A Hobby Turned Upside Down by Larry Peery, c. 1997. San Diego, CA)
Do you remember where you were 20 years ago and what you were you doing during that spring of 1997? I do. Let’s go back in time and place to that time and remember two events: one of which you surely heard about, even if you weren’t a chess player; and one of which you may even have taken part in, if you were a Diplomacy player. The two events were very different and yet, as we will see, they shared some common elements that bind them to us, even today.
There are two underlying themes in this essay. The first is the importance of the random or spontaneous act in how a historical situation plays out. Whether it’s due to fate, destiny, chance, luck or a freak accident random acts can and do have big effects. The second theme is the perennial battle between Man and Machine for mastery, if not outright victory, in a given situation. Both our case studies occurred a few months apart in 1997. One was the IBM Computer’s Deep Blue chess match vs. Gary Kasparov and the second was the World Diplomacy Convention Championship held in Goteborg, Sweden. This is a story of a computer’s random act and the effect it had on its human opponent and the story of a Diplomacy player’s random acts and the effect they had on a Diplomacy tournament
machine. (In this case the word machine could be interchanged with the word system.)
On a lighter note there are two companion pieces that go with this essay. The first is a reprinting of Manus Hand’s account of his trip to that WDC VII in Goteborg in a sort of
Walter Mitty Takes Sweden By Storm or Was It The Other Way Around? The second, photo essay, tells a bit more of the story of HIH Esmeralda, Grand Duchess of Tasmania and one of her experiences at that same event.
On 11 May 1997, a Sunday, millions of chess fans and millions of computer geeks all over the world paused wherever they happened to be to watch a rematch between an IBM computer named Deep Blue and the Russian world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. History records that on that day a Broadway show,
Play On! closed, three sporting events made the list and
Deep Blue defeats Garry Kasparov 3.5-2.5 in chess.
Although it happened after the WDC Championship in Goteborg, Sweden, a few weeks earlier; I began with this event because it raises an interesting question that I want you, gentle reader, to think about as you read this story,
How can an unpredicted move in an unpredictable game like chess or Diplomacy effect the outcome of that game?
Deep Blue Defeats Garry Kasparov, 11 May 1997
Two decades ago, a machine conquered humanity. In chess, that is, when the IBM computer Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov, then the world champion. The two had faced off the previous year, when Mr. Kasparov won the six-game match 4-2. But the computer won the rematch, 3½-2½.
Before the first contest, Mr. Kasparov was reportedly so confident that he turned down an offer to split the $500,000 winnings 60-40. Instead he insisted on a winner-take-all affair. Then he lost the first game, a
shattering experience, according to his coach
I’m a human being, Mr. Kasparov said after losing the second matchup.
When I see something that is well beyond my understanding, I’m afraid.
He and chess pundits attributed the loss to a single move, which may have simply been a bug.
According to one of the computer’s creators, Deep Blue was unable to choose a move, so it picked one at random. It was a glitch, but the machine’s counterintuitive play may have confused Mr. Kasparov.
It was an incredibly refined move, said the grandmaster Yasser Seirawan.
And it sent Garry into a tizzy.
Swift and Slashing, Computer Topples Kasparov, by Bruce Weber, 12 May, 1997, NY Times.
In brisk and brutal fashion, the I.B.M. computer Deep Blue unseated humanity, at least temporarily, as the finest chess playing entity on the planet yesterday, when Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion, resigned the sixth and final game of the match after just 19 moves, saying,
I lost my fighting spirit.
The unexpectedly swift denouement to the bitterly fought contest came as a surprise, because until yesterday Mr. Kasparov had been able to summon the wherewithal to match Deep Blue gambit for gambit.Swift and slashing computer topples Kasparov
Did a Computer Bug Help Deep Blue Beat Kasparov?, by Klint Finley, 28 Sep., 2012, Wired.
Chess Grand Master Garry Kasparov, left, contemplates his next move against IBM's Deep Blue chess computer while Chung-Jen Tan, manager of the Deep Blue project looks on during the first game of a six-game rematch between Kasparov and Deep Blue in this file photo from 1997. The computer program made history by becoming the first to beat a world chess champion, Kasparov, at a serious game. Photo: Adam Nadel/Associated Press
In New York City on 11 May 1997, an IBM supercomputer known as Deep Blue beat then chess world champion Garry Kasparov, who had once bragged he would never lose to a machine.
