Man vs machine on chess board
Amit Karmarkar, TNN | Oct 29, 2013, 02.16 AM IST 

A player alleging his opponent of cheating after losing a match is not unheard of, but when the loser is Garry Kasparov and the winner a certain computer program called Deep Blue, eyebrows are bound to be raised. 

It was 1997 and Kasparov was at his peak of powers. The Russian legend had beaten the IBM super computer in a similar format a year before and the rematch created a huge buzz. But Kasparov, after losing 3.5-2.5, alleged that the machine changed behaviour along the course of the match and that he was not provided with notes of the machine’s settings/codes. 

The IBM has since retired (some say even dismantled) their computer from serious play but the debate about the cerebral superiority between the man and machine continues. 

The use of computers by the turn of the century increased manifold and the players themselves feel that it is one gadget that has revolutionised the sport. If a player knows the computer that his rival is using, then he has to formulate a style that will be beyond the ‘intelligence’ of the machine. 

“It’s called anti-computer play…A player like Anand won’t even use laptops that we use,” said GM Abhijit Kunte. “Those are specially assembled machines, done by top companies like Dell and AMD. The power of these machines can be 400 times higher than our machines.” 

Often, it becomes a part of a corporate battle as well. When Anand found out that Veselin Topalov was preparing with a 112-core cluster version of Rybka (named Blue Gene; with 8,192 processors capable of 500 trillion floating point operations per second) for their 2010 World championship match, he took the help from the rival software and engine company Hiarcs. It paid dividends too, as Anand went on to beat Topalov to retain his World Championship title that year. 

There is a belief that a super computer can calculate better than a super Grand Master. However, tactically, the man is still superior. “What used to take an entire week of preparation earlier by using books and other resources takes just one day now,” said Chennai-based chess coach K Visweswaran, who has coached India’s teams in Youth Olympiads. “But still, you will need a lot of human guidance or understanding of chess if you are analysing your mistakes.” 

“For example, a computer will spot mistakes in a game you have lost. But it won’t tell you why you have made that mistake. Today’s is a google generation. Players have access to information and there might be a tendency to bank too much on the machine. But in order to deliver on the biggest stage, the mind should be working as smoothly as the machine,” the coach added. 

Anand had echoed similar sentiment in one of his interviews. “The computer will only tell you what the position justifies. It is also insidious – it can stop you from playing your favourite lines because of some obscure problems somewhere,” he said.


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