Kasparov’s New Game

Garry Kasparov has an interesting article in the New York Review of Books this week.  It is particularly unique, because it makes no mention of Russia, politics, or Putin, but instead pontificates on another matter – chess and artificial intelligence – which he allegedly knows something about.  When is the last time we heard from Kasparov?  Although he did get a token meeting with Barack Obama during his visit to Russia last July, this is one political voice which has gone quiet in recent months.

But with all this talk of calculating risks and rewards, is the grandmaster planning any new moves?  From the NYRB:

Perhaps chess is the wrong game for the times. Poker is now everywhere, as amateurs dream of winning millions and being on television for playing a card game whose complexities can be detailed on a single piece of paper. But while chess is a 100 percent information game–both players are aware of all the data all the time–and therefore directly susceptible to computing power, poker has hidden cards and variable stakes, creating critical roles for chance, bluffing, and risk management.

These might seem to be aspects of poker based entirely on humanpsychology and therefore invulnerable to computer incursion. A machinecan trivially calculate the odds of every hand, but what to make of anopponent with poor odds making a large bet? And yet the computers areadvancing here as well. Jonathan Schaeffer, the inventor of thecheckers-solving program, has moved on to poker and his digital playersare performing better and better against strong humans–with obviousimplications for online gambling sites.

Perhaps the current trend of many chess professionals taking up themore lucrative pastime of poker is not a wholly negative one. It maynot be too late for humans to relearn how to take risks in order toinnovate and thereby maintain the advanced lifestyles we enjoy. And ifit takes a poker-playing supercomputer to remind us that we can’t enjoythe rewards without taking the risks, so be it.