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May 12, 1997

IBM Chess Machine Beats Humanity's Champ


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NEW YORK -- In brisk and brutal fashion, the IBM computer Deep Blue unseated humanity, at least temporarily, as the finest chess playing entity on the planet on Sunday, when Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion, resigned the sixth and final game of the match after just 19 moves, saying, "I lost my fighting spirit."

The unexpectedly swift denouement to the bitterly fought contest came as a surprise, because until Sunday Kasparov had been able to summon the wherewithal to match Deep Blue gambit for gambit.

The manner of the conclusion overshadowed the debate over the meaning of the computer's success. Grandmasters and computer experts alike went from praising the match as a great experiment, invaluable to both science and chess (if a temporary blow to the collective ego of the human race) to smacking their foreheads in amazement at the champion's abrupt crumpling.

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  • "It had the impact of a Greek tragedy," said Monty Newborn, chairman of the chess committee for the Association for Computing, which was responsible for officiating the match.

    It was the second victory of the match for the computer -- there were three draws -- making the final score 3 1/2 to 2 1/2, the first time any chess champion has been beaten by a machine in a traditional match. Kasparov, 34, retains his title, which he has held since 1985, but the loss was nonetheless unprecedented in his career; he has never before lost a multigame match against an individual opponent.

    Afterward, he was both bitter at what he perceived to be unfair advantages enjoyed by the computer and, in his word, ashamed of his poor performance on Sunday.

    "I was not in the mood of playing at all," he said, adding that after Game 5 on Saturday, he had become so dispirited that he he felt the match was already over. Asked why, he said: "I'm a human being. When I see something that is well beyond my understanding, I'm afraid."

    Grandmasters at the match, at the Equitable Center in midtown Manhattan, were stunned into near-speechlessness, a feat in itself, amazed not just by the resignation but by Kasparov's poor play in the game.

    "I think he didn't try his best," said Susan Polgar, the women's world champion, who after the game issued her own challenge to IBM to play against Deep Blue.

    The game itself was problematic for Kasparov from the start. Playing black and needing a victory to capture the match, he was perhaps too defiant in the early going, pursuing a risky sequence of moves in a conservative opening called the Caro-Kann. He encouraged Deep Blue to sacrifice a knight, resulting in a position that left his own king exposed, and many chess experts wondered if he hadn't made a simple blunder.

    It was all over not too much later. Having lost his queen and with his king dangerously exposed, Kasparov abruptly stood up to resign.

    "It was a gamble," said Michael Khodarkovsky, a close adviser to Kasparov, before the strategy collapsed. He said Kasparov was trying to capitalize on the computer's aversion to playing with a material disadvantage. "But the computer doesn't like to play in an unbalanced position," Khodarkovsky said. "He wants to win. He didn't come to play for a draw."

    Perhaps most surprising was Kasparov's performance at the postgame news conference, which was not the exuberant celebration envisioned by the tournament sponsor, IBM, but rather a tense occasion in which Kasparov's griped, apologized and vowed revenge.

    "I think it is time for Deep Blue to prove this was not a single event," he said, suggesting that the computer enter into regular match play with top chess players. "I personally assure you that, if it starts to play competitive chess, put it in a fair contest and I personally guarantee you I will tear it to pieces."

    Patrick Wolff, a grandmaster who is a two-time American champion, was among those experts who were nonplussed by the champion's behavior. "His resignation was probably premature, but he was probably lost," Wolff said. "I think he was terrified at the prospect of losing an honest competition, and he gave himself an excuse, that this is not real chess. Well, I have news for him. This is real chess. What we've seen today is psychological weakness of the sort I'd never expect from him."

    Kasparov had his supporters, particularly among those who thought this was a spectacle staged by IBM for the good of IBM.

    Credit: Reuters

    "This was not a serious chess match," said Lev Alburt, a former U.S. champion who has said there are 100 grandmasters in the world who could beat Deep Blue. "This was a show. If they want to prove it was more than a show, let them play anyone but Garry. If it would play against, say, Grandmaster Boris Gulko, who is not even among the top 50, I am willing to bet $10,000 the computer would lose."

    At the news conference after the game, a dark-eyed and brooding champion said that his problems began after the second game, won by Deep Blue after Kasparov had resigned what was eventually shown to be a drawn position. Kasparov said he had missed the draw because the computer had played so brilliantly that he thought it would have obviated the possibility of the draw known as perpetual check.

    "I do not understand how the most powerful chess machine in the world could not see simple perpetual check," he said. He added he was frustrated by IBM's resistance to allowing him to see the printouts of the computer's thought processes so he could understand how it made its decisions, and implied again that there was some untoward behavior by the Deep Blue team.

    Asked if he was accusing IBM of cheating, he said: "I have no idea what's happening behind the curtain. Maybe it was an outstanding accomplishment by the computer. But I don't think this machine is unbeatable."

    Kasparov, who defeated a predecessor of Deep Blue a year ago, won the first game of this year's match, but it was his last triumph, a signal that the computer's pattern of thought had eluded him. He couldn't figure out what its weaknesses were, or if he did, how to exploit them.

    He said if there were another match, he would insist it not be sponsored by IBM, that it should be at least 10 games and 20 days long ("You have to give a human a chance to rest") and that the previous games played by the computer must be available. He also said he would abandon the anticomputer strategy of playing flaccid openings and return to his normal game.

    "I played a friendly match," he said. "I was sure I would win because I was sure the computer would make certain kinds of mistakes, and I was correct in Game 1. But after that the computer stopped making those mistakes. Game 2 had dramatic consequences, and I never recovered."

    The IBM team denied there had been any hanky-panky, and the team leader, C.J. Tan, said the computer logs would be published in appropriate journals in the near future.

    "We are proud to have played a role in this historic event," he said, in a statement at the news conference. "Gary has a brilliant mind, and he's a very brave man. He's a man who sees the future, who understands where technology can take us."

    He said he found Kasparov's suggestion that Deep Blue engage in regular match play against top grandmasters interesting enough to consider, and that consideration would be given to a third match with Kasparov.

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