Man's triumph over machine brings relief - but seeds of doubt are sown

 

IN THE end it was all too easy for Garry Kasparov. The surprising win in the first game for the IBM computer, Deep Blue, hinted that perhaps this machine with its incredible powers in instant analysis might prove more than even the greatest contemporary player in the world could cope with.

These fears eventually proved groundless. But perhaps the seeds of doubt concerning Kasparov's invincibility were sown in Philadelphia last week.

The world champion levelled the match by winning a marathon second game. Two draws followed in games three and four and so with two games remaining in this short match it was all to play for with the scores tied at two points each.

Kasparov realised immediately after his initial reverse that the way to overcome the machine was not by all out aggression, where every slight miscalculation would be aptly punished by the computer's impeccable analysis; but rather by a waiting policy in nondescript positions.

So in the crucial fifth game, where Deep Blue would have the initiative of playing the white pieces for the last time, the world champion discarded his habitual Sicilian defence in favour of an open game.

The computer's choice of the four knights defence rather than the Ruy Lopez opening, which would yield a more enduring initiative, must have come as a pleasant surprise for Kasparov. Against a player of the world champion's calibre the four knights defence carries no terrors and the chances of forcing a winning advantage with the convention are virtually, non existent.

Kasparov's offer of a draw on move 23 was rejected without any real justification by Deep Blue's handlers. Thereafter, the machine drifted aimlessly, which is always a risky policy against a player of Kasparov's ability and ambition.

The outcome was predictable with the world champion gaining the upper hand and eventually scoring a vital win after 47 moves. With the white pieces in the sixth and final game, and requiring only a draw to win the match, Kasparov was in a position he could scarcely have anticipated after the opening game.

Disdaining the temptation toe take a safe sure draw and kill off the match, the world champion opened up position, won the tactical battle and scored another win for a decisive if flattering four points to two winning margin.

This deserved victory for the human player over a sophisticated machine will be widely welcomed with a sense of relief, but some foreboding that perhaps 10 years hence, even players of Kasparov's exceptional ability will find an updated version of Deep Blue too much to handle.

For his week's labours, Kasparov collected a worthwhile reward of almost half a million dollars and his unbeaten match record, stretching back to 1984, remains intact.

Reuter reports from Pittsburgh: "I feel I did a good job for chess first and probably for mankind," said Kasparov after his win. "I still believe we should co operate with the machines and implement our way of thinking and benefit from that rather than take a hostile view," said the Russian grandmaster.