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Garry Kasparov gets burned by computer — again

It has been nearly a quarter century since a computer first beat the greatest chess grandmaster, and the computer found another way to foil the legendary Garry Kasparov on Saturday.

Kasparov, who essentially came out of retirement to participate in the star-studded 2020 Champions 960 Showdown, has been battling on even terms with nine younger grandmasters, including current world champion Magnus Carlsen, in the round-robin tournament.

But his big loss came at the hands of a computer glitch … sort of.

Not really a bug, but an instantaneous blip in which his intended move against American grandmaster Fabiano Caruana slipped to a different square – immediately losing a piece and taking Kasparov from an apparent winning position to defeat.

“It’s not even I blundered the piece, it was the machine!” Kasparov said later, forcing a smile, but clearly perturbed.

Mouse slips and “pre-move blips” have become one of the perils of chess, which has moved almost exclusively online during the coronavirus pandemic, turning the parlor game into a fast-paced burgeoning esport. Rather than squaring off over the board, tournaments use PCs with Skype and Zoom, while commentators describe the play on YouTube and Twitch channels.

The explosion in popularity has turned American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura into a Twitch superstar, which in turn led him to sign a with esports team TSM last month.

Kasparov’s involvement in the 2020 Champions 960 Showdown brought enhanced interest in this unique chess competition, which concludes Sunday with the final three rounds. Carlsen of Norway heads into the final day in a five-way logjam at the top of the standings with Nakamura, Levon Aronian of Armenia and Americans Wesley So and Cuban-American Leinier Dominguez.

First prize is $37,500.

The commentators on Saturday were describing the Kasparov-Caruana match as a forgone conclusion when Kasparov’s slip occurred, which eventually kept the 56-year-old former champion from the group of tournament leaders.

Back in 1997, it was Kasparov – the legendary highest-rated player ever – who provided the ultimate software challenge. He had defeated IBM’s Deep Blue in 1996, but in a rematch the following year, the supercomputer scored the deeply symbolic victory.

This time, Kasparov’s undoing came at the hands of the hardware rather than the calculating software – a simple mouse slip as he tried to hastily complete his winning sequence of moves.

In the webcast through the hosting Saint Louis Chess Club, he ruefully mused, “damn computer!”

–Don Borst, Field Level Media

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