Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WAS KASPAROV A PAWN IN IBM’s GAME?

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[From the STMcC archive; written on September 7, 2006.]



























Did GARRY KASPAROV, the world’s greatest chess player, get rooked when he lost a six-game match to IBM’s supercomputer, DEEP BLUE, in 1997? That’s the question that this padded, but nonetheless interesting documentary asks you to consider.

I wasn’t even aware of GAME OVER: KASPAROV AND THE MACHINE until I stumbled over it while Amazon surfing last week. When I was unable to locate a VHS rental copy, I actually bought my first DVD player (NOT made in China, India, or Indonesia) just so I could view this.

If you have little or no interest in chess (the world’s greatest game!) then there is no chance you’ll find watching the 85 minutes of GAME OVER well spent. On the other hand, if chess fascinates, or even interests you, you’ll find the movie flawed but somewhat intriguing.

I got into chess as a result of the high profile 1972, Fischer versus Spassky match. Later in 1972, I joined the chess club at my junior high school and won the club championship in a three-game match. (But interestingly, the player who most intimidated me was blind. He was a “Chess Game Wizard.”) Back then, I wanted to be ranked a Master by the age of 16, but other interests began vying for my time and attention: art, girls, and sports, and the art of watching girls in shorts play sports! I never became more than mediocre at best in chess, but I never lost all interest in it either. Nor in watching girls play beach volleyball. ;o)






















Of this movie’s hour and a half running time, likely 50% of it is unnecessary filler. We get shots of Kasparov revisiting the locales less than 10 years later; the same footage over and over of an old chess-playing contraption; shots of New York City ad nauseam, etc. As Christopher Lloyd playing the part of Max Taber said in the movie, 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest': "Play the game and knock off the bullshit." A little atmosphere is fine, but too much of it slows down an already slow contest.

The crux of Kasparov’s argument follows: After beating DEEP BLUE handily in Game One, in which the computer played a very mathematical, machine-like style, it made a “creative judgment” in Game Two which the man, Kasparov, was certain could only be made by a “man.” Subsequently, he became so unnerved – convinced that a human mind was responsible for that move (i.e., he was playing against not just a machine, but also one or more unseen Grand Masters) – that he prematurely conceded Game Two, which possibly cost him a draw and ultimately the match.

If chess was purely mathematical, I - the most mathematically-challenged person on the planet - would have never won a game. There are rich, creative and psychological elements to chess – it is NOT strictly mechanical, not just “black and white”, despite the colors of the pieces. It is closer to music than it is to algebra. I have no math skills whatsoever, but I’m extremely analytical and I discern patterns in things. And I can be quite a fearsome psych warrior! As a novice playing against novices, I frequently swapped queens when the only advantage to me was psychological: beginners – and even some half decent players – mentally surrender once they’ve lost their queen. But I KNEW I could win without her, and it only made me bear down and concentrate more. I’ve always been at my best under pressure. But does a computer “got game” when it comes to those additional chess factors?

When in Game Two, KASPAROV offered up a pawn (or two?) in order to gain a positional advantage in another sector of the board, and DEEP BLUE declined to take the piece, Kasparov became suspicious and lost his composure. It was as if a dog passed up ground beef because it “speculated” that there might be filet mignon three blocks away. Is a dog (or computer) capable of that kind of “thought”? Or will it immediately take the first gift offered? How can it sniff out a stratagem from a mistake? Well, Deep Blue saying, “Thanks, but no thanks” made Kasparov deeply blue. The rest is history.

I really wish that the filmmaker had dispensed with 15 minutes of superfluous “atmosphere” shots and spent it really analyzing that key move in Game Two. (One of the DVD’s Special Features replays all of the games with very basic commentary on each move, but no mention is made of the questionable moment in Game Two or of the importance it held.) What was Kasparov really attempting to accomplish by sacrificing a pawn or two? How obvious was the advantage in position that he would have gained? How much “creative thinking” did Deep Blue have to perform in order to “see through the ground beef”? How did the computer go from mechanical playing to “humanistic” playing overnight? Was IBM playing chess games with Kasparov, or playing mind games with him? You’ll never know until you check, mate!

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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8 comments:

Anniee451 said...

One thing to keep in mind with regard to your subject is that these guys are not only brain-fried, most of them are cuckoo. It's what Waitzkin saw in the older set, what has been documented by writers who talk to and meet with these older masters, what likely happened to Fischer, and what Waitzkin didn't want to happen to his son. Which it didn't.

I'm saying that because Kasprov could have been paranoid here. I'm not saying he surely was, as I honestly don't know if his coming positional advantage was that obvious or not; had the game played mathematically through the first time because it was programmed to do that and to learn through observation, I really don't know. But if you ever read about the "Cuil" experimental programming with search engines, computers are a lot dumber than we think. This engine was supposed to pull ALL the information on a given topic, eliminate all the duplications, and spit it back to you reorganized. Well...the way it reorganized things was the way it will always be when a computer tries to think - it came back in bizarrely juxtaposed sentence fragments mashed together and making no sense. So this idea that the computer learned from the first game and was able to apply the knowledge...yeah, it's more like sci-fi than the reality. Even though they're building programs where the computer does our reading for us, and the computer does our writing for us...basically we don't read or write anything; the net's just gonna be here talking to itself - and it isn't going to make any sense, because it can't use that knowledge and we can. This ain't the Matrix. (It's the COMBINE!) So in that sense I'd be willing to take the crazy guy's word for it into consideration.

