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The next few weeks will see two important skirmishes in man's long-running - and eventually doomed - chess war against machines. In the Netherlands, the annual Aegon tournament has just begun, pitting 50 humans of various strengths against 50 computer programs. Over the past few years, the machines have performed better each time and last year won a convincing victory. Humans are beginning to develop good anti-silicon strategies, but the machines will still start as clear favourites again.

That test will be a barometer for a more serious event in May, when Garry Kasparov plays his return match with the IBM super-computer Deep Blue. Last year, Kasparov beat the beast 4-2 after creating a major sensation by losing the first game. This time, they say, Deep Blue will be faster and better prepared.

Deep Blue is just beginning to reach the stage at which massive calculating power - it can look at 2.5 million positions every second - begins to compensate for a basic lack of understanding. If you can calculate 12 or 15 moves ahead, you have little need for positional judgement; and if you can see 20 moves ahead, you may be able to dispense with strategy.

But what sort of calculating power is necessary to avoid the sort of disaster that befell Deep Blue in the final game last year? Black simply never understood what was going on at all.

White: Garry Kasparov

Black: Deep Blue

1 Nf3 d5 23 Qd3 g6

2 d4 c6 24 Re2 Nf5

3 c4 e6 25 Bc3 h5

4 Nbd2 Nf6 26 b5 Nce7

5 e3 c5 27 Bd2 Kg7

6 b3 Nc6 28 a4 Ra8

7 Bb2 cxd4 29 a5 a6

8 exd4 Be7 30 b6 Bb8

9 Rc1 0-0 31 Bc2 Nc6

10 Bd3 Bd7 32 Ba4 Re7

11 0-0 Nh5 33 Bc3 Ne5

12 Re1 Nf4 34 dxe5 Qxa4

13 Bb1 Bd6 35 Nd4 Nxd4

14 g3 Ng6 36 Qxd4 Qd7

15 Ne5 Rc8 37 Bd2 Re8

16 Nxd7 Qxd7 38 Bg5 Rc8

17 Nf3 Bb4 39 Bf6+ Kh7

18 Re3 Rfd8 40 c6 bxc6

19 h4 Nge7 41 Qc5 Kh6

20 a3 Ba5 42 Rb2 Qb7

21 b4 Bc7 43 Rb4 resigns

22 c5 Re8