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History of the Monkey Club

Monkeys and chess? On first glance these two things do not seem as if they would work together. Some might even argue that there is not even a remote connection between these two words. However, there is more to it than meets the eye. Monkeys and chess share a long history which just has been forgotten over the past decades and in order to explain the name and the purpose of the Monkey Club we will dig deep down into history and look how everything started.

Stale bread? Stalemate!

Our story starts in 1946. Kevin Introspection a U.S. scientist, was studying the possibilities of interaction and communication with bonobos. His prime “student” was boonen, a little chimp from Botswana. Over a couple of months Professor Introspection taught boonen how to use a simple computer where it could press symbols on a keyboard in order to communicate with the human scientists. boonen learned over 150 different expressions and words with this computer and could express needs and feelings to the scientists.

So far nothing special, this method of communication with chimps and other monkey species has become quite common by now if it weren’t for an incident that occurred during December 1946: Besides being a brilliant scientist, Professor Introspection also was a dedicated chess players who used to play a lot of chess games against his fellow scientists. Every now and then boonen watched both of them play and seemed to have high interest in the game they were playing. So on that fateful day it just happened that after Professor Introspection made his move in yet another game, boonen start to hit the keys for “stale” and “bread” like crazy on his keyboard. He just did not stop to hit the keys.

First off the scientists were clueless. What on earth made boonen behave like this? However, only minutes later it struck Professor Introspection like a lightning bolt. The chess board! He looked at the position on the board again and noticed that with his last move he set his opponent stalemate. And the little chimp boonen noticed this. It just did not have the proper keys on his keyboard to express himself, thus it improvised using the to him similar sounding words “stale” and “bread”, thus stalebread actually meant stalemate!

The beginning of further investigation

After some experiments Professor Introspection found out that boonen not just recognized things like mate and stalemate but was even play by himself with great strength, even winning several games. He published his research results in 1948 in the October issue of “AJSB” the American Journal for Simians and Boardgames. Though surprising and funny the news went by rather unnoticed.

By the late 50ies, however, the situation completely changed with the cold war where the West competed with the Soviet Union on which system the better one was. Chess went from being a game between gentlemen to become a tool in the war between these systems. Both sides strived to have the better chess players and at that time there was no doubt that the leading chess players where living in the Soviet Union.

That was the reason why a new generation of American scientists, namely Dorian Strout, began to pick up the research of Professor Introspection and trying to use monkeys in order to train their chess players. A training and research center was founded in Northridge, Kentucky under the shelter of the Hawk Cliffs where many players and scientists gathered. The researches succeeded in training the monkeys to come up with many opening novelties in openings like the queens gambit declined, the najdorf Sicilian and the English opening. The chimps also helped players to train the hypermodern playing stile, some even began joking that Nimzovitch’s “My System” is the past and the reign of “My Banana” will soon begin.

The East strikes back

The good results of the U.S scientists soon began to bother Soviet authorities. They began to fear that they might lose the number one position in the chess world in the near future. The rise of Bobby Fischer further strengthened that fear. In a rush several hundred monkeys were flown to Moscow where Russian scientist Yvan Kiranov began with his research. He was soon joined by Romanian Professor Georgi Grungean. Within just a couple of months and with the help of some KGB spies, Soviet Russia was able to catch up to the level of American researchers.

Caught in between this scientific “war” European authorities also tried to establish their own researches, taking advantage of their geographic location and thus getting new research results from both sides rather quick. The British Pollock institute in Cambridge soon attracted several researchers from Europe, notably Ian Squibbington I and Doctor Oppermann from Germany. Besides that there were many local initiatives, like for example the researches of dutch scientist Marvin van Furion who closely examined the effects of alcohol and guitar music on monkeys. In his researches he found out that the more beer he gave his monkeys, the more they refused to play long standard games and opted for blitz games instead.

This wholes scientific arm’s race reached a peak during the World Championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in Iceland in 197something. The whole match was on the edge of being cancelled as a ship with 450 monkeys and 15 tons of bananas arrived at the docks of Rejkvavik, the capitol of Iceland, and both sides claimed to be the owner of this shipment. Only after a full day of negotiations both sides agreed to simply donate the bananas to the public of Iceland and setting the monkeys free in the local woods. Still today you can find groups of chimps living in the forests of Iceland.

The downfall of the chess playing monkeys

Due to this scandal but most of all due to the rise of computers and their processing power, monkeys got more and more forgotten as chess trainers and analysis aides. Computers have become able to evaluate several thousands positions a minute whereas one would need several hundreds of monkeys as well as several tons of bananas to achieve the same result. The researchers left the scene and went after other projects. A few monkeys like crem still made it on the news on some occasions by playing in blind simultation events and scoring exceptional but in the end everyone was focusing on computers. New York Times editor Lloyd Henderb set the end to all monkey chess activities with his famous headline: “Monkeys? Even my small black cat, can play chess! I give you my double letter on that!”.

The rediscovery of monkeys

Fast forward to the present: With computer engines like Rybka, Fritz and Zappa beginning to outplay the best human chess players of the world, people start to rediscover the chess playing apes in order to find an antidote for computer chess. The focus is not any longer on pure monkey processing power but more on creative and new ideas. After all, the rather unusual openings still have monkey names today, like 1.b4 which is known to be the “Orang-Utan” opening. First out of pure boredom Dr. Mark from Austria began fiddling with the former research results and training one ape for especially playing unusual moves and thus outpreparing and outmaneuvering its opponents. Unlike his precedessor, Dr. Mark had one big technological advantage to use for his researches: the internet. He quickly began to develop a machine-to-monkey interface with the simple programming language “ook”, so that his monkey could play and train many games in little time and gaining strength rather quickly. He named his monkey “FlorinC”, where the “C” specifically stands for “Chimp”. FlorinC outplayed his human opponents with for them dazzling and astonishing move orders like 1.g4!, h4!, a4 and rook maneuvers like a1-a3-e3-e7 and took the number one spot in the ranking in only a few months.

Dr. Mark then went to on to found a virtual chess club basing on his researches which is open for everyone to join. Members can play games, compete in leagues, exchange experiences and of course learn from the raw playing power of FlorinC and walk the path of the monkeys.