November 24, 2006

Friday Fun: The last man vs machine match?

Tomorrow Undisputed World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik begins a six game match with the ChessBase program Deep Fritz 10.

Given the history of these types of matches, this might be the last time the human has a decent chance to win or draw. Chessbase has an English translation of a long article, The last match man vs machine? By André Schulzin, from Der Spiegel talking about the match.

Much depends on preparation. Kramnik is being assisted by the German grandmaster and openings specialist Christopher Lutz. In addition he has included a chess programmer in his team, one who will, he hopes, be able to explain to him how his opponent “thinks”.

For the preparation phase Kramnik received in May this year the latest version of Deep Fritz. The final version, the one against which he will play in Bonn, was sent to him in the middle of October. Since then he and his seconds have been able to search for weaknesses in the real thing.

That is exactly what Kramnik did in the Bahrain match. At the time he discovered that Deep Fritz 7 was not playing well in positions that included doubled pawns. As a result Kramnik played a Scotch opening against the machine, one that gave Black doubled pawns on c7 and c6.

In earlier days the youthful Deep Fritz would often be manoeuvred into positions with an isolated centre pawn by its human opponents. This is normally a weakness, but the program would defend this pawn like a tiger its cub, cleverly using the adjacent open files to do so. The weakness became a strength.

For the opening preparation against Kramnik the Deep Fritz team has hired a top grandmaster, who is a great openings specialist. But his name is a secret. This is normal in important chess tournaments, where players don’t want their opponents to know what they are planning. The exact speed of the computer and the modification to the openings book are the two unknown factors for Kramnik in this match.
The rules are a bit bizarre, as Kramnik gets to follow along with Fritz on his own computer while Fritz is in its pre-determined opening book.
As long as Deep Fritz is “in book”, that is playing moves from memory and not calculating variations, Mr. Kramnik sees the display of the Deep Fritz opening book. For the current board position he sees all moves, including all statistics (number of games, ELO performance, score) from grandmaster games and the move weighting of Deep Fritz. To this purpose, Mr. Kramnik uses his own computer screen showing the screen of the Deep Fritz machine with book display activated.

As soon as Deep Fritz starts calculating variations during the game the operator informs the arbiter. The arbiter confirms this on the screen of the playing machine and then shuts down the second screen.
This eliminates one of the computer's advantage, the ability to completely and perfectly "memorize" extremely long opening variations (customized by Chessbase's team of grandmasters to be as effective as possible against Kramnik), something a human can't do. Once Fritz is out of the book, then they get down to real tactics and strategy. It should be interesting to see who prevails in this kind of struggle. Mig has some nice commentary here.

Update: Game one was a draw, you can follow the live action here.

Update 2006.11.26:
Game two was a brutal loss by Kramnik in the worst blunder of his pro career. People are already calling it the worst move ever made by a sitting chamption. Commentary here, here and here. To show that there are no hard feelings, however, I may post one of my own really brutal blunders a bit later on.

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