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November 2003

Game 3: Fritz crushed by Kasparov

Well, OK, that was depressing Sunday.

Kasparov ‘obliterates’ Fritz with strategy
New Scientist

“Almost from the start Fritz did not understand what was going on and just shuffled his pieces around aimlessly,” says Jonathan Schaeffer, in the computer science games group at the University of Alberta, Canada. “Kasparov won effortlessly without giving Fritz an opportunity to do anything.”

So, OK, I was dissapointed by Fritz’s meltdown. I wish it had done better. But since I had promised “more later” after the first two games, and never got around to it, let me write a couple things now.

I have been to three games this match, and to a few earlier matches. The biggest difference is that these are on ESPN2. And let me tell you, while it is cool for it to be on ESPN2 and all, it really diminishes the on-site experience. I might even be better off watching on TV and the Internet!

In the non-televised games the commentators got into a lot more detail and really talked about the positions and what was going on. I am not that great at chess, despite wishiing I was better, and with that I actually felt like I was LEARNING a lot in the process of the games, just by listening to the commentary. And there was a LOT of audience interaction. Q&A on things that were going on, etc. And because much of the croud were professional chess folks, sometimes one of them would join in the commentary for a bit in detail. “Oh, I see Susan Polgar in the front row, the world’s women’s chess champion… Susan, would you care to tell us what you think of this position?” And she (or whoever) would jump right in. All that sort of thing. It was very dynamic and free flowing and it was easy to LEARN.

The ESPN2 coverage kills most of that flavor. For one thing, mechanics… the room is set up for TV, not for the audience. Although they got it right for Game 2, for Game 1 and Game 3 the volume was set so that it was VERY hard to hear the people on stage, even sitting right near a speaker. And with this, plus the TV lights on the croud for the occational crowd shot on TV means that the croud never really settled down to pay attention. Everybody was doing their own personal analysis on their own boards and such, but at FULL VOLUME, so you couldn’t really hear the people on stage. Plus, the coverege itself was “dumbed down” for ESPN2. I mean, I am a beginner really, so some of it was still fine for me… but for a most of the time it was too basic even for me. They kept over and over talking about average times per moves and how many points of material had been lost and things like that, and about the board only in the highest level terms. Some of the real chessies in the audience I could hear getting really aggrivated about that “If you’ve played chess for more than a day this is not for you! They are trying to dumb it down to catch the people who flipped the channel hoping for football. As if they would convert and all of a sudden say ‘I’ve been wrong all these years! Forget football! Chess is the game for me!'” I tend to agree with this sentiment. Forget ESPN. Put this on PBS somewhere and do some real chess talk. I do like Ashley and Seriwan though. They are fun to watch. But they need to be allowed to really do their thing like they did in earlier matches, not the highly constrained ESPN format.

In game 3, after the first 90 minutes ESPN went to an update format. About once every 15 minutes, they gave a 2 minute quick recap and update of the game. No more continuous coverage. Maurice and Ashley a couple of times tried to switch to “lets do this for the croud here and do REAL CHESS” mode, but because of the volume and lights issues, and having to break back for TV frequently, they just couldn’t quite pull that off. I wish they had. That would have been better.

And of course the computer resigned. It would have been nice to see it play through, just for educational purposes if nothing else. And I still maintain that even in a losing position on the board, the computer should be programmed to try to make variations where the human is more likely to blunder and/or try to get them into time pressure to win those ways. There is no reason for a computer to ever accept an end of game other than by the rules that force it.

But regardless, the computer’s play in this game showed that we are still a few years from when the computers will completely dominate. I look forward to the day when the world’s best computer playing the world’s best human results in a game that looks like the worlds best human playing a child who just learned the rules for the first time. That will be the day!

Well, later today we’ll see if Fritz can still win or tie the match. I’m crossing my fingers!

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