Computer scientist explains how to beat humans at checkers

Computer plays checkers with people

The development of high-performance game-playing computer programs has been one of the major successes of artificial intelligence research. Canadian researcher Jonathan Schaeffer created the Chinook project to build a computer program capable of winning the human World Checkers Championship. It took 18 years, and to play better than the best human, the computer had to be perfect.


Schaeffer says what started out as a research project quickly became a personal quest. He will talk about the interplay between people and technology in the Assembly Series William C. Ferguson Lecture “Computer (and Human) Perfection at Checkers” at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18 in Steinberg Hall Auditorium.

To appreciate this story, he says, no detailed knowledge of computer science or checkers is needed.

His acclaimed book, “One Jump Ahead: Challenging Human Supremacy in Checkers,” (1997) chronicles the technical achievements of Chinook, including a solid discussion of how computers “think” when they play, and provides valuable, candid insights into human nature.

A native of Toronto, he is a professor of computing science at the University of Alberta. From 2005 to 2008 he chaired the department, and in 2008 he became vice provost and associate vice president for information technology. He is currently involved in the university’s GAMES group developing computer poker systems.

He received a bachelor’s in computer science from the University of Toronto, a master’s in mathematics and a Ph.D. in computer science (1986), both from the University of Waterloo.

The event is free and open to the public. Steinberg Hall is located near the corner of Skinker and Forsyth on the Washington University in St. Louis Danforth campus.

For more information, call (314) 935-4620 or visit the Assembly Series Web site (