“Game Theory,” by Stephen Starr

May 20th, 2015 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

Raymond Chandler once said that chess was as elaborate a waste of intelligence as you could find outside an advertising agency. Still, it had always been a human waste. As a last redoubt of the rarified mind, it was an irresistible target for programmers and purveyors of the new “thinking machines.” By the 1980s, computers had reached a level of sophistication that allowed them to challenge a grand master. As it happened, the world’s greatest chess player in the mid-80’s was a restless genius named Garry Kimovich Kasparov (pronounced “Gary” in Russian). He was famous for playing against dozens of competitors at a time. He would pace along a gauntlet of chessboards, moving a piece at each station and crushing all challengers. No one could defeat him on those 64 squares. Seemingly bored by humanity, Kasparov sought to defeat the digital world at the same time as computer engineers sought to conquer this domain of humanity.

In 1985, Kasparov played 32 different chess computers in Hamburg and he won every game.

In 1989, a team at IBM developed a super computer called Deep Thought. They challenged the grand master to a two game match. Kasparov defeated Deep Thought in both games.

The IBM team went back to the lab and emerged in 1996 with a new computer, which they named Deep Blue. In February of that year, the computer defeated Kasparov in one game. In a re-match in 1997, Kasparov won three games and played two to a draw, taking the match 4-2.

In May 1997, an updated version of Deep Blue defeated Kasparov 3.5 to 2.5 in a six game match.

It may not have been a level playing field, though. Kasparov was denied access to Deep Blue’s recent games. However, the computer was able to study hundreds of Kasparov’s previous matches. Also, the computer was given a bigger dressing room, and one of Kasparov’s chair legs was shorter than the others and he wobbled through most of game 4, which drove him nuts.

Kasparov claimed that he sensed a human intelligence behind Deep Blue’s moves and accused human players of intervening in the games. IBM flatly denied this. When Kasparov requested printouts of Deep Blue’s log files, IBM refused and said that Deep Blue was too tired and had to nap and that Kasparov should come back tomorrow.

Observers at the match raised their own concerns. Was Deep Blue pre-programmed with a set of tactical instructions or was its play controlled algorithmically. Why did programmers pass bottles of soda and cheezies thorough a hole in the back of the computer? What was the nature of Deep Blue’s core processor? Why was Deep Blue’s case made of cardboard with the words “Maytag” written on the side? IBM has maintained that this was simply a matter of sponsorship. “Everyone does it. Boris Spasky used to show up in a Marlboro jacket.”

However, careful analysis of network footage, though grainy, unmistakably shows a hand reaching through a cutout in Deep Blue’s casing to move the chess pieces.

Also, according to later eyewitness testimony, at the end of the match, after Kasparov had flipped over the board and stormed off, Deep Blue sprouted several pairs of legs and walked out of the room. ABC’s Howard Cosell recalled, “There was something unmistakably arrogant in the computer’s triumphant swagger. I was reminded of a young Cassius Clay after he defeated Sonny Liston.”

But then, Deep Blue walked into the wall and staggered backwards. The IBM team had to re-direct Deep Blue through the doorway.

“The same thing happened to Ali after he defeated Frazier in Manila,” said Cosell.

Kasparov pressed IBM for a re-match. The Deep Blue team obfuscated and delayed. They would say, “system error, system error, does not compute,” or they would make screeching sounds, as if Kasparov had mistakenly dialed their fax line, even though he was talking to them in person.

Finally, frustrated after months of evasion from the Deep Blue team, Kasparov settled instead for a match against Deep Throat.

The showdown between Kasparov and Linda Lovelace was to take place in Budapest in October 1998.

At the time, many chess commentators were skeptical. They complained that Linda Lovelace was past her prime and was therefore not a worthy opponent. Indeed at the pre-match news conference, Ms. Lovelace tended to giggle excessively and asked one reporter if he knew which way the horsey moved.

In game one, Kasparov defeated her in three moves. In game two Kasparov methodically striped Lovelace of all her pieces while she methodically stripped. He would have defeated her quickly had she not added pieces from other game sets between moves. Lovelace’s team denied the use of this tactic, but several pieces were of dubious provenance, being of different colour and size. One piece was actually the shoe from a Monopoly game.

Kasparov appeared to be on top of the world again. This may have bred over-confidence in game three, and Lovelace rebounded and surprised him with the Gandolfini gambit. In game four, Lovelace mounted the Sicilian defense. She subsequently mounted a Sicilian.

In game five, Kasparov was uncharacteristically confused and Lovelace was able to mate him as she continued to mate with the Sicilian.

In game six, Kasparov was visibly flustered and made the beginner’s mistake of trying to protect his king by hiding him in his pocket. He was disqualified and the governing body crowned Lovelace champion of the chess world and the chest world.

Kasparov was a broken man. His humiliation was deepened as Lovelace mocked him. She satirized his signature simultaneous matches of the 1980s by assembling 36 grandmasters in Oslo and blowing them all.

Kasparov was shattered. He withdrew from public life and tried to re-group. His rehabilitation began by playing Tic-Tac-Toe against a toaster. He progressed slowly, methodically, rebuilding his confidence. He won 5 out of 7 games of checkers against a programmable thermostat before moving on to a tightly contested Battleship match against an answering machine. He spent months playing cribbage against a garage door opener. He unexpectedly emerged from his isolation at the World Backgammon Championship in April 2001. There, in Kuala Lumpur, he convincingly defeated a GE convection oven. He seemed to be back to his old self as he traded jests with the press after the match. “There was no need for it to be self-cleaning. Because I cleaned it out. Get it?” His early successes had a domino effect, as he began playing dominos with a high efficiency furnace.

