May 4, 1997

Kasparov Beats


NEW YORK -- After a tense, seesaw battle that made at least one side sweat, Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion, defeated his inanimate adversary, Deep Blue, the world's strongest chess-playing machine, on Saturday in the first game of their scheduled six-game match in midtown Manhattan.

Kasparov triumphed even though he was under time pressure and even though he could not avoid the kind of game that the computer plays best, with an open board and several possible lines of play, each with clear objectives.

But in a flurry of captures, including an exchange of queens, that one chess expert termed "a firefight," the board's complexities cleared up and Kasparov wrenched control of what had appeared to be, at one point, a losing game.

"He just played a very beautiful game," said Joe Hoane, one of the IBM research scientists on the Deep Blue team. "He played cautiously; we brought it to the knife edge. It was our strategy exactly, but he just played a beautiful game."

Kasparov had the slight advantage of playing white (which means he moved first), and in the beginning he benefited from his strategy of avoiding risks and waiting for the computer to react so as to reveal its predilections. By move 11, Deep Blue appeared to be stumbling, making moves without improving its position, and when the computer moved its queen to the outer fringe of the board, chess experts were dumbfounded. "The computer is playing like a numbskull," said Patrick Wolff, a grandmaster who is a former U.S. champion.

Deep Blue rebounded, however, and by midgame had an even position and had begun to forge ever so slightly ahead. Its increasing aggressiveness forced Kasparov to play its game; hence the shootout that ended with the queen exchange.

"At one point, Deep Blue had the advantage," said Miguel Illescu, a Spanish grandmaster who worked with the Deep Blue team. "But the computer likes material, likes capturing material, and it traded positional advantage for material."

The exchanges left Black with more powerful pieces on the board, Illescu said, "but the white pieces were better placed, and this was something Garry knew 10 moves before."

Kasparov defeated a previous version of Deep Blue last year in Philadelphia, but in that match he lost the first game. On Saturday, a smiling but weary-looking champion began his postgame comments by saying, "It's already different from Philadelphia."

Still, he appeared anything but overconfident. "I played quietly," he said, but he admitted that his strategy had to change. "I was forced -- I had no choice but to calculate, calculate, calculate and to not make a mistake in my concentration. If we keep playing at the same pace, it will be tough for me."

Deep Blue will play the white pieces in the second game, which is on Sunday afternoon, again at the Equitable Center at Seventh Avenue and 51st Street in Manhattan.

"Garry will survive this one," said Frederick Friedel, who is Kasparov's adviser on computers. Still, Friedel believes a champion's defeat by a machine is inevitable and, at least metaphorically, cataclysmic. The computer's eventual triumph in chess, he said, will be among just the first intellectual functions in which man's superiority is usurped.

"It's going to happen, by the year 2005 or 2010, and we've got to come to grips with it," Friedel said. "We humans are pathetic, aren't we? We're best at nothing on the planet, except intelligence, and now, even that ... ."

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