12 May

Deep Thinking

It’s said that chess lost its soul 20 years ago this very week.  That was the perception of the general public when reigning world champion Garry Kasparov succumbed to the IBM computer Deep Blue in New York on May 11, 1997, in the match "Man vs. Machine." It was inevitable that one day machines would outclass the world champion, but when the day came and the machine won 3½-2½, it still came as a shock and was defined by the mass media to be an epoch-making moment.

After 8.Nxe6!

Kasparov, never a graceful loser at the best of times, blamed his defeat on human interference. The machine made "human moves," he originally claimed for his defeat. There is no evidence that Deep Blue was manipulated during play, as alleged - and Kasparov now believes this to be the case; though still sore that IBM didn't offer a return match - but the machine was fed instead with contemporary opening theory ideas with very practical human insight during the preparation for the match by a team of American grandmasters, led by the three-time US champion, GM Joel Benjamin.

But if the startling progress of artificial intelligence suggests we’ll soon be bowing down to our robot overlords, fear not, because, in a recent high-profile lecture on TED, Garry Kasparov advises us: Don’t panic. And in the weeks running up to 20th anniversary of his historic defeat, Kasparov (along with his long-time collaborator, Mig Greengard) reinforces this with the timely recent release of his new book, Deep Thinking.

Kasparov's memorable short-circuit.

Kasparov claims that the IBM Deep Blue supercomputer that beat him, was in fact, “as intelligent as an alarm clock.” His new book offers a potted history of AI, focusing on the quest to produce an unbeatable chess-playing machine, which became a common goal among researchers of what he calls the questionable “mystique” that chess prowess represents intelligence.

Deep Blue - GM Garry Kasparov
IBM Man vs Machine, (6)
Caro-Kann Defence, Classical Smyslov
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Kasparov's choice of openings is not all that big a surprise, as before he switched to the sharp Sicilian defense, the young Kasparov played the Caro-Kann; though in the Classical, he adopted the very solid 4...Bf5. 4...Nd7 5.Ng5 A very dangerous idea that's the creation of Soviet openings guru, Efim Geller. Black has to be very careful now with his pawn moves. 5...Ngf6 The position is a total minefield. After 5...h6 6.Ne6! the knight is taboo due to 7.Qh5+ mating, so White will get the bishop pair - and with it, a decisive advantage. 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 h6?! The moment of truth! While human grandmasters were careful and played 7...Bd6, Kasparov's advisers convinced the world champion that kicking the knight is playable against the machine. After all, none of the computer programs they tested dared to sacrifice the knight, they claimed. They did not know that a team of four American grandmasters was craftily honing the current opening theory of the IBM machine. 8.Nxe6! Deep Blue is not backing off, and one of the most epoch-defining moments of the time was seeing Kasparov very visibly gasping for air on all the TV screens. The knight sacrifice gives White a powerful attack and the statistics were disastrous for black. "I punched it myself into the machine during the preparation for the match," GM Nick de Firmian told me shortly after the match was over. 8...Qe7? Instead of the machine having a short circuit, it turns out to be the human! Although play is difficult, and the position fraught with dangers, Kasparov just had to accept the piece sacrifice with 8...fxe6 where 9.Bg6+ Ke7 10.0-0 Qc7 11.Re1 Kd8 and at least Black still lives - but for the human, this is difficult, because Black can’t safeguard his king and also coordinate his pieces. And with the e6-pawn also doomed, the worst-case scenario for the machine will be two good pawns and lots of active and easy play for the piece. 9.0-0 fxe6 10.Bg6+ Kd8 11.Bf4 b5?! Kasparov has difficulties for sure, but by trying to establish a good post for his knight on d5, he helps the machine to open lines against his king - never a good idea when you face the cold, unbeating heart of a machine. 12.a4! Bb7 13.Re1 Nd5 14.Bg3 Kc8 The problem for Kasparov is that, if he tries to keep the position relatively closed with 14...a6, there comes 15.Bh4 N7f6 16.Ne5 Kc8 17.axb5 cxb5 18.Bg3 and Black's king is going to get caught in the crossfire of the machine's very active pieces. 15.axb5 cxb5 16.Qd3 Bc6 17.Bf5 The machine is winning the pawn on e6, and soon after which Black's position will collapse. In dire straits, Kasparov makes one last desperate grasp to stay in the game by sacrificing his queen. 17...exf5 18.Rxe7 Bxe7 19.c4! 1-0 With his king exposed and his other pieces uncoordinated, Kasparov stops the fight. His position is in ruins, for example after 19...Nb4 20.Qxf5 bxc4 21.Ne5, threatening 20.Qe6 and White wins.

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