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Saturday, May 11th, 2013

2001: A Space Odyssey – Chess

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999), a strong chess player himself, directed the science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The screenplay was co-written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), who really did not like or play chess. The story was partially inspired by Clarke’s short story, The Sentinel, written in 1948 and published in 1951. The movie is probably the most famous man vs. computer chess games in film. The movie features an astronaut, Dr. Frank Poole (played by Gary Lockwood), playing a chess game with the white pieces against the HAL-9000 supercomputer (voice by Douglas Rain). Early in the movie, there was a character named Smyslov, the chief Soviet scientist who visited the space station. Smyslov was world chess champion from 1957 to 1958, and Kubrick purposely picked that name.

The game in the movie is from an actual game, A. Roesch vs. Willi Schlage (1888-1940), Hamburg 1910. The initial position in the movie is after Black’s 13th move.


The astronaut says, “Let’s see,king…Umm…anyway, Queen takes pawn. OK?” [In the real game, this would be 14.Qxa6]
HAL responds, “Bishop takes Knight’s pawn.” [This is 14…Bxg2]
The astronaut says “Hmm, that’s a good move. Er…Rook to King One.” [This is 15.Re1]
HAL responds, “I’m sorry Frank. I think you missed it. Queen to Bishop Three (this should have been Queen to Bishop Six in descriptive notation – the computer was cheating, or, in algebraic, 15…Qf3). Bishop takes Queen (this is not forced, several other possible moves). Knight takes Bishop. Mate.” (It is not a mate in two, but a mate in three. )
The astronaut responds, “Ah…Yeah, looks like you’re right. I resign.”
HAL: “Thank you for a very enjoyable game.”
Astronaut: “Yeah, thank you.”

The moves are said in English descriptive instead of the universal algebraic notation.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote the novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey after the movie. In the book, Hal is programmed to win only 50% of the time. Also, the flight in the book is to Saturn, but in the movie, it is Jupiter.

During the filming of the movie in London, Stanley Kubrick would play chess with anyone who wished to play on the set. One of Kubrick’s opponents that he played most often was physicist Jeremy Bernstein, a chess enthusiast himself. Bernstein said he played 25 games with Kubrick, winning a few. They usually played at the Dorchester Hotel in London

A. Roesch (Dr. Frank Poole) – Willi Schlage (HAL 9000), German Chess Federation Championship, Hauptturnier B, Hamburg 1910, Ruy Lopez
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Qe2 (Ruy Lopez, Worrall Attack) 5…b5 6.Bb3 Be7 7.c3 O-O 8.O-O d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nf4 11.Qe4 Nxe5 12.Qxa8? { probably the losing move; perhaps better is 12.d4} 12…Qd3! (threatening 13…Ne2+ 14.Kh1 Ng3+ and mate) 13.Bd1 ( 13.Re1 Nh3+ 14.Kh1 Ng4 15.gxh3 Nxf2+ 16.Kg1 Nxh3+ 17.Kh1 Bg4 18.Qg2 Bf3 ) 13…Bh3 14.Qxa6? ( 14.Qb7 Bxg2 15.Qxg2 Nxg2 16.Kxg2 Bc5 ) 14…Bxg2 15.Re1 Qf3! { White resigned at this point as Black threatens mate with Nh3. 15…Qf3 16.Qc8 [to prevent an immediate Nh3 mate] ( If 16.Bxf3, winning the queen, then Nxf3 mate ; 16.Re2 Nh3 mate; 16.Rxe5 Nh3 mate; 16.h3 Nxh3+ 17.Kh2 Ng4 mate ) 16…Rxc8 17.h3 Nxh3+ 18.Kh2 Ng4 mate ) . Also, instead of 15…Qf3, there is 15…Nf3+ 16.Bxf3 Qxf3 17.h3 (17.h4 Qh3 18.f3 Bxh4) 17…Bh4 18.Qxb5 Bxf2+ 19.Kh2 Qg3 mate} 0-1

The position after 13…Nh3 and the ones that follow were used in the movie.

The game is found in Irving Chernev’s The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess, game 322, and my book, 500 Ruy Lopez Miniatures, game #344. It was played in Hamburg in the B section. The top section was won by Carl Schlechter.

In 1979, Mali issued a 200 franc chess stamp in honor of Willi Schlage, calling him a grandmaster of chess (he may have been a weak master).

Arthur C. Clarke, in an interview, said that if he had played chess, the movie would have never been made because Kubrick and Clarke would have just played chess.

– Bill Wall


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