A LETTER FROM GARY KASPAROV (June 20/97)

“Dear Edwin,” the message began, “I would like to thank you very much for coming by the Club Kasparov website and taking time to register with us.”

I felt flattered. World chess champion Gary Kasparov e-mailing a personal note to yours truly brought elation… but only for a moment. I realised immediately that the message coming through my computer was the electronic equivalent of bulk mail. My name was on the email list and I received the message, probably along with thousands of other chess fans.

Now that I’ve put what silly old me first thought was a personal letter from the world champion in perspective, I must add that electronic bulk mail or not, the missive from Kasparov was revealing. The match versus Deep Blue, the most advanced computer of this age, was followed world-wide by chess players and non-players alike – most of whom were shocked when Kasparov was trounced.

Interviewed on television after the match, Kasparov acted like a poor sport. After his childish tirade, it would be interesting to see what he would have to say about the match when he had a chance to settle down and accept his defeat. Fans who had registered with the match web-site were told they would be favoured by Kasparov’s insights and these comments were eagerly awaited.

First of all, it is obvious from pre-match comments and Kasparov’s post-match letter that he didn’t expect to lose.

And it would seem from Kasparov’s comments that he lost the match because the computer surprised him by playing like a human rather than a machine. “What threw me off were some of the moves made by Deep Blue, which a normal computer would never make,” Kasparov said. “Machines usually don’t play some of the moves that were made in the match.”

Kasparov intimated that Deep Blue exhibited near human intelligence and an uncanny ability to adjust to changing game conditions. This apparently rattled him. Kasparov approached the match as if he was playing a machine; and he played in what best can be described as a man versus machine style. This wasn’t good enough for the computer, which must be the most refined electronic intelligence on the planet today.

What also may have rattled Kasparov is that he trusted the computer and, as a result, lost game two. In this game, Kasparov resigned in a drawn position because he assumed the computer had calculated correctly and he was lost. Immediately after he resigned, chess players from around the world e-mailed the drawing moves on the match site. “How can a machine which is able to see 20 ply (half moves) ahead miss a perpetual check?” Kasparov wailed.

Mr. Kasparov wants to play Deep Blue again – “I just challenged IBM for a rematch to take place later this year under slightly different conditions,” he said.

Different conditions? Yes. Kasparov wants the next match set up as if it were human versus human. First, the computer must play practice games Kasparov can study and a panel of humans must supervise the match and Deep Blue so there are “no suspicions whatsoever.” Kasparov didn’t say whether he expects Deep Blue to shake hands at the start of the match.

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