In the small gloomy room commentator Pyotr Svidler leaned forward. “On behalf of the Russian Association for Computing Machinery it’s my pleasure to be here and to participate in this exciting event. This is going to make chess history. We’re anticipating an exciting afternoon.”
He reminded the audience how delicately and evenly poised the series was. Gary Kasparov won the first game and surprisingly Deep Blue won the second. Following three drawn games it meant the world champion had 2½ points as did Deep Blue. The sixth and final game was going to be a ‘sudden death’ playoff.
A nervous looking Kasparov was already seated at the chess board in the auditorium. Huge TV screens showed the board and a camera focused on the World Champion. He took a sip of water from a glass, made a steeple with his index fingers and glowered at the arranged board on the table before him.
“Kasparov seems rattled; all of us are amazed how Deep Blue has played.” Svidler knows how to work the mic. “We are in Moscow’s President Horal in the auditorium.”
Sudden silence and tension filled the auditorium as all eyes turned to the screen. All understood the high stakes of this single game. Deep Blue made its first move and Svidler was breathless. “The first move of this epic sixth game has been played. Deep Blue has moved its pawn.”
Wheels rocked out a hypnotic rhythm, Satan’s eyes were alive and danced in the shadows of the coach. Lord-thy-God stared back – you really are an insecure show-off at times He thought, but said nothing.
“Do you believe in fate?” Satan broke the silence. “Why do you have such a fascination with end of day prophesies? The Book of Revelations. Why do scholars pour over its confusing contents? It is about as cheap and as shallow as horoscopes and fortune telling. There is no such thing as fate. Science and common sense will prevail. Like the moves on this chess board, it all comes down to making the right choice.”
There was absolutely no hesitation when Deep Blue made its fourth move. It came swiftly and the machine took Kasparov’s pawn. Now a white knight commanded centre stage. Kasparov had anticipated the move, seemed to hesitate. His face a study of intense concentration. In every game there would be some sort of retribution. Tit-for-tat. You take my pawn and I’ll take yours. He brought his knight into play, captured the pawn. The Chess Master seemed to relax and sat back in his chair.
Nothing is more costly and sterile than vengeance. If you come to this board seeking revenge, dig two graves. One for your enemy and one for yourself. The taste of revenge is sweet, intoxicating. Drink deep Oh Man, and know that you have already been poisoned.
The opening stages of the game were drawing to a conclusion. One phase of the battle was almost over, another about to begin. There was tangible anticipation as the audience waited for Deep Blue’s next move. What would it be? Where would the computer make its attack? It came swiftly, decisively, no hesitation. A white bishop suddenly occupied the middle ground, securing the advantage.
A chess game starts out so simply, the first move is limited to twenty options. By the second move the number of possible board positions grows to over seventy-one thousand. After the third move, opponents have to settle on about nine million possible positions. By move four, the number quickly grows to over three hundred billion. Deep Blue made its seventh move and brought its second knight into play. The options were quickly evaluated and compared, easily calculated. Deep Blue was playing a game of numbers.
The train was approaching Kirov, the night darkened. Satan looked across the board at his opponent. I see one of your greatest weaknesses. You care too much about what others think. You seek another’s approval above all else. The weight of expectations of others weighs heavily on you.
If Deep Blue could smell it would register the reek of blood and sweat and shit. The fight was well and truly joined as the computer brought its second Bishop into the fray. The stench of fear.
After the eleventh move Svidler spoke into the microphone “The maestro’s king is trapped. It cannot move and Kasparov will have to immediately defend. Gary cannot be happy. Deep Blue had used only six minutes to play 12 moves. Kasparov used 15 minutes. Tellingly the time spent was on only one move, the last one.”
Deep Blue was now in control and its moves were deliberate and without hesitation. It may have been a mere pawn but in it was venom. The computer was playing to win. Deep Blue was emotionless, without feeling and without Soul. On the thirteenth move the storm broke. Who dares to enter into this place, who dares to enter into the imagined consciousness of an iron beast who knows only reason and blind judgement?
Svidler switched on his mic and the red light flickered. He looked down at a scowling Kasparov. “We like to watch Kasparov because he is so expressive. We can count on him to let us know exactly what he thinks about the chess position practically at all times.”
Aggression is often mistaken for insecurity. Kasparov sat back in his chair and put his hands together behind his head, the tide had turned.
Blink, blink, blink … was the computer in retreat or had it laid the hidden seeds of Man’s own final destruction?
Svidler stared at the board. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but Kasparov is doing some strange things right now.” He was puzzled. Below him Gary Kasparov was showing signs of distress. “Another unusual thing, he’s put his watch back on. A cryptic sign that the game could be over.”
The Siberian Express neared Moscow’s outskirts, dawn was distant.
