You may not think of checkers as an important game intellectually. It certainly has never had the cachet of chess. That did not stop it from becoming the obsession of the University of Alberta computer science professor for nearly two decades and the center of one of the most ambitious Artificial Intelligence projects ever undertaken. This is their story.

Listen to the Episode

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Subscribe via iTunes

Subscribe via RSS

Follow ACMEScience on twitter, and Samuel Hansen too, for Updates on Relatively Prime, and our other shows


Jonathan Schaeffer is a Computer Science Professor at the University of Alberta where he is also the current Dean of the Faculty of Science.

Download the Uncut Jonathan Schaeffer Interview


Chinook is the greatest checkers player in the world, in fact it is impossible to beat. The product of an 18 year project in computer artificial intelligence, Chinook represents one of the greatest breakthroughs in computer game playing and was the first machine to ever hold a human world championship.



Joe Nathan 007
sciencectn (2) (3)

  • Dave Gale

    What an amazing and fascinating story.
    I’ve always loved games and game theory and am still hooked on the thoughts from my degree about how difficult it is to construct a play guide for even simple games like noughts and crosses (tic tac toe).

    The various redesigns and rethinks along with the perseverance involved play off so well against the genuine angst about beating a hero of yours while using a computer.

    An engrossing story. Thanks for telling it Jonahan and thanks to Samuel for letting me hear it.

  • Chris Hamer

    Brilliant. This matches the standard of a good episode of radiolab. Thanks, Samuel.

    • samuelhansen

      Thank you! Nothing you could have said would have been kinder.

  • JJ

    Please can you have a version without the music it can be very distracting for some people. The content is fascinating – the music may be very pleasant on its own but my cocktail party syndrome makes it hard to get all the words. <3 JJ

  • FXM

    I’ve loved your Relatively Prime podcasts so far. Great stuff! Thanks to Boing Boing for pointing me here. I generally listen to podcasts through the Stitcher app, but your show doesn’t seem to be in their data base when I search for it there. If you could register with them, I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

    • samuelhansen

      I just registered with Stitcher and will let you know as as soon as I am approved.

      Glad you love the shows!

    • samuelhansen

      Relatively Prime, and its siter show Strongly Connected Components, are now both on Stitcher.

      Hope that helps!

  • Roger

    Beautiful story… Thank you!

  • Shad Aumann

    I really, really enjoyed that – thanks!

    • samuelhansen

      You are very welcome, thanks for listening.

  • SpiderJon

    Interesting content, but I’d agree that the ‘background’ music is distracting and intrusive.

    • samuelhansen

      Sorry that you find it so, if you email me I can send you a version without it.

  • rmeineke

    Wow. Compelling, poignant, and even eerie in spots. That was a great listen.

    • samuelhansen

      Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.

  • Heath Raftery

    Incredible, captivating. That was an amazing story delivered exceptionally well. The music intensified the mood exquisitely. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of Mr Schaeffer before – he’s a great story teller with a great story to tell. Easily my favourite Rel Prime so far and I’m glad I persevered – audio quality is still substandard and distracting at times, but this episode is too good to miss and I’m sure audio fidelity will improve. Thank you!

    • samuelhansen

      Thank you, I am glad that you enjoyed it.

      Sorry about the audio quality, I had some set up problems on some of the recordings. Totally my fault, but now that I have made the mistakes I hope not to again if I get a chance at producing a second series.

  • kahht

    This is so captivating. Thanks for sharing the story. That music makes it so dramatic. It’s like a A&E documentary drama. I was on the edge of my seat

    • samuelhansen

      Glad you enjoyed it, I still have problems getting over how good this story was, even better than what I was hoping when I approached Professor Schaeffer for an interview.

  • Pingback: Solved games |

  • Tim Beard

    Jonathan can tell a great story (with great selection and editing from Samuel and the team!). Who’d have thought that the story of the development of a computing system could be so engaging and gripping? Thank you.

    I would love to leave top feedback for you on iTunes, but don’t want to install it on my PC and couldn’t see a way to rate the show without doing so.

    • samuelhansen

      Thank you for your kind words, I am so happy that you enjoyed it.