Arimaa/Arimaa Challenge History
Arimaa was designed to be easier for humans than for computers, but the only way to test this was to incentivize the creation of strong Arimaa bots. The Arimaa Challenge would match the top bot against a top human player. First held in 2004, the Challenge match would occur each year until a bot prevailed, or until 2020. If a bot ever won, its developer would win $10,000 pledged by Omar Syed, and sometimes more pledged by others. The bot would always run on off-the-shelf hardware, not something advanced or outdated. Syed expected that Arimaa could not be mastered by sheer calculating power until after 2020, and hoped that bots would take a human-like approach to Arimaa.
Gold must either defend his camel or trade it for a silver horse. Capturing the horse is the right move for Gold, who is up in material but potentially vulnerable in the east. Bomb vs. Omar
A year before the first Challenge match was to be held, Omar Syed contacted Go programmer David Fotland. Fotland acknowledged that Arimaa's large branching factor could indeed pose a problem for computers, but thought computers would have an initial advantage for a reason Syed had not considered: as a new game, Arimaa was unexplored. The first human defender would have at most one year of experience against other new players; even a highly motivated and talented player would be limited by what he could practice against. Fotland thus felt that the Challenge could be won in the first year, but was reluctant to take on such a project. Syed thus promised to double the prize to $20,000 if a bot could win the very first Challenge. After comparing notes with Syed and Don Dailey, Fotland created an initial bot that defeated Syed twice. Fotland decided to go all-in.
In order to enter the upcoming competition, a bot had to first play twenty public games with at least six different opponents, including at least three humans. Wanting to discover his bot's weaknesses, Fotland allowed it to play many more than twenty games. This bot, named Bomb, appeared strong, until players began taking its camel hostage. This strategy proved very effective against Bomb, which Fotland then retuned to be more careful with its camel. The less aggressive Bomb remained strong against other bots, and easily won the 2004 Computer Championship.
On the human side, Frank Heinemann won the 2004 Arimaa World Championship, but was reluctant to defend humanity's honor and Syed's $20,000. Syed, still a top player himself, decided to defend his own prize. The Syed vs. Bomb match would consist of eight games, with each side playing four as Gold and four as Silver. In the event of a 4–4 tie, the winner would be the one whose wins used fewer total turns.
With Bomb no longer giving an easy camel hostage, the fate of the Challenge was uncertain. Bomb was not programmed to learn from its games, so Syed had the advantage in that regard, but on the other hand the long match could be grueling for Syed. However, the now defensive Bomb had few answers for Syed's lone elephant attacks. In the rare event that Bomb got a material lead, it failed to capitalize. Bomb squandered its most promising game after it declined an exchange which would have pushed Syed toward a tough endgame. In another game, Bomb could have used its camel to break a horse frame and get a multi-piece attack on Syed's home trap, but such attacks were not well understood by humans or bots, and Bomb was programmed not to advance its camel in most situations.
After sweeping the first five games and thus defending the Challenge, Syed decided to play under extra constraints. He won the sixth game without losing a piece, and won the seventh without capturing a piece. In the eighth game he gave a material handicap of a rabbit, and still won.
Syed's 8–0 shutout was a surprise, but vindicated his expectation that bots would struggle with long-term strategy. Fotland continued to refine Bomb, but did not expect to outpace human players as Arimaa was further explored.
Behind its home trap, the eastern silver horse is poorly positioned; this allowed Gold to quickly become strong in the east. Belbo vs. Bomb
Bomb repeated as Computer Champion, but only after tiebreaks; other bots now appeared nearly as strong. David Fotland had improved Bomb mostly by fixing small bugs and fine-tuning the evaluation function, but he also added one important strategic innovation: Bomb became selectively aggressive with its camel when the two elephants were deadlocked.
In the intervening year, lone elephant attacks were largely supplanted by elephant-horse attacks, which proved effective against bots. Four human players were ranked higher than Bomb, but the top two declined to defend the Challenge due to the time commitment required. Third-ranked Omar Syed did not want to defend his own prize again, so he persuaded fourth-ranked Frank Heinemann, who had in the previous year declined, to do the honors.
While there was now a general sense that Bomb was not close to overtaking human players, Heinemann entered the match rated a mere 55 points higher than Bomb. The suspense was short-lived, as Bomb had few answers for Heinemann's elephant-horse attacks. In the first game, Heinemann overloaded Bomb in the west while the camels gridlocked the east. The second game was similar, though longer. In the third game, Heinemann followed up his elephant-horse attack with a swarm to blockade Bomb's elephant and free his own elephant.
