An Interview with Chessbase
founder frederic friedel

Oct. 29, 2003 – Frederic Friedel and Matthias Wullenweber founded ChessBase in 1987. The eponymous chess database program was rapidly adopted by most of the world's top players. Fritz came along soon after that.

Friedel studied philosophy, mathematics and linguistics in Hamburg and at Oxford. After a brief university career he became a science journalist on German television, specializing in computers and artificial intelligence. He runs the website and is the editor of a magazine on computer chess.

Is X3D the sponsor of the match? Are there other sponsors?

X3D is the sole sponsor of the Kasparov vs X3D Fritz match. The company is investing a very large sum into it - considerably over a million dollars. And it is planning to stage an "X3D Computer Challenge" like this every year, making it bigger and more attractive each time. There will be a gigantic television and Internet coverage of these events. During the last match the main Internet coverage partner was AOL. This time other major portals will be joining in as partners. There will be many millions of viewers during the live coverage.

How did the idea for this match arise? What was the role of ChessBase?

We were in New York in January this year to do the official web coverage of the man vs machine event. At the time we met the X3D engineers, and when we saw the images on the giant screens we immediately thought: "wouldn't it be cool to have a full 3D chessboard in Fritz?" The X3D team agreed and we started a joint venture to develop "X3D Fritz". This is the program against which Garry will be playing.

Will Kasparov play on a regular board with pieces?

No, that is the most interesting thing about this event. There will be no board and no chess pieces in the room. Garry will see the position only on a computer monitor. But since he will be wearing X3D glasses the image appears completely realistic, like a real chessboard floating in the air in front of him. He can change the angle of view or zoom in and out with the help of a joystick.

How about entering the moves? How does he do that?

Garry will not have a keyboard or a mouse either. He will speak his moves to the computer, which is equipped with voice recognition. Of course there will be a human operator in the room to make sure that the computer recognizes the champion's commands correctly.

How did Kasparov react to the idea of playing against a computer in virtual reality, wearing glasses?

In the beginning I personally did not believe he would agree to play on the virtual reality chessboard. But when Garry came to New York in July and took a first-hand look at the setup he was satisfied and agreed to do so. He spent some hours choosing the right set of pieces (teak wood) and the "normal" board angle.

He was very impressed to see how the pieces actually appear to emerge from the screen and float in front of it. Garry is a technology freak who loves new things like this. He will be the first human being to play a chess match in the virtual reality world of the computer.

Is the image on the screen realistic enough to play a top-level game?

The image of the chessboard when seen through the glasses is very close to a real chessboard. You can even put your fingers around a piece, but when you close your hand there is nothing in it. Of course Garry must get used to the fact that he cannot reach out and touch or move the pieces. But it won't take him long to adapt. And he has enough time to practice with the X3D glasses.

It this something that normal chess players can also use? Can one buy the program?

The program X3D Fritz will be installed on every X3D PC, and it will be exactly the same program that Garry will play against in November. It will have the special X3D graphics, so that owners can try the exact same setup in their living rooms. There is no guarantee, of course, that they will get the same score as Kasparov.

Is the program stronger than previous versions of Fritz?

Naturally the program Kasparov will face in November is considerably stronger than any previous version of Fritz. In fact X3D Fritz is currently being optimized for play against human beings, and specifically for the match against Garry Kasparov.

Will Kasparov be able to practice against the computer to prepare himself for the match?

Yes, we will be sending him the latest versions as they become available. But he is quite relaxed about it. We are allowed to work on the program right until the end, even modify it during the match (but of course not during the individual games).

Frederic Friedel with Garry Kasparov

Is all of this a big show, or does it have chess value?

When the strongest human chess player of all time plays a classical time control match against the strongest chess program in the world it has tremendous chess value.

And outside of the chess world?

Even apart from chess such a match has great meaning. Computers are getting smarter in many different areas of life, and they will begin to challenge human intelligence in other fields as well. Chess is just the first deeply intellectual activity in which machines are equaling the best humans. It prepares us for what is coming in the next 10, 20 or 50 years in other areas.

What does this match mean for the future development of Fritz?

The X3D technology is really very exciting, and so we will build it into the regular versions of Fritz as well. This means that anyone who owns X3D glasses will be able to see the board in real 3D, just like Kasparov during the match.

Who will win this match?

I think this time the computer has a very good chance of winning the match. Not because of the 3D board or the special circumstances, but because Garry is a human being and humans are prone to making errors. The program has become much stronger and will punish even the tiniest of errors ruthlessly. Garry knows this and will find out during his preparation how dangerous the program has become. So he may become quite nervous when playing against X3D Fritz. He will understand that any mistake he makes will be his last.

It is like walking on a narrow plank of wood. If the plank is on the ground you can do it quite easily; but if it is suspended 100 meters in the air you become very nervous about every step you take. So if Garry can keep his nerves under control he will win; but if he starts to worry about making mistakes, then the computer wins.

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