July 09, 2005

MOVIES: Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine (Vikram Jayanti, 2003)

Documentary about the 1997 chess match between Garry Kasparov and the computer known as "Deep Blue."

Kasparov had been among the world's finest chess players for at least 15 years when he first played Deep Blue in 1996, a match he won, four games to two. By the time of the 1997 rematch, Deep Blue was now sponsored and financed by IBM, who had enlisted several chess grandmasters to improve the computer's game.

Kasparov won the first game of the rematch handily; Deep Blue played sloppily, making strange errors, and Kasparov anticipated another fairly easy victory. But not only did Deep Blue win the second game, it won by making long-term strategic moves of a type no computer had ever made before. Kasparov came to believe that IBM was cheating and that Deep Blue was somehow getting human assistance at key moments in the match.

As one of the journalists who covered the match notes, great chess players have always been more susceptible than most to paranoia, and psychological warfare has long been a part of the game, even (maybe especially) at the top levels of play. Playing into an opponent's neuroses is par for the course, and the IBM team certainly did nothing to discourage Kasparov's suspicions.

This is essentially a talking-head movie, told largely from Kasparov's perspective, though several members of the IBM team -- computer scientists and chess advisers -- are also interviewed. The movie, despite Kasparov's prominence, remains neutral on the question of whether there was any cheating, and presents the story with all of its fascinating ambiguity intact. Very interesting.

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