Calculating monster bamboozles Kramnik Chess With Errol Towari
Stabroek News
December 3, 2006

Related Links: Articles on chess
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Vladimir Kramnik, the Russian Grandmaster who captured the World Chess Championship title from Garry Kasparov, is currently playing the Chess Base computer programme Deep Fritz in a six game match in Germany's Art and Exhibition Hall in Bonn.

Three games have been completed. The first and third were drawn, and Fritz took Game II following a massive blunder by Kramnik.

Kramnik stands to win a prize of US$1 million for a win in the match thereby doubling his starting fee of US $500,000. But with Fritz one up in the six game match, this seems unlikely.

When asked how he estimated his chances against the machine, Kramnik reacted cautiously: "Fritz examines millions of moves per second. It is extraordinarily difficult to play against such a calculating monster. Right from the start you are walking on a very narrow ridge, and you know that any inattentiveness will be your downfall. It is a scientific experiment and I will have to fight very hard for my chance".

This is Kramnik's first challenge over the chessboard since he defeated Bulgaria's Veselin Topalov in the Unification World Championship Match.

At the drawing of lots, Kramnik secured White in the first game and so had the first move. He employed the Catalan Opening to secure a simplified and symmetrical position which had some chances for a long-term edge in the game. According to International Master and British chess analyst Malcolm Pein, it was an ideal position to have against a machine that calculates up to 10 million positions and is seeing nine moves ahead for both sides.

Today's generation of computer programmes do not make elementary mistakes, and Deep Fritz managed its pawn weaknesses on the Kingside to defend comfortably and draw the game.

In Game II, Kramnik, playing the Black pieces, made a catastrophic blunder that is unprecedented for a World Champion, and allowed checkmate in one move. That colossal blunder may well cost Kramnik US$1/2 million. If he draws the remaining three games he loses the match and the money.

International Master Malcolm Pein who is covering the match for England's DAILY TELEGRAPH newspaper described the 1/2 million dollar blunder like this:

"The computer leads the best of the six game contest 1 1/2 - 1/2 after the World Champion left the audience at the Bonn Museum aghast as he thought for a few minutes and then played his 34th move. I guess he thought he was actually winning because he reportedly played the move calmly, picked up his cup and was strolling to his rest room when he became aware of a slight commotion and realised his mistake."

Online viewers assumed it was perhaps a mistake perpetrated by the move relayer. it was all the more tragic as Kramnik had played anti-computer chess and brought the computer to the brink of defeat although at the point he blundered, the position was theoretically drawn with correct play on both sides.

At Bahrain in 2002 when man and machine drew 4-4, Kramnik resigned in a position that later turned out to be drawn, just as Kasparov had done against Deep Blue in 1997.

It is clear these Man Vs Machine matches are very difficult for humans. The computer does not blink and never blunders. Computers are beaten by long term plans and manoeuvres.

White threatens checkmate with one Queen move (Qh7.) Black can avoid the mate by moving the King to g8. Black overlooks the mate and plays ....Qe3???, and most likely loses US$1/2 million with the move.

The match ends on Wednesday.