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The Machine

By Matt Charman

Campfield Market Hall, 12 July 2013

Hadley Fraser as Garry Kasparov in The Machine.  Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Hadley Fraser as Garry Kasparov in The Machine. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Without a doubt, the 1997 match between Kasparov and Deep Blue was a pivotal event in modern chess history.

Before the match few took computers as chess players at all seriously; they were brute calculators, with no positional understanding or feel for the game.  Whereas now, less than twenty years on, the accepted wisdom is that humans would come a poor second; just look at how Michael Adams, England’s top chess player of the last decade or so, was trashed by Hydra in 2005.  For Magnus Carlsen, the current world number one, the computer is an essential training partner; and the same goes for other top players.  You might even say that Carlsen’s whole approach to chess, his very style, has been influenced by the silicon monsters.  His twin strengths are accuracy and relentless pressure: the avoidance and detection of (human) error.

Matt Charman’s play is a fun drama, bringing out all the fractious (and entertaining) shenanigans of the match and also touching on some wider issues.  But some of the chess detail is a little silly.  When Deep Blue plays 6.Re1 in the Lopez, for example, we are told that it’s suddenly playing positional chess, that we’re watching some kind of revolution.  Yet with 6.Re1 the computer is simply copying humans.  It’s a book move that had been played hundreds of thousands of times before.  On the plus side, Hadley Fraser is a convincing Kasparov.

The Machine is showing at the Campfield Market Hall (just off Deansgate) as part of the Manchester International Festival, and it is there until 21 July.  Further details can be found here.

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