Cinema Signal:

Winning Chess Tactics
by Yasser Seirawan

Garry Kasparov's Fighting Chess

. "Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine"

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 comeback.

For chess players, this 85-minute visit with the great Kasparov is an undefeatable must-see!

[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 of play."]

                           ~~  Jules Brenner  


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