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One Jump Ahead: Computer Perfection at Checkers Paperback – November 28, 2008

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0387765754 ISBN-10: 0387765751 Edition: 2nd

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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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 585 pages
  • Publisher: Springer; 2nd edition (November 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387765751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387765754
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 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: #1,499,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Aske Plaat <> on July 20, 1998
Format: Hardcover
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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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Paul Lu on December 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By baylor on July 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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