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One Jump Ahead: Computer Perfection at Checkers [Paperback]

Jonathan Schaeffer
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 28, 2008 0387765751 978-0387765754 2nd
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since One Jump Ahead: Challenging Human Supremacy at Checkers was published. I’m delighted to have the oppor- nity to update and expand the book. The ?rst edition ended on a sad note and that was re?ected in the writing. It is now eleven years later and the project has come to a satisfying conclusion. Since its inception, the checkers project has consumed eighteen years of my life— twenty if you count the pre-CHINOOK and post-solving work. It’s hard for me to believe that I actually stuck with it for that long. My wife, Steph, would probably have something witty to say about my obsessive behavior. Rereading the book after a decade was dif?cult for me. When I originally wrote One Jump Ahead, I vowed to be candid in my telling of the story. That meant being honest about what went right and what went wrong. I have been criticized for being hard on some of the characters. That may be so, but I hope everyone will agree that the person receiving the most criticism was, justi?ably, me. I tried to be balanced in the storytelling, re?ecting things as they really happened and not as some sanitized everyone-lived-happily-ever-after tale.

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Editorial Reviews


"...We get a close look into the embarrassingly low-rent, codger-populated world of championship checkers... and a few painless lessons in the game itself... But the most memorable passages deal with Schaeffers's own bittersweet reactions. His brainchild does so well that he can see, all too clearly, its almost tragic effect on the cloistered society of checkers - and on his fellow human beings." Newsweek

" Schaeffer's personal involvement in the Chinook project, along with his engaging and open story-telling makes the book surprisingly gripping." A.K. Dewdney

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

The new edition of this extraordinary book depicts the creation of the world champion checkers computer program, Chinook. In only two years, Chinook had become a worthy opponent to the world champion, and within four years had defeated all the world's top human players. Jonathan Schaeffer, the originator and leader of the Chinook team, details the mistakes and technical problems made and the lessons learned in the continuous effort to improve Chinook's performance, revealing the human factor behind the program’s design. The development of Chinook begins in 1988 as an innocent question asked over lunch and is followed to the final match against then world champion, Marion Tinsley, and ultimately to its recent triumph, solving checkers. Schaeffer’s unwaveringly honest narrative features new anecdotes, updated material and technology descriptions, and additional photos and figures, providing an engrossing account of an obsessive quest to achieve perfection in computer checkers.

Jonathan Schaeffer is a professor of Computing Science at the University of Alberta. His research interests are in artificial intelligence, and he is well known for using games to demonstrate his ideas. He has achieved success building high-performance programs for chess, checkers and poker. Today, most of his research effort is devoted to addressing the challenging problems of the commercial games industry.

"In his unique voice, Jonathan Schaeffer describes the ups and downs of a research project where the ultimate goal is perfection.  And Schaeffer is brutally honest about his failures to live up to this standard. When he finally succeeds at his eighteen-year quest, the reader can't help but share the emotions of the moment."

