Bill Buckner walked into a room people would whisper behind his back: "There's Bill Buckner the man who let the ground ball through his legs and lost the World Series for the Red Sox." Bill found solace by moving to Idaho and living on a hugh farm isolated as far away from Sox fans as possible.

The first time I saw Ben Landy people were doing a similar thing; Ben being the first human to lose a chess game in a tournament in 1967 to Richard Greenblatt's MacHack VI computer of MIT, the machine having a rating of 1529: " There's Ben Landy who Bobby Fischer says is not fit for the human race." Legend has it, that was the ever beneficent Fischer response when he heard Landy had been defeated by a computer.

Over the years I got to admire Ben Landy and his contributions to chess the recognition of which most people today id his name as associated with the phase 2 of the BCF Championship known as the Rubens/Landy tournament. In fact it's very difficult to find his name associated with this first computer chess loss, which shows how Boston chess protected one of their beloved.
[Editor's note: in a 1969 rematch, Ben won.]

We didn't know at that time that even the greatest chess player of all time, Gary Kasparov, would also lose to a computer and the Red Sox would wipe out the Curse of the Bambino by winning the World Series twice.

I wouldn't bring any of this up except I think that our earlier attitudes about both these gentlemen, when compared to our feelings now, teach us a valuable lesson about the hurtfulness that people can have about human failings that any one of us could and do have. Over time such outrage seems petty. We should not be so quick to condemn; good and bad fortune happens to those who compete. Warriors understand that one must be ready to lose, in order to win. I'm glad we are all at a better place, Bill Buckner, Ben Landy, you are forgiven.
BTW If you are into computer history I would highly recommend you read the book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy. The term Hackers was first used by MIT students to describe those who worked in the model railroad club that happened to have a computer in the hall outside the club. This computer attracted attention of those waiting in line to get time to work on their trains. Students began "hacking" the computer and it lead to wondrous things in the artificial intelligence arena. Greenblatt came from this environment.
What was your first experience with computer chess? How do you feel today about Bill Buckner or Ben Landy?
Please Comment Mike Griffin 08/18/2008

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