THE ICS INTERVIEWS SERIES – No. 012 – SIGGEMANNEN
Interviewed March 2019
First published June 2019
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed as part of the ICS Interviews series.
Thank you for the opportunity to get interviewed! It feels nice to be featured among the more famous ICSers!
When did you first start playing chess online?
The years and dates seldom agree with me, so i had to do some research for this question, but it all started in April 2003 on FICS, with it being THE server for me throughout the years. Back then, FICS had a really strong policy about not allowing free emails like hotmail or yahoo, so it was a big hurdle just to sign up! So I started by playing GnuChess locally on Winboard, and then played as guest called modembog (cause of the dial-up…) for a while. Then, in October, i managed to get an access to an ISP email from a friend and finally register siggemannen. I was a 1400ish player back then, having studied quite a bit of chess as a kid but taking a long break due to stuff like school, puberty and Wolfenstein 3D. In college though, we had a lot of free time and the library had a few boards. Actually, one of the main reasons i joined was that so i could practice enough to beat a school-mate of mine. After a while, i dropped all the regular gaming for online chess, and as they say, things were never the same again.
While you’re probably best known as being an atomic world champion, do you still play atomic at all? Or have you transitioned to normal chess / other variants?
Actually, it’s a bit of a soapy story. A friend of mine showed me and this girl we both liked the basic ropes of the moves and ideas and we played it as well as analyzing, and for some reason this variant just clicked for me.
Unfortunately, it never really worked out with the girl, but that’s a story for another publication perhaps!
Back then it was mostly about playing, because there were absolutely no resources except the Vlasov’s page with a (in my opinion) dreadful opening book 😀 When not playing i always did “games /x” and observed whatever atomic game was on, and i still automatically type this command from time to time when on FICS. I played a mental game of guess the move while watching, comparing to what was played, going back n forth and analyzing the finished games.
Later, people like maciejg and seberg started to work together to analyze the game, and i joined them, and when tipau came to FICS, we kind of hit it off immediately and started to analyze a lot together.
Actually it was quite often a new player X would emerge, and we’d do some analyzing and then move on. But tipau had unlimited ideas pretty much so it was always interesting to work with him.
I guess i mostly learned from others, not having too many ideas of my own, but being good at evaluating /refining them.
Later with wildchess database available it was possible to analyze through it, and nowadays there are strong enough atomic computers, but even then, there was TrojanKnight, introducing some really good lines in atomic.
Do you enjoy any other variants?
I’m still an admin, although the actual amount of admin work i do these days varies from non-existent to barely noticeable!
But in 2004 i was pretty hungry and knew my way around FICS, so i started as a TM to do more atomic tourneys and progressed to SR and eventually to admin role.
For some reason i seldom had problems with the more “abusive” users on FICS, so for me it wasn’t the case of “jaded cop”-trope. Being an admin should be about helping users and to be unhelpful to abusers, and there are different ways to do it, personally i preferred to try to talk it out and refrain from the harsher stuff.
The nice part of being an admin is you get to know a lot of people that were part of fics “lore” and knew their way around. Sure, the power thing is nice, but to be honest, after you nuke a few people, it wears off pretty quickly, admins mostly nuked the various staff members for giggles. I do miss a lot of people from those days, AcademiaNut (who some people absolutely couldn’t stand!), DrDeath, pgv, ARCEE, SI and a lot of others.
You know, in general, FICS is a bittersweet memory for me, a feeling of happiness and loss at the same time. Sure, the moment has passed, and we’re not the same people, but still, it’s kinda sad.
Have you met any of the internet chess players you’ve interacted with in real life?
Yeah, i’ve met quite a few, mostly Europeans: kardolus, mrundersun, Wizeman, seberg, HyperMagnus, litovec, elektroz, Thalagor, Esekla and probably some others whom i forgot, as well as talking IRL with a few others. I still have a lunch @ fismoluni to pick up, as well as some gals to catch up with. Also, i wouldn’t mind meeting tipau as well as yourself some day 😀
Funnily enough, it was seldom chess meetings, in fact, i can hardly remember playing against any FICSer OTB!
I remember TrojanKnight as being one of the best engines – back in the day and I don’t think its competition was stellar, I mean there was Atomix and pulsar and atomkraft. What are your thoughts on each of those engines?
You forgot Sordid! tipau and I actually helped MightyByte with the book as well as some general advice on it. It was written in java, and i have some old jars somewhere, as well as its old book. Sordid were the “playmakers” on fics, generating action, but unfortunately also a lot of repeating abusers and rating eekers.
The first game of Sordid was against me, and it beat me fair and square! Sordid had a bad depth so it often most decent endgame positions due to sloppy calculations, but it was always a tough opponent in the middle game.
TK was amazingly strong, but had a quite average book, some of it were outright losses. It got fixed later on though.
A lot of theory in nf3 f6, e3 e6, nd4 and nb5 -line was created and refined by him, and tipau and TK had some legendary match series.
