June 26, 2012 9:10

Garry Kasparov versus Alan Turing's 1950 chess program

Kasparov playing Turing's program running on Chessbase

Yesterday, at the Alan Turing Centenary Conference in Manchester, Garry Kasparov won in 16 moves against the original Turing chess program which was created in 1950. The game, which mostly had historical value, was played during Kasparov's speech on Alan Turing and his 'Paper Machine'.

Kasparov playing Turing's program running on Chessbase | Image courtesy of the BBC

It must have been one of the easiest games he ever played. In a mere 16 moves, Garry Kasparov checkmated his opponent, and got a decent applause from the audience in the Manchester Town Hall. But it was not about the game, or the moves. This had nothing to do with "man vs machine", like the famous Kasparov vs Deep Blue matches in 1996 and 1997. This was all about the opponent. It was a showcase of the first chess computer program ever written, for the first time in action in public.

PGN string

Turing wrote the chess program soon after the Second World War and before the computer had even been invented on which to run it. After finishing the algorithm, he had to run the program using pencil and paper and his own brain as the computer. It took Turing 15 to 30 minutes for each move. The game "Turing program vs Kasparov" was played on a laptop with the Chessbase program and the "Turing engine" set to a 2-ply depth. The whole game lasted about two minutes.

Kasparov about the meaning of the game:

The game was part of Kasparov's lecture on Alan Turing and his 'Paper Machine'. Kasparov spoke on Monday morning, June 25th at the Alan Turing Centenary Conference in Manchester. The conference's main theme was Alan Turing's 100th birthday on June 23rd (when we published our column The Turing plug-in). The conference was hosted by the University of Manchester, where Turing worked in 1948-1954. Here's the intro to Kasparov's speech, taken from the conference website.

It is an amazing fact that the very first chess program in history was written a few years before computers had been invented. It was designed by a visionary man who knew that programmable computers were coming and that, once they were built, they would be able to play chess. The man, of course, was Alan Turing, one of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived. Soon after the war he wrote the instructions that would enable a machine to play chess. Since there was as yet no machine that could execute the instructions he did so himself, acting as a human CPU and requiring more than half an hour per move. A single game is recorded, one in which Turing's "paper machine" lost to a colleague.

Garry Kasparov will sketch the historical context of Turing’s involvement in chess and then go on to describe how the chess computer experts reconstructed the paper machine to run on a modern day computer. In the process they encountered a problem: the chess engine refused to duplicate all of Turing’s moves as recorded in the historical game. The debugging process, in which computer chess pioneer Ken Thompson was involved, left the programmers baffled. Then someone called Donald Michie, a colleague from Bletchley, who advocated debugging not the program but Turing! “Alan did not care about details; he was interested in general principle.” Kasparov’s lecture will discuss the points of deviation from the recorded game.

In the second part of the lecture Kasparov will describe a number of Turing Tests that have been performed for chess. For a while it was impossible to reliably tell computer games from those of humans. However, today the task has become simpler because of the ruthless precision of computer play, which has reached a level of many hundreds of Elo points above the best human players.

Kasparov also unveiled a blue plaque to Turing at Manchester University, with the words: "In the sweep of history, there are a few individuals about whom we can say the world would be a very different place had they not been born." Alan Turing was born in London on 23 June 1912. At the turn of the millennium, 45 years after his death, Time Magazine listed him among the twentieth century's 100 greatest minds, alongside the Wright brothers, Albert Einstein, DNA busters Crick and Watson, and the discoverer of penicillin, Alexander Fleming.

Here's Kasparov on Turing's legacy:

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


Erik Fokke's picture

Beste Peter,
Dank voor het plaatsen van de berichten over Turing !! Ook deze met Kasparov. Het is gruwelijk wat de Britten dit genie hebben aangedaan.
met groet,

S3's picture

Wow. Kasparov actually succesful at something. Pretty rare these days.

dave's picture

you are really successful at posting weird comments S3; which makes you more successful than Kasparov:)

S4's picture


Garry 's picture

S3 for Stupid times 3!!!!!!

