Bilbao – the humans strike back

11/22/2005 – Round two was quite the opposite of the first traumatic encounter between man and machine in Bilbao. This time the humans had good positions on all boards. Two were turned into sure draws, while in the third Ruslan Ponomariov blundered against Fritz, and then pulled a miracle comeback when the computer returned the favour.

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II People vs Computers World Chess Team Match

Bilbao 20-23 November 2005

Mankind strikes back!

Round 2 report by Arbiter David Levy

What an amazing day. Early in the session it looked as though the human players might reverse the score of yesterday, taking advantage of having the white pieces on all three boards. Khalifman achieved a very slight edge from the opening, Kasimzhanov secured a bigger advantage against Junior’s Sicilian Defence, and Ponomariov was a pawn up after only six moves when Fritz unwisely decided to sacrifice in return for a few tempi in development.

The three humans, all former world champions: Rustam Kasimdzhanov,
Alexander Khalifman, Ruslan Ponomariov

The Ponomariov-Fritz game was a real see-saw. Fritz had not understood, when sacrificing its b7 pawn, that it was playing just the type of position in which tempi do NOT provide adequate compensation for a pawn. As a result, Ponomariov soon appeared to be consolidating his extra material without much difficulty, and it seemed as though converting this into a win was “only a matter of technique”, as they say. And as the game wore on, the score indicator on Fritz’ monitor was uniformly red, indicating that the program was consistently unhappy with its position.

The key game in round two: Ponomariov vs Fritz, operated by Mathias Feist

But then something extremely bizarre happened. Ponomariov advanced his g-pawn from g2 to g4, attacking Fritz’ queen and believing that the queen had to move away to safety, in which case the GM’s position would have been overwhelming. But as the pawn reached g4 Ponomariov froze, his hand still on the piece for a full fifteen seconds or more. What he had suddenly remembered, to his horror, was that Fritz’ pawn on h4 could capture en passant – the former World Champion had simply forgotten one of the rules relating to how the pieces move. But having touched the g-pawn there was nothing to be done. He could of course have retreated it a square to g3, but with the same result.

Blundered with the g-pawn: 2002 world champion Ruslan Ponomariov

Fritz expressed great delight in making the en passant capture by suddenly changing the colour of the score bar on the monitor, from a long red line to a long green one – Fritz’ method of saying to the world “Don’t I have a great position”. At that moment Ponomariov wanted to resign. But somehow he kept his composure and struggled on for a few moves, his position collapsing around him both on the K-side, with the incursion of Fritz’ queen, and on the opposite flank, when Fritz’ rook cashed the white c-pawn, opening the c-file which it now controlled.

The spectators were expecting Ponomariov to capitulate at any moment, but then fate took a hand in the proceedings. Fritz found a move, 39…Bc2, which was clearly winning but for one thing, it actually lost! This is one of the fascinations of computer chess. When you play through this game, take a look at the forced sequence commencing with Fritz’ …Bc2, and count how many ply there are from there to the position when Matthias Feist resigned on Fritz’ behalf. Then add a few more ply because, in the final position, although Black will inevitably be saddled with a decisive material deficit, at that moment the program still had two minor pieces for a rook. So the depth to which Fritz would have needed to search in the critical variation, in order to realise that …Bc2 was a losing move rather than a winning one, was quite beyond the program’s capability.

Ponomariov - Fritz [A45]
II Man vs Machine, Bilbao, 21.11.2005
1.d4 Nf6 2.c3 d5 3.Bf4 Bf5 4.e3 e6 5.Qb3 Nbd7!?N [5...b6 6.Nf3 c5 7.Na3 a6 8.c4 Be7 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Bxb8 Qxb8 11.cxd5 exd5 12.Be2 0-0 13.0-0 Re8 14.Nc2 Qc7 15.Rad1 Bd6 16.Nb4 Be4 17.Rc1 Qe7 18.Nc6 Qd7 19.Ncd4 Bc5 20.Rfd1 Epishin,V-Farooq,M/ 2001/EXT 2003/1-0 (66)] 6.Qxb7 Bd6 7.Bxd6 cxd6 8.Qa6 Rb8 9.Qa3 Qb6 10.b4 0-0 11.Nd2 e5 12.Ngf3 Qc7 13.Ba6 e4?! 14.Ng1 Rb6 15.Rc1 Nb8 16.Be2 Rc8 17.Bd1 Bd7 18.Ne2 Bb5 19.0-0 Nbd7 20.Nb3 h5 21.Re1 h4 22.h3 Rb7 23.Na5 Rbb8 24.Ba4 a6 25.Bb3 Nb6 26.Qb2 Qd7 27.a3 Rc7 28.Qa2 Rbc8 29.Nf4 Qf5!? [29...Rxc3 30.Rxc3 Rxc3 31.Nxd5 Nfxd5 32.Bxd5 Bd3+/=] 30.a4 Bd3

31.g4? [31.Qb2!?] 31...hxg3 32.fxg3 g5 33.g4 Qh7 34.Nh5 [34.Nxd3 exd3 35.Qg2 Ne4-+] 34...Nxh5 35.gxh5 Qxh5-+ 36.Qh2 Qh4 37.Kg2 Rxc3 38.Rxc3 Rxc3 39.Qg3

39...Bc2? [39...Qxg3+ 40.Kxg3 f5–+] 40.Qxh4 gxh4 41.Rc1 Rxb3? [41...Bxb3!? 42.Rxc3 Bxa4 43.Rc7±] 42.Nxb3 Bxb3 [42...Bd3 43.a5 Na4 44.Rc6+–] 43.a5 Nc4 44.b5 Ba4 [44...axb5 45.a6 Nb6 46.Rc6-+] 45.bxa6 Bc6 46.a7 Kg7 47.a6 Ba8 48.Rb1 1-0. [Click to replay].

After the game Ruslan told us that he had always known that he could hypnotize human opponents. "But I am very surprised and didn't know that I could also hypnotize computers!" he said.

Alexander Khalifman vs Hydra, operated by Ulf Lorenz: ½-½

While all this high drama was unfolding, neither Khalifman nor Kasimzhanov were able to see their advantages grow, so those two games were drawn. With the programs’ lead cut from 3 points to 2, and with the grandmasters demonstrating most emphatically that they are not feeling devastated as a result of yesterday’s drumming, there is still everything to play for.

Rustam Kasimdzhanov vs Deep Junior: ½-½


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