Man mastered by machine as Deep Blue triumphs

Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion, has been beaten by a machine. Last night in New York, the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue trounced Kasparov in only 19 moves in the deciding encounter of their six-game match.

The game sent chess historians delving deeply into their databases to see if Kasparov had ever lost a game so quickly before. If he did, it was certainly a very, very long time ago. For winning the match, Deep Blue will be presented with a cheque for $700,000 (pounds 440,000). Kasparov takes home $400,000.

When Kasparov won the opening game of the match a week ago, it looked as though he had the measure of the computer. He had, his advisers admitted, developed a new style specifically to counter the challenge of an opponent that could calculate up to 300 million chess moves a second. He would simply avoid all complications and steer the games into positions in which his greater understanding of chess would count for more than mere calculating ability. In the second game, however, Deep Blue played something that was hailed as a strategic masterpiece. Kasparov, demoralised at being completely outplayed, resigned in a position that he could still have saved.

The next three games were all drawn, with Kasparov gaining a clear advantage each time, but Deep Blue always calculated its way out of trouble, finding resources which even the grandmasters commenting on the games had never suspected were there.

At the end of the fourth game, Louis Gerstner, the chief executive of IBM, visited the match and observed: "What we are witnessing is the world's strongest player versus Garry Kasparov."

Kasparov, however, had certainly exposed some basic faults in the machine's play, even if he had not been able to exploit them fully. But the final game was a disaster. Playing the Caro-Kann Defence, an opening that is not usually in his repertoire, Kasparov pushed a pawn forward on his eighth move that all experienced observers recognised as a theoretical mistake.

When Deep Blue replied by sacrificing a piece, the world champion just looked at the position in horror. He had mistakenly transposed a couple of moves and fallen into a well known trap. His king came under immediate attack and Deep Blue polished off matters energetically.

After less than two hours play, Kasparov, looking quite disgusted with himself, resigned the game and the match. Chess will never be the same again.