It seems like every six months PBS or network TV is doing a story on chess
Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and his defining moment playing against an IBM
computer. Now we have a full-fledged documentary, which may be considered the
mother of all Garry Kasparov stories. It recalls the events of that episode
in chess history with comprehensive detail and reveals the vulnerability of
the greatest grandmaster's mind even when he's at the top of his game.
Kasparov is the perfect personality to occupy the chair of Best Champion of
the chess board. He's amiable, approachable and articulate. He may not
always see himself as others do but he's certainly entitled to his unique
perspective and self-analysis. He also must be making a nice income from the
chain of appearances in the media spotlight.
After winning his championship from fellow Russian, Anatoly Karpov at age 22,
Kasparov was approached to compete with IBM's state-of-the-art in artificial
intelligence, a computer programmed to play chess on the level of a
grandmaster. But the machine was not as sophisticated as the IBM team
assumed and its limitations were exploited by Kasparov for a quick kill.
Undaunted, the team went back to the programming storyboards and grandmaster
consultants for an advance to a yet higher level of skill and invited
Kasparov back for a 2nd match. The Armenian Jew who is regarded by many as
the greatest chess player of all time might have been well advised to
decline. But, in the spirit of competition, as a test of machine
"intelligence" and, undoubtedly because of a good payday ($40,000 to the
loser; $60,000 to the winner), he took on his silicon-based contender.
After an easy win in the first round, he is defeated in the second. He's
also stunned and demoralized by the fact that the machine didn't fall for his
lure of an easily taken pawn that would have set him up for another win.
Instead, the machine chose a play that Kasparov thought impossible from the
standpoint of machine logic -- it was one he would have expected only from a
human player close to his level.
Herein is the important insight into his mind. After subtly accusing the IBM
team of human intervention and demanding to see the machine's logs (something
he asked for before but was consistent undelivered), his morale remained
broken by the one event. In fact, the extent of having his strategic
expectations destroyed so stunningly, caused him to resign that second game
which, experts have agreed, he might have concluded with a draw. The state
of his mind being so profoundly disturbed, he was unable to recover his cool
and lost or drew the remaining rounds and, finally, the match against his
crafty opponent, "Deep Blue."
Kasparov is a sympathic character and, even as he belabors the outcome years
later, we feel for him. The drama of the event was inescapable and the study
of an artificially obtained defeat of a chess genius is mesmerizing, even for
a non-chess player. It conveys a certain "darkness of the mind" as it
applies to human fallibility, and demonstrates the mind-game component of
chess. As the grandmaster laments, when you're competing against a machine,
you can't "know" your opponent in the way you can with a human. You can't
get "under the skin" of a machine. And, as his one big loss shows, that's a
great disadvantage, starting out. The film goes on to show his attempts at a
For chess players, this 85-minute visit with the great Kasparov is an
[P.S. Lest the reader get the impression from the film or from
what's written here that Kasparov suffered some kind of permanent psychic
damage by this event and couldn't return to his normal perspective, we're
please to add a quote from Jack Peters, international master, writing for the
L.A. Times on March 13, 2005: "Garry Kasparov has reconfirmed his status as
the world's greatest player with an outstanding performance in the elite
tounament in Linares, Spain. Despite his highly publicized withdrawal from
"world championship politics" and much talk about his advanced age (he's 41),
Kasparov was dominating [in] the tournament both in points scored and quality
~~ Jules Brenner