A chess bot called Mittens caused a surge in popularity of the site for the game in Chess.com. With a rating of only one point, the bot seems like a simple opponent, but it benefits both beginners and grandmasters alike. And best of all, people love it, writes The Wall Street Journal.
Since January 1, when a bot appeared on Chess.com with an avatar of a cute big-eyed kitten, the obsession with playing with it is simply amazing. Mittens has helped bring more people to the game of chess than even the popular Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit.
More than 850 million games are expected to be played on Chess.com this month – 40% more than any other month in the service’s history. A video posted on YouTube by American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura titled “Mittens The Chess Bot Will Make You Quit Chess” has already garnered more than three million views.
“This bot is a psycho,” streamer and international master Levy Rozman tweeted after Mittens checked him this month.
Wtf this bot is a psycho pic.twitter.com/d2m29ODbQ3
— GothamChess (@GothamChess) January 2, 2023
A day later, he jokingly added: “The chess world has to unite against Mittens.”
“I am inevitable. I am forever. Meow. Hehehehe,” Mittens says to her opponents in the game’s chat.
Chess.com has a variety of bots of varying skill levels and styles for users to challenge. Some of them are designed for poor play and can be defeated by even the weakest player. Others, in an era when computers dominate people, can topple the chess elite.
This particular bot was the brainchild of a Hamilton College student named Will Whalen, who had the idea to put an incredibly strong bot in the image of a cute cat.
But Mittens didn’t become what it is today until Chess.com writer Sean Becker led the team that developed Mittens’ personality and turned her into an evil genius tormenting chess players everywhere. Part of why Mittens has become such a famous villain is because she acts like a villain.
“Meow. Gaze into the long abyss. Hehehehe,” Mittens writes to the players, quoting the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Even her approach to the game is menacing. Mittens is skilled enough to beat the best chess players on the planet, but uses particularly grueling tactics. Becker thought it would be “way more demoralizing and funny” if, instead of simply smashing opponents, Mittens grinded down opponents through painstaking positional battles, similar to the tactics russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov used to become world champion.
Losing to Mittens can get boring. But the amazing popularity of the bot shows that there are new fans in the chess world who are interested in learning about new ways to interact with an ancient game like bots.