ELECTRONIC T-NOTES


CHESSBASE USA'S WEEKLY ON-LINE NEWSLETTER


FOR THE WEEK OF AUGUST 29, 1999


CORRECTION

In last week's ETN, it was stated that weeding an opening tree would hide the weeded moves in Fritz5.32, but they'd still be visible in ChessBase 7. The fact is that selecting "Show unplayed transpositions" in either program will cause the weeded moves to be visible on the screen when the tree is opened. Sorry for the oversight! Thanks again to Mathias Feist for spotting the error!


"I'M SORRY, FRANK..."

by Steve Lopez

Chessplayers will argue about almost anything related to their favorite game. "Who's the greatest player?" "What's the greatest game?"

This week, I'd like to toss out a candidate for the most famous (not necessarily greatest) chess game of all time. Is it Kasparov-Deep Blue, Game 6, 1999? How about Morphy-Allies, Paris, 1858? Maybe the Evergreen Game?

My candidate for the most famous game of all time is: Frank Poole - HAL9000, between Earth and Jupiter, 2001.

This game (from the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey) is quite possibly the most frequently discussed game on the Internet. Questions about this game pop up every three to six months on the Usenet chess newsgroups and never fail to spark lively discussions.

For the three or four of you who haven't seen the film in question, I won't spoil it for you by going into detail. But a brief description of the game's context is in order. A spaceship is bound from the Earth to Jupiter in the year 2001. One of the astronauts on board (Frank Poole) is shown passing the time by playing chess against the ship's master computer, HAL9000. Chessplayers with a good eye or who are quick with their VCR's "pause" button can get a look at the board position displayed on the viewscreen in front of Poole. There have been thirty years of questions and debate concerning this chess position. Was it from a real game? Why was it shown in the film? What are the "hidden" ramifications of the scene in question?

2001: A Space Odyssey is arguably a film classic, one of the greats of any genre. The film's visual effects are truly astounding, literally years ahead of their time. Filmgoers weren't treated to anything comparable until the release of Star Wars a decade later. But what makes the film unique is its intelligence. Based on a short story by renowned science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 refuses to talk down to the audience. In fact, many filmgoers found the storyline impenetrable and were left scratching their heads at the film's conclusion. "What the heck happened?"

What has delighted film fans to this day are the presence of small mysteries within the plot's larger mystery. A great subject of debate among movie buffs over the years has been the name of the supercomputer: HAL9000. If you take the acronym "HAL" and replace each letter with the next one in the English alphabet, you get "IBM". Was this a deliberate swipe at the world's largest office machine company? Clarke claims it wasn't; he says that it was just a chance combination of letters, but amusing nonetheless.

There are more neat little puzzles and unanswered questions in the film, but since this is supposed to be a chess column, we'll limit ourselves to the chess-related questions.

It's a pretty well-known fact that Stanley Kubrick was a chess fanatic, which easily accounts for the two chess references in 2001. The lesser-known of the chess references is the presence of a "Dr. Smyslov" who makes a brief appearance in a short scene early in the film. American scientist Dr. Haywood Floyd is en route to Tycho Base on the lunar surface, but must "change flights" at a space station orbiting the Earth. While waiting for his ship's departure, he stops at a lounge and has a conversation with an old acquaintance. During the conversation, he's introduced to Dr. Smyslov. The chess reference here, of course, is to Vasily Smyslov, World Chess Champion from 1957 to 1958.

The second chess reference in the film is the infamous game between astronaut Frank Poole and HAL9000. The most-frequently asked question about it is "Was this position taken from an actual game?"

Yes, it was. The game was played in 1910 in the "B" section of a masters tournament in Hamburg, Germany. It's really not a terribly significant game, though it has been anthologized a few times, most notably in the book The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess by Irving Chernev.

The opening is the Worrall Attack in the Ruy Lopez. It became a very popular opening at the GM level in the mid-1990's as a sort of "antidote" to the Marshall. The best-known Worrall games of recent times were between Nigel Short and Anatoly Karpov in their 1992 Candidates Match in Linares. But the Worrall has a long history. It was a favorite of Paul Keres (who developed much theory on the opening) as well as Arthur Bisguier (wh played it a great deal during the 1940's and 50's). The opening's leading player today is GM Sergei Tiviakov, who published a short theoretical on it in Inside Chess in the mid-1990's. Judit Polgar used to play the Worrall in the 1990's but has since given it up.

