Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine

"Excellent"

Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine Review


It seems like every six months PBS or network TV does a story on chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and his defining moment playing against Big Blue, an IBM computer. Now we have a full-fledged documentary, the mother of all Garry Kasparov stories. It recalls the events of that episode in chess history with comprehensive detail and reveals the vulnerability of the greatest grandmaster's mind even when he's at the top of his game.

Kasparov is the perfect personality to occupy the chair of Best Champion of the chess board. He's amiable, approachable, and articulate. He may not always see himself as others do but he's certainly entitled to his unique perspective and self-analysis. He also must be making a nice income from the chain of appearances in the media spotlight.

After winning his championship from fellow Russian Anatoly Karpov at age 22, Kasparov was approached (in 1997) to compete with IBM's state-of-the-art in artificial intelligence, a computer programmed to play chess at the level of a grandmaster. But the machine is not as sophisticated as the IBM team assumed, and its limitations are exploited by Kasparov for a quick kill.

Director Vikram Jayanti intercuts a piece of film from a prior era to add some historical perspective to the notion of a chess machine. These snippets show "The Turk," a turbaned robotic mannequin with a human covertly guiding its play. Purportedly, it once defeated Napoleon, but we're not sure if it was before or after Waterloo.

Only temporarily daunted, the IBM team increases its computer's power, goes back to grandmaster consultants for reprogramming at a yet higher level of skill, and invites Kasparov back for a 2nd match. The Armenian Jew who is regarded by many as the greatest chess player of all time might have been well advised to decline. But, in the spirit of competition, recognizing his unique ability to put the machine's new level of "intelligence" to a rigorous test, and, undoubtedly because of a good payday ($40,000 to the loser; $60,000 to the winner), he takes on his turbocharged silicon-based contender.

After an easy win in the first round, he is defeated in the second. He's also stunned and demoralized by the fact that the machine doesn't fall for his lure of an easily taken pawn that would have set him up for another win. Instead, the machine chooses a play that Kasparov thought impossible from the standpoint of machine logic -- it is one he would have expected only from a human player close to his level.

Herein is the important insight into his mind. After subtly accusing the IBM team of human intervention and demanding to see the machine's logs (something he asked for before but was consistently undelivered), Kasparov's morale remains broken by the event. In fact, the extent of having his strategic expectations destroyed so stunningly, cause him to resign that second game which, experts have agreed, might have concluded with a draw. The state of his mind being so profoundly disturbed, he is unable to recover his cool and loses or draws the remaining rounds and, finally, the match against his crafty opponent.

Kasparov is a sympathetic character and, even as he belabors the outcome years later, we feel for him. The drama of the event is inescapable and the study of an artificially obtained defeat of a chess genius is mesmerizing, even for a non-chess player. It conveys a certain "darkness of the mind" as it applies to human fallibility, and demonstrates the mind-game component of chess. As the grandmaster laments, when you're competing against a machine, you can't "know" your opponent in the way you can a human. You can't get "under the skin" of a machine. And, as his one big loss shows, that's a great disadvantage, starting out. The film goes on to engage us in his attempts at a comeback.

For chess players, this brief visit with the great Kasparov is an unchallenged must-see.



Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine

Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Friday 23rd January 2004

Distributed by: ThinkFilm

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 7

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: Marc Ghannoum as Narration, as Joel Benjamin, as Michael Greengard, Anatoly Karpov as Anatoly Karpov, as Garry Kasparov

Also starring: ,

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