Google Gripped by Pro-Biz Chess Bug

 

It’s a chess tournament like no other – the world’s best grandmasters competing alongside leading businesspeople in a meeting of minds – all in the super-cool surroundings of Deep Mind’s offices at Google HQ near King’s Cross in London.

 

 
   

Offices and corridors around the Google offices – with its whizzing lifts and cool gadgetry like a kind of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for techies – are abuzz with the chatter of chess opening preparation as the world’s best players give last-minute coaching tips to their playing partners – all to the sounds of a PA system piping out Freddie Mercury and Queen’s up-tempo single, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now!’

 

The event is a charity fundraiser for Chess in Schools and Communities, and also provides opportunities for talented schoolchildren to receive Masterclasses from leading Grandmasters.

 

The games in the Pro-Biz Cup can be viewed here.

 

When the Pro and Amateur players aren’t discussing the latest GM wrinkles on the Leningrad Dutch or the Caro-Kann, the talk is all about the latest games by AlphaZero, the revolutionary self-learning programme developed by DeepMind that has seemingly taken chess to an unheard-of level, combining brute force calculation with ground-breaking neural networks learning.

 

Garry Kasparov and Terry Chapman ponder their move in the Caro-Kann (photo Lennart Ootes)

Among the players here is DeepMind’s CEO, the former chess prodigy Demis Hassabis who is hosting the event. His company, the world’s leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) research firm, is rewriting the rules – not just for games like chess, but potentially for a whole range of fields of scientific research and endeavour.

 

Shreyas Royal and Ali Mortazavi (photo Lennart Ootes)

Deep in thought at the board are players such as the legendary World Champion Garry Kasparov, here partnering entrepreneur Terry Chapman. Their opponents in Round 1 are English GM David Howell and Rajko Vujatovic, a model risk consultant who also has the distinction of being a three-time gold medallist in the World Chess Diving Championship – where thinking time is limited by how long you can hold your breath underwater.

 

Fabiano Caruana plots his move, as Chris Flowers looks on (photo Lennart Ootes)

The games are played on a rapid time limit of 20 minutes plus 5 seconds per move, and also players are allowed to take two 1-minute timeouts to consult with each other.

 

Terry Chapman and Garry Kasparov taking a timeout for consultation (photo Lennart Ootes)

At this point, the clocks are paused, and the Grandmasters and their amateur partners huddle in a corner of the room near the electronic display boards, dispensing and receiving animated advice on which move to play next, or where to start an attack on the king.

 

Natasha Regan and Mickey Adams (photo Lennart Ootes)

For the top four grandmasters here – World Championship challenger Fabiano Caruana, his fellow American Hikaru Nakamura, France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Armienia’s Levon Aronian, it’s a gentle warmup for the main event that starts tomorrow – the London Chess Classic, the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour 2018, which will be decided by knockout semi-finals and a final.

 

Matthew Sadler and Demis Hassabis deep in concentration (photo Lennart Ootes)

But for the entrepreneurs, it’s a pretty nerve-wracking affair – like doubles tennis or Pro-Am golf. Imagine stepping in to take a penalty for Lionel Messi, or returning serve to Roger Federer. You wouldn’t want to be the one responsible for the blunders then…

 

CEO of Chess in Schools and Communities Malcolm Pein (photo Lennart Ootes)

And while it’s generally fairly light-hearted compared to serious chess tournaments, you can tell that Kasparov, for some years now retired from full-time chess, just like the other Grandmasters – simply does not want to lose.

 

The Teams

 

Pair 1

- Fabiano Caruana, World Championship Challenger
- Chris Flowers, Chairman and CEO of J.C. Flowers & Co. LLC, an investment firm specialising in financial services
   

Pair 2

- Matthew Sadler, two-time British Champion
- Demis Hassabis, CEO and Co-Founder of DeepMind
   

Pair 3

- Garry Kasparov, former World Champion
- Terry Chapman, entrepreneur and former Chairman and CEO of Terence Chapman Group PLC
   

Pair 4

- David Howell, England No. 2
- Rajko Vujatovic, model risk consultant and three-time gold medallist in the World Diving Chess Championships
   

Pair 5

- Levon Aronian, Grand Chess Tour semi-finalist 2018.
- Justin Baptie, Managing Director of Insight Strategic Associates, a firm of accountants dealing with the SME and HNW market.
   

Pair 6

- Mickey Adams, England No. 1 and reigning British Champion.
- Natasha Regan, a Director at RPC Consulting and Women’s International Master.
   

Pair 7

- Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Grand Chess Tour semi-finalist 2018.
- Gilles Betthaeuser, President of global real estate company Colliers International for France, Belgium, Spain, Morocco and Switzerland.
   

Pair 8

- Gawain Jones, two-time British Champion.
- Nigel Povah, an advisor to US firm PSI and an International Master.
   

Pair 9

- Hikaru Nakamura, Grand Chess Tour semi-finalist 2018.
- Karina Vazirova, Head of Product and Implementations at ClauseMatch, a London-based RegTech firm, and a Women’s International Master
   

Pair 10

- Ali Mortazavi, former CEO of Silence Therapeutics and an International Master.
- Shreyas Royal, 9, currently the top English Under 12 and ranked second in the world for his age.
   

 

The Pro-Biz Cup is part of the London Chess Classic and supports Chess in Schools and Communities

 

   

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