Rhys Rustad-Elliot introduces “Shallow Blue” and reflects on “Alpha Go”, Computers and AI!


We first met him at the Hart House Reading Room, during our club’s open chess play, when he walked through the main door and challenged one of the strongest players in of our team, Chris Knox! His name is Rhys Rustad-Elliott and he is the creator of a chess engine called “Shallow Blue”. He is also a second-year UofT student, don his major in Computer Science.

Chris’s chess skills proved too much for “Shallow Blue” but Rhys did not give up. He worked hard to improve the ability of his little beastie and, two months later, here he comes again for another challenge, this time against Andy Liao, one of our club’s execs. After an exciting rapid battle in a Slav-defense, Andy’s position started getting worse and, around move 50, our club’s fundraiser threw in the towel. It was now Panayoti Tsialas’s turn to sit down and play “Shallow Blue”. The engine conducted the opening very accurately but its middle-game strategy was not as good, resulting in a long term disadvantage, which Panayoti duly converted into a full point.

Our own Andy Liao (Black) facing Shallow Blue (White)

It was after we witnessed “Shallow Blue’s” terrific progress that we decided to invite its intelligent and very engaging creator for a lecture at Hart House Chess Club.

But what would the topic be?

Well. Our creative idea was to first watch a documentary on AI, humans and board games and then ask our guest lecturer to reflect on the subject of the film and provide his unique insights as creator of a brute force engine! And what better movies could we have found than the 2017 documentary “AlphaGo”!

Directed by Greg Kohs with an original score by Academy Award nominee, Hauschka, “AlphaGo” chronicles a journey from the halls of Oxford, through the backstreets of Bordeaux, past the coding terminals of Google DeepMind in London, and ultimately, to a seven-day challenge match in Seoul between “Alpha Go” and Lee Sedol!

Shallow Blue (1).jpg

After the movie, Rhys Rustad-Elliott, gave us a thrilling lecture on Computers, Chess and AI! Should the evolution of AI make us nervous? How do you teach a brute force engine how to play chess and beat a Grandmaster? Are engines capable of generating original ideas? Those were only some of the interesting questions addressed by Rhys!

Rhys, who is originally from Vancouver, had an interest in Computer Science and Software Engineering since elementary school, when he started toying around with simple programs in Python. Nowadays, he’s interested in a wide variety of Computer Science related topics and recently finished work on his chess engine, Shallow Blue (a play on words of Deep Blue).

It was a privilege to have hosted Rhys for an elite lecture and an even greater honor to have interviewed him after his lecture!