20th anniversary: Chess Match of the Century

May 15, 2017
by Mark Ollig

Mathematician Alan Turing created a computational algorithm for playing chess, called Turochamp, in 1948.

Turing’s chess program was written on slips of paper, and could “think” two moves in advance.

His program used logical-searching decision trees for making the best chess moves.

Amazingly, the computer required to fully execute Turing’s chess program did not yet exist in 1948.

Moving forward to June 6, 1985, a 22-year-old Russian chess player named Garry Kasparov was participating in a chess exhibition located in a small auditorium.

He was encircled by 32 tables with a chessboard atop each table.

Kasparov was partaking in a simultaneous chess exhibition.

Walking in a circular pattern, he stopped for a brief period at each table to play his chess move, and then continued on to the next table.

It should be noted the competition he was playing against wasn’t human.

On each of the 32 tables sat a chess-playing, computerized machine.

Kasparov was playing 32 simultaneous games against 32 chess-playing computer models made by various manufacturers.

Over the course of five hours, Kasparov won 32 games; defeating all 32 computer model chess boards; thus proving the human brain was superior to a computer’s programming: insofar as playing chess goes.

Just five months later, Garry Kasparov became the World Chess Champion.

In the following years, computational programming and technology platforms kept improving, and Kasparov would eventually find himself competing against another chess-playing computer.

“Deep Thought” was an enhanced chess-playing computer created in 1988, by computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University.

It had proved to be a superior chess-playing computer; defeating a host of human players, even chess Grandmaster, Bent Larsen, in a 1988 tournament.

In 1989, Garry Kasparov was still the undisputed World Chess Champion.

Oct. 22, 1989, Kasparov agreed to play a two-game chess match against Deep Thought.

Deep Thought could analyze about 500,000 chess positions per second; Kasparov could think 15 chess moves in advance.

Kasparov easily won both games, defeating the computer whom many had thought would provide some real competition for the World Chess Champion.

During the next eight years, IBM worked with the computer scientists who created Deep Thought with their next version of a chess-playing computer they hoped would have enough processing power to defeat a World Chess champion.

In May 1997, Kasparov found himself competing in a six-game chess match against the new and improved Deep Thought, which had evolved into the $10 million IBM supercomputer named “Deep Blue.”

Public interest was high, and Newsweek magazine cover called this man-versus- machine contest: “The Brain’s Last Stand.”

Being a chess player myself, I considered it the chess match of the century.

This truly would be the ultimate chess challenge for Kasparov, as Deep Blue used memory-manager programming “tablebases,” and was capable of analyzing an incredible 200 million chess positions per second, or 50 billion positions within the three minutes allotted each player for a single move during a chess game.

The match began, and after 45 moves, Kasparov won the first game and I thought, “Here we go; the human is going to defeat the computer again.”

However, Deep Blue rebounded, and Garry Kasparov resigned the second game.

The third, fourth, and fifth games ended in a draw. I note here, Deep Blue did “crash” during some of the games and needed to be “rebooted.”

Suspense set in, as the sixth game would determine the winner of the chess match.

This final chess game of machine-versus-human took less than an hour to play, and was broadcast live on television May 11, 1997.

Shockingly, after 18 moves, Deep Blue took Kasparov’s queen.

After the 19th move, chess history was made when Kasparov resigned, giving Deep Blue the game and the match.

A computer – a machine – using software and powerful massively-parallel processing system defeated the reigning human World Chess Champion and Grandmaster.

During the post-match press conference, Kasparov appeared to be physically drained, and extremely disappointed.

Understandably, Garry Kasparov wanted a rematch with the computer; IBM quickly refused.

Deep Blue would never compete in a chess match again, and was turned off in 2001.

There was still one notable chess computing program waiting out there for Mr. Kasparov to play.

June 23, 2012 was the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth, and a celebration took place at the University of Manchester.

In addition to computer scientists and Internet pioneers such as Vinton Cerf, was Russian chess grandmaster and former World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov took to the podium and commented on Turing’s important contributions to computer technology.

The audience applauded, and then waited in anticipation for him to play one game against Turing’s 1948 Turochamp computer chess program, which had been loaded into a modern-day computer.

The audience watched the large display screen as Turochamp, playing the white chess pieces, opened the game against Kasparov with the Queen’s pawn, or e3.

Kasparov smiled.

Throughout the course of the game, he swiftly moved his chess pieces in a precise and calculating manner.

Taking mere seconds in-between moves, the former chess champion methodically and quickly took control of the chess game.

“I’m sorry!” Kasparov smilingly said, while capturing white’s chess pieces with regularity.

Kasparov checkmated white’s king in just 16 moves.

After the game, Kasparov complimented Turing’s chess program saying, “It was a start . . . it was something that definitely changed our lives.”

“Although it’s only thinking two moves ahead, I thought it would give the amateur player some serious problems,” he said of Turing’s chess program, “It was an outstanding accomplishment.”

Video of Kasparov playing Turing’s Turochamp chess program is at http://tinyurl.com/6s7gk7d.

Regarding his famous computer match in 1997; “Deep Blue was intelligent the way your programmable alarm clock is intelligent. Not that losing to a $10 million alarm clock made me feel any better,” Kasparov wrote in his new book, published this year.

Learn more about Garry Kasparov, his thoughts on chess, chess-playing computers, computing technology, artificial intelligence; machine learning, and more in his book, “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins,” available on Amazon and in book stores.

Be sure to follow this above- average chess-playing human on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

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