Kasparov and other chess masters blamed the defeat on a single move made by the IBM machine. Either at the end of the first game or the beginning of the second, depending on who’s telling the story, the computer made a sacrifice that seemed to hint at its long-term strategy.
Kasparov and many others thought the move was too sophisticated for a computer, suggesting there had been some sort of human intervention during the game.
It was an incredibly refined move, of defending while ahead to cut out any hint of countermoves, grandmaster Yasser Seirawan told Wired in 2001
and it sent Garry into a tizzy.
Fifteen years later, one of Big Blue’s designers says the move was the result of a bug in Deep Blue’s software.Deep Blue Computer Bug
For more information:
It’s Man Over Machine as Chess Champion Beats Computer He calls Tough Opponent, by Bruce Weber, 18 Feb., 1996, NY Times
This Time It’s Personal, by Rudy Chelminski, 1 Oct., 2001, Wired
Nate Silver’s ‘The Signal and the Noise’, by Brad Plumer, 26 Sep., 2012, Washington Post
The Man vs. The Machine, ESPN film (17 mins.)
Deep Blue versus Garry Kasparov, Wikipedia
Looking back it seems to me that WDC VII in Goteborg, Sweden, was more important than most of us who were there realized at the time. Here are some of the reasons, in no particular order, why I think that:
First, Pitt Crandlemire came from the United States to defend his title in Sweden, after two Swedes had taken the second and third places the year before in Columbus. Importantly, he brought some good American players with him, enough that the Americans took much the same role in Goteborg as their ancestors had done at the Second Battle of the Marne --- they made a difference.
Second, Borger Borgersen, the one Norwegian player (compared to sixty-eight Swedes) took third place in the individuals’ tournament and was a member of the winning team in the team event; while still finding the time to explain the difference between Norwegian and Swedish skiing to me and to justify why a mid-sized pizza cost the equivalent to USD 100 in Bergen.
Third, Cyrille Sevin took his first world individuals’ championship and began his climb to the top, a place he continues to occupy today as
perhaps the greatest Diplomacy player ever.
Fourth, Roger Edblom, a Swede, took second place, to uphold the honor of the home team. And WDC VII (GothCon XXI) was also a very significant event for the Swedish Diplomacy hobby. It proved that the Swedes could host, run and play in a WDC-class event very successfully.
Fifth, the British and French players; which had pretty much dominated the Diplomacy hobby in Europe; were put on notice that they now had to contend with a new kid on the block. In addition, it gave them an opportunity to play Diplomacy in a neutral environment without the mega-diplomacy of previous events in Birmingham and Paris.
Sixth, the smaller hobbies in Europe like Belgium, Norway and Finland showed their skills on and off the board; which would pave the way for them to take a more active role in WDC and the forth-coming European Diplomacy Con. Still, there was much to be done at both the WDC and European Diplomacy level. Goteborg would only attract one Dutch, one German, no Italians, and no Aussies or Kiwis.
And to the worldwide Dip hobby: Confirmed that there was more to Europe than the UK and Fr. And that Americans would, under the right conditions, travel abroad to play.
For the record there were 114 players, ranked from 1 to 70, who played some 48 boards in 5 rounds.
The primary source of information on the event is Per Westling’s Swedish/English Dip and other games ‘zine Lepanto 4-Ever; which carried a lot of information on WDC from issue #52 -57. You can see it here.
On page 5, issue 52 in May, 1997 I wrote:
There is no doubt in my mind that this was the best WDC event yet. I see no reason, twenty years later, to change that view.
Manus Hand and I both wrote reports on WDC VII, which you can find by the links to the Spring 1997 Retreat issue, for my travel diary (as Manus described it) or to the Fall 1997 Movement issue, for Manus’s travelogue. (Editor's note: The latter gets reprinted in this issue to illustrate the various things that could go wrong when making uninformed decisions, as opposed to the positive tenet that the author posits here.).
Larry Peery and Leif Bergman, WDC VII organizer
Note the five Doctor of Diplomacy degrees awarded to Pitt Crandlemire, Bjorn von Knorring, Edi Birsan, Francois Rivasseau and moi.
WDC VII Participants final solo standings (Top 12)[CHART 1]
US WDC VII Participants final solo standings:
WDC VII Team Event final standings (Top 7)[CHART 2]
My account of what happened at the closing awards ceremony for WDC VII is based on second hand information since I wasn’t in the room when the winners were announced. I’ve told the story before but it is rather amusing so I don’t mind telling it again.
