Man Vs. Machine, Part Deux

Four years after chess champion Garry Kasparov's loss to a supercomputer shook the chess world, man is getting a rematch.

The latest installment of Man vs. Machine pits a different computer against a different chess champion, but the stakes will still be high in October when Vladimir Kramnik faces the world's top chess program, Deep Fritz, in Manama, Bahrain.

Perhaps higher. Many saw Kasparov's 1997 defeat by IBM's Deep Blue as a watershed in the short history of computer science — raw computing power had finally beaten a world champion, 39 years after the creation of the first chess program.

But post-match controversy clouded the computer's narrow win, and Kramnik believes he can overturn the perception that computers are mightier than the human mind.

"I think that in the public eye the computer is already stronger than any chess player on the planet. I'm very eager to win and to prove that this is not the case," Kramnik said at a news conference.

Promoters with bright lights, smoke machines and fashion models have hyped the Oct. 14-30 match as "The Brains in Bahrain," a $1 million heavyweight bout on par with the 1975 "Thrilla in Manila" boxing rematch between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Sitting opposite the lanky Russian champion was a metal briefcase said to contain the latest version of Deep Fritz, financed by ChessBase, a German chess software firm. Little more than a CD-ROM disc, the program can consider 6 million chess positions per second and "learn" to counter the tactics of opponents.

The new technology has created a formidable foe even if it's still years away from the artificial intelligence envisioned by Stanley Kubrick in the science fiction movie "A.I."

The program's German and Dutch creators say Deep Fritz has already defeated Deep Blue, the 1.4-ton chess computer that beat Kasparov in New York, 3 1/2 games to 2 1/2 games.

Deep Fritz's ability to consider past games was showcased during an April computer chess tournament in Spain.

Kasparov complained after his defeat by Deep Blue that the rules had been stacked against him. Deep Blue had access to all the 15-year champion's past matches, while Kasparov was given no match history for the computer. IBM technicians were also allowed to reprogram Deep Blue between games, an advantage that chess experts said amounted to playing a new opponent each day. And no mid-game breaks were permitted, which allowed the computer to exhaust its human opponent.

The rules have been tightened for the Bahrain match, and both sides said they were confident of a fair result.

Kramnik, a 25-year-old former pupil of Kasparov, earned the right to represent human chess players in November when he dethroned Kasparov.

Chess has had two world champions since 1993, when Kasparov, champion at the time, broke away from FIDE, the World Chess Federation whose current world champion is Viswanathan Anand of India.

Kasparov formed the Professional Chess Association and efended his title twice before it disbanded in 1998. November's match is sponsored by Brain Games Network, an Internet company.

Some still call Kasparov the world's greatest chess player, but others say Kramnik may prove a better match for a computer. Kasparov's ability to demoralize his opponents was useless against emotionless Deep Blue.

Kramnik, famous for his pre-match preparation and cool, calculating play, is a "more rounded" player, British grandmaster John Speelman said.

Speelman and fellow grandmaster Ray Keene, who will serve as match director, predicted Kramnik will win.

No matter what the result, the chess battle between humans and computers is sure to continue. Kasparov perhaps put it best after his loss to Deep Blue when he said: "I think the competition has just started."

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