(A Chinese-chess computer competes with Chinese grandmaster Liu Dahua at the 1st Inspur Cup Chinese Chess Human-and-Computer Match in Beijing on August 9, 2006. Photo: Sina)
A Chinese-chess computer defeated five grandmasters on its debut Wednesday in another show of technological superiority following in the footsteps of Deep Blue, which triumphed over international chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.
Inspur, though, won only by a small margin at the 1st Inspur Cup Chinese Chess Human-and-Computer Match. In gruelling battles, Inspur scored three wins, tied five and lost only two to Chinese-chess players.
"The machine's computing speed was really impressive, especially in the middle of the game," Xu Tianhong, a grandmaster, said when he stepped out of the competition room.
"The human brain gets tired, but Inspur marches on efficiently. I spent much more time pondering my moves than the computer," Xu said.
Chinese chess, like the internationally-known form of the game, is believed to have evolved from chaturanga, which originated in India around the middle of the first millennium. It took its current form in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Both forms have 32 pieces but the Chinese version has seven ranks led by a general compared with six led by a king in chess. While Chinese-chess pieces move on 90 criss-crosses, chess pieces have 64 grids.
During yesterday's contest, leading Chinese-chess players had to confront Inspur developed by a leading Shandong-based IT group of the same name which was armed with five different software programmes operating simultaneously.
Each played two rounds with corresponding software, each lasting 45 minutes.
"The result is really inspiring. It is a reward for my one-year's efforts developing the software," said Xu Changming, developer of Xuanfeng software, his voice filled with excitement.
His software notched up two victories over grandmaster Liu Dahua.
"Liu's failure was in a large part due to fatigue," said Zhang Qiang, one of the participants.
Liu played with 25 amateurs earlier in the day and did not have enough time to rest, Zhang explained.
Liu, however, looked unruffled after the competition.
"Though I lost the match, I still don't believe that computers are superior to human players," Liu told China Daily.
"The computer works much faster," Liu admitted. "But its judgment is still weak, especially near the end of the game."
Liu said the computer lacks skills for comprehensive assessment.
"The computer only knows it should 'eat' a bigger piece rather than a smaller one. For example, when it has a choice between a horse (Ma) and a soldier (Zu), it often eats the horse.
"But it often turns out that a soldier is more important than a horse near the end of the game."
Zhai Yun, a member of the team for Qitiandasheng chess software, agreed with Liu.
"Though the computer is quicker, it has difficulty in judging the board as a whole," Zhai said.