In the fourth game, Heinemann attempted another elephant blockade, which Bomb sidestepped at the last minute. Heinemann was up in material, but his advanced pieces were at risk in the northeast. Heinemann's inefficient use of his elephant likely cost him this game. That was to be Bomb's only victory. In the fifth game, Heinemann captured Bomb's counter-attacking camel in exchange for a horse; the eastern fight continued, and Heinemann's dog was soon the strongest piece in the west, where Heinemann then cleaned up. Heinemann won each of the final three games without losing a piece.
Heinemann's 7–1 victory showcased his human adaptability, as his elephant-horse attack improved and Bomb's response remained static. Bomb consistently left itself vulnerable on the b- or g-file.
With the silver elephant isolated in the east, the gold camel has advanced fearlessly in the west. This is the beginning of a double-trap attack by Gold. (Adanac vs. Bomb)
Given the reluctance of top players to defend the first two Challenges, Omar Syed introduced a more player-friendly format for 2006: there would now be three human defenders, each of who would play three games against the top bot. Any one defender could uphold the Challenge; to win it, the bot had to win all three mini-matches. This minimized both the psychological pressure and time commitment a defender would face. Moreover, several human players now appeared stronger than any bot, so it made sense to have multiple defenders. The requirement that the bot win all three mini-matches, and not just a majority of games, was somewhat controversial. However, Syed felt he was not moving goalposts beyond the original intent of the Challenge; even by 2020, Arimaa players would likely be nowhere near the human potential, for essentially the same reason that David Fotland had felt optimistic in the first year. A truly dominant Arimaa bot, Syed thus reasoned, would likely defeat any three human players.
Bomb won the Computer Championship more easily than it had in the previous year, even though this was the unchanged 2005 Bomb. The Challenge defenders did not know this, but were not worried, as the 2006 Bomb still appeared vulnerable to strategies that were often used to dominate the 2005 Bomb.
Karl "Fritz" Juhnke, Greg Magne, and Paul Mertens swept the first eight Challenge games, not even losing a piece in six of those games. Elephant-horse attacks remained the principal strategy; if a horse advanced in the right place, Bomb's elephant would usually take it hostage, giving the attacker a strong alignment. In Juhnke's first game, he traded his hostaged horse for Bomb's aggressive camel. In his other two games, Juhnke defended the hostage while capturing weak pieces at home, and eventually rotated his elephant out of hostage defense. Magne quickly attacked both away traps in his first game; once Bomb's elephant was isolated in the east, Magne's camel advanced in the west, and more pieces followed. Magne did another double-trap attack in his second game; this time, Magne lost his camel for a horse, but his goal threats tied up Bomb's elephant for the rest of the game. In his third game, Magne made captures at home. Mertens twice blockaded Bomb's elephant and dominated the board.
For the ninth and final game, Mertens decided to test the margin of human dominance by giving Bomb a camel handicap. Despite this enormous disadvantage, Mertens did generate a sharp goal race, which Bomb narrowly won.
Syed had played it safe in his selection of defenders, but it seemed likely that several others could have defended the 2006 Challenge handily.
The 2005 Bomb again entered the Computer Championship, and this time went undefeated. Perhaps the increased computer speed helped Bomb more than it helped other bots.
In previous years, Omar Syed had required the bots to play publicly before the Computer Championship, so that the Challenge would not be the first time the winning bot played a human. However, this was somewhat unsatisfactory, given that developers could alter their bots at any time up until the Computer Championship. For 2007, Syed dropped the pre-tournament public-play requirement, and instituted a two-week qualifying phase after the Computer Championship. The computer champion would no longer advance to the Challenge automatically; Bomb and second-place Zombie would each face a preliminary test against humans.
The three Challenge defenders were selected before the qualifying phase, from which they and the bot developers were excluded. Any other human, however, could play each of the top two bots twice, once as Gold and once as Silver. The bot that fared better in these matches would advance to the Challenge. This change ensured that the final version of the Challenge bot would have pre-Challenge games against humans, but not against the human defenders. This format also encouraged bot developers to focus on beating humans rather than bots. A new bot would have the advantage of being unknown, although that did not help Zombie, which failed to outperform Bomb in any of twelve total pairs. Bomb thus advanced to its fourth straight Challenge.
