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Man vs Machine: History of the Battle

Ever since Professor Alan Turing described the first chess program in 1947, and became the first to write one in 1950, humans have tried their best to achieve emulation of human thought through chess. At first, in the world of vacuum tubes, computers were too rare, fragile and valuable to devote a great deal of time to chess. For decades, while some research was done in the area, the few chess programs that were in existence were quite weak, so bad they would lose to most all tournament players.

In 1968, Scottish International Master David Levy made a wager that no chess computer would be able to beat him in ten years. The amount? $3,000, against Professor John McCarthy, one of the top researchers in the realm of artificial intelligence. Spurred on by the wager, and by the rapidly developing technology of computers, chess programs began to appear as more formidable opponents both as players, and as analytical tools.

As early as 1975, Grandmaster David Bronstein used a database in the "Kaissa" program in order to win an adjourned game in Vilnius, Lithuania. By the time 1978 rolled around, Levy found himself playing a match against one of the top computer programs of the time, "Chess 4.7", at a tournament in Toronto. While Levy easily won the bet, winning the match by the score of three wins and one draw, he did become the first International Master to give up a draw to a computer program. In hindsight, while Levy would win the battle, he most certainly wouldn't win the war.

By the time the 1980's rolled around, chess computers had really arrived. Strong enough to achieve Master ratings, computers became very popular among chess players and profitable for manufacturers. Spurred on not just by scientific aims, but by financial ones, chess programs experienced a quantum leap in strength. In 1989, David Levy was finally vanquished by "Deep Thought" by the score of four wins to no losses. After faithfully defending humanity for twenty-one years, Levy had to give way to a new representative of the human race. But who?

Enter Garry Kasparov. The young man from Baku, Azerbaijan took the chess world by storm in 1985 when he won the World Championship from Anatoly Karpov in Moscow at the young age of twenty-two. Only five years old when Levy first made his wager, Kasparov immediately saw the future of the computer and decided to take his first challenge against the machines. At a 1985 event in Hamburg, Germany, Kasparov took on fifteen of the top programs of the day. The final score? A perfect thirty-two wins for Kasparov, giving up not a draw, nor a loss.

In 1989, Kasparov took on "Deep Thought" at the same event where David Levy was finally vanquished. Kasparov, however, had no problems with the machine, winning the match two games to none. Computer programmers around the world now had a very daunting target in front of them: the World Champion and one of the greatest players of all time.

It wouldn't take long before the first blow was landed by the computers. At a 1992 event in Cologne, Germany, Garry Kasparov took on the program "Fritz 2" in a match at a five minute per player time control. At this speed, the computer's abilities to not make mistakes and think quicker than the human brain are very real factors. While Kasparov won the match by the score of six wins, one draw and four losses, he became the first World Champion to lose to a computer, albeit in a speed game. Kasparov was still better, but these programs could not longer be ignored.

In 1994, another incarnation of "Fritz", this time "Fritz 3", took on Kasparov in a five minute game and won. In a five game match later on in the event, Kasparov had learned his lesson, winning a match against "Fritz 3" by the score of four wins, two draws and no losses. While computers had shown great promise and results, there was still clearly work to do, and also, results were needed at something slower than blitz chess. We did not need to wait long to see the next blow.

Later on that year, at the Intel Professional Chess Association Grand Prix in London, Kasparov was paired against a wildcard entry, the chess program "Genius". This time, Kasparov was to play a two game match with the program at a time control of twenty-five minutes per player for the game. The first game was drawn, but it was the second game that sent shockwaves around the chess world, as Kasparov was beaten and eliminated from the tournament.

Naturally, Kasparov was to stage a comeback in 1995 when he played two matches against "Fritz 4" and "Genius 3.0" in London and Cologne, respectively. In these twenty-five minute games, Kasparov won both matches by the score of one win and one draw, with no losses. The time had come for a program to step up and challenge Kasparov at a classical time control, the true test of a chess player's mettle, and an area in which the humans always considered superior due to the long time to think. It was clear that this was no ordinary project.

One company stepped up to the challenge to face Kasparov: IBM, the computer and technology giant. "Deep Blue", a new incarnation of the program "Deep Thought" challenged Kasparov to a six game match in Philadelphia in the Winter of 1996. The program blended both enhancements to software and to hardware, to be as formidable opponent as possible. "Deep Blue" could analyze a mind-boggling fifty billion (50,000,000,000) positions every three minutes, while Kasparov would analyze roughly ten (10) positions in the same time period.

The enormous advantage in calculation bore fruit immediately, as once again, Kasparov would be a horrible first, the first World Champion to lose to a computer at a classical time control. Down 1-0 in the match, Kasparov immediately came back, winning Game 2. Draws followed in Games 3 and 4, and the match was tied two games to two. Kasparov, however, had learned enough in the first four games to hand the computer defeats in the final two games in order to win the match by the score of four to two. Humanity still had that edge over the computer.

May 1997 changed everything. "Deep Blue" got a rematch in New York in a very heavily publicized rematch. A huge media glitz surrounded the event, and in Game 1, Kasparov didn't disappoint. Once again, Kasparov showed significant dominance over the computer and soundly defeated "Deep Blue". Game 2 was even more stunning. Showing very deep understanding of the position, "Deep Blue" played one of the most human games ever seen by a computer to crush Kasparov and tie the match. Three draws ensued, leaving the match tied going into the final game. The final game was over almost as quick as it started. After only nineteen moves, Kasparov had resigned, missing a crushing knight sacrifice in the opening, which began a decisive attack on Kasparov's king. Machine had finally beaten Man in a classical chess match.

Fast forward almost six years later. The program "Deep Junior", authored by Israeli programmers Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky, has won all of the important world chess titles available. The three time world champion, "Deep Junior" has achieved marvelous results in events both against other computers and against world class Grandmasters. In a match sanctioned by FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs [World Chess Federation]) and by ICGA (International Computer Game Association), Kasparov and "Deep Junior" will play for the First Official World Chess Championship Man vs. Machine. The World's #1 player versus the reigning Computer World Champion.

More Chess Articles
History of F.I.D.E.
Kasparov Biography
Deep Junior History