Pastimes

Chess
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Today in Philadelphia, Garry Kasparov begins a six-game match against Deep Blue, the world's fastest and most elaborate chess computer. In its previous incarnation as Deep Thought, the program could calculate at a rate of roughly 2.5m positions a second. Then IBM got to work on the project and have souped it up so that Deep Blue will be, if all goes well, the equivalent of 256 Deep Thoughts working in parallel.

The monster's first outing at the end of last year was rather disappointing, when it failed to win the World Computer Championship. The fault, however, was not with Deep Blue but with the people who had programmed its opening book.

Machines still seem to need the benefit of years of human experience, so they are plugged into what is supposedly the latest opening theory. At the World Computer Championships, however, Deep Blue found itself stranded in a very sharp position it simply did not understand. When its opponent played a move that was not in its book, it responded weakly and was lost within a couple of moves.

Over the next week, Kasparov will, in all probability, discover more positions that the machine does not understand. This encounter, which is being played for the first time under normal match conditions and a slow time- control, comes too early in Deep Blue's career. Give it a year to sit alone, analyse the openings and write its own book, and then we may see the end of human domination of chess.

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