Silver has created an "air bubble" on g2 which will force goal on the next turn, despite Gold's large material lead. Bomb vs. Omar
Although he was no longer top-tier, Syed selected himself as a defender, intending to demonstrate how far humans had risen above bots. Syed's confidence was nearly punished in his first game, when he attempted a double-trap attack, faltered in a complex middlegame, and lost a dog and both horses for only a dog and a cat. Bomb, however, did not turn its material advantage into a trap control advantage, and Syed got a formidable goal threat in the southeast. Bomb ignored this, and Syed forced goal. Bomb could have stopped this on 37g, but did not see the two-turn forced goal; Arimaa allows so many unique positions that four-ply search depth is usually impossible even at slow time controls. In Syed's second game, his double-trap attack worked better, resulting in a 24-move rampage. In his third game Syed gave Bomb a cat handicap, and sacrificed more material at home while once again attacking both away traps, this time winning in 30 turns.
The other two defenders were Brendan M and Karl "Fritz" Juhnke. Juhnke won his three games at handicaps of a dog, a horse, and a camel respectively. The latter two games were tense and complicated, as Bomb uncharacteristically launched a camel attack in both games, but the slow time control helped Juhnke sort through the tactical complications and gradually overcome his handicap. Bomb's loss despite its initial camel lead wasn't even a result of any obvious evaluation bugs; Bomb was outplayed in a tactically complex middlegame, which ought to be a computer's strong suit.
Brendan won his first game in dominating fashion, taking control of the entire board without losing a piece or allowing any counterplay. In his other game, Brendan blundered a horse, but soon set up a dual threat of goal in the southwest and horse capture in the northwest. Bomb could have given up its horse and still been even in material, but instead succumbed to the horizon effect, defending c6 while accepting a string of smaller losses in c3, which was unsustainable. Brenden soon captured Bomb's camel, and then won easily. Bomb had squandered four games in which it was up by at least a horse.
Bomb's one victory came when Naveed Siddiqui had to substitute for Brendan's second game. Bomb shut down Siddiqui's attack, and launched a fierce counter-attack which first won material, and then generated a goal threat. Bomb wrapped up the game with two pretty trick moves. On move 28 Bomb offered an elephant sacrifice, which Siddiqui wisely declined to defend goal. However, on move 30 when Bomb offered to let its elephant be blockaded, Siddiqui couldn't resist, and succumbed to a two-move forced goal.
Because the f6 rabbit cannot step backward, the gold elephant and horse are blockaded. (Bomb vs. Mistre)
The 2005 version of Bomb won its fourth straight Computer Championship, and outperformed the runner-up, Sharp, in the screening against humans. The Challenge defenders were Jean Daligault, Greg Magne, and Mark Mistretta, with Omar Syed as the backup.
In his first game, Mistretta blockaded Bomb's elephant and horse in the northeast, and won in 79 turns. Syed substituted for Mistretta's second and third games. In the second game, Syed played an extremely sharp opening and rushed for a goal attack, paying little regard to material. Despite Syed's home losses, his goal attack succeeded and Bomb fell by move 26. In the third game, Syed opted for a more passive opening, and Bomb seemed to have the upper hand briefly. Syed pressed on, however, and overloaded Bomb with a trap attack and a home hostage.
Magne destroyed Bomb in his first and second games; in the second, Bomb lost all but an elephant, horse, and cat. Magne also easily won the third game, despite an unusual setup with a decentralized elephant and poor rabbit placement.
Daligault dominated his first and third games from start to finish. In his second game, Daligault overcame a weak opening via a strong northwestern attack. Humanity had once again dominated silicon, this time sweeping 9–0.
The silver elephant is both pinned and blockaded, and the silver camel cannot help. Fritzlein vs. Clueless
Bomb's five-year reign came to a resounding end in 2009, a breakout year for Arimaa bots. Jeff Bacher's Clueless won the Computer Championship, and Toby Hudson's GnoBot placed second. Clueless outperformed GnoBot in the screening, and thus advanced to the Challenge. The human defenders were Jean Daligault, Karl "Fritz" Juhnke, and Jan Macura, with Omar Syed as the backup.
