Smart Moves Who Is Grand Chess Master When Man Plays Computer?

By 1995, New York Times News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 4, 1995 | Go to article overview

Smart Moves Who Is Grand Chess Master When Man Plays Computer?


1995, New York Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


More than half a century ago, Russian grandmaster Arom Nimzovich resigned to a player he considered his inferior by climbing atop a table and yelling angrily, "That I should lose to this idiot!"

That outburst was temperate compared with what some grandmasters have to say about computers. Although computer programmers have sought for 50 years and more to endow their creations with both memory and calculating prowess as well as the less quantifiable qualities of subtlety, logical elegance and creativity, chess grandmasters in years past scorned computers as mechanical patzers.

Until now. Humans still rule the world of chess, but computers are showing more and more signs of being the heirs apparent.

To say this is a kind of heresy to those who occupy the rarefied confines of world-class chess, the kind of players now focused on the world championship match between Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand at the World Trade Center in New York.

But before their dismissing sniffs are considered, these facts are worth noting:

At the annual tournament between computers and grandmasters in December, organizers predict that computers will not just better the 1994 record, when they achieved a score of 39 percent, but could score better than 50 percent, winning the event.

Kasparov, who has loudly declared that no machine can achieve the complexity and subtlety of the human mind when it comes to devising chess strategy, will undertake a six-game match next year against Deep Blue, an IBM mainframe computer designed solely to play chess.

After winning Game 10 of the current match with a brilliant opening innovation, Kasparov conceded that he had first tried the move on a computer.

What is going on here?

According to computer programmers, their creations started to make serious inroads on their human rivals a little less than a decade ago, after they gave up trying to make their creations more human and decided to let computers be computers.

Instead of following the path of researchers in artificial intelligence, who tried to get computers to emulate human thought, the chess programmers decided to go back to basics.

They have let computers be computers, bulking up their calculating muscles to such a degree that the computers' inability to think like humans has become irrelevant to winning.

"In almost all realms, computers can outcalculate humans," said Ken Thompson, a researcher at AT&T's Bell Laboratories and developer of Belle, the first chess computer to play at master strength.

The top players, though, still believe in the supremacy of the imagination, even though Kasparov has lost several times to computers in games played under fast time controls.

This spring, he explained: "Chess is fantasy; it's our human logic, not a game with a concrete result. The number of potential chess moves exceeds the number of atoms in the universe."

Kasparov will put his skills and his assertions on the line in February, when he will face Deep Blue at a conference in Philadelphia. Kasparov won a two-game match against an earlier version of the computer, but this time his opponent will be several hundred times faster.

Deep Blue will be the fastest chess computer ever, able to search about 500,000 eventualities a second, said Murray Campbell, one of the computer's developers. …

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