Kasparov vs Deep Junior

Like a cork on water, I followed the latest installment in the Man vs. Machine saga. Following shortly on the heels of Fox’s special of similar name (M vs M, that is), Kasparov and Deep Junior, a chess machine of Israeli origin, squared off in New York. The match was to consist of six games. And it did. The prize for each was some odd hundred thousands of dollars depending whether you win or lose, plus Kasparov got aroung half a million just for showing up. Maybe not Tyson vs. whoever payroll numbers, but not bad for just getting out of bed.

So the series started off with a bang. In game one, Kasparov maneuvered into a strong position, and Deep Junior resigned on the 27th move. Not a bad start, human weakling. Kasparov was white that game, which is generally considered to be an advantage, especially when you’re good enough to keep your momentum going for awhile. It’s sort of like having the serve in tennis, you’re just expected to win that, and winning with black is like breaking. The key is to win when you’re white and draw when you’re black, it seems to me.

Game two was a nice one for Kasparov. He nearly defeated white, but instead was forced into perpetual check, which is a fancy descriptive was of saying draw. Game three, I suppose was a good illustration of how sneaky computers are and how we shouldn’t trust them. Kasparov earned what the experts refer to as a winning position, like “No new taxes” or “Tax cuts for everyone” when all of a sudden he was ass over teakettle, struggling to make ends meet and Deep Junior gave him a sound whooping Turing-style and won as black.

The rest of the games were draws. Deep Junior played some crzy moves, moves characterized as very non-computer-like, and suggesing a new age in computer chess. But that doesn’t do me any good, because I couldn’t even beat the stupid machine at Radio Shack. But that doesn’t mean I have nothing to say on the matter.

Machines (read computers) play a different brand of chess than humas. They are very calculating, and can look at millions of moves per second. They generally play their game by playing a whole bunch of games in memory, and scoring them based on various metrics, like piece value, getting mated, and probably some loose positional concepts. There is probably a huge set of endgame situations that the good ones try to play for, but that’s prety complicated. On the other hand, humans can only look at a few moves per second, so identifying the right ones is really important. Which makes us wonder how the heck we’re able to think about something as abstract as chess at all and not implode. Well, it has a lot to do with familiarity, chunking together particular situations, hunches, weird representations of strategy, and guessing.

Anyhow, I think that it’s really cool that Deep Junior is able to make moves that astound the chess world. I’m more like, hmm, that’s pretty cool that this computer was programmed to check out the random things, and be able to play the fact that the human knows its a computer against the human, because that seems like what it did. Basically the computer played some crazy threatening checking maneuver that radically changed the shape of the game. If he’d been playing a lowlier human, I have little doubt that Kasparov would have recovered from that and given punier human opponent a sound ass whooping. But since Deep Junior is a computer, hence very sneaky, as are all computers, he was llike, holy crap, what if it sees mate in twenty after I open up my Knight. So, he did the safe thing and forced a draw.

An interesting thing about high-level chess is that people play for draws, and they happen often. If you look at my chess history, I probably have like 10 draws out of 500 games or something. If that. And I probably never said, oh, gosh, I’m losing let’s draw this one, but instead said, if I’m gonna pull this out, it’s gotta be a sacrifice, or threat of bodily harm (difficult to pull off over the internet) that’s going to do it.

Cheers, and if you want to play a game sometime my handle is sicrik on the free internet chess server. Check out freechess.org.