In his first game, Juhnke got a dog-by-horse hostage, which allowed for a camel-led attack on f6. Advanced rabbits helped Juhnke retain control of f6 even after his camel returned home to fight a horse. Juhnke eventually captured both the dog and the horse, and was then unstoppable. In his second game, Juhnke gave a dog handicap, which he did not overcome. In his third game, Juhnke fenced and then framed a horse, blockaded the pinned elephant, and froze the enemy camel next to the frame. Juhnke's own camel was thus the strongest piece in the east, where Juhnke soon created goal threats and gradually decimated the defending army.
In Macura's first game, Clueless decentralized its elephant to break a horse-by-camel hostage. Clueless itself held a horse-by-camel hostage below, restricting Macura's elephant, so Macura had to keep a close eye on the northeast. Macura's camel stayed in the east to keep Clueless' advanced horse in check, and Macura partially blockaded Clueless' elephant while also creating goal threats. Clueless' other horse soon came east, however, and Clueless overloaded Macura with a strong attack on f6. In Macura's second game, each side got a strong trap attack, and each elephant was forced to defend its own home trap. As in the first game, Clueless got up by two rabbits, but this time a goal threat helped Macura pull ahead and establish an insurmountable lead. In his third game, Macura's attacking horse was framed; the frame was repeatedly broken and reestablished, and eventually led to a dog exchange. Macura then went down by a rabbit, but was very strong in the east, and eventually expanded this strength to the west also.
Omar Syed filled in for Daligault's first game. Syed hostaged a horse with his camel, and eventually decimated Clueless on the other wing. Daligault himself got a horse-by-camel hostage in his next game, and eventually captured the other horse. He then took a double hostage, which he soon abandoned to force a goal. In his last game, Daligault gave a horse handicap, which he overcame with yet another horse-by-camel hostage and then an aggressive goal attack.
Despite the improved bot competition, humans finished 7–2.
The silver camel is the strongest free piece, but has very limited support, with one silver horse gone and the other marginalized. Adanac vs. Marwin
Mattias Hultgren's Marwin narrowly defeated Clueless in both the Computer Championship and the screening. Marwin thus advanced to the 2010 Challenge to face human defenders Greg Magne, Daniel Scott, and Patrick Dudek.
In his first game, Magne pulled down and briefly framed a rabbit; Marwin's camel freed the rabbit, which then advanced to within two steps of goal. Magne could have captured the camel, but would have then lost the game. Magne soon captured the rabbit instead, and Marwin's camel pushed Magne's horse north. Marwin soon captured the horse, but Magne captured a cat and dog in addition to the rabbit. Marwin eventually took a dog-by-horse hostage in the west, but could not hold it once a supporting rabbit was captured. Magne soon captured the horse also, and then forced a goal. In his second game, Magne advanced both horses in the west and his camel in the east, and dragged both of Marwin's cats homeward. Magne lost his camel but captured a cat, rabbit, and horse. Marwin then used its elephant to block a goal attack in the west, and thus lost another cat and a dog. Magne's elephant then went east, and Marwin cleaned up in the west, but Magne stayed ahead and forced an eastern goal. In his third game, Magne traded his camel for a cat and horse, which is considered a roughly even trade in the opening. Marwin then took a horse-by-elephant hostage, temporarily making its own camel the strongest free piece. However, Magne easily rotated his elephant out of hostage defense, took Marwin's camel hostage, and then had firm control of f6; this led to several captures and then a goal.
In his first game, Scott quickly dragged a cat home for capture. Perhaps aiming to make threats in both eastern traps, Marwin attacked f6 and pushed the camel down. Marwin could have captured the f7 rabbit and threatened a second rabbit capture, but then Scott's camel could have advanced while Marwin's elephant was on f7. Instead, the game continued with Scott up a cat, until he framed a dog in f6 and rotated his elephant out of the frame. Marwin quickly gave up the dog, as there was little chance of freeing it, and the elephant could not afford to stay pinned. This was repeated with a cat frame in c6. Down a dog and two cats, Marwin again attacked f6, but Scott already had control of c3. Scott defended f6 while also making way for a goal. In his second game, Scott gave a dog handicap. Marwin quickly got control of c3; Scott never submitted a 16g, and thus lost on time. In his third game, Scott traded a rabbit for a dog, and then attacked c3. With Scott's camel also threatening a horse in c6, Marwin was overloaded.
