For those of you who are unaware, I just realized FiveThirtyEight and ESPN are starting a short docu-series entitled “Signals”.  They have only released the first episode, but conveniently, for me, it documents the epic chess matches between Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue.  The long story short is Garry beat the IBM computer in their first match, at which point IBM challenged him to a re-match which he accepted and was defeated.  But, the details of the story are where the morals lye (of which there were quite a few).  As the story begins, we are reminded of Garry’s “healthy” self-confidence.  In my opinion, he’s got an ego; but apparently in chess too much self-confidence is better than too little.  However, leading up to the second match, the media had really taken this story and run with it, and potentially started to chip away little by little at Garry’s confidence.  As the match got underway, the unbelievable happened, the computer made a move that made absolutely no sense.  It was a completely legal move, but was not strategic offensively or defensively.  Garry assumed this was some master computer plan, after all it was widely known that the computer can “think” about more moves, and compute moves further into the future than Garry ever could.   So, Garry decided to resign from this game, allowing Deep Blue to take the victory.  Turns out, the “unbelievable” move the computer had made was really just a bug.  Deep Blue had been programed with a series of random legal moves that would be played when there was nothing else to play.  Too bad for Garry…

Now, this is where the computer has the upper hand.  Following that game Garry could stew in his loss, really beat himself up over it, which would end up affecting his performance in the following rounds.  The computer got shut off at the end of the night, and turned on again before the next round of chess, like nothing had happened previously.  Unfortunately for Garry his insecurities would begin to eat away at him.  This was evident during a press conference when he hinted that Deep Blue was playing too well to simply be JUST a machine.  The long story short, is that Garry ended up losing the match to Deep Blue after he resigned from a game that it is now projected he could have won had he continued to play.  Kasparov was denied a rematch with Deep Blue by IBM, they knew to quit while they were ahead.

Kasparov ended up being his own worst enemy.  Overthinking, overanalyzing, and trying to read between the lines is usually unhealthy and at least in this case didn’t end up working out.  Sometimes things are just as they seem.  There has been more than one occasion this semester that I have spent hours fretting and overthinking a homework problem only to find out we were really just looking for something simple.  The issue is telling the difference between when we just need to do something simple (and do it the easy way), contrasted with when we need to do something difficult (and do it the hard way).  I’m still trying to figure that last part out.

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One Response to Signals

  1. justin4301 says:

    Its interesting that in chess it is favorable to have a high level of self confidence, and that this quality correlates to more success. Similarly, its interesting that Kasparov assumed that when deep blue made a seemingly random move, it must have been because the computer had come to some wild conclusion based on some calculation that Kasparov was incapable of making. It seems like kasparov’s high opinion of his competition overrided his self confidence.

    I would imagine that self confidence, and your opinion of your competition are two factors in most games/sports that are rarely ever discussed. Obviously, these two things would be hard to quantify, but it makes sense that if you believe you are the best, and you aren’t intimidated by your competition, you will have an advantage. It makes sense that many of the best athletes are described as being “mentally tough” or “tough as nails”.

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