Columbo's picture

It's like S3 is in his chair all day long and wait for inspiration, and suddenly he gets IT !!! OUAHHHHHHHHH ! another comment ! Amazing ! arf arf ! we all laugh ! we almost strangle oursleves , we choke we cant stop laughing ... In fact we even invite good friends to have a drink and read your comments ... and you know what?!?!? we all laugh ... we laugh soooooooo much ... you can not imagine

Anonymous's picture

That was good a one. :)
I was going to post something similar but you preceded me. Don't care about the haters.

monte44's picture

WRONG! Kasparov has been very successful in slandering another players recently.

ssd's picture

lol +1 S3

bayde's picture

But why only two plies, I wonder! Was that all that Turing could do, using only pencil and paper.. Because no wonder the program will lose in two minutes, at that rate.

Aditya's picture

Turing was just demonstrating the existence of a procedure that can achieve automated play. At that time, this itself was a great feat. Also it was more about AI than about chess. If he had dedicated himself to chess, I'm sure he would have been able to improve the performance too.

Chess Fan's picture

Good Point.
For Turing to even think about such innovative ideas with so many other things he was innovating is mind-boggingly impressive.

Aditya's picture

Seriously, as highlighted by Kasparov himself, Turing's work deserves respect and recognition. Especially when we consider the age in which he put forth these ideas. But why pit the algorithm against Kasparov and show that it loses in 16 moves? It brings the work in a negative light to the headline skimmers. It's like taking the Wright brothers' airplane in turbulent weather and saying "Good model, but in trying conditions, it doesnt go beyond a few meters"

RuralRob's picture

Turing's program knew how to castle. The first Chess Challenger couldn't do that!

misja's picture

Indeed for anyone who has some historic perspective this being programmed in 1950 is just incredible. So I would be interested to read Turing and see the program's code. This is more about science than about chess, but absolutely fascinating. I am glad Kasparov gives chess this kind of PR.

OhB1Knewbie's picture

Alan Turings Chess Program
'Digital computers applied to games'

OhB1Knewbie's picture

Alan Turings Chess Program
'Digital computers applied to games'

prasad's picture

I think this is a misconception. He wrote an eval function, and with paper and pencil worked out the minimax for two ply by hand. He didn't bother with coding the rules for chess - it would just be grunt work to write (and worse to actually follow to see if a move was legal) and I don't think even back then anyone doubted the rules could be implemented algorithmically.

Ophelia Crack's picture

Some comments here do not pass the Turing test.

test's picture


Anonymous's picture

I wonder if Kasparov considered any of the 'program's' moves homosexual, as he once did commenting on another game.

Frits Fritschy's picture

The last comment was mine, to my regret it was attributed to 'anonymous'.

misja's picture

which other game?

misja's picture

and is "Turing's" source code publicly available?

Frits Fritschy's picture

I sometimes remember things that should be forgotten, maybe, but just don't get out of my mind. So I googled "Kasparov homosexual" and found this (on www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1011501) as a source: From Jan Timman's "Power Chess with Pieces": "One year later (talking about Shirov-Salov, Wijk aan Zee 1998, where 12..Bxd4? was played) Kasparov, again in Wijk aan Zee, improved on Black's play against Shirov by playing 12..e6 (instead of 12..Bxd4) and went on to win the game. During the usual press conference after the round he declared that Salov's 12th move had been a 'homosexual move'. A number of reporters were delicate enough to keep this strange observation out of their reports..." By the way, I thought he was addressing Adorjan in stead of Salov, proving that my memory can't be trusted without sources.

Anonymous's picture

Professional chess has never recovered from the retirement of GK.

noyb's picture

Excellent comments by Garry Kimovich.

Please come back from retirement!

Anonymous's picture

Kasparov: "I think most amateur players can experience serious problems by facing that Turing machine."

steve's picture

chessvibes needs to ditch the comments sections. nothing but trolling trollers, every day. it is worse than a yahoo news article.

steve's picture

chessvibes needs to ditch the comments sections. nothing but trolling trollers, every day. it is worse than a yahoo news article.

S3's picture

not to mention the double posts..

MH's picture

I like the comments section of chessvibes. Of course people have different opinions, and some are serious some make jokes. So what..

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