In Dudek's first game, Marwin got strong attacks on both c3 and f3. Dudek reasserted control of f3 and nearly made up for the losses in c3, but Marwin forced a goal. In his second game, Dudek framed a dog in c6; Marwin's camel advanced in the center and broke the frame, but Dudek soon captured the camel and a rabbit in exchange for a horse. Dudek again framed a dog in c6, and his camel became the strongest free piece. Marwin had little choice but to abandon the dog, and Dudek had a large material lead, which he continued to build on until his goal on move 74. In his third game, Dudek lost a rabbit and then framed a dog, but eventually had to abandon the frame to deal with an advanced camel. Dudek ended up holding a horse hostage at f3 and a camel hostage at c3, but Marwin managed to capture two more rabbits and then free its elephant, which then broke the horse-by-camel hostage. Dudek regained full control of c3, but Marwin's goal threats could not be overcome. For the first time, a bot won a match against a human defender, though in total it won only three games out of nine.
Gold's horse frame is extremely weak. Marwin vs. 99of9
David Wu's Sharp defeated Marwin in the 2011 Computer Championship. Perhaps by a fluke, Marwin then won the screening; Sharp won more games, but a player's results only counted if both bots had been played. Marwin thus advanced to the Challenge to face Toby Hudson, Karl "Fritz" Juhnke, and Gregory Clark.
In his first game, Hudson advanced a horse in the west, and Marwin advanced its camel in the east. Both were soon captured; Marwin had been too aggressive with its camel. Hudson then advanced his remaining horse in the east. Marwin briefly framed it, but this was a weak frame, as the framing elephant was decentralized and the framing horse was vulnerable to Hudson's camel. Rather than quickly break this frame, Hudson attacked c3 and flipped Marwin's western horse toward c6. Needing an active elephant, Marwin gave up the frame. Hudson's formerly framed horse became an attacker, and Marwin's eastern horse was pushed toward f6. Hudson's advanced camel was vulnerable in the west, but could retreat thanks to well-placed friendly pieces. Hudson soon threatened both enemy horses, and captured the eastern one, although Marwin captured a dog in return. A northwestern deadlock left Hudson's horse as the strongest eastern piece, which Hudson capitalized on. Hudson eventually abandoned the west and forced a goal in the east. In his second game, Hudson created threats in both home traps, captured a rabbit, and then got a central camel hostage. Hudson forked the camel, Marwin rescued it, and then Hudson framed a dog; the camel was right next to the frame, but had no space to break it. The camel thus went west, and there was a camel deadlock at one trap and an elephant deadlock next door. Perhaps anticipating that Marwin would ultimately drag pieces home, Hudson gave up the frame. Hudson soon threatened Marwin's camel once again, but Marwin skillfully defended it and used it to help create a goal threat, which cost Hudson several steps. Once captures began, however, Hudson ruled the day. In his third game, Hudson attacked c3 and soon had threats in three traps. Marwin was overloaded, and Hudson got a 29-turn win.
After a bit of lone elephant play at the start of Juhnke's first game, Juhnke advanced piece after piece on both wings. Once Juhnke's elephant went west, Marwin was helpless; its elephant couldn't afford to leave f6, and everything else was blocked. Juhnke made nine unanswered captures before forcing goal. In his second game, Juhnke could have captured a dog on 3s, but his elephant could have then been smothered. Instead, he advanced a horse and then both dogs, and used his camel to pull up an enemy horse. The northeastern horse-by-camel hostage allowed Juhnke to control f3 with dogs. He made several captures there and then forced a goal on move 29. In his third game, Juhnke gave a cat handicap. Exchanges pulled him roughly even, but his elephant ended up defending goal, which allowed Marwin to get ahead; Juhnke was then overloaded.
In Clark's first game, he lost a dog, but captured a rabbit and took a camel hostage. He then attacked c3 and eventually f3, overwhelming Marwin with captures and goal threats. In his second game, Clark quickly advanced a horse, which then got framed. Advanced rabbits, however, allowed his camel to break the frame. Clark then had a strong attack on f6, and actually captured a dog and horse in f3. Clark won on move 37. In his third game, Clark traded a cat for a dog and then attacked f3, creating a goal threat. Marwin's camel and horses all joined this fight; this unbalanced Marwin's forces, which soon owned no trap. Clark dominated from there.
Humanity finished 8–1, a better record than in the previous two years.
Gold defends a double hostage without his elephant. Hanzack vs. Briareus
In 2012, the Computer Championship switched from triple to quadruple elimination format; the bots would play each other until all but one had four losses. Marwin was the last bot standing, but second-place Briareus won the screening. The Challenge defenders were "Hanzack", Eric Momsen, and Jean Daligault.
