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I'm wondering how hard it would be to implement a chess engine. Are there already open-source implementations?

It seems that you'd need a scoring function for a given board constellation, and a very fast way of exploring several likely future board constellations. Exploring all possible future moves is of course impossible, so one could greedily follow the most promising moves, or use approximate techniques like simulated annealing to follow likely moves probabilistically.

Do you think that is within the scope of a machine learning graduate student project -- assuming there was an open-source implementation that the students could use, that does the basic things like returning the next possible moves for a given figure? Probably too hard?

It would be a fun project to have different teams work on chess engines and then let them play against each other ...

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It is not a difficult project. In the beginning, you will make mistakes. If you look on the internet, there are not very clear resources for this, very much content is taken from other sites.

You can check out this blog for more information. It has some information about the chess engine. You might need a chess game development kit that will help you get started to develop your own chess engine.

These should be a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that displays the chess position and allows to move pieces around the board

Hope this answer helps.

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