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'Inspur'' Wins Its Spurs on Public Debut

Five grandmasters were defeated by a Chinese chess computer when it made its debut Wednesday in another display of technological superiority following in the footsteps of Deep Blue which triumphed over international chess world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Inspur, though, won only by a small margin at the First Inspur Cup Chinese Chess Human-and-Computer Match. In thought provoking matches Inspur scored three wins, tied five and lost only two to Chinese 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," added Xu.

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 programs operating simultaneously. Each played two rounds with corresponding software, each lasting 45 minutes.

"The result is really inspiring and it's a reward for my one-year of effort developing the software," said Xu Changming, developer of Xuanfeng software. His voice was 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 lacked 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," he observed.

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."

(China Daily August 10, 2006)

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