This Day In History: February 17

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In the final game of a six-game match, world chess champion Garry Kasparov triumphs over Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing computer, and wins the match, 4-2. However, Deep Blue goes on to defeat Kasparov in a heavily publicized rematch the following year.

Garry Kasparov, considered one of the greatest players in the history of chess, was born April 13, 1963, in the Russian republic of Azerbaijan. In 1985, at 22, Kasparov became the youngest world champion in history when he defeated Anatoly Karpov.

Deep Blue’s origins trace back to 1985, when Carnegie Mellon University doctoral student Feng Hsiung Hsu began developing a chess-playing computer called “ChipTest.” The computer later became known as “Deep Thought,” after a machine in the science-fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Hsu and his collaborators, Murray Campbell and Thomas Anantharaman, were later hired by IBM, where they continued to work on the chess-playing computer. In 1989, Gary Kasparov easily trounced Deep Thought when they met for a 2-game match. The IBM team continued to refine their supercomputer, which in 1993 was renamed “Deep Blue,” a combination of Deep Thought and Big Blue, IBM’s nickname.

The six-game match between Kasparov and Deep Blue began on February 10, 1996, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. Although Deep Blue was capable of evaluating 100 million different chess positions per second, the IBM team wasn’t sure how the computer would perform in competition and Kasparov was favored to win. Instead, much to his frustration, the world chess champ lost the first game to Deep Blue. However, the tenacious, brilliant Kasparov quickly staged a comeback and won the second game. The third and fourth games ended in a draw, while Kasparov won the fifth game. On February 17, the human chess master triumphed over Deep Blue in the sixth game and took the match, with a final score of 4-2.

A heavily publicized 6-game rematch between man and machine began on May 3, 1997. The IBM team had been working to upgrade Deep Blue since its 1996 defeat to Kasparov and the improved version of the computer was able to examine 200 million different chess positions per second. Kasparov took the first game while Deep Blue won the second. The third, fourth and fifth games ended in a draw. On May 11, Deep Blue won the sixth as well as the match, 3.5 to 2.5. The victory was a huge publicity boost for IBM. A disgruntled Kasparov suggested Deep Blue had been aided by some sort of human assistance during the games, charges that IBM denied. Kasparov demanded a rematch, but instead, IBM retired Deep Blue.

Kasparov retained his world chess champion title until 2000. In March 2005, he announced his retirement from professional chess. 

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