Man vs Machine World Team Championship
in Bilbao, October 6 – 9, 2004
This encounter between chess playing entities, biological
and electronic, is taking place in the city of Bilbao in the Basque region
of Spain. It pits three strong grandmasters against three top programs.
The humans are Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria, Elo 2757, world number five);
Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine, 2710, No. 13); and Sergey Karjakin (Ukraine,
2576, who at 12 was the youngest GM in the history of the game).
The computers are: Hydra, a hardware machine running on
array that is located in Abu Dhabi, UAE; Deep Junior, the reigning
computer chess world champion, playing on a remote 4 x 2.8 GHz Xeon machine
located at Intel UK (Swindon); and Fritz 8, running on a Centrino 1.7
GHz notebook in the tournament hall. The organisers felt that this would
provide interesting comparative data, for amateurs and press, about program
performances on three different platforms.
The rate of play is two hours for the first 40 moves and
60 minutes for the rest of the game.
The first round ended fairly disastrously for the human players.
Young Sergey Karjakin was dominated by Fritz, while his friend and mentor Ruslan
Ponomariov turned a position that looked at least optically winning into a loss
to Hydra. Only Veselin Topalov was able to hold his game with black against
Deep Junior. Score: 0.5-2.5 for the machines.
Fritz vs Karjakin, Ponomariov vs Hydra and Topalov vs Deep Junior in round one
On the second day the humans struck back – almost devastatingly.
There was a phase in the round when it looked like all three would score full
points against the machine. Sergey Karjakin outplayed Deep Junior from start
to finish, never leaving a doubt about who was in charge. Ruslan Ponomariov
got a substantial edge against Fritz, one that looked as though it could be
transformed into a win. But the little notebook kept its calm and held the ex
world champion to a draw.
Fritz on a notebook, operated by author Frans Morsch, against Ruslan Ponomariov
Young Sergey Karjakin in fighting mode against Amir Ban and Deep Junior
Veselin Topalov at the start of his game against Hydra, operated by Chrilly
The most dramatic encounter was between Veselin Topalov with the white pieces
against the 16-processor Hydra. The human did not seem to have anything in the
opening, but demonstrated his mastery of the game when he took advantage of
an unfortunate pawn advance by Hydra by picking up this pawn and getting a totally
winning position. However the six-hour session took its toll on the human's
ability to focus his full attention on all the finesses of the endgame and in
the end he had to concede a draw to the machine, which showed absolutely no
signs of fatigue. Score: 2:1 for the humans.
After the game Amir Ban (right), who was following the endgame with his
program Junior, shows the exhausted and disappointed Veselin Topalov how he
could have won the game, while tournament arbiter Jaap van den Herik (right)
A Great Show!
By David Levy, President of the ICGA
There were some lively discussions here in Bilbao over the dinner table last
night, following the 2.5-0.5 lead taken by the computer team over the Grandmasters
in the 1st World Man vs Machine Team Chess Championship. Inevitably the subject
of the Kramnik-Leko match also came under discussion and some comparisons were
made. My own view is that the games in Bilbao are far more interesting for the
chess public than are those played in Brissago. I would go further, and say
that in the game won by Hydra, as Black, against Ponomariov, there was more
drama than in all of the first seven Brissago games put together. Let me explain.
A festive dinner after game one. Second from right: ICGA president David
There are several obvious differences between the type of chess played in a
match for the human World Championship and the type of chess played in a top
class human vs computer event. Firstly, the players in Brissago are both inordinately
afraid of losing the game each time they sit down at the chessboard. This is
not a criticism, it is a simple fact, one that is perfectly understandable when
we consider what is at stake for Kramnik and Leko.
Being afraid of losing a game in a world championship match is, in many ways,
the mark of a true chess professional. For those Grandmasters who play chess
at the highest professional level a single loss in a title match is much more
than the words suggest, it could mean the loss of the title, the loss of what
might be one's last chance of gaining the title, the loss of that nice apartment
that one would like to buy on the Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris, or even
the start of a career nosedive. So we should not blame Kramnik and Leko for
producing games that fail to delight the vast majority of chess enthusiasts.
