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Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine
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by The Ultimate Dancing Machine

"Rage against the machine"
4 stars

I suck at chess. Last week I lost a game in ten moves flat, and when you get stomped on that quickly, it has less to do with your opponent's brilliance than just plain old suckitude on your part. In my defense, the hour was late, I was a touch sleepy, I did not see that I would not be able to move my king out of check. Doesn't change the simple fact that I sucked, though.

I take comfort knowing that even the best get their asses kicked occasionally. In 1997 world chess champion Garry Kasparov (pronounced roughly "kas-PAR-ov") got taken apart by IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in a man-versus-machine match--the first time in history that a chess program ever beat a top-ranked player. A momentous event, and one that made the news all over the world. But that's not quite what this documentary is about: the real story, at least according to Kasparov and a few sympathizers interviewed here, is that IBM may have cheated.

What really happened? The film captures Kasparov as he tours the scene of the "crime," the building where the match took place, while he relates his version of events in his charmingly accented English; these scenes are interspersed with 1997 footage of the actual match. Kasparov won the first game easily, but something odd happened in the second: Deep Blue made a move that--says Kasparov--no computer could have made. To put it as simply as possible, Kasparov made Move A, expecting the computer to respond with Move B, only to find himself staring horrified at the board when instead he got Move C. Unnerved, he resigned a few moves later. Adding insult to injury, an observer would later show Kasparov how he could have forced a draw.

Chess programs had a history of falling into predictable traps that a skilled player could exploit; just the year before, Kasparov had convincingly trounced Deep Blue's predecessor. Something had changed this time around. Was the 1997 computer simply more advanced than any that had come before? Or--and this is Kasparov's theory--did the IBM team hire a chess grandmaster to secretly intervene at just the right moment? It's quite clear whose side director Vikram Jayanti is on, even before that text-on-black screen at the end telling us that Garry Kasparov is the greatest chess player who ever lived (which is debatable, though Kasparov has a strong claim). And there is some circumstantial evidence favoring the Kasparov theory, not the least of which is IBM's haste in dismantling Deep Blue after the match, before any third parties could take a look at its insides. This was a computer that made history--and its makers, suspiciously, couldn't wait to destroy it.

And yet, there's no smoking gun. The IBM team claims that Kasparov simply got beat by the most powerful chess program in history, and there's nothing here to disprove them. A few moments in the film suggest that Kasparov simply succumbed to paranoia; the archival footage reveals a tense, distracted man whose mind seems to be anywhere but on the chess board. A veteran of bitter Cold War politics, a man who changed his last name to disguise his Jewish heritage, this embattled one-time champion of glasnost may have seen a conspiracy where there was none. After losing the last game, he storms off-stage in a huff.

Jayanti does not prove his case, and during his attempt he occasionally falls victim to silliness; the voice-over narration (of which there is thankfully little) is rather laughably rendered in a conspiratorial whisper, as if to keep IBM from overhearing.

Despite its biases, the film does compellingly present both sides of a mystery that may never be resolved to anyone's satisfaction.

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originally posted: 08/02/05 19:10:54
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User Comments

3/03/09 Craig D. Awful. There's no worth in a biased "documentary" that presents no evidence whatsoever. 1 stars
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  03-Dec-2004 (PG)
  DVD: 03-May-2005

  23-Jan-2004 (PG)


Directed by
  Vikram Jayanti

Written by

  Garry Kasparov
  Joel Benjamin
  Michael Greengard
  Jeff Kisselhof

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