World chess champion Garry Kasparov had his butt handed to him early last week when a computer known as Deep Blue dispatched him within 19 moves.
"Nineteen moves!" I snorted on reading the news. "Heck, I could have lasted longer than 19 moves. In fact, I think I could have lasted longer than 19 moves without cheating."
Chess experts, news reports said, were "stunned" by Deep Blue's easy victory. I don't know why. If they're indeed experts, they should know that all chess players have their bad days.
"I lost my fighting spirit," the Los Angeles Daily News quoted Kasparov as saying after his defeat. Therein lies the difference between a human being and a computer. Humans have TC fighting spirit to lose. Computers don't. We should not despair of that difference, but revel in it. That difference is what makes being human beings so much fun.
Human beings make errors. Thus a computer will, on occasion, take the measure of a Garry Kasparov in a chess match. Unlike Deep Blue, we can learn from our errors.
Two days after Kasparov's defeat, I was coaching the chess club at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in Cherry Hill, where my charges taught me anew the lessons of learning from your mistakes.
As I paired off with a talented boy named DeShawn, two girls named Erin and Shannon engaged in a match. While I was busy checkmating DeShawn in our first game, Shannon easily dispatched Erin in theirs.
A concerned Erin came over to me for advice.
"Mr. Kane, how do I beat her?" Erin asked.
"You leave too many of your pieces unprotected," I told her. "Protect your pieces. Take her unprotected pieces, and get your back row pieces out in front. You're too pawn happy!"
Erin easily beat Shannon in their second game, which left her time to poke her nose in on my second match with DeShawn. I was having a rough time of it. I was not taking the advice I had given Erin. Being greedy, I had my knight "fork" DeShawn's queen -- the most powerful piece on the board -- and his rook, the second-most powerful piece. "Forking" is a technique in which a player puts two of his opponent's pieces in jeopardy, thereby winning one.
But I looked closer. I used my knight to capture a pawn for the fork, but had I used my bishop to do the same thing, I would have checkmated DeShawn. My greed for pieces caused me to overlook the checkmate. Computers don't get greedy. That's one advantage they'll always have over humans.
"Protect your pieces," I had told Erin, then promptly ignored my own advice in my game with DeShawn. But at least he was listening, capturing my queen when I left her unguarded.
"No problem," I said to myself. "He's a rookie. Inexperienced. A new jack. I'll get his queen eventually." Computers don't get arrogant either, another advantage they have over human beings.
But I set up a trap for DeShawn's queen, offering him a knight that I was hoping he would think was unguarded. It was actually guarded by another knight, and he was about to take the bait.
"Don't make that move!" Erin shouted. Unlike DeShawn, Kasparov had no kibitzers to help him out during his game. DeShawn saw the trap and opted for another move.
"Thanks a bunch, Erin!" I groused. "You're good people. You're beautiful. Don't ever change." Computers don't get surly either, and hence get taken out of their games.
DeShawn made short work of me after that, using that same queen Erin had so graciously saved for him to checkmate me several moves later. Vanquished by a rookie! Not exactly an upset along the lines of Muhammad Ali decking George Foreman back in 1974, but it shook me nonetheless.
But, ultimately, my experience had to be more fun than Kasparov's playing a computer. That's what is most fun about playing chess -- playing against other human beings. Seeing the fidgeting, the furrowed brows on their faces as you make moves to confound them. Having the kibitzers come up as you try to figure out how to finish off your opponent and say, "It's mate in two moves," and then wondering what it is they see that you don't.
That may have been why Kasparov failed in that last game. Amid the charges that he "lost his fighting spirit," that he caved in under pressure or became frightened when Deep Blue made unorthodox moves may lie yet another reason: Playing Deep Blue was simply no fun.
Pub Date: 5/18/97