Chess in the 21st Century
Much has occurred in chess since the days of Philidor. Play is no longer limited to upper- class males with ample leisure time. Men and women of every social and financial class can now compete as equals. Unlike many other popular games, competitive chess is available to anyone who has an interest. (A substantial amount of talent and ability will certainly help, but a lack of both can't keep someone from pursuing the game.)
The Fischer/Spassky match of 1972 was the first chess contest in history to create a huge international interest, and the number of fans has been growing since. Today millions of chess enthusiasts watch tournaments on television or over the Internet and cheer for their favorite player. In 1999, "Garry Kasparov vs. The World" generated incredible worldwide interest, bringing 58,000 players and three million visitors from more than 75 countries to the hosting Web site during the span of four months.
The rise of the Internet has contributed significantly to the "average" person's access to anything and everything they might want to know about the game. Most search engines will return hundreds of thousands of responses for an inquiry about chess, including histories, biographies, insights, games, rankings, and much more. Information about the game has never been so available and immediate and should only improve with time.
The most celebrated man vs. computer chess contests were the match and rematch between Garry Kasparov and IBM's supercomputer, Deep Blue, held in 1996 and 1997. Kasparov won the first encounter, and Big Blue took the rematch, after substantial reprogramming. (Many consider Kasparov the greatest player in history.) Following the second encounter Kasparov said, "The match was lost by the world champion, but there are very good and very profound reasons for this. I think the competition has just started. This is just the beginning."
According to the experts, man (or woman) against computer is no big deal, really a computer is a gigantic memory machine that does only what it's told to do under certain circumstances, nothing more. A human has the ability to modify, adapt, and overcome. Regardless, computers are becoming more and more capable of monumental calculations and comparisons and may one day be able to vanquish all human challengers.
The one thing to be remembered is that all computers must be programmed by people. Put enough information from enough databases into a supercomputer and the ultimate calculator may appear, but chess the historic game handed down from antiquity is a game of human thought, creativity, and ingenuity. The soul of chess is the humanity behind the game
It's also important to understand the benefits available from practicing with a computerized chess program. Some of the most popular programs have massive libraries of moves within their memory banks; rehearsing these strategies can only improve the game of the average chess player.
Computerized chess comes in two basic forms: independent boards and software programs. The independent boards provide the actual board and pieces and can be transported fairly easily. Software programs are designed to be downloaded into a computer. Their mobility is limited, but the application is usually fairly inexpensive (in comparison to the independent board) and robust.
It's impossible to exclude Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, and Anatoly Karpov from the list of contemporary masters who will continue to influence the world of chess for years to come. Other great players who should be watched as they move up in the international ranks are Ruslan Ponomariov of the Ukraine (FIDE #51), Etienne Bacrot of France (FIDE #67), and Alexander Grischuk of Russia (FIDE #81). Not only are they grandmasters, each has yet to reach his 18th birthday.
Other great players include the Polgar sisters (Judit Polgar is currently ranked #32 in the world), Xie Jun, Maia Chiburdanidze, and Chen Zhu all women, and all capable of giving the top male players a serious challenge for the world championship.
Kasparov, who currently holds a lead of more than 70 FIDE points over his closest challenger (Anand), will more than likely hold the world championship title for years to come. However, Kasparov can't compete forever, and he will one day succumb to the inevitable decline of increasing age. In the world of chess, age and treachery can't compete against youth and ability! It's anybody's guess who will relieve Mr. Kasparov of his long-held world title.
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