Man vs. machine

Tomorrow (Tuesday) Kasparov plays his first match game against X3DFritz, another chess-playing computer. The four-game match will be covered by ESPN television; chess has not received this much media attention since Fischer-Spassky in 1972.

The betting odds make Kasparov a slight favorite. Humans have perhaps the best chance in a short match. They do not lose their stamina, and can play to draw, hoping to elicit positional mistakes from the machine. Humans, of course, cannot beat the machines when it comes to computation and pure tactics.

Man vs. machine games often run a typical course. The human grandmaster carries a significant advantage out of the opening or early middle game, where it is harder for the machine to calculate all relevant possibilities and positional judgment is at a premium. But as the game progresses, the machine plays perfect defense and the human cannot convert the advantage into a win. If any tactics arise at all, the human usually is doomed. So it often feels as if the humans are “blundering” and letting advantages slip mysteriously away. The reality is that it is hard to beat a perfect opponent, once the early positional mistakes are over.

I was surprised to see Kasparov favored. Once he lost to Deep Blue, the last big match (Kramnik vs. Deep Fritz) was a draw. I know it is not as simple as Moore’s Law, but hey, don’t these machines improve their game more rapidly than the human players do? Stay tuned for more.


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