My Technology: Garry Kasparov, Deeper than Deep Blue

The world's greatest chess player, tells Jennifer Rodger why computers are no match for the human brain
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The Independent Online

Because a computer program is not flexible, the most important element in a good chess computer game is programming the right scale of priorities. If the computer's priority is to the pawn structure rather than two bishops, it will always consider this, regardless of the other chances of the position. You program the most flexible scale, universal values and combinations, and so reduce the downside of computers' inflexibility. There are top priorities that everybody installs ­ king safety, for instance ­ yet it really varies. What is the most important? Who knows? We don't have the final answer.

The Virtual Kasparov game simulates my aggressive style, yet I can understand that in some positions it's counter productive. Although I know when to play differently, the machine won't; it will always see a 50-point as better than a five-point advantage, even though there are some unique positions where five points is more important than 50. Where a computer uses 95 per cent calculations and 5 per cent primitive understanding, humans use probably 2 per cent calculations and 98 per cent common sense.

Yet I can sometimes calculate deeper than a computer. Even though I think 20 to 24 plays ahead, as I understand what is the main line, I don't need to calculate everything and my exclusion mechanism gives me a higher productivity.

When I have played against IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer, it is quite a different experience from a human opponent. It's like having an opponent who has very awkward characteristics; an alien mind. Since humans tend to make mistakes and a machine doesn't, you are also very vulnerable. However, because you know that flexibility is its greatest weakness, it's quite predictable. Since we've seen this competition between human players and computers, the ultimate end comes the day when the machine wins all the games. If you have eight games and it wins 6-2, then it still proves nothing because a machine plays all the games at the same level, humans could get a cold, a headache, just have a bad day, or whatever. So that's why, to me, the most important question is: can the best player beat the machine on their best day?

Playing against a computer is a good way of learning chess. If you want to improve your chess, you are better to play a computer rather than learn through a very painful tournament process where you are punished for every mistake. You can take a move back, see recommendations and rectify mistakes. Even for a strong player it's really useful to have a little practice with a computer, for machines are perfect at calculating the complicated tactical moves. Because they are really strong at calculations and can't blunder like humans, I quite often play a computer. It's an ultimate test, and shows I'm in good shape if I can beat computer tactics.

Computers are helping the game of chess to become popular again, as are new technologies in general. Amateurs can learn on chess computers or follow the game on the Internet. Because the Internet is restoring the communication link, it plays an important role for chess, as chess isn't a televised game and so it has always missed this link between the professional world, public and sponsors. You can have some highlights or watch a little speed chess, but, at the end of the day, TV chess is no match for soccer. Yet internet chess suddenly has a great advantage over these games; you can play, watch and grasp all the flavours of the game much better than any other sport on the Internet.

Because I'm not a great fan of mindless games, I like the idea of having intellectual skills on the PlayStation. That's certainly why I personally limit myself to technologies that contribute to my main interest, so I exclude games, but I have a mobile phone, three email addresses and I carry two computers, one with my emails and a bigger Toshiba with my chess base.

I work with two coaches, so normally our training session is one chessboard in the middle and three computers on the side. While it's easier to have a computer base rather than everything on paper, it's more transparent for trespassers because everything can be stolen in one shot. Because I grew up with wooden pieces, I like playing with real pieces, yet I know the computer is part of my life and I have to deal with it.

 

Virtual Kasparov is available for Sony PlayStation (Virgin Interactive, £19.95)

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