A matter of honour

4/26/2002 – Imagine the following: White is winning a game, Black is playing some last desperate moves. Suddenly White has technical problems and cannot continue. So he offers Black a draw. Black refuses and insists White get the full point. There is a heated argument: Black wants to resign, White insists on a draw. Finally both sides agree to replay the game from scratch. Unimaginable, such gentleman-like behaviour? Well that's what happened in yesterday's Man vs Machine game.

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Deep Junior vs. Ilya Smirin

It was an unfortunate game. After 14 flawless games in the Man vs Machine encounters (eight against Boris Gulko and six against Smirin) the Internet host Kasparov Chess for the first time experienced technical problems. The game Deep Junior vs Ilya Smirin on Thursday had to be abandoned and will be replayed in the coming week.

What exactly happened? From the beginning the visitors of Kasparov Chess and our Playchess site noticed that there were irregularities and mishaps. To start with, Kasparov Chess forgot to update the board when the game started, so the viewers there were seeing the game transmitted as one between Smirin as white vs. Hiarcs as black (this was the encounter of the previous day) for the first 15 moves. It took the KC staff some time to figure out how they could correct this without restarting the game.

There followed a string of communication problem, with KC's communications (probably the Internet service provider) having a very bad evening. The setup at the Kasparov Chess office in Tel Aviv is that, although the GM and the computer are in adjacent rooms, they communicate over the Internet. The viewers do not see the actual game board but a different board which is automatically fed from the game board, again over an Internet connection. Smirin and Deep Junior were each disconnected three times during the game, and the viewer board was lagging behind the game board and several times got stuck and stopped accepting game updates.

The Junior team: Shay Bushinsky and Amir Ban (standing), GM Boris Alterman (seated)

The course of the game was quite remarkable. After the initial technical glitches had been ironed out a position was on the board that looked like a dead draw to the hundreds of people watching on the Internet. Even Vishy Anand, kibitzing on the Playchess site, seemed to agree. "This game is pretty boring, maybe the computer's tired?" he wrote at move 19. Two moves later he added: "But wait, this is getting mildly interesting." Smirin, himself, told us later: "At that stage the game was completely equal, and I lost interest. You saw the result!"

Slowly Deep Junior started to apply pressure on the Super-GM. In his game commentary Smirin says he overlooked a number of opportunites to get a sure draw (repeatedly spurning ...a5 and playing "senseless moves" instead). And suddenly, without any clear errors or blunders, he discovered to his horror that he was losing. At move 66 it was all over, Junior, although it was playing slightly erratically, essentially had the game in a bag. Amir Ban, one of the authors of Deep Junior, describes what then transpired:

"Towards the end, Junior was getting the hiccups. At move 64, instead of playing the winning Bc5, it started dancing around the position. My guess was that it was looking at 64.Bc5 g6 65.hxg6 Kg7 66.e7 Kxg6 67.e8=Q+ Bxe8 68.Kxe8 Kg5 and evaluating it as less than +3 at a distance (though this is an easy win up close), hence the fudging.

However, in setting up the position on my computer Junior does fail high on Bc5 and plays it, after less than a minute, so I can't say that I understand this. Anyway, in the final position Junior can still win with Be3-Bc5, and I guess it would.

At the end of the game we spent over ten minutes trying to get the system to register Smirin's move 66...Kg8, while the GM's clock seemingly ran out. Shay [Bushinsky, co-author of Junior and the KC operator] could not get the game to resume, and decided to end it. Smirin offered to resign, but Shay did not accept as Junior had not demonstrated a win. Instead he offered a draw. This was not accepted by Smirin, who felt he did not deserve it. The 'compromise' was to void the game and play a new one.

I think that this is a good sportsmanship and compensation for the viewers who suffered through this. This game is remarkable in showing how a 2700 player can be smothered in a game he believes he can't possibly lose, without making any outright blunder except waking up when it's too late. It's funny to note that some of the visitors were complaining about the boring dead draw in a position which is already won for white.

I guess all of the above would not have happened if the game were played in the old-fashioned way on a wooden board with a mechanical clock. When everything is wired and automatic, everything has to work perfectly, or else ..."

We would like to award both sides a special prize for fairness and gentleman-like behaviour.

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