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Poole versus HAL 9000

HAL, after Poole's resignation:
"Thank you for a very enjoyable game."

Poole versus HAL 9000 is a fictional chess game in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie, the astronaut Dr. Frank Poole is seen playing a recreational game of chess with the HAL 9000 supercomputer. Poole views the board on a computer screen, and dictates his moves orally to HAL using descriptive notation. Poole is not surprised when the supposedly infallible supercomputer soundly defeats him.

In the novel, no particular chess game is depicted, though it is mentioned that the astronauts can play chess and other games with HAL, and that, for purposes of morale, the computer is programmed to temper its superiority and win only 50% of games.

The film's director Stanley Kubrick was a passionate chess player, so unlike many chess scenes shown in other films, the position and analysis make sense. The actual game seems to come from a tournament game between A. Roesch and W. Schlage, Hamburg 1910.

The game

Roesch (Poole) vs.
(HAL 9000)
a b c d e f g h
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position before 14.Qxa6, where the movie picks up the game

The depicted game seems to be based on the moves of the following tournament game played in Hamburg, 1910:

White: A. Roesch   Black: W. Schlage   Opening: Ruy Lopez (ECO C86)

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. Qe2 b5 6. Bb3 Be7 7. c3 0-0 8. 0-0 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nf4 11. Qe4 Nxe5 12. Qxa8? Qd3! 13. Bd1 Bh3!

The opening is the Ruy Lopez, Worrall Attack, followed by a pawn sacrifice by Black. Black capitalizes on an error in White's 12th move (12.d4 leads to a slight plus for White). The film shows the game from the position illustrated, with Poole (White) considering his 14th move.

14. Qxa6?

White abandons the long diagonal and moves into a forced checkmate. Even after 14.Qb7 c6 15.Qxe7 Bxg2 16.Re1 Nf3+ 17.Bxf3 Qxf3, mate is not far off.

14... Bxg2 15. Re1 Qf3

Here HAL says: "I'm sorry Frank, I think you missed it: queen to bishop three, bishop takes queen, knight takes bishop, mate." But HAL's description of the queen move is not technically accurate - the move is correctly described in the descriptive chess notation as "queen to bishop six". Also, while HAL describes a checkmate in two moves, Poole could prolong the mate two additional moves by playing 16.Qc8 Rxc8 17.h3 Nxh3+ 18.Kh2 Ng4#.


Poole resigns without questioning HAL's analysis.

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