Kasparov Meets Match in Silicon Grandmaster: Chess Computer Amazes Observers

By Sands, David R. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 13, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Kasparov Meets Match in Silicon Grandmaster: Chess Computer Amazes Observers


Sands, David R., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Blessed with equally vast reservoirs of talent and self-esteem, world chess champion Garry Kasparov has typically been stingy with praise for the succession of pretenders who have tried to take the title he's held for 11 years.

This time it's different.

"In certain kinds of positions," the awestruck Mr. Kasparov said of his current challenger, "it sees so deeply it plays like God."

The chess-playing deity is Deep Blue, a new IBM program linking 256 processors that can calculate 50 billion chess positions in three minutes.

In a resignation that reverberated around the world Saturday night, the human world champ tipped his king in surrender to Deep Blue in the first of a scheduled six-game match in Philadelphia - the first win by a computer program ever against a human world champion under regular tournament conditions.

Mr. Kasparov, 32, bounced back to win Sunday's game, grinding down his opponent in 73 moves. Game 3 gets under way at 3 p.m. today.

"Watching Kasparov suffer up there, you really felt the history of the moment," said Maurice Ashley, a New York international master who has been providing on-site commentary on the match.

"What was so striking to chess players was that Kasparov's attack would have intimidated any human player on the planet," said Mr. Ashley. "To watch Deep Blue rebuff the attack in such a coldblooded style was truly amazing."

The exhibition, sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery to celebrate the 50th birthday of ENIAC, the world's first digital computer, pays $400,000 to the winner and $100,000 to the loser. Both sides have two hours to make their first 40 moves and 3 1/2 hours apiece to complete the entire game.

Deep Blue's Game 1 win Saturday in just 37 moves has only fueled speculation on whether and when computers will dominate a game long celebrated as a proving ground for human ingenuity. More galling to many chess players is that IBM's programmers have largely abandoned attempts to program "creativity" and "imagination" into their chips, relying instead on brute calculating force.

Mr. Kasparov, no stranger to hype, told USA Today before the match that a Deep Blue victory could threaten the "existence of human control" in art, literature and music.

For chess, "I think it just means the handwriting is on the wall," said Robert Hyatt, a professor of computer and information sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and creator of Cray-Blitz, which held the world computer chess title for a number of years before Deep Blue and other stronger programs came along.

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