chess talents of the soviet union (4): let machine cooperate with men

Chess engines are improving rapidly. In 1985, the World Champion Kasparov played against 32 chess computers and won all games. But in 1997, a supercomputer called Deep Blue challenged Kasparov and defeated him with difficulties. Kasparov recollected that he felt confused when sitting in front of the computer. He was not able to look into the eyes, interpret the body language and feel the emotional status as he confronted human opponents. Nowadays, more advanced artificial intelligences appear and they can easily defeat a World Champion. Is that chess as a sport has lost its significance to human beings, and is that machines will finally replace human in playing chess?

Kasparov played against Deep Blue

This is a dilemma which perplexes many people. Not only regarding to chess, but in many other aspects of our daily lives, people fear that machine will finally conquer human beings and rule the earth. Just as Kasparov illustrated, that throughout history, the competitions between machine and human were often portrayed as the battle of life and death. The painting John Henry died with a hammer in his hand depicted the scenery that manpower competed against steam hammer for railway construction, and finally the African American worker John Henry died of being excessively exhausted. John remains a hero in the history of human fighting against machine, yet John’s death indicates that human is doomed to be defeated and replaced by machine. Even several Hollywood classics such as Terminator and Matrix portraits the inevitable end of human kind in the fight against machine.

John Henry died with a hammer in his hand

But Kasparov believes that we do not have to be so pessimistic. He holds that the success of machine is a human triumph. Machine itself is not intelligent, but it is human beings who blend their intelligence into machine and make it work wisely. Humans are not surpassed by machine, but by our own creations. If we cannot beat the machines, join them. Humans possess intuition, strategy and experience, while machine is good at calculation, tactics and memory. If we combine all these strengths, we will achieve greater.

Kasparov in his speech don’t fear intelligent machines. Work with them.

However, cooperating effectively with machine is easier said than done. It is a skill that chess players need to cultivate, practice and accumulate in the long term. In 2005, the online play site held a “freestyle” chess tournament, where players could participate with the help of other players or computers. Groups of strong grandmasters entered the tournaments with the most advanced computers. However, to everyone’s surprise, the winner was two amateur players with three ordinary computers. As Kasparov revealed, the two players were skilled at manipulating and “coaching” their computers so that the computers successfully maximized their potentials.

“freestyle” chess tournament

In fact, the methodology of combining human intelligence and machine can also be applied in our chess trainings. Chess engines can be helpful in calculation, analyzing and finding the correct moves in complex positions. But they are not able to tell us the strategy of playing against a specific opponent, such as whether we should play aggressively or solid, whether we should keep the position closed or open, or whether we should sacrifice a piece for compensation. In addition, we should not blindly follow the computer’s suggestions, but we must understand why we should play the moves chess engines recommended, and what our plans will be after these moves.

Just as chess engines have become necessary to chess players, other technologies have also become indispensable to our daily lives. We use the cell phone to communicate with our families and friends, and we use the internet to search for the latest news. And just like we cannot prevent chess engines for becoming stronger, we cannot stop the rapid technological development. But technologies will always bring us more benefits than harms if we use them wisely. Plus, machine can never replace the wisdom and the spirits of human beings, and machine itself can never exist without humans. Thus, relinquish our fear that machine will beat human beings, and let us embrace new technologies, learn to cooperate with them effectively, and achieve higher.



-Kasparov, G. 2007. How life Imitates Chess.



Young and active tournament player with excellent results including a 1st place at the BSSZ Aranytiz International Master, 1st place at the Chinese Youth Chess Championship G16, and part of the top 10 contenders in two World Chess Championships for girls G16 and G18.

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