-- Murray S. Campbell, member of IBM's Deep Blue Supercomputer development team

Product Details

  • Paperback: 585 pages
  • Publisher: Springer; 2nd edition (November 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387765751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387765754
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #957,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting! March 15, 2001
By A Customer
Once I started to read this book I found it difficult to put down. Granted I am addicted to playing checkers against my computer when taking breaks at work, but still.... This is very interesting material for checkers players and computer programmers alike.
However, I do have a couple of problems with the book. First, it is very poorly edited. There are a number of grammatical mistakes, [one right on the first paragraph], the author at times goes into unnecessary tangents and, in general the book is too long and repetitive. In addition, it bothered me that, perhaps because of the author's familiarity with chess, he decided to use chess notation to describe the games. This makes it more difficult for checkers players to follow the games while reading the book. The author/editor should have made the effort to use checkers notation or to provide better diagrams.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
By Paul Lu
I'm a biased reviewer since I was involved in the Chinook project and I'm mentioned a number of times in the book.
Others have already pointed out how this book reads like a thriller. I agree completely. Each time that I re-read this book (which is almost like a yearbook for me), I get a rush out of how effectively Jonathan takes the reader into his own mind, the (computer) mind of Chinook, and the minds of Chinook's opponents (often through their own comments and game annotations). I squirm at the retelling of how Chinook lost the first two matches in Hot Springs (1992) where I sat Poker-faced as I operated the computer.
Another strength of this book is how Jonathan fearlessly pulls no punches in presenting balanced portraits of the many people involved in the Chinook story. Don't expect a forgettable puff piece. Scientists and champions are not immune from human foibles. In dispelling that illusion, Jonathan tells a honest and valuable story. Nobody escapes Jonathan's (sometimes) sharp criticism: not myself (deserved), not some of the luminaries of checkers (accurate, in my opinion), and especially not Jonathan himself. But Jonathan balances this with genuine praise, affection, and respect in almost every case. Consequently, the book contains many insights on human nature, the nature of AI, and what happens when they cross paths.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The fascinating story of one Man and his Machine July 20, 1998
This book tells the story of an ambitious computer scientist who sets out to write a program that can beat the World Checkers Champion. He succeeds, although it takes him six years to achieve his goal. On the technical side, the book describes how the checkers program works, and how much effort it took Schaeffer and his team to make it play well enough to beat the human Champion. On the human side, it tells the story of the amazing Dr. Tinsley, probably the best checkers player who ever lived, who had beaten all his opponents, who had become bored with the game, and who finds in the computer a fresh opponent that has no fear for him, that plays for the win, that is actually fun to play against.
The most intense passages of the book are the ones where Schaeffer, as the operator of his program, has to watch his creation make moves he doesn't trust, but cannot do anything about. The most intriguing aspect of the book is that the way in which Chinook calculates it! s best moves doesn't come close to how man does it. (Or how we think we do it.)
Chinook's is a fascinating story. The book is very well written, and reads like a thriller.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good July 19, 2008
By baylor
First off - i don't play checkers, and prior to reading this book, i didn't want to. Second - i do research in game AI (although significantly different than the type of work described here) and even went to a few conferences with the author, though we've never spoken (he had a reputation for being a bit of a jerk). So my review is from the point of view of a non-checkers playing engineer.

First off, the book is incredibly meticulous in keeping track of what happened when. The author apparently asked everyone he knew to email him about various events because he often quotes long passages from other people. For example, he might describe a game he won or lost and then ask the person he played against and the judge of the match to describe it in their own words.

Second, i thought the book was pretty easy to understand. i know computers so maybe i'm not a good judge there but he did a good job explaining checkers (and chess, which comes up) so that i understood what was going on.

Third, he makes checkers seem interesting, or at least as much as i think he can. Apparently normal checkers isn't interesting but in tournaments they play odd varieties like two ballot (explained in the book) which makes for a much more interesting game than i would have expected. He also makes it easy to understand why checkers is a hard game requiring a lot of skill, which i wouldn't have guessed before this book.

Fourth, the author lets you know that he is a jerk. He doesn't appear to do anything to hide his faults or make you like him. In the book he repeatedly apologizes to people for how he's treated them. Honestly, i liked the author a lot more after reading this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid read!
With an interest in both checkers and AI, I thought that these book was a very interesting and honest portrayal of Dr. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Shawn Pope
2.0 out of 5 stars Schaeffer's Precious
Schaeffer's real-life checkers adventure is like a fictional anthropologist encountering the still-vibrant remnant of a lost civilization. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Raketemensch
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique work about Chinook project by Jonathan Schaeffer
Reading of this book is nice pleasure about the story of the best checkers programme written by Jonathan Schaeffer, the leader of the Artificial Intelligence specialists from... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Slava Gorin
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my top 20 favorite books
This book is hard to categorize, it covers so much: programming a computer to win at checkers, certainly, but also the history of a dying competitive game, the story of an... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Eric Haines
1.0 out of 5 stars Checkers isnt a real game
I began reading this book and around page 100 realized..... Who cares about a computer that can play checkers. Checkers isnt a real game the way chess it anyways. Read more
Published on February 13, 2008 by Jack Michaelson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Read
Well I never thought that title would describe for a book on a project to create a world champion beating chequers playing program! Read more
Published on December 17, 2002 by Mike Baliman
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, But
I enjoyed reading this book but as a serious checker player was hoping there was a detailed list of new moves , 4, against 3, Ect.. Read more
Published on March 1, 2001 by Lawrence Gallagher
3.0 out of 5 stars short of ink
im enjoying this a bit but im also a checker player and would defintely like the checker coordinates ( numeric notations) shown in every instance as I dont have them memorized,... Read more
Published on February 27, 2001 by Lawrence Gallagher
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting subject, checkers and computing
This book is about one man's obsession to develop a computer checkers program to beat a World Champion. Read more
Published on December 9, 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A personal account of the quest for supremacy at Checkers.
Jonathan Schaeffer's book is a must-read for people interested in making computers behave intelligently.
Published on June 15, 1999 by Brian Sheppard
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