The Man vs. The Machine documentary

by Frederic Friedel
10/26/2014 – Nate Silver is a US statistician and writer who analyzes baseball and elections – with remarkable accuracy. He is currently the editor-in-chief of ESPN's FiveThirtyEight blog and a Special Correspondent for ABC News. On Wednesday Nate released a gripping 17-minute documentary on ESPN. It is about computer chess and Kasparov's ill-fated 1997 match against Deep Blue. Must watch.

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The Man Vs. The Machine, directed by Frank Marshall, explores Garry Kasparov's historic match vs. the IBM computer Deep Blue. The short (17-minute) film debuted on FiveThirtyEight on Wednesday and is produced as part of Signals, a digitial short series from ESPN. It features GM Maurice Ashley and Bruce Pandolfini, as well as Nate Silver.

FiveThirtyEight, which takes its name from the number of electors in the United States electoral college, is a polling aggregation website with a blog created by analyst Nate Silver. In became a licensed feature of The New York Times online in 2010 and taken over by ESPN in March 2014. Since 2008 the site has published articles – typically creating or analyzing statistical information – on a wide variety of topics in current politics and political news. These included a monthly update on the prospects for turnover in the U.S. Senate; federal economic policies; congressional support for legislation; public support for health care reform, global warming legislation, gay rights; elections around the world; marijuana legalization; and numerous other topics. The site and its creator are best known for election forecasts, including the 2012 presidential election in which FiveThirtyEight correctly predicted the vote winner of all 50 states. – More at Wikipedia.

Nate Silver is clearly interested in chess and specifically in computer chess. We advise you to reserve
17 minutes and 17 seconds of your Sunday time to watch this documentary in full-screen mode.

The documentary concentrated on Garry Kasparov's ill-fated match against Deep Blue. Six minutes and 15 seconds into the video there is discussion – by Maurice Ashley, Bruce Pandolfini, Nate Silver, Joel Benjamin – on Deep Blue's 44th move, which according to Nate was "so bad that Kasparov thought it was good" (and implying that Deep Blue was looking much deeper into positions than any human being was capable of). Judge for yourself if this is the case or there is any justification in say that. We have dug out some analysis by John Nunn in 1997 and which is archived in Mega Database. This can help you reach your own conclusions.

[Event "New York man vs machine"] [Site "New York"] [Date "1997.05.03"] [Round "1"] [White "Kasparov, Garry"] [Black "Comp Deep Blue"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2785"] [Annotator "Nunn,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4r3/8/2p3Pk/1p1r1P2/pP2p1R1/P1B5/2P2K2/8 w - - 0 44"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "1997.05.??"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "6"] [EventCountry "USA"] [Source "ChessBase/Mega Database"] [SourceDate "1997.11.17"] 44. f6 Rd1 {See Frederic's piece for an analysis of 44...Rf5+.} (44... Rf5+ 45. Kg3 (45. Ke2 Rg8 46. g7 Kh5 47. Rg2 Rf3 48. Bd4 Kh6 49. c3 Kh5 50. Rg1 Kh6 51. Rg4 Kh5 52. Rxe4 Rf5 53. Re6 Kg6 54. Rxc6 Re8+ 55. Kd2 Rh5 56. Re6 Rh2+ 57. Kd3 Rh3+ 58. Be3 Rd8+ 59. Ke4 Kf7 60. Rc6) (45. Ke3 $1 Rf3+ 46. Ke2 Rxc3 47. f7 Rd8 48. g7 Rxc2+ 49. Ke1 Rc1+ 50. Kf2 Rc2+ (50... e3+ 51. Kg2 e2 52. g8=Q Rxg8 53. fxg8=Q Rg1+ 54. Kf3 Rxg4 55. Qh8+ Kg6 56. Qe8+ Kf5 57. Qf7+ Ke5 58. Kxg4) 51. Kg3 Rc3+ 52. Kh4 Rc1 (52... Rd1 53. g8=N+) 53. g8=Q Rh1+ 54. Kg3 Rg1+ 55. Kf4 Rf1+ 56. Ke5 Rd5+ 57. Ke6 Rf6+ 58. Kxf6 Rd6+) 45... Rf3+ 46. Kh4 Rd8 47. f7 Rd5 ) 45. g7 {A well-played game by Kasparov, from both the chess and the psychological point of view.} 1-0