They must play at the highest level they can, to maximize their chances of success
in the match, and without any regard whatsoever for the loss of chess artistry
The computer people's end of the table: Frans Morsch, David Levy, Ali Nasir
Muhammad, Chrilly Donninger, GM Christopher Lutz (who works for the Hydra team)
and Jaap van den Herik
But although one might accept the approach of Kramnik and Leko as being the
epitome of professionalism, insofar as they are both trying their very best
to end their match as the holder of the World Championship title, this does
not mean that at the same time one has to applaud games that are devoid of artistry.
Imagine watching a boxing match in which the two antagonists dance around on
opposite sides of the ring, afraid to go too near each other more than once
every few rounds in case of a lucky blow coming in the opposite direction. If
that was the approach of World Heavyweight Championship contenders, how long
would boxing last as a spectator sport? It might be considered by some to be
perfect or near-perfect professionalism, but does that interest the crowd? No,
it does not. In boxing the crowd wants blood, just as the chess crowd wants
to see blood on the chessboard.
In a Grandmaster vs computer game the computer program knows no fear and never
shows any. The program is there to win if it can and the Grandmaster is therefore
under pressure from the start of the game. So it is a completely different type
of struggle, and this difference makes for more dramatic games from the perspective
of the vast majority of chess enthusiasts.
Ponomariov vs Hydra in round one [Photo Ali Nasir Muhammad]
The Ponomariov vs Hydra game is, in my view, an example of high drama at the
chessboard. Watching the game develop we see White taking complete control of
the a-file, establishing a rook in a menacing position and eyeing a backward
black pawn on c6. Meanwhile Black, the program, appeared to be floundering,
for example when it played its bishop to g5 attacking a very well protected
white pawn on e3. But look what happened over the next few moves. Black's feeble
pawn on c6 was eaten up, while Black lashed out on the king side with the advance
of its h-pawn, which looked at first sight like desperation. But it was not
desperation. At that point in the game, despite being a pawn down, Hydra was
displaying a plus score – it was searching so deeply that it already knew
that it stood better. And within another couple of moves what had, at first,
seemed like clutching at straws, was revealed to be a blistering attack against
which it was almost impossible to suggest a defence for White. Maybe there was
one, of sorts, by sacrificing the exchange with Rxf6, but whether it would have
enabled White to survive is highly doubtful.
ICGA president David Levy in discussion with ICGA Journal editor Prof Jaap
van den Herik
The opinion of the grandmasters here in Bilbao appears to be that I am completely
wrong, and that the games in Brissago up until now (game 7) are definitely more
interesting than those in Bilbao yesterday. Maybe this is true for them, but
what about for the much larger number of chess fans throughout the world whose
Elo ratings are hundreds or even a thousand or two points below the rarified
level of the super GMs? If chess is to become a media success then the games
watched by the masses of chess fans need to interest them. Do the games in Brissago
interest the masses of chess fans? No they do not. They may interest many GMs
and super GMs, but not vast majority of the less brilliant amongst us who number
tens of thousands or more for every holder of the GM title.
Veselin Topalov not agreeing with David's arguments. Amir Ban considering
Roll on the day when every World Chess Championship match is contested between
the strongest human player and the strongest computer program. “But what
happens...” I hear you ask, “...when the computers can regularly
defeat the strongest humans? Isn't that the end of the story?” No, it
most certainly is not. Kasparov's matches against computers have enthralled
the chess world and many outside it, far more so than any of his matches against
Karpov. If, ten years from now, Kasparov or his successor regularly succumbs
to the leading programs, let us not despair but instead become creative. Perhaps
pawn odds will come back into fashion, as it was in the 19th century. Who knows?
Pictures by Frederic Friedel