Kasparov and thirty years of computer chess

by Frederic Friedel
6/6/2015 – On June 6th 1985 the 22-year-old Garry Kasparov came to Hamburg to play a preparation match for his World Championship bid – and to do a remarkably critical interview with a leading German news magazine. During the visit he played a simul against 32 of the strongest chess computers of the day. We invite you to compare the games with today's chess engines. Garry annotated one of them for us.

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Garry Kasparov and thirty years of computer chess

By Frederic Friedel

In 1984 Garry Kasparov played a World Championship "first to win six" match against Anatoly Karpov. After nine games he was 0-4, after which there followed a series of 17 successive draws. Kasparov then lost game 27, and standing on the 0-6 precipice he fought back with another series of draws until game 32, in which he defeated Karpov. Another 14 draws followed, after which Kasparov won games 47 and 48 to narrow the scores to 3-5. At this point FIDE President Florencio Campomanes ended the match without result and announced that a new match would be started six months later. The termination was controversial, and Kasparov spoke out vehemently against it at the February 15 FIDE press conference in Moscow.

In 1985, before the new match was held, Der SPIEGEL, Europe's biggest and most influential news magazine, invited Kasparov to Hamburg for a major interview – and to play a title preparation match against top German GM Robert Hübner. The interview was a sensation – frank, courageous, outspoken, something we had not seen before from a Soviet citizen. I am delighted to see that it is still online, in German, with Google doing a fair job of translating it.

I was part of the organisation of the Spiegel events surrounding the Kasparov visit and saw the original title that was prepared for that week's edition. It was a stunning image of the young chess genius – I only have a black and white photo of it (above left). Unfortunately just before the magazine hit the newsstands there was a football catastrophe in Belgium and the Kasparov title was dumped for a new cover story (above right: "War in the Stadium").

The above shots are from the preparation of the Hübner match. In the top picture we see Boris Spassky, who seconded the German grandmaster; Robert Hübner; the arbiter and director of the German Chess Federation Horst Metzing; and the 22-year-old World Championship challenger Garry Kasparov. On the right in the bottom picture is Werner Harenberg, a senior editor of Der Spiegel, who organised the entire action. Harenberg was a great mentor to me and sadly passed away last year.

Apart from the Hübner match, which Kasparov won 4½-1½, he participated in a number of activities, like a ten-game blindfold simul and a remarkable 32-board simul against computers. He also dropped into my home in the suburbs of Hamburg, with Harenberg and other Spiegel colleagues. In the above image I am on the right showing him some programs on the BBC Acorn computer and introducing him to the word "database", which with his vigorous encouragement was soon to become a vital instrument in chess study. (That tale has been told elsewhere and needs no repeating).

The subject of today's story is the computer simul. At the time the strongest chess playing electronic entities available to the general public were dedicated chess computers, produced by four leading manufacturers: Novag and Scisys in Hongkong, Hegener & Glaser in Germany and Fidelity in the US. These four companies sent their top models to Hamburg for the simul against Kasparov.

I helped to organize the simul and as a computer chess expert did not have a good feeling about it at all. I warned Garry that the difference to a normal simul would be that his opponents would at no stage show the slightest signs of exhaustion, they would never feel discouraged, and they would defend each game vigorously to the very end.

Preparation before the start of the 32-board computer simul in 1985

The computer operators had to execute a move when Garry appeared at the board

There was a lot of interest for the game – chess computers were new and exciting

In the striped white-and-blue shirt is GM Helmut Pfleger, one of the kibitzers

On one of the boards Garry had a problem, which he himself described thus:

At some point I realized that I was drifting into trouble in a game against one of the "Kasparov" brand models. If this machine scored a win or even a draw, people would be quick to say that I had thrown the game to get PR for the company, so I had to intensify my efforts. Eventually I found a way to “bluff” the machine with a dubious sacrifice that any modern chess computer would refute in a split-second. But in the good old days of computer chess (to me!) and in my spry youth I could keep coming back to the board fast enough to terrorize the machine with a mating attack.

The game he is referring to is the first on the replay board below. Garry annotated it for us and selected a few more he found especially interesting. You could sense the thrill he felt while running through the old games (ever hear Garry giggle?). "Wow, I was attacking all the time, in every game. What energy!" Well, you were 22 at the time, Garry.

Replay selected games

Select games from the dropdown menu above the board


At the time we were shooting mostly in black-and-white – and these images were scanned from prints

Garry vs Mephisto: on the left with the desktop computer is programmer Richard Lang
(Mesphisto, Chess Genius), behind Kasparov in the middle is Ed Schroeder (Rebel)

So here are the historic games, played exactly thirty years ago today. Think of it: at the time the parents of some of today's grandmaster were still kids. It is interesting to run through the games and try to fathom the progress that has been made in chess programming in the last three decades.

