Today in history, Garry Kasparov, then the world’s greatest chess player, suffered an historic loss to Deep Blue, an IBM computer programmed to play chess at an advanced level. It is one of the seminal moments in the history of artificial intelligence and Kasparov’s loss stunned the world.
The game, held in 1996, was the first of a six-game match staged between the man and the machine. Deep Blue was the heir of Deep Thought, an earlier IBM prototype that Kasparov defeated in 1989. He would not fare so well against Blue.
Prior to the match, chess grand masters had already lost to computers a few times. But it was always in quick games, that were resolved in under an hour. But this time was different. Kasparov and Deep Blue were going toe-to-motherboard in a regulation six-game match. In each game, each of them were permitted two full hours to make forty moves, two more hours to complete the subsequent twenty moves and a final hour to complete the game.
Three hours into the first game, Kasparov lost. He ultimately defeated Deep Blue by taking three total wins and two ties. But even though he left with $400,000 of prize money, the world took a different lesson from what happened. The game Deep Blue won lives in the cultural memory as a major milestone in machines potentially equally or surpassing their human creators in reasoning ability.
Garry Kasparov, born in Azerbaijan, was a prodigy from a young age. He ascended the ranks to become the Soviet Union’s junior chess champion at the young age of thirteen. At twenty-two, he beat Anatoly Karpov to become the youngest-ever world chess champion. Kasparov is still esteemed by many people as the greatest talent in the history of chess, renowned for his ability to strategize on the fly and remain unpredictable.
Rematches followed after Kasparov’s initial brush with Deep Blue. The next year, in 1997, Kasparov once again matched “wits” with the computer, which had been improved since its debut. Kasparov beat the computer out of the gate, but the next three games were a draw. In a subsequent matchup the same year, Deep Blue prevailed in the 25th hour to win $700,000 for its designers.
Kasparov retired from pro chess in 2005, after beating “Deep Junior” in 2003. His matches with Deep Blue, especially his first match, are the most historically significant and well-known events in the history of the game.