Quite a different matter
Monday, 04 December 2006
Mark Glukhovsky

Composition VIII is seen as one of the most important works in the long list of creations of Wassily Kandinsky. This and a few other similar canvases are considered having laid foundation for the abstract art. Like Botvinnik, former scientist Kandinsky not only showed how, but also reasoned why, creating the theory he presented in a number of books. This is why the exhibition of the best works of the Guggenheim Museum in Bonn is opened with Composition VIII. There is no piece more important than this one, though there are pieces that are more interesting. The exhibition is arranged in such a way that the attentive visitor returns in his mind to the first work in each new hall.

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VIII

Having gotten rid of attachment to object, which is the core of abstract art, Kandinsky and Co created a kind of perpetuum mobile and presented all artists with a truly devastating weapon. Everyone used this new freedom in his own way. Genius German dreamer Franz Marc, who together with Kandinsky founded the ‘Blue rider’ union, painted a few wonderful canvases, and perished in the World War I. His hall made the deepest impression on me during my short visit to Bonn for the opening of Kramnik-Deep Fritz match. I blame myself for not being able to spend more time for the exhibition – the Game 1 was to start in an hour. Back then, I already felt the importance of the situation. The match is about to end, and the exhibition from the Guggenheim Museum, located in the same place as the World Chess Challenge, seems now being a perfect metaphor of the history of chess.

The exhibition hall in Bonn which hosts both the computer match and Guggenheim Museum art

The main road of the 20th century art: from abstract to machine. Through tricky Picasso, sincere Shagall, and deceitful Dali to pollacks and warhalls, and crosses and squares of modern malevichs. "There is only one answer to your crazy world – denial!" Denial of color, perspective and form, of gravity laws and traditional technique, as well as of non-traditional technique and technique of any sort. And then – the only possible consequence of all the denials: machine art, endlessly repeating, self-copying, and boundlessly accepting. I wonder if Kandinsky, Malevich and Rodchenko knew this result of their outstanding experiments of 1913, would they nevertheless invent nonobjectivity, crossing the line which stopped French cubists? God, or, more precisely, computer, knows.

The challenge is accepted

It has been said that chess is old-style. Nonsense! The only criterion of modern art is the number, and the number is quite impressive. From half a million to a whole million in just ten days! Not bad even for sport, and simply terrific for science or art. And this money is absolutely, 100%-deserved. It’s been long since we saw such a great public interest to a chess event. Long since we saw a chess event being organized with such professionalism – almost two years since the last Man-Machine match ended in New York.

The press is waiting for the first move of the Man

Kasparov called his matches scientific experiments. Kramnik is more inclined to sporting competition. One can call them a performance – it changes nothing. The world, depressed by artificial intelligence, artificial art, artificial perfection, is clinging to the last hope. That is hope of self-respect. We are still kicking! We are not giving up! Chess players offer the hope, and the world is ready to pay.

The spectators expect Kramnik to resist decently

A gorgeous place in the center of Bonn. The hall is full of spectators. Dozens if not hundreds of journalists, daily reviews in the news. German finance minister Peer Steinbruck and FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov appear in the hall before the Game 1.

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and the match patron, German finance minister Peer Steinbruck

The representative of German electric company RAG made a smart investment for his corporation.

Dr Werner Mueller, Head of RAG

Soft voice of Yasser Seirawan is in the spectators’ earphones. I haven’t seen him since the New York matches. As the first game develops, we go out for a smoke together. "If I played Black, I’d just trade on f3, and then made a draw. I am sure about it!" – I dream about. "Don’t worry, I’d also trade", – laughs Yasser, and returns to the microphone, saying "my audience needs me". The audience indeed needs him: there aren’t so many skilled spectators, and Yasser is an excellent commentator, capable of retaining the attention of a professional and explaining the events to an amateur. He invented a formula that can explain a lot: ‘The computer is a 2400-player who never blunders’.

Yasser Seirawan commented all the recent Man-Machine matches

After the game, Yasser was the only chess player to agree with me that Vladimir missed good chances. My intuitive insights were supported by Seirawan’s concrete variations. Kramnik missed it, and this was a first sign of the human champion being in not a good shape. I didn’t notice any other signs of tiredness at the post-game press conference.

Vladimir Kramnik is content with his play in the Game 1

Vladimir joked a lot, eagerly discussed the game, and was friendly and patient. He confirmed that no chess engine known to him would take on f3 with the bishop – this is perhaps the most important weakness of the computer, if not the only one. The stupid one simply doesn’t know that one must strive for a draw against Kramnik in the endgame! As for the machine’s objective strength, according to the champion, the new version of Fritz beats decisively the older one, which played in Bahrain, – 6.5-3.5.

Matthias Feist, the operator of Fritz, know its strength

However, despite obvious progress, the computer was the one to have problems in the first two games. Judging by the reports of the colleagues who stayed in Bonn, the human champion was satisfied with the quality of his play, and the inexplicable blunder in the Game 2 is already left behind. Although I had to leave after the Game 1, I’ll allow myself stopping on this episode.

The machine always fights to the end

The problem is not that Kramnik missed the mate. The problem is that he was not alarmed by the move Nõe6. Vladimir had to realize that the computer never loses quickly. It always goes down slowly and painfully. If the computer chooses the line that loses immediately, then something is wrong. Having sensed this, Vladimir would quickly make a correct assessment. However, the safety device did not work! This mistake bothers more than the complete joke of a blunder. On the other hand, the third game makes one happy – the position was tough against the machine, but Vladimir smartly exploited its straightforwardness. And yet, let us be objective. The man’s chances are melting with each game, as ice of the skating rink near the exhibition hall in Bonn.

Europe prepares for Christmas

The skating rink is full of careless children, despite +15 C. After the Game 1 I for some reason decided to talk with three kids who were skating there. "Right here. Chess? World Champion?", - the most ready of them frowned and began moving wood on the imaginary board. He became happy as I clarified the situation: "Oh, playing against the computer? Well, this is quite a different matter!"