Inside "Big Blue"
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 13 May 97 12:55:43 -0700
Subject: Inside "Big Blue"
Forwarded-by: t byfield <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[Forwarded with permissions. Jeff Kisseloff is a journlist who was covering
the Kasparov camp for the web page that IBM devoted to the chess match.]
<< start of forwarded material >>
11-MAY-97 23:12 Jeff Kisseloff (jeffisme)
Guess not. And no, the censored stories don't exist anymore. They were
saved to a disk and there was no printer in the web room, but the gist of
what the Kasparov people were saying I think got across -- if not as
emphatically as it should have been told.
Kasparov is the real story here. The press for the most part will say how
the computer caught up to him but don't believe it. IBM likes to say this
was a match of man vs. machine, but it was really a match of man vs, men
plus machines. They had a team of programmers and a team of grandmasters
programming this thing for a year to beat him, and it's a tribute to
Kasparov's brilliance that under incredible pressure he was able to hold
them off as well as he did. He did this without seeing how Deep Blue had
played any of its games prior to this match, so he had no preparation for
it. Had he been able to see its games, and had this match been longer the
outcome would have been much different.
What got Kasparov spooked was its play in game two. After it played a
rather mediocre opening game, it was unbelievably brilliant in that
But it wasn't that it's calculations were perfect, it was its style of
play that left the Kasparov team so mystified -- as Deep Blue played like
a human grandmaster. Kasparov uses computers all the time to train. He's
been playing against them for years, but he had never seen a computer play
those kinds of moves before. No one had. After game three (when the
computer played another mediocre game), he indicated rather strongly
believed IBM had cheated in game two. There was also a story that
circulated the night before that Kasparov shouldn't have resigned from
game two, he could have drawn it but was flustered by the computer's play
he missed the draw.
Both the cheating and the draw were big stories. I'm assigned to cover
the camp. I had those stories before anyone else did. Big
scoop for IBM. Right?
Noooooo, they tell me not to cover them. They don't like the draw story
because it would indicate that their computer is not all it's cracked up
to be. After some discussion, we all agree I have to write it, because
by them it's starting to circulate all over the Internet, but the
suggestions of cheating they editors don't want to hear about that.
I wrote about both of them. I get the whole inside story. I take it back
to my editor. He's hesitant. He says we have to run it by pr. THey order
changes made. I object, but they're made anyway. I'm told by the pr person
in charge if I don't like it I can skedaddle. But the editor (who is
really a decent fellow) accidentally sends my original story in for
publishing. It goes on the web, and when pr sees it overnight, they go
ballistic and have the story pulled.
I walked in the next day, and the first thing they accuse me of is spying
for the Kasparov camp around the Deep Blue computer on the heavily guarded
35th floor of the building. I said that was a lie. I hadn't been up there.
But they march me down to the basement of the Equitable Building, and my
badge, which gives me freedom to walk around the building, is removed by
one of IBM's SS guards from my pocket, there is a guard standing by the
door and I am basically jailed in the IBM gulag until they return with
another badge, which gives me less freedom, and I am told I am now banned
from the press room up on the 50th floor, which is where the Kasparov team
and most of the grandmasters hang out during the match. Instead, I can
only sit in the auditorium. The reason I am banned is because the pr
department believes I somehow managed on my own to switch the stories and
get my original story published on the web site (Mind you, I don't even
know what html stands for).
Paranoia strikes deep. That morning the IBM ceo, Gerstner visited the web
room. Before his arrival, three secutiy guards go rummaging through the
place, even checking out the bathroom stalls (for assassins?) to make
sure all is safe for Gerstner's visit.
I must say people in the press and Kasparov camp were sympathetic to my
plight and by then my contacts were good, so in my next story I quoted
several things that happened in the press room which were fed to me, just
to make sure the pr people choked when they read my story.
ON the morning of game five, the NY Times reporter sees me in the lobby
and asks why I was not in the press room. I told him the whole story. He
went to the pr people to ask them about it. The head of pr immediately
marched down to the web room and ordered me fired as soon as I handed in
my story that night, which I was and had my badge removed a second time,
despite the fact for a whole week I was scooping every reporter who was
covering the match and my stories by then were being quoted around the
As far as the match went, the story that day was more of the same.
Kasparov was still obsessed with game two and it was by then affecting his
play. But even the audience was suspecting this whole thing was a bit
weighted against Kasparov. After the draw in game five, in which he played
brilliantly only to be outwitted in the end game (Because it is all
calculations, Deep Blue is programmed to play a perfect endgame, BTW.
Kasparov knows that if it gets down to five pieces vs. five pieces against
Deep Blue it is impossible for him to win), Kasparov walked on stage to
the warmest standing ovation I have ever seen. The look of
exhaustion/gratification on his face gave me chills. When the IBM team
came on stage, the audience booed! Of course, when I mentioned to someone
how are we going to write about that, he just laughed and said don't even
think about it.
Over and over again the Kasparov team complained that IBM wouldn't let
them see any of Deep Blue's previous games, so they were unable to
prepare properly for the match. They also said that despite it's
overwhelming brilliance at times, in other instances it was perfectly
ordinary, and if the match had gone 20 games, Kasparov, could have figured
the thing out. My guess is that is probably true. It is also true that
Deep Blue is a much better chess player than any previous computer and
that within a few years it will be consistently better than the world
champion. Even though it won this match, I don't think its quite there
Oh, one more thing I found so fascinating. Kasparov's brilliance goes far
beyond chess. It turns out he loves Central Park. He would go walking
there every day. ONe day they were in litereary walk and h e wonders why
there are so many Scottish poets enshrined. He then launches into a
complete narrative history of Scottish poetry.
He reads the Times every day. One day, there was an article about the new
British pm and that was the youngest since 1810 or so. The Times article
didn't say who the guy was back in 1810. Kasparov thought for a few
minutes, traced the pm lineage in his head and came up with the answer.
He also, by the way, was the champion Frogger, player in Russia and was
quite proud of that.
<< end of forwarded material >>
© 1997 Peter Langston