Computers may have got better and better at chess, but human players can still find chinks in their defense, the world chess champion says. Just don't try to break them down psychologically.
Ever since IBM's Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov -- retired champion and reputedly the best player ever -- in 1997, humans have failed to regain dominance over increasingly powerful computers. (But it hasn't been all bad news:
But according to Veselin Topalov, a 30-year-old Bulgarian who dominated the world chess organization (FIDE) championship in October, people still have a small chance to hold their own.
"I find it fun playing computers. The only problem is that the psychological duel does not exist. You cannot bluff. You cannot count on unforced errors," he told Reuters.
"You have to find a special strategy completely different from what you would do against humans."
Computers dominate humans in stamina and "concentration" -- they don't get tired or buckle under pressure -- and are tactically far superior in measuring the power of a position or calculating whether an offence will succeed.
Just last week, three machines, including an Abu Dhabi-based computer named "Hydra," made short work of three previous champions in an exhibition match in Spain, winning five games, drawing six and losing only one to the humans.
But Topalov, who tied Hydra in a match in Bilbao last year, said computers still make strategic mistakes and people could still win if given enough time.
"A human, a world champion or a top grandmaster at his best, should still be better, but you achieve this condition only a few days a year," he said. "In a long game, people still have a chance, even if it's not much of one."
*'They know everything about us'*
Experts say machines out-compute people by a rate of around 200 million moves per second to one, but Topalov said it wasn't only raw calculating power that put them ahead.
Aside from far better memories, computers can tap databases containing millions of games -- including those of their rivals -- while calculating moves, while human opponents face overnight grandmasters who have left no trail of games to study.
"It's quite tough because of the advantages the computers have at the beginning. They know everything about us, and we know little about them," he said.
Topalov also said that while top chess players usually prepare well for a match against each other involving large prizes, they may take one-off matches against computers less seriously.
Despite dominating humans, computers have actually done more to enliven chess than threaten it with extinction, as more players use programs to peer through what was once seen as a alchemy-like world of murky grandmaster's strategies to judge the viability of potential moves and positions, Topalov said.
And even if computers are almost impossible to beat, humans -- at least for now -- need not always lose either.
"I see computers make mistakes, even if they aren't big ones," he said. "If you don't make a mistake, no one can beat you, not even God. It would have to be a draw."