When Garry Kasparov was beaten by a computer, the world watched in amazement. Today, we look back on the event and see more than a spectacular chess computer. We see an opportunity to better understand the human mind and our potential as chess players.
With the likes of Lichess and Chess.com connecting us with chess players all over the world, the online chess computer is something we are all too familiar with. We live in an age where smart technology and complex algorithms are so prominent that we often overlook the ingenious processing working in the background. We may also forget that this manipulation of big data and complex decision making originated from the idea that a computer could beat a human in the game of chess.
The ultimate challenge for a team of computer scientists began at Carnegie Mellon University in 1985. They began working on a computer system that could process thousands of chess moves in a split second. The first chess computer was not quite artificial intelligence, but rather an advanced program of conjugating chess moves based on the numerical value of the pieces. The question that drove the team forward was the desire to know if this level of computer processing could ultimately beat the best human chess mind. At the time, the best chess player in the world was the Russian Grandmaster, Gary Kasparov. Kasparov is still considered by many to be the best chess player of all time.
By 1989, with the help of IBM and a chess grandmaster joining the development team, the chess computer evolved into Deep Blue. After years of testing and programming, in February 1996, the team threw down the gauntlet and the chess challenge of man versus machine begun.
For seven days the dramatic game dominated world press. The audience watched in shock as Kasparov was defeated in the first game. Determined to show the world that the human mind would always be more powerful than its electronic counterpart, Kasparov fiercely fought on, leading to the defeat of Deep Blue. The final score was 4:2 to Kasparov.
At Mindful Chess, we reinforce the idea that you can learn just as much from losing a game as you can from winning - sometimes even more. This is the approach the Deep Blue team embraced. The chess computer was heavily upgraded so that it could process over two million moves per second. Despite Kasparov’s insistence that he could still not be beaten by a computer, a rematch was scheduled. Kasparov remarked: “The day the machine would beat the strongest human player, that would be the dawn of artificial intelligence.”
And maybe there was more truth to Kasparov’s comment than he realised. For on the 11th May 1997, much to the astonishment of the worldwide chess community, Deep Blue beat the reigning chess champion. Deep Blue made history in a six-game match under standard time controls. Kasparov had won the first game, lost the second and then drawn the following three. Some still say that this is where the origins of artificial intelligence were born.
Kasparov was outraged with the results and even twenty years later, there are people in the chess community that agree with him and believe the game was an elaborate hoax. Kasparov was adamant that the moves made by Deep Blue were so creative and sophisticated, that they must have been controlled by a human mind. He could not comprehend that a game so complex and fundamentally human could be played by artificial intelligence. Surely the intricacies and emotions involved in chess could not possibly be replicated using binary code?
Kasparov’s argument pivoted around a move the computer made in the second game.
Kasparov used a tactic that he had successfully played against many of his opponents previously. He manipulated his opponent to take a “poisoned” pawn and he believed Deep Blue would be enticed make the same error. Much to his horror, Deep Blue followed up with a move described as so “stunning” and “exceptional” that it could only be considered human. This one move from Deep Blue was an emotional trigger for Kasparov, eventually leading to him wali away and forfeit the game.
Kasparov’s move was based on gaining a strategic advantage by creating an open file (a column of squares that contains no pieces). This presents attacking opportunities for the queen or rooks as they are not blocked by pawns. Unfortunately for Kasparov, Grandmaster Joel Benjamin on the Deep Blue design team had explored this tactic. The strategy was consequently pre-built into Deep Blue’s most logical response.
The reaction to Deep Blue beating Kasparov was huge. Regardless of any conspiracy theories, it is apparent that Kasparov’s defeat was partly down to the intrinsic nature of the human mind. The machine could compute over two million moves per second and played in a logical and literally robotic fashion. Kasparov may have overthought the machines’ motivations and played with increased anxiety throughout the games. This pivotal point in chess history thus demonstrated how even the most logical human mind cannot play chess with a true absence of emotion.
At Mindful Chess, teaching concentration and confidence is key to our lessons. The most important move on the chessboard is the one your opponent just made. The ability to analyse that move and respond with confidence can often mean the difference in winning or losing the game. The Deep Blue match demonstrated that even the greatest chess player of all time can be shaken in his ability. This is something beginner chess players would be wise to remember.
Another aspect of successful gameplay has been attributed to the component of creativity. Creativity stems from the complexity of the human mind and the way it relates to its emotions. Did Deep Blue’s victory against Kasparov lessen the concept of creativity in chess? Essentially, the answer has to be no. If anything, the success of Deep Blue and subsequent online chess computer programs are a testament to the creativity of the designers. The computer is merely analysing moves based on a numerical system and so this cannot be equated with artificial intelligence. Chess is a creative game and ultimately, online chess can enhance the ability of the player to think outside the box.
Since 1997, online chess has moved forward in leaps and bounds. Chess programs like Deep Fritz or Deep Junior were designed with a different approach. Rather than just analysing millions of moves per second, these new chess machines incorporated software programs that used learning techniques to minimise the searches required. Kasparov agreed to play Deep Fritz and Deep Junior in 2003 and both times, he managed to avoid defeat. Although he still made errors that forced him into a draw, his capacity to match a machine with logical processing beyond his own was a triumph for his creative intellect.
Despite the advancement of online chess, we still don’t have chess machines that resemble human intelligence. The fact that machines can beat human chess players actually serves as a reminder that emotions are inevitable in the world of chess. Kasparov often made errors not because his logic lacked but as a result of his anxiety. The fear of damaging his reputation and the implications of a loss overcame his ability to consistently make the right decision.
To conclude, Kasparov’s historic defeat was more than a monumental moment for the chess computer and technology. It produced undeniable evidence that humans do not play chess using purely the logical faculty of the mind. Chess players interact with the game using creativity and emotions as an inseparable part of their strategy. To teach a child to play chess without building confidence and working with their unique way of learning is subsequently to admit defeat to the chess computer once more.