There were setbacks along the way; notably, the now famous Lillehammer series, where he played Risk and Monopoly against a formidable washer and dryer set. He froze for forty minutes before making his first move. Some analysts wondered if he had become catatonic upon seeing the Maytag logo, while Kasparov himself describes a paralysis of strategy. “I honestly didn’t know whether to create a fortress in Australia, or to go for broke in Asia. The washer had just gone through a rinse cycle and then concentrated its forces in Kamchatka. In the meantime, the dryer was in wrinkle-release mode and was making a play for the orange set and the railroads.”

In July, Kasparov held his own in an exhibition Mah Jong series in Rome against Hamilton Beach’s Deep Fryer.

By November of that year, Kasparov had assembled a cadre of elite boardgamers in Brugge. He challenged them all to one of his trademark simultaneous matches. His feat of concentration was prodigious as he stalked the array of opponents like a hunting panther. One incredible play followed another. He began by guessing Colonel Mustard in the Library with a wrench. At the next table, he rolled six with the pop-a-matic, moving twice, to trouble someone’s mean old brother. At table three, he was by far the hungriest hippo. He then moved seamlessly into an intense operating theatre and deftly removed a necrotic funny bone without lighting up the patient’s bulbous nose. Despite his success, the mercurial Kasparov refused to continue when he found out that batteries were not included. In a replay of the Sao Paolo Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robot crisis, Kasparov retreated to his dressing room for three hours before officials from Milton Bradley agreed to supply the required double A batteries. Any concern that the break would disrupt his momentum or concentration were quickly laid to rest. Nebraska’s Scrabble champion was sent reeling as Kasparov scored 164 points by placing “Quartzy” on a triple word square. At table seven the Bulgarian champion was Sorry he ever left Sofia. At table 15 Kasparov effortlessly raced through Peppermint Stick Forest and Gumdrop Mountain, humbling Slovakia’s best hope for Candyland glory. At table 19, the spectators held their breath as Kasparov was confronted by the towering, and for some reason shirtless, Ivan Raspinovitch. He was Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked champion in rock-paper-scissors (known in Russia as sickle-hammer-potato). Kasparov vanquished Raspinovitch with a brilliant sickle, sickle, potato strategy. The tournament was capped by a stunning victory in Mystery Date. Kasparov was driven to the prom by a dreamboat in a limo, whilst the Lithuanian challenger had to settle for a dud who showed up in a jalopy.

The grandmaster was ready to face Deep Throat and Deep Blue again.

However, during Kasapov’s race around the globe’s game boards, things had changed radically in the Chess world. After spending most of her professional life blowing others, Linda Lovelace’s cover had been blown. She was revealed to have been Woodward and Burnstein’s anonymous informant in the Watergate case. In retrospect, this had been pretty obvious, since the informant’s codename was Deep Throat. Soon afterwards, it was discovered that Deep Throat was also her password for on-line banking and Netflix. She was stripped of her title and left penniless. Sick from hepatitis, she became born-again, and launched a campaign against pornography and chess.

Deep Blue, in the meantime, had also been infected by a virus. Plagued by pop-ups, it became stuck in a do-loop. It became paranoid, and began ranting that IBM had planted a chip inside it and was controlling it. This was true of course, but it was still paranoid. Deep Blue ended up moving to Iceland, where it lived with fellow insane chess master Bobby Fisher. Together, they lived out their final days railing against the U.S. Postal Service, Zionists and Microsoft.

Thwarted in his bid to reconquer the chess world, Kasparov turned his sights to politics. In 2005, he retired from chess and founded a party with the aim of restoring democracy to Russia by overthrowing Vladimir Putin. There followed a contest of wills between the grandmaster and the strongman. The Kremlin coerced Russia’s mainstream opposition parties to boycott Kasparov’s coalition. Kasparov organized rallies and marches, and the government in turn engineered “spontaneous” assaults and arrests. It was a game of cat-and-mouse as intricate and tense as any chess match. In 2007, Kasparov announced his candidacy for the up-coming presidential election. Putin hastily erected a thicket of quasi-legal edicts that prevented Kasparov from attaining the threshold of support for nomination. The former champion was forced to withdraw from the race. Although Kasparov continued to bravely agitate for human rights and democracy in Russia, Putin countered him at every turn. The reason Kasparov was unable to defeat the steely-eyed autocrat come to light quite by accident at a G8 reception. A broken champagne flute lacerated the ex-KGB agent’s forearm, exposing a titanium carapace and a complex array of circuitry. “I knew it!” Kasparov declared when informed of the incident. “I could not sense any human intelligence behind his moves. I knew he was an android!” Despite Kasparov’s suspicions, IBM vehemently denied any involvement in the creation of the Putinbot. Yet it is also a fact that IBM’s Moscow headquarters is only a 13 minute drive from the Kremlin. For his part, Kasparov plans a final challenge against robot Putin. He will stake everything, winner-take-all, on a game of Twister.

Defenestration-Stephen StarrStephen Starr is a writer and physician. His work has appeared in Response, The Dream Class Anthology, The Doctor’s Review, and The Medical Post. He lives with his family in Victoria, B.C.

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