Chess: Kasparov is the only man able to beat Fritz

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TWENTY YEARS ago, computer programmers were saying that the world chess champion would lose to a machine within 10 years. Grandmasters were saying 10 years ago that no computer would ever play chess at their level. Both were wrong.

High-level human thought in chess is based on strategic concepts derived from experience. When putting black pawns on c5, d6 and e5, for example, we learn to judge whether the hole at d5 is a serious liability. We do not need to calculate 10 or 20 moves ahead until an enemy piece lands there. Which is fortunate, because our minds could never scale such mountains of calculation.

Computers, while unable to simulate our grasp of strategic ideas, are very good at doing the sums. But even thinking at a rate of a million moves a second, machines are still making errors that are elementary by human standards.

When Intel sponsored the World Chess Express Challenge in Munich last Friday, they could never have hoped for such a good advertisement for their high-speed Pentium processor. It turned a good computer - Fritz 2 - into a world beater.

In a day of five-minute games, it beat Kasparov, Short, Anand, Kramnik and Gelfand. Finally, Fritz 2 and Kasparov shared first place. Kasparov won the play-off by 4-1, but it is only a matter of time before the machine overtakes even him.

Tomorrow we shall look at Fritz's win against Nigel Short. Meanwhile, here's a sobering thought: Fritz 2 can examine more positions during a single game than a human being can in an entire lifetime.