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Nepo's Super-Computer - Newsletter from Say Chess

Martin B. Justesen
Martin B. Justesen
The World Chess Championship is nearing and I want to bring my own contribution to the prelude.
In a recent episode on the Perpetual Podcast, John Hartmann mentioned that Ian Nepomniachtchi got help from a Russian supercomputer. This caught my interest. And yesterday GM Peter Heine Nielsen, second to Magnus, mentioned the computer on a Danish podcast and said that “They are pretty sure that they have the strongest human”.
The supercomputer is from the Russian Skolkovo University (if you want the technical details about the computer go here). The University site reports in an article about the use of the engine before the Candidates tournament:
CDISE (Skoltech Center for Data-Intensive Science and Engineering) researchers and Nepomniachtchi’s team adapted several existing chess engines for a supercomputer cluster. “Ian’s team had 24/7 access to these resources and used them during preparation for the games,” Oleg Panarin, Manager of Data & Information Services and Technical Head at CDISE, said. Link
Later in the article:
Nepomniachtchi says his team hopes to continue working with Skoltech to prepare for the ultimate game. “We have some ideas, but it would be premature to talk about them,” Nepomniachtchi said.

But how did a chess player get access to a supercomputer at a Russian University? My eyes popped when I saw a quote in the above-mentioned article by FIDE President, Arkady Dvorkovich:
“We in the Skolkovo ecosystem are very happy our computational resources are applied in all sorts of spheres and have played a small but significant part in Ian’s victory,” Arkady Dvorkovich, FIDE President and Skolkovo Foundation Chairman, said.
It turns out that the President of FIDE is also a chairman at the Skolkovo Foundation. According to Wiki, the foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 2010 creating a new science and technology development center in the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo. 
Dvorkovich was appointed co-chair of the Skolkovo Foundation council in May 2018. And in September 2018 appointed to Chair of the Skolkovo Foundation. These events coincided with the FIDE election where Dvorkovich won the election in October 2018 and became FIDE President.
During the world cup in July 2021, FIDE arranged an AI meetup. Amongst the participants were Sergey Rykovanov (professor) and Yuri Shkandybin (systems architect) at the Skoltech’s supercomputing group, who asked questions to the DeepMind researchers about issues with the scalability of the Stockfish and Leela engines. If you want to hear their talk go to 2:06:45 in the video. Interestingly enough Peter Heine Nielsen also took part in the talks.
Chess & AI Meetup 2021
Chess & AI Meetup 2021
After doing this research I’m still puzzled by the FIDE president’s comment about the use of the supercomputer. Isn’t there a conflict of interest?
I have asked chief marketing officer and communications officer at FIDE, David Llada for a comment. He answered:
“I am afraid our President has so many connections in Russia, due to his previous position, that it is impossible to avoid these things from happening. What we can say is that the agreement between Nepomniachtchi and the team responsible for Zhores Supercomputer was made without his involvement, at the own initiative of the player’s entourage.”
It will be interesting to follow if the Russian supercomputer can give the needed advantage to Nepomniachtchi and return the title to Russia. We will soon find out.
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Martin B. Justesen
Martin B. Justesen @saychess1

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