In 1997, the world number one ranked chess player Garry Kasparov thought he had his opponent on the ropes, assuming that a knight sacrifice wouldn’t be made. Kasparov had already defeated his opponent in a six-game match in 1996 though now, in the sixth game of the rematch, with the world watching, the winner would take all and there was more at stake than just his title.
Kasparov’s opponent was a computer named Deep Blue and the game lasted 20 moves – it was the first time that human intelligence was on the chopping block against artificial intelligence.
Deep Blue made the knight sacrifice and the game went on to last a further 11 moves. The uneasy conclusion was there for all to see.
Kasparov was the posterboy for human intelligence. He became a grandmaster at age 17 and followed in the grand tradition of form Soviet players like Boris Spassky and Mikhail Tal. Five years later he became the world’s youngest world champion (the record is now held by the Norwegian wunderkind Magnus Carlsen who Kasparov coached for a short period), beating the reigning champion Anatoly Karpov.
And though his breathtaking play won him many admirers around the world, it was his life’s second act that endeared him to the West, taking on the machine that Russia had built by way of its leader Vladimir Putin. Considered the unofficial opposition to the dominant party in Russia, Kasparov’s attempts to stand for election are constantly thwarted by unfair electoral practices.
His most recent book, Winter is Coming, catalogues the slow descent of Russia under the regime of Putin. As an activist, he has based himself in Croatia following the intolerable political climate – he has faced violence and threats to his life – and hopes that his motherland can reform in his own time.
Media-savvy, shrewd and sharp-witted – all points that he still has over Deep Blue – Kasparov’s greatest match still awaits him in the political realm. After all, in Russia, unlike the game that Kasparov changed and dominated for so long, Putin is always one move ahead.