At eight minutes 35 seconds we get to see the documentary take on the fateful game two, which Maurice calls an "absolute positional masterpiece", and the suspicions that arose in Kasparov's mind when Deep Blue made the "hand of god" 36th move. Again we provide John Nunn's 1997 Megabase analysis for you to take another look at the critical position.

[Event "New York man vs machine"] [Site "New York"] [Date "1997.05.04"] [Round "2"] [White "Comp Deep Blue"] [Black "Kasparov, Garry"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C93"] [BlackElo "2785"] [Annotator "Nunn"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1r1qbk1/6p1/p2B1p1p/1p1PpP2/PPp5/2P4P/R1B2QP1/R5K1 b - - 0 35"] [PlyCount "21"] [EventDate "1997.05.??"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "6"] [EventCountry "USA"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1997.11.17"] 35... Bxd6 36. axb5 $1 ({It would be wrong to play Falsch wäre} 36. Qb6 Rd8 ( 36... Bc7 $2 37. Qe6+ Kh7 38. Qxe8 {wins gewinnt}) 37. axb5 Rab8 38. Qxa6 e4 { when, at the cost of two pawns, Black has developed considerable counterplay based on ...Qe5 and possibly ...e3. However, this is again a remarkable move by Deep Blue; most computers (including Fritz and Hiarcs) go for the material without hesitation. Did Deep Blue reject this line based on very deep analysis, is there some subtle programming involved?}) 36... axb5 37. Be4 {A cruel move. Black's only chance of counterplay is to activate his bishop by ...e4, but Deep Blue cuts the rope which might have saved the drowning Kasparov.} Rxa2 38. Qxa2 {This position is just lost. Black's bishop must stay on d6 to block the d5-pawn, but Black cannot both maintain this bishop and defend the weak pawn on b5. Black's total lack of counterplay is the deciding factor: White has plenty of time to slowly infiltrate with his queen and rook.} Qd7 39. Qa7 Rc7 ( {Or Oder} 39... Qxa7+ 40. Rxa7 Rd8 41. Ra5 Rb8 42. Ra6 Rd8 43. Rb6 {and the first pawn falls.}) 40. Qb6 Rb7 41. Ra8+ Kf7 42. Qa6 Qc7 43. Qc6 Qb6+ 44. Kf1 $2 (44. Kh1 $1 Rb8 45. Ra6 Qe3 (45... Qf2 46. Qxd6 Re8 47. Ra1) 46. Qxd6 Re8 47. Ra1 Qxe4 48. Ra7+ Kg8 49. Qd7 $18) 44... Rb8 45. Ra6 (45. Ra6 Qe3 $1 46. Qxd6 Re8 47. h4 h5 (47... Re7 48. Bf3 Qc1+ 49. Kf2 Qd2+ 50. Kg3 Qe1+ 51. Kg4 h5+ 52. Kxh5 Qg3 53. Qe6+ Rxe6 54. dxe6+ Kg8 55. Ra8+ Kh7 56. Rh8+ Kxh8 57. e7 Kh7 58. e8=Q $18) 48. Bf3 Qc1+ 49. Kf2 Qd2+ 50. Be2 Qf4+ $11) 45... h5 1-0

If you get really interested in the narrative of the documentary and the subject itself you can read Nate's very profound chapter on computer chess in his book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don't or look for "Nate Silver" in Youtube. The latter comes with a warning: you can easily spend the rest of the day listening to Nate. Or explore the news for his predictions of the US mid-term elections (it doesn't look great for Democrats).

Whatever you decide: have a good Sunday!



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.