Historical riddle: could Kramnik have defeated the computer?

by Karsten Müller
5/28/2020 – In November 2006 World Champion Vladimir Kramnik played a match against the computer program Deep Fritz. The venue was the National Art Gallery in Bonn, Germany, the prize fund one million dollars. It was the last big man-vs-machine match. Kramnik lost 2:4 and did not win a single game. But in the very first game he had a favourable endgame. Could he have won? Until today that remains unclear. Can you help GMs Yasser Seirawan and Karsten Müller resolve this question?

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The duel between the 30-year old World Champion from Russia and Deep Fritz, was set for six games. Vladimir Kramnik had the chance to win one million US-Dollar. Specifically: he could double his starting fee of US $500,000 by defeating the computer.

Press conference before the start of the match Kramnik vs Deep Fritz

The broadcast room of the match venue

The Deep Fritz hardware, a Siemens Fujitsu 1.6 Mhz. core duo machine, was located in an elevator at the back of the stage, which was closed during the games to prevent disturbance to Kramnik because of the cooling fans.

The start of game one, with the first move executed by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, himself a keen chess player. Steinbrück went on to become the chancellor-candidate of the Social Democratic Party in the 2013 federal election. On the right is FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

The press photographers at the start of the game

And at last game one of Kramnik vs Deep Fritz gets under way.

The audience following the games in the National Art Gallery in Bonn

Could Kramnik have won game one?

Now we come to our question where we seek your analytical help. In the first game Kramnik reached a favorable endgame. I believe that a winning proof can be found, but matters are not completely clear.

The second entry on out replay board is the deep analysis by GM Yasser Seirawan from 2016.

You probably know that in our replay boards there are a large number of functions you can use to really appreciate the games. Recently we published a comprehensive tutorial which tells you about all the powerful features and buttons that make the ChessBase's replay one of the best watching experiences around.

One big advantage is that you can start an engine (fan icon) that will help you to analyse. You can get multiple lines of analysis by clicking the + button to the right of the engine analysis window. The "!" key, incidentally, shows you the threat in any position, which is incredibly useful in the case of unclear moves.

There is one more thing you can do. It is a lot of fun, but also a serious challenge: Click on the rook icon below the notation window. This will allow you the play the above position against Fritz, at your level of playing strength (e.g. "Club Player"), right here on the news page. Note that your analysis, in which you can delete, move or promote lines, is stored in the notation as new variations. In the end you will find the game with your analysis in the cloud. So nothing is ever lost.

Grandmasters Dr Helmut Pfleger and Artur Jussupow analysing the endgame

Final standing

 Vladimir Kramnik
Deep Fritz 10


Karsten Müller, born 1970, has a world-wide reputation as one of the greatest endgame experts. He has, together with Frank Lamprecht, written a book on the subject: “Fundamental Chess Endgames” in addition to other contributions such as his column on the website ChessCafe as well as in ChessBase Magazine. Müller's ChessBase-DVDs about endgames in Fritztrainer-Format are bestsellers. The PhD in mathematics lives in Hamburg, where he has also been hunting down points for the HSK in the Bundesliga for many years.


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