"(But interestingly, the player who most intimidated me was blind. He was a “Chess Game Wizard.”)

That is so fascinating! I've always been fascinated by these prodigies - from Mozart and what he was doing at 4 years old, to Helen Keller's autobiography (I didn't even know how a person could THINK without eyes OR ears, but she was smart before she ever said "Waaa...waaa" Just amazing; I wish I could have seen him play. How do they do it?

Anniee451 said...

Continued...


"Nor in watching girls play beach volleyball. ;o)"

Your California is showing ;) Heh, girls here are too busy getting high or drinking under the boardwalk to bother with volleyball. Which reminds me, I'm due for a look at the ocean; maybe I can get out this weekend sometime.

"If chess was purely mathematical, I - the most mathematically-challenged person on the planet - would have never won a game. There are rich, creative and psychological elements to chess – it is NOT strictly mechanical, not just “black and white”, despite the colors of the pieces. It is closer to music than it is to algebra."

I agree; have you ever tried to figure out chord progression? I play keyboard (ok, I dabble; we used to have an Organ and I used to sit on it for hours at a time, so I took it up again with keyboards as an adult. Anyway, chords are simple enough, until you need to do a progression...then it all goes to hell. And I'm gifted at math, but math doesn't help you at chord progression and it doesn't help you much with chess. Our minds can't hold trillions of possibilities anyway, which is why there are various "standard" opening and midgame moves (but still, even those come from masters, so someone thought them up, as well as their various defenses). But a computer even less so. You can put in various parameters for moves in X situation but there's only so far that can take you. And the computer can't *really* think.

Although a friend of mine was blown away by a computer that asked a question. They were "teaching" it, giving it the bios and information on various important people through the years and it eventually asked if all human beings were remarkable. Yes, tinhead, they are. He took that like we'd take the second coming - computers learn! They think! Yeah, no, not really. They're not sentient no matter how many movies you see.

"beginners – and even some half decent players – mentally surrender once they’ve lost their queen"

Not if I'm up other material on you. Even if you still kill me (which you probably would; I'm really bad) the queen is great and all that, but a rook and a bishop and a pawn are mighty powerful too. Of course I end up doing the checkers approach - trade pieces until neither of you has enough for a mate, then game over LOL.

We have another game - in fact we have the *prototype* of this other game - called Farook...it's a self-contained drawstring felt "bag" that you open out to the game board and it has all the pieces in there - those flat-bottomed glass things; white, red and clear blue IIRC. It's been a while, maybe it's black white and clear blue. The clear ones are special. That game is amazingly like chess in its operation, though it's a bit simpler it's extremely deceiving as to how "simple" it really is. Assuredly NOT as "simple" as it sounds or looks. That's much like chess; if computer games hadn't taken over everything, I think it really would have caught on.

But at least I have one prototype of something awesomely cool.

Anniee451 said...

Here it is, and in Mensa Select! http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/6345/farook

Good on Stewart, he made a go of it.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Part 1 Of 2:

ANNIEE ~

>>> . . . I'm saying that because Kasprov could have been paranoid here. I'm not saying he surely was, as I honestly don't know if his coming positional advantage was that obvious or not; had the game played mathematically through the first time because it was programmed to do that and to learn through observation, I really don't know.

Well, the IBM (strikes one through three, if you axe me) blokes claim they reprogrammed the computer after the first game.

Kasparov says it immediately went from playing like a machine to playing like a Grand Master (a seriously thinking “person”). So much so that he freaked out. Sounds suspicious to me. (Never thought I’d see the day I’d trust a Russian. But a Russian vs. an American Mega-Corporation? Yeah, OK, maybe side with the Russian, provided he’s not an avowed communist.)

>>> . . . "(But interestingly, the player who most intimidated me was blind. He was a “Chess Game Wizard.”)
>>> . . . That is so fascinating! I've always been fascinated by these prodigies…

Yeah, his last name was Katz and I found him intimidating, and ordinarily, I’m not easily intimidated.

First of all, you had to play him on a special board where a metal rod protruded from the bottom of each piece and fit into a hole on the board, so that he could run his hands all over the pieces without knocking them down.

Secondly, I had never played him before, but I had watched him play other guys and I knew he was good.

And lastly, I wasn’t so sure that not being able to see the pieces was such a disadvantage. One can see something and then forget what they just saw almost immediately - just ask cops who interview eyewitnesses to a crime and learn how much they somehow fail to see, or see but aren’t totally confident about it soon after. Also, think of all the times we look at our wristwatch, and then immediately have to look again because we’ve already forgotten what we just saw.

I wondered if not being able to see the pieces but being able to run your hands over them all might not help to lock their positions into your mind somehow.

