'Brains in Bahrain:' Man and Machine Call It Quits

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Game 8, October 19

In the eighth and final game of their two-week competition in Bahrain, the exhausted human world champion and the unflappable computer agreed to a draw on the twenty-second move. The see-saw-like match — Kramnik dominated the first half and Deep Fritz rallied in the second half — ended up a tie, four games to four, and therefore did not resolve the burning question of whether man or machine plays better chess. Kramnik wants a rematch, but before he gets another shot, Garry Kasparov, his former teacher and arch rival, will take on one of Deep Fritz's cousins, the Israeli program Deep Junior, in a match in Jerusalem in December.

Woodpushers around the world who were watching Game 8 on the Web were disappointed that Kramnik, the pre-match favorite, did not crush the silicon beast. Chess players were angry at the Russian grand master for calling a truce without a fight. "There should be a new rule," said Tony Rook, host of the Web site http://chess.fm. "If you draw before move 30, you're barred from chess for life."

The game started off promising enough. The opening was a Queen's Gambit Declined, and Kramnik achieved a position in which he had an "isolated queen pawn" — a foot soldier in the center of the board with no comrades on the two adjacent files. In the past, Kramnik has been a master at exploiting such positions. Although an isolated pawn can become weak in the endgame, because it cannot be defended by another pawn, it is often an asset in the middlegame when the open files adjacent to it can serve as staging ramps for a strong attack. But Kramnik never got an assault going. He shook his head unhappily and settled for a peace treaty after a mere hour and fifty minutes of play.

"I am just exhausted," Kramnik said at the press conference afterward. "It was a very difficult match. I was trying my best, but today, I couldn't manage to do anything to beat Deep Fritz. I didn't sleep so well last night and if you cannot catch the computer out, at the opening of the game, you don't stand much of a chance." The champion said that he was surprised by the program's strength. "It is not just strong in terms of calculations, which is to be expected," he said, "but in terms of positional moves. It plays like a very strong human. These are human moves."

"The next generation of Fritz will benefit immensely from this tournament," said Frederic Friedel, one of the program's creators. "We constantly asked ourselves if Fritz is better than the world champion. In a few years, I think it will be. Deep Fritz is tactically a monster and will always put you under pressure."

Kramnik thinks that the day when computers rule is further away. "I believe that we humans still have some years yet before we cannot beat the computers," he said. "But this scientific experiment was very interesting and I was satisfied with my play, which was at a very decent level, but unfortunately only good enough for a draw. I hope that in the future I will win. I have learned a lot from this, but of course so has my opponent."


Kramnik-Deep Fritz
Game 8
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 O-O 7. Bd3 Nbd7 8. O-O dxc4 9. Bxc4 Nd5 10. Bxe7 Qxe7 11. Rc1 Nxc3 12. Rxc3 e5 13. Bb3 exd4 14. exd4 Nf6 15. Re1 Qd6 16. h3 Bf5 17. Rce3 Rae8 18. Re5 Bg6 19. a3 Qd8 20. Rxe8 Nxe8 21. Qd2 1/2-1/2



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