Over: Kasparov and the Machine",
a film by TH!NKFilm LLC
by ICCF IM Robert Rizzo
(posted 5 May 2005)
As a member of the Chess Journalists of America, I was asked
recently to review an advanced copy of the DVD, "Game Over:
Kasparov and the Machine." Previously available in Europe, this
DVD which chronicles the 1997 loss by the World's best chess
player to IBM's computer, Deep Blue II, is being released in
the United States and Canada on May 31, 2005.
If you are looking for chess analysis, put away your DVD player,
this is not the movie for you - better that you purchase one
of the books published after Garry Kasparov's 1997 match with
the IBM computer, Deep Blue II, that concentrate on the
missed opportunities across-the-board. In fact you do not even
need to know how to play the game to grasp the essence of this
film. The theme is not a subtle one, Kasparov was defeated psychologically,
a purely human foible. He was his own worst enemy distracted
by his own phobias. The chess-playing machine he faced was not
subject to such character faults. One must conclude that, if
you buy into the director's belief, Kasparov's loss was more
due to himself than it was to the machine. This film is a must
see, if not for chess players then as a case study for every
student of psychology or human behavior.
Despite being a person of obviously high intelligence, Kasparov still falls prey to a classic case of cognitive dissonance. To this day he still implies that there was intervention, that some unnamed Grandmaster was assisting the machine. He cannot come to grips with his first ever loss of a chess match. But this is well known to those who witnessed the games and to most of the chess world; there is no new revelation here. The analogy that the film makes is to the 19th century automaton called "The Turk". That chess-playing machine actually had a master strength player hidden within its case. But please, to have so many flashbacks to this past sham is overkill - enough already, we get it!
In watching the film, one wonders what might have been the motive of both Kasparov and IBM when they agreed to participate in this movie. Each is made to look like the villain in this tragic opera. Kasparov behaved badly, like the spoiled child who did not get his way and started striking out at whoever was nearby. Brooklyn Grandmaster Joel Benjamin, a consultant to the IBM team and one of the few who is reflected in a positive light, was often the target of Garry's sarcasm. IBM, which scripted much of the event, seemed not to honor some of their agreements with Kasparov. One was the issue of the publication of the machine's "thinking" during previous games. The Kasparov camp wanted these printouts to be part of the public record while IBM did not. It was never made clear if this was a contractual term or condition. Especially troubling is the lack of a rematch. Normally such a clause is standard fare for matches involving the world champion. The viewer is left to believe that IBM management reneged - decided after winning that there was nothing more to gain, publicity-wise or in a business sense, from further encounters. Yet the movie only briefly touches upon the pall created by the non-professional ranting of Kasparov in the post-match conference. The potential for negative publicity may have played a major part in the IBM decision to shy away from another showdown. Here the film falls short of drawing the complete picture of the Kasparov psyche. On that day he upstaged John McEnroe as the poster boy for sore losers everywhere.
No mention is made of the future applications
that IBM intended for this technology. They do show Deep
Blue II mothballed in a remote area of their Watson Research
Center in Yorktown Heights, NY (the only other copy in existence
resides in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC). And the film
does not follow up with the fact that the project leader, Feng-Hsiung
Hsu, parted ways with IBM and later obtained the rights to the
technology. Hsu would prove unsuccessful in his attempt to gain
sponsorship for another match between Kasparov and an improved
Deep Blue III. There was, however, the suggestion by
the filmmakers that the psychological damage inflicted on Kasparov
by this match was a key reason for his loss of the World Chess
Championship to Vladimir Kramnik. This implication is reinforced
by the showing of Kasparov then losing an exhibition match to
Anatoly Karpov, the ex-World Champion who Kasparov had beaten
repeatedly in the past. One cannot argue that there might have
been some hangover effect.
There are some new revelations that make this film worth seeing.
An uncanny parallel is drawn between Kasparov and another former
World Champion, Bobby Fischer. In 1972 Fischer temporarily quit
during his World Championship match against Boris Spassky. As
a result of his actions Fischer forfeited game 2 before he was
finally convinced to return and complete the match. Fast forward
to 1997 - it turns out that Kasparov almost quit the match with
Deep Blue II prior to game 4 over the issue of the printouts
that were not delivered by IBM. After further negotiations,
he was finally cajoled into playing. The reason for the delay
in the start time of that game had not been previously explained.
The moviemakers also went to great lengths to
make the case that what started as an amicable scientific venture
eventually morphed into an all-out war of the psyche. Prior
to the start of the match with Deep Blue II in 1997,
most experts predicted that Garry would win. Some forecast a
6-0 shutout. Others opined that a closer margin would result
but very few thought the machine, an improved version of Deep
Blue I that had lost to Garry by a 4-2 score in 1996 in
Philadelphia, had any chance to win. IBM's team was not confident
and even professed fears of not being competitive, as was revealed
in the post game 1 press conference. But after Garry missed
the chance to draw in game 2, the producers of this film claimed
that IBM's team sensed a chance to win the match and their subsequent
strategy changed. After that point, the IBM team actions were
geared to prey on the psychological effect that this lost opportunity
had on a very emotional Kasparov. That could explain their cat-and-mouse
negotiating tactics concerning the printouts and other facets
of the match. The IBM team even boasted that they believed that
Kasparov had "cracked" before the final game. Kasparov's own
admissions confirmed this.
The unanswered question that one goes away with
is - What is producer Vikram Jayanti's intended meaning of "Game
Over" in the title of this film? Is the significance that this
marks the end of mankind's ability to out-strategize machines?
Does it intimate that this match harkened the start of the decline
of Kasparov's illustrious chess career? Does it connote the
end of IBM's research into artificial intelligence? Or is it
something else? Is it all of these things? Clearly Kasparov
had not lost much in the eight years that followed this match
in that he recently "retired" as number one on the world-rating
list. Several matches held since 1997, between top-level GM's
(including Kasparov) and PC based computer programs, have not
conclusively decided the answer to the question as to whether
carbon or silicon based competitors are better. Surely IBM is
still doing lots of research in this field, only not with the
platform that made up the heart of Deep Blue II. Despite
this puzzling moniker the film still should be of interest to
most people. But the filmmakers should heed "The Bard"
- the game is not over - "the game's afoot".
© 2005 Robert
Rizzo. All rights reserved.