When it came time for the Team Event (Keep in mind that the Team Event is just as important to the Europeans as the Solo Event is to Americans.) the organizers discovered they needed one more team to make their game boards complete. So Leif asked me if I had a team and when I said no he asked if I could put one together quickly. So I randomly grabbed Borger and Daniel, who were sitting around doing nothing and begged them to join my team. Bless their hearts, they both agreed. When I gave Leif the good news that we had a team he immediately asked for the name so he could put in the computer. I didn’t have a clue and hadn’t even thought about it. How do you describe a team of one Norwegian, one American living in Germany and one California who barely know each other? The only thing I could think of that we all had in common was that we all liked to talk ---a lot! So I picked the word Chatterboxes. When I said it to Leif he just looked at me, so I explained to whim what a chatterbox was and asked what the Swedish equivalent was --- and thus we got the name Pratkvarnarma; which roughly translates to
wood chips flying.
During the Team Event each game was played in a different with the intention that the various team members wouldn’t know how their teammates were doing; the idea being to prevent mega-game playing. Naturally the Swedes, who had plenty of extra bodies available, had observers in every room to keep each other posted on what was going on. I was totally in the dark all through the game and had no idea how Borger and Daniel were doing; which added a certain random element to a situation where most of the players were carefully watching and playing the system at work. Surprisingly I was having my best game of the WDC and was the largest power on my board, so I knew I’d get the best score on the table. Then the psych games started. First one and then another of the players asked me, ever so politely, if I wouldn’t mind giving up one of my centers to help them improve their score because it would really help them rank higher in the final scoring and I didn’t need them because I’d still be the biggest power on the board. Like an idiot, I fell for it, so I gave away two centers on the last turn. This was perhaps the most random event of the tournament. Can you imagine any sane player in pursuit of a world championship title voluntarily giving up points for no apparent gain? It wouldn’t happen. Both Borger and Daniel knew I was the biggest player on my board but they weren’t sure if I’d have to settle for that or actually get a real
victory worth more points in the scoring system (which I didn’t understand, but hadn’t told anybody --- another random factor in the tournament’s results). Anyway, both of them worked very hard and got victories in their games. If I’d kept those two centers I would have had a victory and we would have had a real blow-out! Still, I was reasonably confident that we would do well in the final standings.
When it came time to announce the results of the Team Event Leif started looking around for me figuring I was somewhere in the hall, except that I wasn’t. Again, a purely random situation when the winner of a competition fails to take a victory lap because he has something better to do. (No, leaving early to catch the last Metro train doesn’t count.) Well, actually I was upstairs with Henrik Holmgren in the faculty lounge watching X-rated Swedish sex porn flicks. Ah, got your attention finally, huh! Actually we were looking at Swedish Air Force videos (Not X-rated but definitely top secret.). Anyway, Leif started at number ten and read off the list of teams in reverse order. The closer he got to the top the more excited there was in the room. Then he paused a bit and some of the Swedish team players started looking at each other trying to figure out who the number one team was since they had begun to realize it wasn’t one of them. Finally. Leif spits it out,
The winning team is Pratkvarnarna! While the Swedes, thinking it was a Swedish team because of the name, started cheering, the foreigners, especially the Americans, just looked at each other bewildered. After a few minutes Borger, who everybody knew, and Daniel, who a few people knew, got up and headed for the stage. Leif, open mic in hand, says
Where’s Larry? and the silence was deafening, or so I was told later. Borger and Daniel just looked at each other and then at Leif.
We don’t know. By then the word had gotten out that two Americans and a Norwegian had won the event. By the time I got downstairs most people had left and when some of the Swedes said
Congratulations, as I wandered toward the hall I still didn’t know what had happened. I walked into room and Leif, who was still up on the stage, looked up at me and yelled
Where were you? Your team won! It was a true Walter Mitty moment.
Just for the record here’s how I played during the entire event: Round 1: Austria, eliminated, 1 point; Round 2: Italy, eliminated, 1 point; Round 3: Did not play; Round 4: Russia, 6 supply centers, 14 points; Round 5: England, 8 supply centers, 19.5 points. Note: No other player in the tournament was eliminated in the first two rounds ended the event ranking above me; another Walter Mitty moment.
HIH Esmeralda poses for her 40th birthday photo (2011)
Those of you who are real hobby Old Farts may remember HIH Esmeralda, Grand Duchess of Tasmania from the hobby’s First Golden Age in the late 1960s. I think she first appeared in my first postal Diplomacy game, 1966 AA (which was also Edi Birsan’s first PBM Dip game if I remember correctly), as part of the game press. More recently her storied life was revived in the Y4 Demo Game published in DIPLOMACY WORLD. You can read about her in the game press if you’re interested in what Diplomacy press was like in the
good old days.