In his first game, Hanzack attacked f6 using his elephant, camel, and eastern horse. Briareus counterattacked c3 with a camel and horse, but Hanzack replaced his elephant on e6 and moved it to the southwest. Briareus soon held a double hostage which Hanzack defended without his elephant; Hanzack's forces were quite unbalanced, but he had the only free elephant. Hanzack captured the intruding horse, but Briareus' camel returned home and joined the northeastern fight. Hanzack's elephant, however, prevented any substantial loss there until pieces were traded. With Briareus' horses gone, its camel was useless, and Hanzack expanded his material lead before forcing goal. Hanzack began his second game with another EMH attack, and advanced more pieces behind it. Hanzack's camel alternated between furthering the trap attack and dragging pieces home for capture. Eventually, Hanzack took firm control in the west while retaining a potential goal threat in the east, and Briareus was overloaded. In his third game, Hanzack gave a cat handicap and also set up with rabbits in front. Briareus did nothing with this advantage, and Hanzack made seven unanswered captures before forcing goal.
In his first game, Daligault quickly attacked both enemy traps, and then retreated in the west but became strong in the east. Each time Daligault made a capture in f6, Briareus had to move another piece east to block goal, which was unsustainable for Briareus. In his second game, Daligault attacked c3 and once again advanced rabbits to strengthen the attack. Briareus' elephant couldn't afford to leave the west, and Daligault's elephant stood ready to stop any eastern counterattack, so Briareus had few options. Daligault began the third game much like he began the first two, but this time captured Briareus' counterattacking camel, making way for a quick second attack. Briareus was once again overloaded.
In Momsen's first game, he captured a rabbit and did an EMH attack on c3. Briareus advanced its camel and threatened a horse, which led to a camel exchange. Momsen again attacked c3, and Briareus took a horse-by-elephant hostage behind the trap. With a flip and a pull, Momsen cleared space and then nearly forced a western goal, but Briareus beat him to it via a sneaky attack on c6. In his second game, Momsen created goal threats across the board, but Briareus eventually got rabbits through and won in 93 moves. In his third game, Momsen captured both enemy horses, but could not overcome Briareus' eastern attacks. For the first time, a human defender was swept, although humans had still won six out of nine games.
Silver has strengthened his western attack by unbalancing Gold's forces. Marwin vs. Adanac
Ricardo Barreira's Ziltoid won the 2013 Computer Championship, but Marwin won the screening, and thus faced human defenders Matthew Craven, Mathew Brown, and Greg Magne.
In Magne's first game, he successfully attacked c3 and captured the counterattacking horse in c6. Defending goal was costly for Marwin, although it did take Magne 71 turns to win. In his second game, Magne's northeastern attack was punished, but the northwest was left thin, and Magne soon forced goal. Playing with a cat handicap in his third game, Magne attacked c3 and flipped a horse to unbalance Marwin's army. Marwin could then do little on either wing; Marwin's elephant had to defend c3, and Magne's elephant and camel neutralized Marwin's eastern strength. Magne eventually framed a dog in c3, captured a horse in f6, cleaned up in f3, and forced a goal. Marwin likely missed early opportunities to improve its position, taking one-step turns on 8g and 11g.
In Craven's first game, Marwin quickly attacked both traps and decisively won a large material exchange, which allowed for a goal in 34 turns. In Craven's second game, each side quickly attacked a trap, and there was again a large material exchange. Marwin came out somewhat ahead, but Craven had the only remaining camel. Marwin made further progress, but Craven's elephant and camel eventually forced a goal in the west. In his third game, Craven lost his camel in an exchange, but eventually took Marwin's camel hostage and then forced a goal.
In his first game, Brown traded a dog for a horse. Marwin's remaining horse and camel were in the west, so Brown's remaining dog became a strong attacker in the east. Rabbits advanced to support this attack, and Marwin's elephant was forced to defend there while Brown's camel attacked in the west. Marwin's elephant eventually stood on the eastern flank to block goal, and could not even defend f6 as pieces were captured therein. Brown eventually forced a goal in the west. Brown began his second game with an EMH attack on c3. Marwin countered with an EM attack on f6; this led to a race, which Brown won because of his goal threat. In his third game, Brown gave a horse handicap, but nonetheless got a strong attack on f6 and soon pulled even in material. His goal threats eventually stretched Marwin thin.
