Chess: Making it to the first league

8/11/2006 – In November classical chess world champion Vladimir Kramnik plays a match against the computer program Deep Fritz. The prize fund is one million dollars, and the title sponsor the giant energy concern RAG, a new and important player in chess sponsoring. Kramnik and the German Finance Minister took part in the press conference. Report and videos.

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Making it to the first league

RAG sponsors man vs. machine match

The RAG press conference announcing the Man vs Machine event was held in the German city of Essen, on August 8th 2006. It was attended by the Chairman of the RAG energy conglomerate Dr. Werner Müller, the German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, the organiser of the event Joseph Resch, Grandmaster Helmut Pfleger and Vladimir Kramnik, the opponent of Deep Fritz in the November match.


Press conference for the Man-Machine match at the RAG complex in Essen


Posters for the event at the entrance


Vladimir Kramnik between RAG Chairman Dr. Werner Müller
and the German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück


The human side of the match poses in front of the event poster


The start of the press conference

Peer Steinbrück, chess playing minister

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück was in a cheerful mood, and the first to speak at the press conference in the head office of the RAG company in Essen.


Peer Steinbrück, the world's strongest chess playing politician?

Chess fans know the former Prime Minister of North Rhine Westphalia, who now is Germany's minister of finance, from a number of chess events which showed him to be an ardent chess fan. Last year he appeared on the TV show "Chess of the Grandmasters" as a co-presenter, and even played an over-the-board game against Vladimir Kramnik in front of a large audience in the Bonner Bundeskunsthalle. In this game he held his own for quite a while, and proved that he is one of the strongest chess players in world politics.


Steinbrück vs Kramnik in March 2005. Kramnik won that game.

Steinbrück told the audience that chess had an extraordinary number of followers in Germany, and that the general public tended to underestimate its importance. With more than 9000 tournament players having a FIDE rating, Germany occupied first place internationally, ahead of "chess nation" Russia. He said he saw the match between Vladimir Kramnik and Deep Fritz as a small cultural battle between outstanding representatives of human and technical intelligence. When Kramnik played against Deep Fritz four years ago it had not been easy for him to draw the match. Germany's Finance Minister expressed his hope that Kramnik would eventually win the upcoming battle against the "apparatus".

World Championship in Bonn?

The Minister of Finance was particularly pleased that the match will take place in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia. He said that the Bonner Bundeskunsthalle and its director Wenzel Jacob offered an excellent environment, and that the great attention all over the world would hopefully help to organize other major events in the same location. With the Dortmunder Sparkassen Chess Meeting we already had one of the most important tournaments of the world in North Rhine Westphalia. The Man vs. Machine match would further support the importance of the state as a chess stronghold, and might well be a precursor for a full-blown World Chess Championship in North Rhine Westphalia. Peer Steinbrück said that he would be very happy to be the patron of this match.

The Chairman of the RAG, Dr. Werner Müller, started off by saying that a short while ago he would not have dreamt of sitting next to a World Chess Champion. He went on to explain why the RAG had started to sponsor sports.

In the middle of October the heavily restructured mining and technology company, with more than 100,000 employees throughout the world, will receive a new name, which needs to be marketed intensively to make it known. Therefore RAG struck a deal with Borussia Dortmund as football shirt sponsor, and was also looking for other sporting events. The match between Kramnik and Deep Fritz in November in Bonn came at just the right moment. The former Secretary of Commerce said that artificial intelligence, in conjunction with the new technological possibilities, was currently making rapid advances, but he hoped that this time the human being would still keep the upper hand.


40-50% chances to beat the computer: Vladimir Kramnik

Vladimir Kramnik said that Deep Fritz was definitely the favourite and rated his chances for beating the machine at about 40-50%. He said he did not worry too much about such predictions – when he played Kasparov in 2000 his chances were given at less than 105, and yet he somehow won that match. “At any rate my chances against the computer are higher than 1%", he said wryly.

In the question session one of the journalists, Michael Negele, asked Kramnik when human beings would be without a chance against the machine, and whether that would be the end of chess. The Classical Chess World Champion replied that certainly the day would come when computers would play so well that no human being could compete against them, but that he hoped that November 2006 would not be that day. .He believed that the contest between man and machine will still be exciting for a couple of more years. And even if he should lose the match one could still play more man vs. machine matches, with an aim to achieve a different result.

However, Kramnik said, even if the balance would eventually tip in favor of the computers this would have no particular effect on chess between human beings. After all, the invention of the car did not put an end to athletic contests.


Joseph Resch, director of the match

It is thanks to Joseph Resch and his UEP that this match has come about. Long before the main sponsor RAG was found Resch backed the match with considerable financial input.


Grandmaster and TV chess commentator Dr. Helmut Pfleger

To conclude the informative part of the press conference, Dr. Helmut Pfleger gave a short overview of the history of computer chess, starting from the Turk to the recent man vs. machine matches.


GM Klaus Bischoff, Germany's finest 5-minute player, gets blitzed by Fritz

The end of the event belonged to grandmaster Klaus Bischoff. The many times German champion and best blitz specialist in the country had agreed to play a five-minute-game (he got six minutes to compensate for computer operation) against the current version of Deep Fritz. The game was played to demonstrate to the journalists the special atmosphere of the battle between man and the machine.


Helmut Pfleger commented on the game for the public, while Vladimir Kramnik
watched it with keen interest on the monitor in front of him

“Blitz against the computer, that’s unfair”, said Minister Peer Steinbrück. This might well be true, but Klaus Bischoff is a friendly person and he subjected himself to this ordeal without grumbling. The notebook, which he operated himself, looked more innocent than it actually was. In fact the current version of Fritz, running on the Siemens Fujitsu 1.6 Mhz. core duo machine, calculated the same number of positions per second as the Fritz version that played against Kramnik in Bahrain four years ago. And that one ran on an eight-processor machine.

The game turned out to be rather difficult for the GM. After brave resistance in the opening phase he finally had to concede defeat. Dr. Pfleger used all his energy in the live commentary to provide him with moral support.

In the subsequent interviews Dr. Werner Müller and Peer Steinbrück both said that a defeat of Kramnik would not be a "disgrace" for mankind. One had to get used to the fact that technology is advancing in a lot of disciplines and will get better, even superior, to human abilities.


Matthias Wüllenweber talking to TV journalists

ChessBase CEO Matthias Wüllenweber explained why man vs. machine matches are so attractive. It is interesting, he said, to see how two entirely different entities tackled the task of chess. Each does it in a completely different way, but in the end they come to very similar conclusions, which made it possible for them to play interesting games against each other.

Text: André Schulz, pictures: Frederic Friedel

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