'Brains in Bahrain': Kramnik Tries to Be a Viper

  • Share
  • Read Later
Game 6, October 15

One week ago the human world champion was bulldozing the computer, but now Deep Fritz, after today's victory, has evened the score at three points apiece. There are two games left and $1-million is at stake — not to mention the restoration of human dignity. Vladimir Kramnik's fellow grand masters hope that he will win the competition and avenge the loss of the previous world champion, Garry Kasparov, to an IBM supercomputer five years ago. "If he wins, we'll have something to be proud of again," said Alexander Baburin, editor of the Internet chess daily www.chesstoday.net.

Kramnik's supporters who watched Game 6 unfold over nearly four hours were in for an emotional roller-coaster ride. Before any moves were played, the champion was all smiles and his handlers suggested that he would easily win the $1-million match by milking his then one-game advantage and simply drawing the last three games. The Fritz team insisted that it would not be so easy for the world champion to play the calculating monster to a draw. "We are going to go down fighting," said Frederic Friedel, "he'll be nervous after [his loss in] game 5 and we'll keep the pressure on him."

Kramnik had the benefit of moving first and emerged from the opening, a Queen's Indian Defense, with an advantage. But the position was complex and sharp, with the queens still on the board, and that's what the wily machine likes. Kramnik could have improved the placement of his pieces, slowly strangling Fritz with the python-like play that had succeeded in the first half of the match. But in a sign of possible trouble, he took an uncharacteristically long time on his fourteenth move ("Vlad thinking here is not a good omen for those rooting for living creatures," said Russian grand master Peter Svidler) and an extraordinary 42 minutes on the seventeenth move. With his clock still running, Kramnik suddenly "popped up from the chessboard," said match commentator Mig Greengard, and ran with his bodyguard Aziz to the bathroom in his boudoir. (Evidently the restroom is a fine place for chess inspiration; one sequence of opening moves is known in the chess literature as the Toilet Variation because that is where its creator came up with it.) When the relaxed-looking champion returned to the board, he immediately centralized his knight and then two moves later, to the astonishment of the spectators, quickly sacrificed the knight to open lines for a direct attack on Fritz's king.

"This is going to be good," said international master William Paschall. "This is the kind of fighting chess you want to see. Vlad the Python has become Vlad the Viper. He wants to take the machine out tactically. He can't resist the temptation to try to beat the computer at its own game."

Greengard was less confident. "This is exactly how grand masters used to lose to computers all the time. Great sacrifices for great positions and then remarkable computer defense. Can Vlady really pull this off? He's a super-hero if he can."

Eight moves later, the computer's king was still exposed but it had defended brilliantly with a precise series of improbable moves, and no one could see how Kramnik could checkmate it. "There is a difference between playing exciting chess and playing cavalierly," said a disappointed Paschall. On the twenty-seventh move, Kramnik reached out as if he was going to move a piece but suddenly withdrew his hand. He cradled his head and started talking to himself. "He must be very tired, playing this Thing," Swidler commented.

On the thirty-third move, the Thing forced an exchange of queens — a cruel irony because it was the swapping of ladies that led to Kramnik's victory in two prior games. But in this position, the royal exchange ended Kramnik's attack and left the computer with a decisive material advantage. One move later, with Fritz threatening to queen a pawn, the world champion resigned. "I am not so depressed," Kramnik said afterward. "The result is not positive, but the game was a pleasure. I enjoyed the game. It was so beautiful." Other grand masters were dejected; they fear that the world champion has gone mad, as Kasparov did when facing Deep Blue in 1997. Perhaps the most nervous player of all is the anonymous British grand master who wagered 5,000 Euros on Kramnik on the gambling Web site www.betsson.com.

Kramnik-Deep Fritz
Game 6
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Bg2 c6 8. Bc3 d5 9. Ne5 Nfd7 10. Nxd7 Nxd7 11. Nd2 O-O 12. O-O Rc8 13. a4 Bf6 14. e4 c5 15.exd5 cxd4 16. Bb4 Re8 17. Ne4 exd5 18. Nd6 dxc4 19. Nxf7 Kxf7 20. Bd5+ Kg6 21.Qg4+ Bg5 22. Be4+ Rxe4 23. Qxe4+ Kh6 24. h4 Bf6 25. Bd2+ g5 26. hxg5+ Bxg5 27.Qh4+ Kg6 28. Qe4+ Kg7 29. Bxg5 Qxg5 30. Rfe1 cxb3 31. Qxd4+ Nf6 32. a5 Qd5 33.Qxd5 Nxd5 34. axb6 axb6 0-1

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