Leading chess site Chess.com has claimed a popular new AI bot is partly to blame for recent outages and issues with its servers.
Mittens, powered by an artificial intelligence chess algorithm and chatbot, first appeared on the Chess.com website and app on 1 January as part of five new chess-playing bots with cat personas.
With an avatar of a wide-eyed kitten, and a listed rating of just one point, Mittens appears relatively innocuous to anyone unfamiliar with its chess ability and backchat.
Chess.com users have described Mittens as a “chess nightmare”, “a psycho”, and a “terrible, terrible cat”, capable of beating both novices and grandmasters while offering derisive in-game commentary.
“I am become Mittens, the destroyer of kings,” the bot taunts opponents who challenge it. “I exist at this chess board through all times and realities hehehe. Meow.”
Chess personalities have helped contribute to the chess bot’s reputation, with US grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura recently posting a video to his YouTube channel titled ‘Mittens the chess bot will make you quit chess’.
Mr Nakamura, whose video has received more than 3.5 million views, was unable to beat Mittens but did manage a draw playing as white.
The bot’s popularity has helped drive record-breaking traffic to Chess.com this site, leading to outages during peak hours.
“Traffic on Chess.com has nearly doubled since the beginning of December, and our servers are struggling,” a blog post on Monday stated.
“We are all hands on deck to address these challenges, but sadly there isn’t (yet) a simple button we can press to resolve these issues.”
Among the reasons cited for the spike in user numbers was Mittens, while recent chessboxing events, celebrity endorsements and the cheating controversy were also given as contributing factors.
The site is on course for more than 850 million games played in January, which would be roughly 40 per cent more than any previous month since Chess.com was founded in 2005.
Site administrators said short-term fixes would be implemented this week in an attempt to address the unprecedented interest levels, before “some major changes” are introduced over the coming weeks to improve stability and user experience.