Hans Berliner

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Hans Berliner
Full name Hans Jack Berliner
Country United States
Born (1929-01-27) January 27, 1929 (age 87)
Berlin, Germany
Title International Master
ICCF Grandmaster (1968)
ICCF World Champion 1965–68

Hans Jack Berliner (born Berlin, Germany, January 27, 1929), a Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, is a former World Correspondence Chess Champion, from 1965–68. He is a Grandmaster of Correspondence Chess and an International Master for over-the-board chess. He directed the construction of the chess computer HiTech, and is also a published chess writer.

Life and career[edit]

Berliner was born in Berlin. When he was eight years old his family moved to America to escape Nazi persecution, taking up residence in Washington, D.C.. He learned chess at age 13, and "it quickly became his main preoccupation."

Berliner is mentioned in "How I Started To Write", an essay by Carlos Fuentes, where he is described as "an extremely brilliant boy", with "a brilliant mathematical mind". "I shall always remember his face, dark and trembling, his aquiline nose and deep-set, bright eyes with their great sadness, the sensitivity of his hands..."[1]

In 1949, he became a master, won the District of Columbia Championship (the first of five wins of that tournament) and the Southern States Championship, and tied for second place with Larry Evans at the New York State Championship. He also won the 1953 New York State Championship (the first win by a non-New Yorker), the 1956 Eastern States Open directed by Norman Tweed Whitaker in Washington, D.C., ahead of William Lombardy, Nicolas Rossolimo, Bobby Fischer (at age 13) and Arthur Feuerstein, and the 1957 Champion of Champions tournament.[2][3]

Berliner played for his country's Olympiad team at Helsinki 1952, drawing his only game on the second reserve board.[4] Berliner played four times in the US Chess Championship. In 1954 at New York, he scored 6½/13 to tie 8–9th places; Arthur Bisguier won. The last three times Berliner played in the U.S. Championship, Fischer won the tournament. In 1957–58 at New York, Berliner had his best result, 5th place with 7/13. In 1960–61 at New York, he scored 4½/11, tying for 8th–10th place. Finally in 1962–63 at New York, he scored 5/11 for a tied 7th–8th place.[2]

Berliner was talented at all aspects of chess. As a teenager he gave a multi-board blindfold simultaneous exhibition at the Washington Chess Divan, winning all six games against top local players.[5]

Berliner returned to school in 1969 to get a PhD.[6] He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1974 under the supervision of Allen Newell. His thesis was titled: "Chess as Problem Solving: The Development of a Tactics Analyzer".

Correspondence play[edit]

Berliner is remembered most for his feats in correspondence play, most notably his victory in the 5th World Correspondence Chess Championship in 1965. He won with the extraordinary score of 14/16 (twelve wins, four draws), a margin of victory of three points, thrice that of any other winner in these championships.[7]

Berliner's game in which he played the Two Knights Defense to defeat Yakov Estrin in the 1965 World Correspondence Chess Championship is one of the most famous and important games in correspondence chess.[8]

As of March 31, 2005, Berliner still had by far the highest International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) rating of any player in the United States, at 2726, 84 points above the second-highest rated player.[9] Berliner's 2726 rating places him third on the ICCF's world list, behind Joop van Oosterom (2741) and Ulf Andersson (2736).[10]

In his 1999 book The System, Berliner claimed that the move 1.d4 gives White a large, and possibly decisive, advantage.


While programming HiTech, Berliner was having trouble implementing board evaluation. He decided that to explore the problem, he should write an evaluation function for another game: backgammon. The result was BKG 9.8, written in the late 1970s on a DEC PDP-10. Early versions of BKG played badly even against poor players, but Berliner noticed that its critical mistakes were always at transitions. He applied principles of fuzzy logic to smooth out the transition between phases, and by July 1979, BKG 9.8 was strong enough to play against the ruling world champion Luigi Villa. It won the match 7–1, becoming the first computer program to defeat a world champion in any game. Berliner states that the victory was largely a matter of luck, as the computer received more favorable dice rolls.[11]

He also developed the B* search algorithm for game tree searching.

