Feeding frenzy in Bilbao

10/10/2004 – The chess in this man vs machine team championship ended fairly disastrously for the human side. The computers for their part were unable to appreciate some of the biggest attractions of the Basque city of Bilbao. We would like to warn our readers that there are very graphic images in our pictorial and video report.

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Man vs Machine World Team Championship
in Bilbao, October 6 – 9, 2004

This encounter between chess playing entities, biological and electronic, took place in the city of Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. It pitted three strong grandmasters against three top programs. The humans were 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 were: Hydra, a hardware machine running on a 16-processer 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 event ended in a depressing 3.5:8.5 loss by the humans to the computers. Both Fritz and Hydra scored a remarkable 3.5 points out of four games, while an out-of-form Junior ended up with 1.5 points after the only computer loss in this tournament (to 14-year-old Sergey Karjakin). From the human side Veselin Topalov was most successful, drawing three games and losing just on (to Fritz). Former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov drew and lost two games; while Sergey Karjakin lost three but won one.


The contestants at the start of the last round in Bilbao

Final standing of the Bilbao Man vs Machine

Your trusty ChessBase news team has just returned, after a gruelling week (see picture report below) in the Basque capital, where they lost their Internet connection for 36 hours – hence the delay in these report. We intend to bring you a wrap-up report in the next few days. For now we ask you to make do with our pictorial report.

Picture Gallery

Before we come to the main topic of today's report allow us to step back a few days and show you the opening of the man vs machine chess event in Bilbao. It began with a gala reception on the morning of the first round.


The opening gala was characterised by formalities arranged by the local government in the town hall.


On the staircase inside the building we were greeted by a traditional Basque band


Everyone is impressed by the splendor of the reception hall


The vaulted ceiling – something straight out of the Arabian Nights


The chief organiser Andoni Madariaga speaks to the guests. If you look carefully you can identify on the left Frans Morsch, Amir Ban, Jaap van den Herik, Ruslan Ponomariov, Veselin Topalov. Second from right is Chrilly Donninger.


Snacks are served on chessboards. Kudos to the Spaniards: the board is the right way round!


Veselin Topalov speaks fluent Spanish and is sought after by local journalists


The Lord Mayor ceremoniously makes the first move for Ruslan Ponomariov


Sergey Karjakin is greeted by a dignitary from the city


The two Ukraine super-talents get on extremely well together

Feeding Frenzy in Bilbao

We would like to warn our readers that the following section contains graphic images of food and drink which some people might find disturbing. Please proceed with discretion.

Remember the report on our trip to the world championship in Brissago? After a ten-hour journey we discovered the real purpose of going to the somewhat remote location on the banks of the Swiss Lago Maggiore. It was the view – my god the view! Well, after a distinctly shorter journey and a number of days in the Basque city of Bilbao we have discovered what it is the point here is: the food – my god the food! It occupies your entire day, giving everything else a peripheral role.

Our days in Bilbao normally started somewhere between 8 and 11 a.m., with a rich breakfast buffet in the hotel – meats, sausages, eggs and the incredibly delicious cured ham that only Spain appears to be able to produce.


After breakfast there was usually a trip or outing. Here the players visit the famous Guggenheim Museum

After the outing you return to the hotel, where a three-course lunch is waiting, in the very nice little restaurant, Miguel Angel, just across the street. We usually went for the bouillabaisse (a highly seasoned soup made of several kinds of fish and shellfish with tomatoes and onions or leeks and seasoned with saffron, garlic and herbs), a meat or fish main course and cake and coffee to wrap things up. Naturally everything was accompanied by the ubiquitous Spanish red wine, which is even better than its reputation.

Of course, by the time lunch is over most people only have energy to crawl into their rooms for another quick nap. Unfortunately some have the obligation to play chess – against machines that do not understand the concept of heartburn.

In the evening, when the chess thing is over, around 10 o'clock or later, our hosts always had "something special" in store for us. Once it was a very elegant club, where we partook of an exquisite four-course meal; on occasion we went to a "pub", which served an equally opulent late evening meal. One evening we were shuttled by cabs to a typical Basque meat-and-cider place, where all of the following pictures were taken.


The Basque tavern, completely packed on a weekday night


The chess corner, with players, organisers and journalists


The Hydra team fraternizing with members of the ICGA


"It looks like boy-friend", said the 14-year-old grandmaster, when we showed him this picture. Indeed it does, Sergey. In a couple of years they will be saying to your mom "Don't you think he's a little young for you?"


The trademark cider of the tavern is stored in huge vats. Patrons fill the jugs themselves.


For some unfathomable reason Nadja Woisin, who runs the Spanish ChessBase operation, finds the whole procedure incredibly funny.


The chess players, here Karjakin and Ponomariov, rush to fill up their glasses


Veselin Topalov must have his share as well


Starters at the tavern: juicy, spicy Spanish sausage


A giant Spanish omelette filled with potatoes and mushrooms


After you have eaten your fill on the starters you proceed to the main course: the famous Bilbao beef


The meat is turned in a spice mixture and grilled sharply over charcoal


This is what lands on your plate: giant slabs of lightly charred meat


Ruslan Ponomariov timidly pecks at his serving


David Levy shows him how the experienced English gentleman does it


... and how one decorously stuffs a pound of meat into oneself


Of course the other bloody half of the dish is still waiting for you


Silvio Danailov and Ruslan Ponomariov have understood the basic message of this dinner: what is good for Siberian tigers cannot be bad for your average super-grandmaster


Sergey Karjakin (with mom Tatjana) finds the whole thing, well, simply hilarious


A group of noisy, boisterous Basque integrationalists provide the impressive acoustic background, which you can listen to on our video report.

Pictures and report by Frederic Friedel

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