The commentator was concerned. “He’s looking off stage, it looks like he’s ready to…” there was a pause, he continued “He’s looking at someone else. He has a coach who is in the room with him, but cannot help in any way.”
The stakes were high, the Soul of Man. After this game there would be no beginning and no end. A gnarled hand reached out and picked up the final piece, a humble pawn. It was dropped in the centre of the board. Deep Blue’s last move. Kasparov closed his eyes and bowed his head and lay his King down in resignation.
Commentator Svidler was stunned; he could not believe what he was seeing.
“Whoa! Kasparov has resigned! It’s over, just like that! We should say that Deep Blue has won the match. Deep Blue has defeated the World Champion in an absolutely stunning, stunning nineteen mover.”
The audience slowly came to life, they were equally stunned. Svidler continued. “Kasparov has just simply stormed away. We should say congratulations to Deep Blue and their programmers.”
A dumbfounded audience shuffled to their feet and offered syncopated applause as the World Champion stormed off the stage without a word.
Satan’s smile flashed. There would be many who would slap each other’s backs. Many who would shake hands. Mankind stood on a dangerous precipice. Here was the final betrayal. Mankind’s body and soul, His imagination was traded for cold logic. From this day forward He would be thrust into a world without care. A narcissist and empty place without story, without mystery. When Deep Blue made its last move, it severed the Hand of Fate. It extinguished romance.
“Well that’s that then.” Satan struggling to hide his glee. “Finally the Soul of Man has its rightful home. It has been a pleasure.”
Lord-Thy-God rose to full height. “If you think I’m going to hand you the Soul of Man just like that? You are mistaken. The price is far higher than you can imagine. Chess game or no chess game, I will never relinquish the most precious thing in time and space to you.”
“Are going back on your word? You were lying all along. I am sorry, but if you don’t relinquish your hold on the Soul of Man right now, I shall have no option but to go to war.”
“If that is what it takes, I will go to war,” The Lord-Thy-God’s fury rising.
“So it will be. War it is. I thought we could have settled this another way. But prophesy does has an awkward way of directing events, does it not?”
“The Soul of Man is not yours to do what you will.”
“But it is, won fair and square. Name the place and bring your armies, I shall be ready for you. At Kursk perhaps? Stalingrad? No wait, because you claim to be the One God – how’s about the Valley of Badr? I’m sure all your Muslim followers would find comfort in that. Outside the walls of Jericho?”
“There is only one place where we can have the final battle for the Soul of Man.” Lord-Thy-God sombre. “Tel Meggido.”
“Ah, yes. It was one of your prophets, writers. It was John who made such a noise about this place. Armageddon it was called back then.” Satan confident. “Bring your pathetic army and I will take back what is mine, I will take back the Soul of Man.” He spat.
Lord-thy-God arrived at the battlefield early, Tel Meggido spread before him. Seated with him on horseback was Son-of-Man and Holy Spirit. “We shall occupy the high ground and take primary advantage.” Three voices spoke as one. Behind them stood Great Army of Souls and the Battalions of Mankind. Before them the plains of Armageddon.
For less than eternity they waited in silence before a single rider rode slowly out of the mists on a pale horse. Satan. Alone.
“Good morning,” Smiling and in good spirits. “I have come to claim my captives, I see you have brought them all here.”
“Were is your army Satan? You ride out alone. Is this some kind of joke? Another one of your tricks?”
“Naïve fool. Look behind you. Your army was captured long before they even arrived on this hallowed battleground. Look at them all staring at their devices, those they hold in their hands. They take pictures of themselves and share them with their friends, or those they think are their friends.” Satan’s eyes gleaming. Final victory.
“No Lord-thy-God, it is over. The Soul of Man’s fire was slowly extinguished over time and you didn’t even realise it.”
The whole great army of the Lord was distracted, some were reading the latest news reports, others posting pictures of themselves on the battleground. None, not even the Divisional Commanders were paying attention. Playing virtual war games and listening to podcasts.
“It is over, the soulless digital world belongs to me. The Soul of Man has slowly, over time become my slave.” Without a smile Satan turned his back and rode back over Tel Meggido and the mist closed in.
Gary Kasparov was shaken. After the game he sat on the steps outside the Tretyakov Gallery. He stared out beyond the children playing in the fountain, out beyond the Moscow River. The sun warmed him, his inner world boiled. How could it be? Never had he been defeated so decisively. And so quickly. The World Champion, a Master, defeated by a machine. By a bunch of programmers. He pulled out his phone and typed a question into Google search – “Is there a God?”
The screen went blank for a second, and then came the message – in bright green on black background –
“THERE IS ONE NOW”
“Was this a joke?” he whispered to himself.
He couldn’t hear the answer, but in the Soul of Man the answer was a resounding “NO.”