'Brains in Bahrain' report: Kramnik is All Too Human

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Ali Fraidoon/AP

Ready to Rumble: Kramnik at the start of 'Brains in Bahrain'

Game 5, October 12

Vladimir Kramnik made the worst blunder of his career and arguably the biggest error ever made by a world chess champion. He lost a knight in a one-move combination on the thirty-fourth move and resigned immediately. It was Deep Fritz's first victory. Although the silicon beast still trails in the eight-game match two games to three, the momentum is now clearly in its favor. Kramnik's play was shaky in the previous game, and here it was unrecognizable. "He had a total hallucination," commented William Paschall, an international master in Massachusetts. "There is just no other way to explain it. He made an unreal blunder."

For the first time in the match, Fritz began by advancing its queen pawn two squares. This normally leads to quieter positions than the advance of the king pawn, which the machine had preferred in the earlier games. In the resulting opening, called the Queen's Gambit Declined, Fritz emerged with a slight advantage and kept the champion under pressure. Kramnik tried to exchange queens to simplify the position, a strategy that had previously served him well. But the machine slyly avoided the exchange and headed toward an endgame where it would have had one more pawn than Kramnik, who would be relegated to a long, tortuous defense to achieve a draw at best. To ward off the difficult endgame, Kramnik again offered a queen swap but he overlooked that he would loose his knight.

After the game, a dejected Kramnik did his best to appear unfazed. "I do not blunder often," he told the spectators. "It's not a big problem. I just need to be more concentrated. Such things can happen any time." He conceded that he was tired. "We will go back to the hotel," he said, "and reconsider our approach."

The grand masters who were watching said that it may be psychologically difficult for him to recover from such a colossal mistake. In the next game, they said, he'll waste time and energy second-guessing even obvious moves. Although Kramnik hung himself in this game, the machine deserves credit for putting him under so much stress that he collapsed. "Nobody sets up stuff like that Vampire," said Russian grand master Peter Svidler.

Deep Fritz - Kramnik Game 5 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 0-0 7.e3 Ne4 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.cxd5 Nxc3 10.bxc3 exd5 11.Qb3 Rd8 12.c4 dxc4 13.Bxc4 Nc6 14.Be2 b6 15.0-0 Bb7 16.Rfc1 Rac8 17.Qa4 Na5 18.Rc3 c5 19.Rac1 cxd4 20.Nxd4 Rxc3 21.Rxc3 Rc8 22.Rxc8+ Bxc8 23.h3 g6 24.Bf3 Bd7 25.Qc2 Qc5 26.Qe4 Qc1+ 27.Kh2 Qc7+ 28.g3 Nc4 29.Be2 Ne5 30.Bb5 Bxb5 31.Nxb5 Qc5 32.Nxa7 Qa5 33.Kg2 Qxa2 34.Nc8 Qc4 35.Ne7+ White wins 1-0

Paul Hoffman writes about games for "The New Yorker". His next book, "Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight", will be published in the spring