On New Year’s Day, Chess.com launched five chess-playing bots — each with a cat persona. But the Deseret News reports that something unexpected happened with “Mittens”…
Interest generated by Mittens is outpacing the surge that came on the heels of the wildly popular, chess-centric Netflix miniseries from 2020, “The Queen’s Gambit”. Chess.com has averaged 27.5 million games played per day in January and is on track for more than 850 million games this month — 40% more than any month in the company’s history, per the Wall Street Journal.
A Chess.com team developed a special passive-aggressive personality for Mittens, according to the article. The team “thought it would be ‘way more demoralizing and funny’ if, instead of simply smashing opponents, Mittens ground down opposing players through painstaking positional battles, similar to the tactics Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov used to become world champion, per the Journal.”
The Journal adds:
“This bot is a psycho,” the streamer and International Master Levy Rozman tweeted after a vicious checkmate this month. A day later, he added, “The chess world has to unite against Mittens.” He was joking, mostly.
Mittens is a meme, a piece of artificial intelligence and a super grandmaster who also happens to reflect the broader evolution in modern chess. The game is no longer old, stuffy and dominated by theoretical conversations about different lines of a d5 opening. It’s young, buzzy and proof that cats still rule the internet….
“I am inevitable. I am forever. Meow. Hehehehe,” Mittens tells her opponents in the chat function of games….
Getting absolutely creamed by Mittens might get old. But her surprising popularity speaks to an underlying current in the chess world as freshly minted fans flow in: people are endlessly curious about new ways to engage with the ancient game. Facing novelty bots is just one of them. There has also been a new wave of interest in previously obscure chess variants. Chess960, for instance, is a version of the game where all the non-pawn pieces are lined up in random order on the back rank…. Other variants include: “Fog of War,” where players have a limited view of their opponents’ pieces; “Bughouse Chess,” which is played across two boards with captured pieces potentially moving from one to the other; and “Three Check,” where the objective is simply to put the opposing king in check three times.
The wackiest of all is the chess variant known as Duck Chess. It looks mostly like regular chess — 64 squares and 32 pieces. But it also has one rubber ducky on the board. After every move in Duck Chess, the player moves the titular object to a new square of the board where it blocks pieces in its path. Good luck moving your bishop when there’s a duck squatting on its diagonal.