Humanity finished 8–1, appearing as strong as ever.
Advancing horses must beware of the enemy camel. Max vs. Ziltoid
Sharp won the 2014 Computer Championship somewhat decisively, having lost only two games by the time all other bots had lost four. As in 2011, however, the screening did not go Sharp's way, and second-place Ziltoid advanced to the Challenge. The human defenders were Max Manual, Karl "Fritz" Juhnke, and Samuel Schueler.
In Manual's first game, Ziltoid appeared quite strong in the west, capturing two rabbits at home while also forcing Manual to defend goal. Manual, however, regained control of c6 and narrowed the rabbit gap. The game proceeded slowly, but Manual became increasingly strong across the board, and won in 80 turns. Manual got off to a strong start in his second game, framing a horse which Ziltoid quickly abandoned. However, Manual soon lost a dog which he had left exposed in the center. Manual then advanced both horses in the west, where Ziltoid's camel was ready for them. While the northwest was congested, Ziltoid became strong in the east, and Manual could not recover. In his third game, Manual again got a horse basket, a fence, and then a frame. Ziltoid again abandoned the horse and captured a dog, but Manual also captured a cat and a rabbit. Manual soon attacked both c3 and f3, and Ziltoid could do nothing.
Juhnke's first game proceeded slowly, but Juhnke made progress by pulling rabbits, and won in 83 turns. In his second game, Juhnke advanced on both wings, but lost a dog for a rabbit. Both elephants and camels became tied down in a congested northwest, and the four horses fought in the east. Ziltoid unfroze its camel, but in doing so allowed Juhnke to unfreeze his camel and get control of both northern traps. Juhnke soon captured Ziltoid's camel and forced a goal. In his third game, Juhnke took a horse-by-camel hostage, which Ziltoid abandoned. Juhnke then appeared to be well ahead, although he soon also lost a horse. Juhnke advanced on both wings, and eventually overwhelmed Ziltoid.
In his first game, Schueler dragged down a rabbit for capture, and then attacked in the east while Ziltoid attacked in the west. Schueler lost a dog, but took a camel hostage while remaining strong in the east. Ziltoid abandoned the camel but captured another dog. Schueler continued to attack in the east, while Ziltoid again attacked in the west. More material was eventually traded, and Schueler forced a goal. In Schueler's second game, homeward pulling got him up three rabbits to a cat. He could thus afford to trade his hostaged camel for a horse. He then got a strong attack in the southeast, and Ziltoid scrambled to block goal. Schueler then forced goal in the west. In the third game, Schueler attacked in the west and Ziltoid attacked in the east. Schueler's home defense was soon quite thin, and his camel got stuck defending goal. Schueler hurt himself by pulling a rabbit, although that rabbit was a threat anyway. Ziltoid soon cleaned up, and Schueler gave up on the game.
Humans finished 7–2. This marked eleven straight years that humans had dominated the Challenge, winning many more games than necessary.
In the 2015 Computer Championship, David Wu's Sharp went undefeated; this was the first bot shutout since 2007. Perhaps sensing a threat to the Challenge, Omar Syed tapped the previous year's World Champion Jean Daligault and runner-up Mathew Brown as Challenge defenders. Still wanting to include a new defender, Syed tapped Lev Ruchka as the third.
In the screening, Sharp easily topped the second-place bot, going 28–2. The community combed these games for weaknesses; while Sharp occasionally chose a questionable move, no clear anti-Sharp strategy emerged in time for the Challenge. Given Sharp's quantum leap, it now seemed likely that the Challenge would fall by 2020, though most observers expected that at least one defender would prevail in 2015.
A goal threat gave Silver time to get a frame-hostage. Chessandgo vs. Sharp
Daligault went first. On 6g, 14g, and 18g, he brought an enemy rabbit toward the c3 trap. On 19g, he flipped an enemy horse toward f3. Both threats backfired; the rabbit threatened goal, and the horse forced Daligault's elephant to stay in the east. Sharp's camel took a horse hostage in the northwest, and Daligault had to use his own camel to defend it. Once Sharp's elephant went west, Daligault's could also, but then Sharp had a strong frame-hostage which gave Sharp two free horses to Daligault's one. These horses soon attacked c3 and forced goal.