The players in the Hamburg game were named Roesch and Schlage. Little is known about them, but their game has become possibly the most famous chess game ever due to its inclusion in Kubrick's film:

Roesch - Schlage [C86]
Hamburg, 1910

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Qe2
This is the defining move of the Worrall Attack. The idea is to defend the e4-pawn while setting up the moves 0-0 and Rd1 (to support the advance of the d-pawn to d4).

5...b5 6.Bb3 Be7 7.c3 0-0 8.0-0 d5

[8...Bb7 These days this is the preferred move instead of the immediate break in the center.]

9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nf4
Black is angling for a Kingside attack, but his development leaves a lot to be desired.

[10...Nxe5 11.Qxe5 Bb7 Better than what was actually played, though White still has a distinct advantage.]

11.Qe4 Nxe5 12.Qxa8
White's greed gets the best of him. 12.d4 followed by 13.Qxf4 was better.

12...Qd3

[12...Ne2+ 13.Kh1 Nd3 14.Na3 Ndxc1 15.Raxc1 Nxc1 Both of White's remaining minor pieces are now en prise and Black is in the driver's seat.]

13.Bd1

[13.Re1 White's last chance to save the game by grabbing the open file and attacking both the e5-Knight and e7-Bishop.]

13...Bh3
This is the initial position shown on the screen in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

14.Qxa6
White abandons the long diagonal and now mate is forced.

14...Bxg2 15.Re1 Qf3
In the film, this move was incorrectly given by HAL9000 as "Queen to Bishop Three".

Here's the forced mate sequence:
[15...Qf3 16.Qc8 Rxc8 17.h3 Nxh3+ 18.Kh2 Ng4#]

0-1

So what's the mystery contained within this game? Without (I hope) giving too much away for those few who've not yet seen the film, HAL9000 later suffers a malfunction (with disastrous consequences). Take a look at the note above to Black's 15th move. HAL incorrectly states the move as "Queen to Bishop Three"; it's actually "Queen to Bishop Six".

A debate has raged for thirty years over this line in the movie. Was it just a garden variety descriptive notation error (of the kind that has caused algebraic notation the become the new standard)? Or was there something more sinister about the error? Was it in fact a bit of foreshadowing on the part of the filmmaker, to let attentive viewers know that something bad was going to happen later?

I've heard excellent arguments for both sides in this debate. My personal opinion is that it's just a descriptive notation screwup (but you have to realize that I'm one of those "algebraic guys"). I used to edit a chess newsletter and I never received a submitted gamescore in descriptive notation that was error-free -- never. So from personal experience I'm inclined to believe that Kubrick simply screwed up the notation.

Despite the fact that it doesn't take a ton of effort to discover this position in a computer database (a ChessBase 7 position search will find it in just a minute or two in Big or MegaDatabase '99), misconceptions about this game still exist. It's presented in Chessmaster 3000's database of classic games as "Poole- HAL9000". It also appears on ChessBase's HorrorBase CD (our old "junk" database that we sold in 1997 as a means of making a point about "junk" data) three times! It's in there once as "Poole-HAL9000" and twice more as "Roesch-Schlage" -- once with the incorrect year but correct gamescore, the second time with the correct citation but additional moves added to the game. See ETN June 8, 1997 for more details.

As I previously opined, the HAL9000 game is probably the most famous game in the annals of chess. It's certainly taken on the status of an "urban legend" amongst chess fans. Please do me a favor: the next time a friend asks about the game in 2001, make a printout of this column for him or her. Perhaps this will decrease the frequency with which the inevitable question is asked in Usenet newsgroups. Then we can all go back to answering the twice-weekly posts of "What ever happened to Bobby Fischer?"

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes. If you love gambits, stop by my Chess Kamikaze Home Page and the Yahoo Chess Kamikazes Club.