May 2007 is the 10th anniversary of the epic man versus machine chess match throw-down, when Grandmaster Garry Kasparov went head-to-head against IBM supercomputer Deep Blue.

In a series of six games played between May 3-11, 1997, Kasparov was beaten by the machine, 3.5-2.5, the first time a computer had ever defeated a reigning world champion in a match under standard chess tournament time controls. Kasparov had played an earlier iteration of Deep Blue in 1996, winning handily by a score of 4-2, but IBM engineers had heavily upgraded the computer for the rematch; furthermore, the rules allowed IBM to modify Deep Blue’s programming between matches, to adjust for weaknesses in the computer’s game that became apparent as the match progressed. Kasparov was also denied access to Deep Blue’s earlier games; the Deep Blue programmers, on the other hand, had access to hundreds of Kasparov’s matches.

After the loss, Kasparov claimed he had detected characteristics in the computer’s game that led him to believe human chess players were responsible for the computer’s moves. IBM denied cheating, but refused Kasparov’s demands for a printout of the computer’s log; they also declined his offer of a rematch and instead retired Deep Blue.

Ten years later, many programs designed to run on an average PC can defeat most master players under standard tournament conditions, while the best commercial programs have surpassed even world-champion-level players at blitz and short time control games. Programs like Rybka, Shredder and Fritz now consistently compete well against top human players, while the development of chess-playing software has become something of a competition in itself, with numerous computer chess tournaments now being held. Some observers believe that within a few years, computers will consistently defeat even the best human chess players.

Until his retirement in 2005, Kasparov continued to challenge himself against computer opponents, with moderate success. In January 2003, he played a six-game match against Deep Junior that ended in a draw; in November of the same year, he faced off against a version of the chess program Fritz with similar results. In June of that year, Mindscape released Kasparov Chessmate for the PC, Mac and Palm OS.

You may also like