Then, in 1970 or thereabouts, one of my players in a postal Diplomacy game I was running named Dennis Brackman was serving as a tanker in the US Army in Vietnam. To make a long story short I played a small part in introducing him to the lovely lady who he eventually married. In one of my game press releases, which she read apparently, I described Esmeralda’s lovely robes
in shades of lavender, hot pink and lime green. Not long after a box postmarked from Auckland arrived and inside was the plush kangaroo and all her finery shown below that Sylvia had made as a thank you gift for me.
Esmeralda was and is my good luck charm, so to speak. She's the eyewitness to much Diplomacy history (Among her events were DIPCON V and XXII, WDC I, II, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XIII and others, and EDC I --- a total of 33 major events), that rarely speaks (although I did once write a story ((I think it was part of the RTW cruise on the QE2) about some of my travels as seen through her eyes. More practically, here she ended up as a mini-story here because a part of her was in the photo of the WDC VII Team plaque and I figured I should explain who/what she was (sort of like, who's the guy in the pic yawning in the front row as Trump announces we're nuking Pyongyang) and that led to the complete pic, etc. Sort of like a sidebar with pix.
HIH Esmeralda with the WDC VII medallion and Team Tournament
Another little vignette would link Esmeralda to WDC VII and Goteborg..... On the last night of the Con a group of us went to Sir Winston's for dinner. It's a well-known, popular, pricey and touristy restaurant in downtown Goteborg, complete with a
Winne decor. For a random reason (e.g. no known reason at all) I ordered the kangeroo steak. Everybody at the table just stared when it arrived, accompanied by a big bowl of lingonberry sauce (sort of like cranberry sauce) on the side. The waiter explained the sauce was to give the meat some taste since it tended to be dry and rather flavorless.
Now he tells me!! He was right.
Now, flash ahead to 2003 and I'm in the middle of my 8 week tour of Australia, Esmeralda at my side. I was doing an interview with lunch with the executive chef (27-years-old) at my hotel (one of the better ones in Sydney). Obviously somebody had told him to be nice to me and he had gone all out to prepare his 9 course tasting menu dinner for us. One of them items on it was, you guessed it, kangeroo with kiwi sauce. Here's this little (perhaps 2 inches by 2 inches) piece of kangaroo on top of a pile of something sitting in the middle of this 12 inch platter surrounded by nothing but a thin ribbon of pureed kiwi sauce and a single mint leaf. He proudly told me what it was and then glanced over at Esmeralda, sitting next to me complete with her own flute of Jacob's Creek sparkling wine. He looked back at me and I just smiled faintly and said,
I think I'll pass. I've learned kangaroo tends to be dry and tasteless no matter how good the sauce is.
Over the years Esmeralda has traveled with me all over the world of Dip and beyond. Everywhere she’s been received and treated as royalty, often getting more attention than I did. In England she was the house guest of Lord and Lady Mowbray at their manse in Grovernor Square and their country farm in Forfar. In Auckland she was welcomed by the US America’s Cup team who presented her with a complete set of America’s Cup team and event pins (even Madeleine Albright said Esmeralda had more pins than she did). The captain of the QE2 invited her to dine at his table one evening. In Sydney she was interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald and given a tour of the Opera House and Sydney Zoo. Tea with Dame Joan Sutherland followed at her home in Vacluse. In Tasmania she was given an ICAT tour of the harbor. In Buenos Aires she danced the tango in front of Casa Rosada.Today her pin collection includes over 150 pieces that cover three capes. At forty-six she’s still going strong.
Personal standard of HIH, Esmeralda, Grand Duchess of Tasmania.
With Allan B. Calhamer and Jamie Young at North American DipCon 1972 in Chicago, IL.
Esmeralda was one year old.
So what does bind us today to these two events of 20 years ago?
The drama of the moment.
Not knowing how our actions or inactions of the moment will effect the future.
The sense of history being made before our eyes.
I am one of the last of the Old Farts still resisting the use of artificial electronic timing devices and the idea of an arbitrary end to the game (e.g. at the end of 1906 or 1907).
I also still believe in the Jesse Unruh rule (
I’d Rather Be a Kingmaker Than a King) so I am not adverse to helping another player win a game or another hobbyist with a project, even at a cost to myself.
Those have been my principles for over 50 years. I see no reason to change them now.