Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Back on Jan. 1, the popular online chess site, Chess.com, launched a quintuplet of chess-playing bots along with their names, profiles and player ratings. Thing is, they're all cat personas and one of them, Mittens, is drawing a slew of interest thanks to her vicious play on the board and scathing — but fun — in-game commentary.
The sly programmers at Chess.com served a bit of a wink-and-nudge that Mittens wasn't going to play nice in the profiles it shared for the New Year's Day announcement. While all the other cats came with player ratings (the higher the number, the better the player) Mittens' rating was a question mark along with the quip, "Mittens loves chess … but how good is she?"
Now, the world is finding out and falling in love/hate with Mittens.
Mittens and her millions of new frenemies
Since Chess.com introduced the Mittens bot with the avatar of a cuddly, big-eyed kitten, the obsession with playing her has been astonishing, according to The Wall Street Journal. Interest generated by Mittens is outpacing the surge that came on the heels of the wildly popular, chess-centric Netflix miniseries from 2020, "The Queen's Gambit". Chess.com has averaged 27.5 million games played per day in January and is on track for more than 850 million games this month — 40% more than any month in the company's history, per the Journal. And Mittens is earning fans across the chess-playing spectrum, including among the game's top stars.
American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura posted a video to Youtube earlier this month of himself playing Mittens, titled "Mittens The Chess Bot Will Make You Quit Chess", which has since racked up over 3 million views. (Spoiler alert — Nakamura talks smack throughout the match but still only manages a draw against the cat bot.)
Mitten quips aplenty
Dot Esports gathered a selection of auto-generated Mittens comments, which include nods to various famous quotes and movie lines, all aiming to turn her opponents into scratching posts:
"Meow! I like chess, hehehe."
"I exist at this chess board through all times and realities. Hehehe. Meow."
"ominously All chess players eventually crumble under my mighty paws … I mean, meow! Hehehe."
"Meow. I am become Mittens, the destroyer of kings. Hehehe."
"Meow. Fate has brought you here, but I live here through all the time and space forever. Hehehe."
"I am a tiger and you are in the jungle I call eternity. Hehehe."
"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, hehehe. You are not long for this game."
Mittens' birth story
According to The Wall Street Journal, this particular bot was the brainchild of a Hamilton College student named Will Whalen who moonlights as a creative strategy lead. He had a crazy idea. What if they put an incredibly strong bot behind some devastatingly cute eyes?
"Then Mittens was born," Whalen says.
But Mittens didn't become a brutal troll until a Chess.com writer named Sean Becker led a team that developed Mittens's personality to become the evil genius tormenting chess players everywhere. Part of why Mittens has become such a notorious villain is because she acts like one.
Becker thought it would be "way more demoralizing and funny" if, instead of simply smashing opponents, Mittens ground down opposing players through painstaking positional battles, similar to the tactics Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov used to become world champion, per the Journal.
Other new kitty bots from Chess.com include Scaredy Cat, player rating: 800; Angry Cat, player rating: 1,000; Mr. Grumpers, player rating: 1,200; and Catspurrov, player rating: 1,400.