Silver has blockaded the gold elephant and horse, but could lose that blockade and much material if he immediately defended c6 with his elephant. Sharp vs. Harvestsnow
Ruchka's game got off to a promising start, with an EMH attack followed by a swarm that blockaded Sharp's elephant and eastern horse. Sharp eventually counterattacked in the west, and threatened to capture a horse in c6 due to false protection. Ruchka could not afford to immediately move his elephant to c5 or d6, but did move it to d5 while using his fourth step to block the e2 dog from e4. Due to Ruchka's rabbit placement, any 15g horse capture would leave Sharp's horse on d6 or d8, with its camel on b6. Ruchka's 14s thus ensured that he could immediately capture at least a horse in exchange for his horse. Sharp declined such a trade, and also moved its e2 dog to the crucial e3 square, which Ruchka had not secured; Ruchka's f3 dog had to stay on f3 to keep the blockade intact, and Ruchka's other dog did not quite reach e3 in time. Ruchka's position remained fairly strong; although Sharp held g3, f2, and e3, its pieces were blocked in. As long as Ruchka's pinned cat could hold f4, the blockade would remain intact. On 31g, however, Sharp finally dislodged that cat, capturing the f3 dog and threatening other pieces including the camel. For Ruchka, things went downhill from there. Perhaps Ruchka should have resisted the urge to capture the horse on 30s, and instead moved his elephant to e4, pushing Sharp's camel to e3. The 21s dog pull also backfired on Ruchka, as it cleared space in the southeast and gave Sharp an additional attacker in the northwest.
Silver to move can clear c6 and f6, by stepping her own rabbit south and pulling the gold rabbit east. If Gold then made a capture in f3, Silver could quickly erase Gold's apparently large material lead. Browni3141 vs. Sharp
After 40g of his game, Brown was up by a cat and a rabbit. He soon lost his camel, but had a double goal threat. Sharp impressively defended goal, and eventually captured both of Brown's horses; Brown couldn't recover. Sharp had swept the first round, and one of the defenders had to win his next two games if the Challenge was to stand for another year.
On 32g, Gold could have captured the silver camel in three steps and moved his eastern horse on the fourth step. Fearing a goal attack, however, Gold postponed the camel capture and moved rabbits onto f3 and e1, to restrict goal paths. Sharp vs. Chessandgo
In his second game, Daligault lost a cat and exchanged dogs. He then attacked both f3 and c3, but Sharp managed to capture Daligault's camel before losing anything. Daligault tried to come back via goal threats, and kept things interesting despite his large material deficit. Daligault's own home defense became thin, however, and Sharp won the goal race.
Rather than immediately capture the silver camel, Gold should perhaps advance his cat one square and his eastern horse three squares, limiting Silver via congestion and a potential eastern goal attack. Harvestsnow vs. Sharp
In Ruchka's second game, Sharp held a high hostage which was stabilized by a horse; though it kept the camel frozen, this horse was itself a hostage of the hostaged camel, and thus neither elephant had much mobility. Sharp's own camel was initially stuck behind the hostage, so this was a rather weak hostage position for Sharp. Sharp's camel eventually made its way east and then south, but this allowed Ruchka to advance pieces and rotate his elephant out of hostage defense. Ruchka then captured Sharp's attacking camel. After some shuffling in the north, however, Sharp got a western goal threat which allowed it to clean house. Once Ruchka freed his elephant and neutralized Sharp's camel, he may have then captured the camel a bit too quickly. Had Ruchka first advanced more pieces north, his overall position might have been stronger.
Gold to move could frame the eastern silver horse, capture it on the following turn, and then be very strong in the northeast. Silver to move must decide whether to blockade f6 or flip the gold camel to b5. Sharp vs. Browni3141
It was all up to Brown, who now had to win twice if the Challenge was to stand. Sharp framed a dog in c3, but abandoned that frame to attack f6. That attack was strong enough that Brown opted to blockade f6 rather than threaten Sharp's camel in c6. Brown was overloaded, and could not stop captures in f3. Sharp won the Arimaa Challenge, after no bot had come close for eleven years.
After a camel exchange, this horse frame proved ineffective for Silver. (Chessandgo vs. Sharp)
The third round was still played; Daligault and Brown each got a win, perhaps having adapted to the bot. It would have been harder for a bot to win the Challenge had the defenders been allowed to practice against it in advance. Until the Challenge games, the defenders could only observe how the bot had played in the Computer Championship and the screening.