Some of Berliner's PhD students went on to become famous researchers in computer chess themselves. These include Carl Ebeling and Murray Campbell. Campbell was part of the Deep Blue team that defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Berliner currently lives in Florida, and has worked to help develop computer chess programs in his later years.


Notable games[edit]

a b c d e f g h
a8 black rook
d8 black king
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
d6 black bishop
b5 white bishop
d5 black knight
d4 white pawn
g4 black bishop
h4 black queen
f3 black pawn
g3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
d2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
b1 white knight
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
f1 white rook
g1 white king
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position after 13...exf3

Yakov Estrin vs. Hans Berliner, 5th CC World Ch Final 1965;[12] Two Knights Defense, Ulvestad Variation (ECO C57)
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 b5 6. Bf1 Nd4 7. c3 Nxd5 8. Ne4 Qh4 9. Ng3 Bg4

9...Ne6 10.Bxb5+ Bd7 11.Bxd7+ Kxd7 12.Qf3 Nef4 13.d4!+/−; 9...Bb7 10.cxd4 0-0-0 11.d3 Nf4 12.Bxf4 exf4 13.Qh5 Bb4+ 14.Kd1 Qe7 (Jovcic–Karaklajic, Jugoslavia 1960) 15.Ne2!+/− (Gligorić)

10. f3 e4

10...Nf5 11.Bxb5+ Kd8 12.0-0 Bc5+ 13.d4 exd4 14.Ne4!+/− (Kopylov)

11. cxd4 Bd6 12. Bxb5+ Kd8 13. 0-0 exf3 (see diagram) 14. Rxf3

14.Qb3! fxg2 ((14...Nb4!! 15.Rxf3 c6!! 16.Be2! Bxf3 17.gxf3 Bxg3 18.hxg3 Qxg3+ =/+, Berliner) 15.Rf2 Be6 16.Qf3 Rb8 17.Bc4 Qxd4 18.d3!+/− (Estrin)

14... Rb8 15. Be2

15.a4!+/− Jovcic–Koshnitsky, corr. 1969 (Gligorić)

15... Bxf3 16. Bxf3 Qxd4+ 17. Kh1 Bxg3 18. hxg3 Rb6 19. d3 Ne3 20. Bxe3 Qxe3 21. Bg4 h5 22. Bh3 g5 23. Nd2 g4 24. Nc4 Qxg3 25. Nxb6 gxh3 26. Qf3 hxg2+ 27. Qxg2 Qxg2+ 28. Kxg2 cxb6 29. Rf1 Ke7 30. Re1+ Kd6 31. Rf1 Rc8 32. Rxf7 Rc7 33. Rf2 Ke5 34. a4 Kd4 35. a5 Kxd3 36. Rf3+ Kc2 37. b4 b5 38. a6 Rc4 39. Rf7 Rxb4 40. Rb7 Rg4+ 41. Kf3 b4 42. Rxa7 b3 0–1

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Phillip Lopate, 1995, pp. 435–36
  2. ^ a b The chess games of Hans Berliner
  3. ^ Berliner (1999, p. 176), and Brady (1973, pp. 16–17)
  4. ^ Főldeák (1979, pp. 201–02)
  5. ^ Hearst, Eliot and Knott, John,[1], Blindfold Chess: History, Psychology, Techniques, Champions, World Records, and Important Games, McFarland & Co, 2009, p.112.
  6. ^ Hoffman, Paul. "Archimedes' Revenge", 1988. p. 176.
  7. ^ Berliner (1999, p. 176)
  8. ^ Burgess, Nunn & Emms (2004, pp. 309–15), and Evans (1970, pp. 217–21)
  9. ^ "Top 50 ICCF-US Players as of 3/31/2005", Chess Life (May): 37, 2005 
  10. ^ [2] (accessed 2008-05-08)
  11. ^ Berliner, Hans, et al. "Backgammon program beats world champ", ACM SIGART Bulletin, Issue 69. January 1980. pp. 6–9.
  12. ^ Estrin v. Berliner (1965)


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Vladimir Zagorovsky
World Correspondence Chess Champion
Succeeded by
Horst Rittner