Replay all the games from the 1985 computer simul

Select games from the dropdown menu above the board

Today computers are, shall we say, considerably stronger. My latest Komodo 9, running on an eight core notebook, is well over 3000 Elo points in playing strength. That is against other computers, the only way we can measure its performance. I suspect that against humans, if anyone would agree to play it, Komodo would score even higher, simply because humans make mistakes, get tired and are easily discouraged, something that is not a factor in computer vs computer play.

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Garry Kasparov's new book

The ascension of Vladimir Putin – a former lieutenant colonel of the KGB – to the presidency of Russia in 1999 should have been a signal that the country was headed away from democracy. Yet in the intervening years – as America and the world's other leading powers have continued to appease him – Putin has grown not only into a dictator but a global threat. With his vast resources and nuclear weapons, Putin is at the center of a worldwide assault on political liberty.

For Garry Kasparov, none of this is news. He has been a vocal critic of Putin for over a decade, even leading the pro-democracy opposition to him in the farcical 2008 Presidential election. Yet years of seeing his Cassandra-like prophecies about Putin's intentions fulfilled have left Kasparov with the realization of a darker truth: Putin's Russia, like ISIS or Al Qaeda, defines itself in opposition to the free countries of the world. He is still fighting the Cold War, even as Americans have first moved beyond it, and over time, forgotten its lessons.

Lest we be drawn into another prolonged conflict, Kasparov now urges a forceful stand – diplomatic and economic – against him. For as long as the world's powerful democracies continue to recognize and negotiate with Putin, he can maintain credibility in his home country. He faces few strong enemies within his country, so meaningful opposition must come from abroad.

Argued with the force of Kasparov's world-class intelligence, conviction, and hopes for his home country, Winter is Coming is an unmistakable call to action against a threat we've ignored for too long.

You can pre-order Kasparov's book, which is due for release in October 2015,
in hardcover for $20 at Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, or IndiBound

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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priolo2 priolo2 6/9/2015 06:31
The Google (mis)translation of the original German is simply abysmal!
Come on Friedel "Google doing a fair job of translating it", really?!?! Do you believe so?
starso starso 6/8/2015 04:06

Why bother to buy new engines every time they are released? One can always use cloud engines. Anyway nice article. And no, not Kasparov has done good to chess image, Fischer did it. Kasparov stood on Fischer´s shoulders and took professional chess to another level. Professional chess didn´t get much respect before Fischer. And besides, Kasparov should still be fighting over the board, and not going after his personal crusade against Putin. Just my thoughts.
DeepGreen DeepGreen 6/8/2015 02:32
Great article!

"I wager that most players care little about the latest incarnation of Komodo or its 'adventures' against another silicon monster. "

I care. Better engine = Better analysis (or better analysis in a shorter amount of time). And it's fun to watch very strong engine play against each other (TCEC).
Wallace Howard Wallace Howard 6/7/2015 05:45
RE: "I wager that most players care little about the latest incarnation of Komodo or its 'adventures' against another silicon monster."

Well, I care. The stronger the engine, the better the analysis. When I'm preparing my opening repertoire or going through a game, I love having a strong GM available to guide me. But, of course, any modern engine running at full strength will beat me 100%. Just as any car will "outrun" me. It's a tool, not a "friend".
PEB216 PEB216 6/6/2015 09:49
No one has done more to improve the image of chess than Garry Kasparov.
Jarman Jarman 6/6/2015 05:25
Great article and photos - thanks for sharing your memories about the event too. I went through some of the games and I found myself smiling at some of the computer moves: they made me recall the old feeling when I understood they didn't have a clue about the position and it was still easy to outplay them.

Also, another example of why today Kasparov is held in such a high esteem: he was always ready to try new things and even here you can see why he had such a long-lasting impact on chess.
tom_70 tom_70 6/6/2015 05:21
I remember the good ole days of computer chess. It took me months to beat my radio shack 1850.
johnmk johnmk 6/6/2015 03:36
In those days computers were still fun because they made mistakes. I owned a Novag in the 80s. But today they've lost their charm. I wager that most players care little about the latest incarnation of Komodo or its 'adventures' against another silicon monster.
alekhina alekhina 6/6/2015 01:44
Did Kasparov and Karpov received something (prizes) after the Fide president cancelled the match?
The D M G The D M G 6/6/2015 01:41
Great article! However the google translation?... It mega-sucks!!!! To a german it may not seem so, since the engine has retained all german syntax and expressions and just blindly substituted words - to an english speaker it's abominal! No AI apparent.....
Karbuncle Karbuncle 6/6/2015 12:59
Fascinating stuff! I remember it was the Deep Blue match that actually sparked my interest in chess, and have been playing ever since!
walirlan walirlan 6/6/2015 12:23
Thanks a lot for this interesting article, pictures and games!!! Really it's a great read!