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Moscow 1963 Grandmaster vs Computer

In 2022, it will probably come as no surprise to us that a computer plays chess, and not too badly at that ;-)

More or less since 2006, chess engines began to surpass the playing strength of the most powerful Grandmasters.

It was completely different 60 years ago. In the 1960s, a computer - especially a chess-playing computer - was considered a technological miracle. Although, there were also many skeptics who doubted the "creative abilities" of the then as they were called - electron machines.

Remembered is the year 1963, when grandmaster David Bronstein, expressing willingness to take the fight to the computer, decided to play without a Queen ...

The game began and the computer began without a second thought exchanging one piece for another destroying all the opponent's forces. Grandmaster understood, that his chances were decreasing, and he wouldn't be able to win this game. Not waiting for defeat, he mixed up the pieces and promised a rematch, but with equal forces.

I invite you to watch this chess game, one of the first played by the computer against the Grandmaster.

White played the famous and very strong Grandmaster David Bronstein, one of the greatest chess players of his time, but who was not destined to become the World Champion.

Grandmaster D.Bronstein won the right to play for the chess throne and in 1951 he played against the then World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik. The match was very close and ended in a draw.

( David Bronstein, source: Wikipedia )

The blacks were played by an EMC computer (M-20).

M-20, was a Soviet digital general purpose mainframe computer developed at the Institute of Precise Mechanics and Computer Engineering, and manufactured from 1958 to 1964 at Kazan Plant of Computing Machines.

M-20 vacuum tube-based computer was designed in 1958 and became the world's champion in operational speed (for only three months, though). Later, M-220, M-222 and BESM-4 semiconductor models were developed, which had increased storage volume and were software compatible with the M-20. They were mass-manufactured until 1974 and used in computer centers all over the Soviet Union.


  • Average performance - 20 thousand instructions per second.

  • Occupied area - 170-200 sq. m.

  • Consumed power - 50 kW (not including the cooling system); the standard 220V/50Hz power circuit was used for M-20.

( M-20 computer, source: Russian Virtual Computer Museum )

Here is the chess game mentioned above.

David Bronstein - M20, Moscow 1963.

The King's Gambit.

1. e2-e4 e7-e5

2. f2-f4

A characteristic of the last century - the king's gambit. Not hiding their aggressive intentions, white with the move f2-f4 seems to say: "to battle!" This debit leads to fierce clashes from the beginning of the game, and its numerous variations, worked out very carefully, can quickly lead to complete destruction of each other.

Nevertheless, it used to be one of the most popular openings. Today it is out of fashion and is encountered less and less often. Probably because modern experienced chess players have mastered the art of taming the cavalry shaws and giving the game the form of a calmer positional battle.

No wonder that in his first serious encounter with a computer David Bronstein reached for a tried and tested debit. Usually it is much more difficult to defend than to attack. Defense requires not only the deciphering of successive variations, but also an accurate assessment of the situation, which 60 years ago in 1963 was not yet the strongest point of computers.

2. e5xf4

3. Ng1-f3 Ng8-f6

4. e4-e5 Nf6-g4

5. d2-d4

Grandmaster tries to develop his figures and pawns from the beginning of the game.

5. g7-g5

Computers playing at a not-so-high level, usually play to maintain and increase material gains. Such is the case in this chess game.

6. Nb1-c3 Ng4-e3

7. Qd1-e2

Played in the spirit of the kings gambit. Of course, white would have a pretty good game after 7. Bc1xe3 with the next 7...f4xe3 8. Nc3-d5.

7. Ne3xf1

8. Nc3-e4!

No matter the loss - to get the victory! White executes a plan to occupy key points in the opponent's camp.

8. Nf1-e3

9. Ne4-f6+ Ke8-e7

10. Gc1-d2

Certainly the continuation of 10. Bxe3 f4xe3 11. Nf6-d5+ Ke7-e8 12. Qe2-c4 would lead to a strong attack, however the Grandmaster has a bigger appetite - at the cost of another figure (rooks) he wants to give mate.

10. Ne3xc2+

11. Ke1-f2 Nc2xa1

At the cost of sacrificed figures, Bronstein developed white's figures perfectly. The two Knights, Bishop and Queen are ready to attack the black king directly.

12. Nf6-d5+ Ke7-e6??

13. Qe2-c4

Black King found himself in a very difficult situation. As Grandmaster David Bronstein said, the computer really "didn't like" the move 13. Qe2-c4. The machine delayed its answer for a very long time exhausting its time and the opponent.

M-20 finally played 13...b7-b5, but due to lack of time the game was stopped, although as it used to be years ago, Grandmaster saved his next move 14. Nf3xg5+.

13. b7-b5

14. Nf3xg5+

1 - 0

White could have also ended the game in a more peaceful and traditional way, but he certainly chose the most impressive one.

In the 1960s, work on the creation of a chess computer program took on a multidirectional character almost from the beginning. New algorithms were sought and tried, and different approaches to the subject of chess were tested by the computers of the time. The first games played by calculating machines were published.

However, while the first information about these games caused a real sensation, their analysis brought great disappointment, because the level of play of these archaic computers did not differ from the level represented by beginner chess players.

It is interesting to note what people considered to be authorities said at the time. For example, the World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik, PhD in technical sciences, claimed that building a chess-playing machine at the master's level was a matter of several years at the most...

( Mikhail Botvinnik, source: Wikipedia )

...While another great chess player of those times, the ex-World Champion Max Euwe, professor of mathematics, proclaimed that it would take at least 100-150 years before the machine would play at the master's level.

( Max Euwe, source: Wikipedia )

Well... as we know it today, both excellent gentlemen were wrong, although Mikhail Botvinnik was much closer.

Below is the 1994 computer ranking list published by SSDF.

THE SSDF RATING LIST 4/94 (28/5-1994)


1. Mephisto Genius 2.0 486/50-66 2347
2. Chessmaster 4000 Turbo 486/50-66 2322
3. Chess Machine King 2.0 ARM/30-32 2320
4. Chess Machine Schroeder 3.1 ARM/30-32 2316
5. MChess Pro 3.5 486/50-66 2303
6. Chess Genius 1.0 486/50-66 2284
7. Mephisto Gideon Pro 486/50-66 2282
8. Chess Machine Schroeder 3.0 ARM/30 2278
9. MChess Pro 3.12 486/50-66 2276
10. Chess Genius 1.0 486/33 2265

I have great respect for the work of SSDF Testers. Until today (2022-01-31) you can follow the results of their excellent work, for which I thank you very much!

Back in the first half of the 1990s, engines started playing at the level of Chess Masters. And that was something great! At that time it was easier and easier to buy a personal computer, the first programs for chess bases and analysis appeared.

A great example of this is the Rebel program (creator Ed Schröder), which enjoyed numerous triumphs and was a chess master's nightmare in Aegon tournaments in the 1990s.

( source: )

Rebel was achieving grandmaster-level results!

  • AEGON 94: ELO 2470 (Rebel6)

  • AEGON 95: ELO 2473 (Rebel7)

  • AEGON 96: ELO 2530 (Rebel8)

  • AEGON 97: ELO 2619 (Rebel9)

And it finally evolved into an even stronger version: ProDeo.

( source: )

A new era in computer chess had begun for good :-)

What happened then is a topic for another story...



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