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The last man vs machine match?

11/23/2006 – Three chess grandmasters have done battle with the program “Deep Fritz”: Robert Hübner, Vladimir Kramnik and Garry Kasparov. All three could only draw their matches. On Saturday world champion Vladimir Kramnik once again faces the machine – perhaps the last chance for humans to withstand the calculating power of the machine? Big article in Spiegel Online.
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The chess duel Man vs Machine, Vladimir Kramnik vs Deep Fritz will be staged from November 25 until December 5th. It is sponsored by the RAG AG, one of Europe's largest energy companies. The venue is the National Art Gallery in Bonn, Germany. Schedule:

Game 1: Saturday 25.11.2006 15:00 h
Game 2: Monday 27.11.2006 15:00 h
Game 3: Wednesday 29.11.2006 15:00 h
Game 4: Friday 01.12.2006 15:00 h
Game 5: Sunday 03.12.2006 15:00 h
Game 6: Tuesday 05.12.2006 15:00 h

There will be full live coverage on the Playchess server, as well as on the official site and a number of partner sites.


Der Spiegel, founded in January 1947, is a weekly German news magazine, the largest news outlet in Europe. It is highly influential and avidly read every Monday by the heads of politics and industry. It online news service has also grown into the biggest and most widely read in Europe. Spiegel Online recently published the following story on the match Kramnik vs Deep Fritz. We bring you a translation.

The last match man vs machine?

By André Schulz

On Saturday, November 25, the first of six games between world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik and the program “Deep Fritz” will be played in the National Art Gallery in Bonn, Germany. This is not the first man vs. machine match between the two. In 2002 they played each other in the Gulf state of Bahrain. At the time Kramnik was able to dominate the machine in the first half of the match, and led at halftime by a score of 3:1. Then he showed signs of fatigue and the machine struck back. The match ended in a 4:4 draw.


Kramnik vs Deep Fritz, in 2002 in Bahrain

In the interceding four years Kramnik has played two world championship matches, the first in 2004 against Peter Leko in Brissago, and recently one against Veselin Topalov in Elista. His extraordinary strength in match play helped him keep the title he won from Garry Kasparov in 2000. Still it is doubtful if he has increased his overall playing strength since the last computer match four years ago. His current rating on the “Elo” scale, which measures the strength of chess players, is less than that in 2002, when it reached a peak of 2807 (Kramnik was the first player after Garry Kasparov to cross the 2800 mark).


Vladimir Kramnik (right) defending his title against Peter Leko in Brissago 2004

The situation is quite different in the world of computer technology, where time never stands still. Today even an off-the-shelf Core Duo processor can match the speed of the four-processor system on which Fritz was running in 2002. In the current match Kramnik will face a Dual Intel Core 2 Duo 5160 system which allows Deep Fritz – also improved from version seven to version ten – to calculate around eight million positions per second.

In 2002 the Bahrain version of Deep Fritz was able to calculate “just” 2.7 million positions per second. Running at eight million positions allows the current version of the program to search to a depth of 17 to 18 ply in the middlegame. A “ply” is a move for either side. This means that Fritz is looking nine full moves ahead for both sides. In the endgame, when most of the material has come off the board, the search depth can be considerably greater.

Although all of this may sound like an insurmountable advantage for Deep Fritz, nobody can predict the outcome of the match with any certainty. “While developing the program one can collect a certain amount of information by playing it in series of matches against other chess programs,” says Matthias Wüllenweber, the head of the Deep Fritz development team. “But the true measuring scale is games against top grandmasters, like this match against the world champion. Only after the match in Bonn is over do we know exactly where we stand.”

Match preparation

Much depends on preparation. Kramnik is being assisted by the German grandmaster and openings specialist Christopher Lutz. In addition he has included a chess programmer in his team, one who will, he hopes, be able to explain to him how his opponent “thinks”.

For the preparation phase Kramnik received in May this year the latest version of Deep Fritz. The final version, the one against which he will play in Bonn, was sent to him in the middle of October. Since then he and his seconds have been able to search for weaknesses in the real thing.

That is exactly what Kramnik did in the Bahrain match. At the time he discovered that Deep Fritz 7 was not playing well in positions that included doubled pawns. As a result Kramnik played a Scotch opening against the machine, one that gave Black doubled pawns on c7 and c6.

In earlier days the youthful Deep Fritz would often be manoeuvred into positions with an isolated centre pawn by its human opponents. This is normally a weakness, but the program would defend this pawn like a tiger its cub, cleverly using the adjacent open files to do so. The weakness became a strength.

For the opening preparation against Kramnik the Deep Fritz team has hired a top grandmaster, who is a great openings specialist. But his name is a secret. This is normal in important chess tournaments, where players don’t want their opponents to know what they are planning. The exact speed of the computer and the modification to the openings book are the two unknown factors for Kramnik in this match.

It’s about a lot of money – and more

The starting fee for the world champion is 500,000 Euros. If he wins the match Kramnik gets one million Euros. Between him and the second half of the prize sum stands a machine that examines around six billion positions before it makes each move.

But it is not just about the money. If the world champion should lose this match against Deep Fritz, and lose it badly, one would have to admit that our electronic slaves have overtaken their human masters in yet another area of intellectual activity. Kramnik knows this full well. “Perhaps I will be the last top player to face this challenge,” he said.

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