The human side of chess, 8

5 Tort – Computer

HAL 9000 and man

I didn’t play this last game with a human being.

When I play with my computer it seems as unequal a struggle as competing in arithmetic with a calculator. As mathematician John von Newmann told Jacob Bronowski, chess is not a game: it is a special form of computing. But before Newmann, Lasker had already intuited that an entity ‘that could keep millions of variants in mind would not need planning’, the theory. The so-called ‘chess theory’ is a crutch for us mortals. The machine that sees billions of actions shows us the quintessence of chess not in its scarlet facet, but its pure and soulless logic. (Despite what fans of A.I. say, the computer system still has no soul.)

When I was fifteen, I went with my father to visit Robert Schirokauer, who changed his name to Robert Hartman, at his house in Cuernavaca. Hartman played chess and I brought my favorite Alekhine book: the beautiful games of his youth that my dad had given me.

Hartman told us that the machine would never beat man ‘because it was Man who programmed it’. Robert S. Hartman was wrong. This game, and on another level Kasparov’s games with Deep Blue, should move us humans to great swallowing of our pride. By the way, it was from Hartman that I learned the word ‘axiology’. His dense book The Knowledge of Good: Critique of Axiological Reason, whose Spanish version my father acquired before Hartman died, is still in the home library. Metapedia’s critical article on the anti-Nazi Hartman was started by me.

November 2003
French Defense

1 e4 e6

2 d4 d5

3 Nc3 Nf6

4 Bg5 Be7

5 e5 Nfd7

6 Bxe7 Qxe7

7 f4 O-O

8 Nf3 c5

9 Nb5 ?!

It’s incredible but this move, which had given me so much success with the players in the park in similar positions, could be inaccurate. The rebuttal the machine applied to me—virtually the rest of the game—is so mathematical that it is terrifying to see such precision in a soulless object.

9… a6!

10 Nd6 f6

11 c3 Nc6

12 Be2 cxd4

13 cxd4 g5

14 g3 fxe5

15 fxe5 g4

16 Nh4 Ndxe5!

From this piece sacrifice Chessmaster didn’t let me go. It won the initiative until my surrender.

17 dxe5 Nxe5

18 Nxc8 Raxc8

19 Rf1 Qb4 +

20 Qd2 Rxf1 +

21 Bxf1 Qe4 +

22 Qe2 Rc2

23 Qxe4 dxe4

24 Rd1

When I made this move of my rook and the next ones I thought I was going to get a certain counterplay and equalizing chances, but…

25 … e3

25 Be2 Rxb2

26 Rd4 h5

27 Re4 Rb1 +

28 Bd1 Nd3 +

29 Ke2 Rxd1!

… I didn’t see this move!

30 Rxe3 Nb2

31 Rxe6 Rh1

32 Re7 Rxh2 +

33 Ke3 Nc4 +

34 Kf4 b5

35 Kg5 Rxa2

36 Kxh5 a5

37 Kxg4 b4

38 Kh5 Rf2

I confess that since move 33 I was taking back several moves: something that can be done to a mindless machine that cannot complain. But not only did I not find a checkmate net; there was not even a continuous check.

39 Kg6 Kf8

40 Rb7 Ne5 +

41 Kg5 Nf7 +

42 Kg6 Nd8

43 Rb8 Ke7

44 Nf5 + Rd7

45 Kf6 Nc6

46 Rb7 + Kc8

47 Rh7

I couldn’t move the rook to b5 because its rook would take my knight and the fork would come.

47 … b3

48 Rh1 a4

49 g4 a3

50 I resigned

I played this game with Chessmaster 8000, although then the Chessmaster 9000 version arrived. Only now, thirty years after having reproduced it for the first time thanks to one of Alekhine’s books, do I understand the French Defense between Capablanca and Reti played in New York, 1924. Capablanca played 9 Qd2 instead of the one I played and beat the Jewish Reti. The strongest commercial program for analysing games now that I review this book for publication is Fat Fritz 2. I do not doubt that if that new engine analysed the above game it would find moves that neither Chessmaster nor I could see.

Stanley Kubrick was a chess fan. I remember a photograph in which he is seen playing on a break with George Scott during the filming of Dr. Strangelove. In the annexes that come with the Chessmaster program you can read that in Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey the HAL 9000 supercomputer faces astronaut Frank Poole in a game of chess en route to Jupiter, and beats him.

But losing to a heartless machine like Chessmaster doesn’t hurt. The first tournament defeat that hurt me was neither more nor less the first game of my first chess tournament, which I played at the age of fifteen outside of what is now called the World Trade Center: the tallest building in Mexico City at the time. My opponent was the strong player Enrique Monroy, who with white opened with a Ruy López in which, with black, I tried to use a defense that Alekhine sometimes played. In part, my defeat was due to the tournament organisers not even informing all of us about time control. I played as if the time limit was not for the first 40 moves, but the entire game. That resulted in that even after reaching the time control I was responding to Monroy’s moves as if it was a blitz game! These were not yet the days of electronic chess clocks. We used mechanical clocks. At that time, losing by default meant that a little red flag on top of one of the two faces of the clocks dropped. Even though I was ignorant of the time control rules in the first round of my first tournament, I blamed myself for the defeat. It was so embarrassing for me to have been beaten that, once I arrived home in a dazed state, I told my parents that the game had ended in a draw…

Published in: on June 24, 2021 at 10:51 am  Comments Off on The human side of chess, 8  
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