There was also another computer you forgot: opossum, who also played strong atomic, the hardest thing was to catch it online though! One cool feature of it was that after the game it re-analyzed and “learned” from the mistakes. opossum vs TK series had some marvelous “pure” computer games.
About pulsar and atomkraft, these were pretty much after my active time, but pulsar was pretty strong, and was used by tipau to analyze for his book, it was also the first engine that could be used for standalone stuff that was available to the “public”.
Atomix was WAY before my time.
Personally, i never liked playing comps, they’re just too cold and have no fear, so my style never worked too well against them =)
Also, these engines have generally made openings a trap-filled wasteland of good ideas. The Stockfish-atomic engine on lichess is really good for analysis, but i think it kills your own creativity to study too much with it.
Judging by strength of that engine, I suspect that computers should be able to find a solid winning atomic line, or at least a comfortably dominating one for white, but luckily it hasn’t happened yet, so there’s still hope for the future!
Given your expertise as a programmer and the discussion of engines, what’s your opinion of certain people trying to “solve” atomic like they did suicide? Especially if they build a “neural net”?
For me it’s a double-edged dagger, as a player i would prefer others to figure atomic on their own volition rather than by using the electronic crutches of Stockfish etc. Technically, people did try to solve it before as well: by repeating good lines against strong players and computers like TK and getting better, but to me it seemed more fair, since you actually needed to do a bit of work yourself.
On the other hand, i’m also fascinated by the whole AI thing, just look at how AlphaGo and its chess little brother been doing, they play some really interesting lines without “understanding” anything, and even less calculating in the old trivial way. In my opinion, this knowledge isn’t as transferable, but it’s nice to watch on the side-lines to see what happens.
The nilatac etc of the suicide days most solved the crappy lines, or it had such a deep lines, no humans could accurately replay them.
With atomic, it’s a bit narrower path, so it’s easier to get some pretty good lines going. But of course, in the long run, the better players win. Which brings me to another topic that’s seldom mentioned, first move advantage in atomic. Perhaps, the servers should start to compensate black players better for drawing games. Then we have stuff like w5, is it not solved by computers yet?
I would probably summarize that in atomic, and in life in general, the next “boom” will be in the neutral nets / AI fields.
Knowing what you do now, would you be able to do a whole new wildchess again? Perhaps sans bughouse? Or would it be something best left behind in the past?
And yeah, i’m talking 3 0 now, it’s the ultimate time control. Maybe cause i’ve been playing on touchpad since 2007, but 1 0 has always been second best for me.
Also, i do believe that chess sharpens your mind and allows you to focus and be able to “trace” things, like computer code easier, because you generally need to store a lot of state information while calculating a move sequence or debugging some long multi-threaded routine.
Life-wise otherwise, well, I did meet a few of my very best friends through FICS, and even if we mostly aren’t that much in touch these days, it feels just like a temporary thing. So, it’s been mostly good, and as they say, i would do it all over again 🙂
Well, i’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately… 😄
But to be honest, last couple of years haven’t been a lot of fun, being filled with mostly grown-up responsibility things like working, paying rent and mortgages kind of stuff. Death and taxes as they say in the US. And it hasn’t been that much chess either, just a few binges from time to time.
The job-thing does give a few advantages though, i now have means to do a bit of travel, last year the big one was Australia, a trip that i would definitely recommend!
Other interests include old black and white movies, and older cars (although not THAT old), and some other nerdier stuff.
I also picked up yoga, and after doing it like 4-5 years, well, i wish i could say that i got leaner, but it’s a really good workout, body and mind.
I do sometimes miss the whole companionship / game analysis part of fics, and just general banter in ch 99 and such, but perhaps as you get older, it’s not always possible to keep the online presence going in the same way.
I had to throw this one in – what did you think of the whole Daysleeper saga?
I find it a bit of a loss, the lack of chat and general communication possibilities. Consider lichess, to “chat” with a friend, you need to pretty much send emails back and forth to each other, and reload the page to do it. An equivalent of using “message” to chat with someone online at FICS!
The whisper is still possible, but kibitzing isn’t, and sure, it was often discouraged even on FICS; but still, “say” command was sometimes handy. I guess the reason for less communication is to avoid abuse.
My favorite part is examine, and it’s usually quite shoddily implemented as well, along with the chatting. The “console” thing isn’t a must to me as it is, some people prefer tabbed chat, but i like a simple way of talking and having an overview over several things.
Who knows though, perhaps the art of talking online is slowly going out of style anyway, with more and more polarizing communication seen on the likes of Twitter, Reddit etc, it’s might just be the way of progress in general.
It could also be that we’re slowly turning into a bunch of dinosaurs, but then be it, who knows, like the more famous Hollywood-lizards, we may soon make a comeback with a bang!
siggemannen was the 2005 Atomic Chess World Champion and the programmer of the long-gone variant chess database wildchess.org. The interviewer would like to thank sigge for agreeing to complete this interview again several years later after the original request!