For many years now the top name in computer chess has been Rybka. The program has previously swept all before it and it has won many, many titles. However there has always been a certain amount of controversy surrounding Rybka and it looks as though that controversy is about to get ugly. According to the Washington Times, Rybka and Mr Vasik Rajilich have been stripped of their ICGA (International Computer Games Association) World Computer Chess Champion Titles, with Mr Rajilich receiving a lifetime ban from further competition.
From the early days of the Rybka 1.0 beta, computer chess programmers have had concerns about the origins of the Rybka code. Was it an original work of Mr Rajilich or did the code originate elsewhere? Rumours abounded, but with very few of the community having the technical skills to examine the code and arrive at an informed opinion, the debate was often characterised more by emotion rather than logic and reasoned argument or production of factual evidence.
During those times some fans of the program at times behaved in a manner more reminiscent of a fundamentalist religious movement than rational human beings and logical(?) chess players. Chess forums banned discussion of rival programs and posters merely mentioning the rivals names had their accounts banned and posts deleted. It was a period very reminiscent of Stalin’s Russia in many ways, except that the violence was limited to character assassination rather than live ammunition.
The suppression of dissent over the origins of Rybka was one of the reasons that this website was founded. I found the stifling of debate and lack of real effort to find the truth depressing. The repression of debate is never a good thing. The lunatic behaviour of some moderators on a number of chess forums ensured that the ability of the community as a whole to arrive at the truth of the matter was severely hampered.
It was always an object of curiousity to me that Mr Rajilich never sought to prosecute those behind any of the several Rybka clones that were released over the last year or two. Surely a man that has worked hard to produce an original piece of intellectual property that was a world leader in its class would act to protect his product? Now it seems that we have been provided with a possible reason why. David Levy has accused Rybka itself of being the plagiarised work of two separate computer chess programs – Crafty and Fruit. If the accusations prove to be correct then this would of course provide ample reason to avoid any public court case involving Rybka. After all, how can you prosecute someone for stealing your intellectual property if your product is itself plagiarised?
As Houdini is currently leading the rankings in terms of playing strength (Elo) the point is somewhat moot anyway, except for one thing: Many assert that Houdini itself is merely a Rybka clone. If this is also true and Houdini gets banned too, then where do the folks that want to play chess versus computer opponents go then?
Original article: Washington Times.