It was my fear of the unknown that most frightened me. But I can still remember hoping someone might bump him off before I had to face him (although his facing me wouldn’t have bothered him in the least since he wouldn’t have even seen my face).

I can’t even remember now whether or not I had to play him. But I know he wasn’t the guy I had to play in the Final Match, for that guy’s name was Boone. I won the first game, lost the second, and made a comeback to clinch the match in the third game.

Continued Below...

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Part 2 Of 2:

>>> . . . Your California is showing

Ha! "I wish they all could be California girls"!

>>> . . . Heh, girls here are too busy getting high or drinking under the boardwalk to bother with volleyball.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

>>> . . . "beginners – and even some half decent players – mentally surrender once they’ve lost their queen"
Not if I'm up other material on you. Even if you still kill me (which you probably would; I'm really bad) the queen is great and all that, but a rook and a bishop and a pawn are mighty powerful too.

Maybe not you necessarily. But you’d need to prove that to me. A lot of players tried to “act” like losing their queen meant nothing to them, but their words and their attitude meant nothing when I could literally see them lose their focus in the game. Really good players, of course, wouldn’t be affected by a queen-trade, but neophytes and semi-decent players often have a (hidden) mental breakdown about it.

And yeah, I love my rooks (hate losing rooks), but give me a knight over a bishop any day! Yeah, I know a bishop is "officially" worth a little more because it covers more ground, but a knight can be the most fru-uuuu-strating fre-eeee-aking piece on a board when it is well used. Hell, even when my opponent's knight is just sitting there doing nothing, it’s almost always a royal pain-in-the-arse! Always in my way, always upsetting my plans! Don’t forget that the knight is the one piece on the board that can make moves that even the queen can’t make!

Many’s the time I offered up one of my bishops simply to remove an opponent’s knight from the board. I LOVE MY KNIGHTS, and I absolutely HATE yours! :o)

>>> . . . Of course I end up doing the checkers approach - trade pieces until neither of you has enough for a mate, then game over LOL.

Ha! Not exactly a “winning” strategy, but it tells me I’d have to make every effort to try to checkmate you early! (That means I'm probably going to make that queen-trade with you at my first opportunity. :o)

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’

DiscConnected said...

Stephen-this is more in response to Anniee...

I spent my high school and college years GETTING girls drunk and/or high under the South Jersey boardwalk, so please, do not distract Jersey girls with beach sports.

And if you have a daughter, might I recommend keeping her off the beach altogether?

Stephen-I would not call chess mathematical, but highly logical. However, there is an art to strategy, which might have been where the left side of your brain (or is that the side focused on beach volleyball and drunk boardwalk girls?) found enjoyment.

I have not played chess in years. For a few years I tried to learn Go, a Japanese strategy game, but never found anyone interested, and there's only so good you get playing a computer.

Now my brain struggles with anything more complex than Chutes And Ladders.

LC

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

DISCDUDE ~
Yeah, I think people generally tend to associate chess with mathematical-like thinking. But if that were really the case, I would have been awfully bad at it. I wasn't good, but I wasn't bad either.

And although I haven't played a game in maybe 4 years, I will ALWAYS love the game of chess. I think it appeals to that highly analytical part of my brain that never gets turned off.

Back in the days when I played Wiffle Ball regularly, my favorite strike out pitch was the change-up. I couldn't get away with that against Nappy because he'd hammer my change-up into the year 2025.

But I could sucker other hitters with it. If given a choice, rather than discombobulate the hitter with a wide-breaking curveball or blow him away with the heater for strike three, I would rather see him swinging about three days early on my change-up.

There was just something so egotistically satisfying when I totally out-thunk the hitter and surprised him with a change-up when he was looking for a fastball with a 2-strike count. I got greater satisfaction out of beating the hitter with my mind (an unexpected change-up) than overpowering him in a one-on-one contest of physical ability (the fastball).

For me, the attraction of chess is the exact same thing. It's all mind vs. mind - not can I overpower my opponent? But can I strategically out-think him? To me, when those victories come, they are just so much more satisfying than a physical victory.

I've always loved all sorts of games - Monopoly, Clue, Balderdash, Apples To Apples, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Checkers, ALL of them. But without a doubt, chess is the greatest game ever invented. Even when I lost, if it was a back-and-forth, touch-and-go competition, I always enjoyed the heck out of it.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Anniee451 said...

Hehe, Discman - sounds like you had a lot of fun. Fortunately my daughter isn't very interested in the beach. What beach did you go to? Wildwood? Atlantic City? Cape May? (Hmm, I don't know if they have a boardwalk; I've never been there.)

Go is a rough game to learn. I couldn't catch the hang of it either, even though it was close to another game we had, called Pente. Then again we were no good at that either.

Stephen, I was raised to love games too. All sorts of card games, esp. cribbage and Pitch, as well as any board game you can think of. Even some games that you played alone. So I continued when I had kids. Mancala sets, board games (name one and we had it), Pit (which was cool because you got a bell), every game there was.

The evolution of the Game of Life has been interesting. They change it as the years go by.