When world champion Garry Kasparov lost to IBM's supercomputer Deep Blue last spring, it was a historical moment in the world of chess: for the first time, machine had trounced human. But it wasn't a total defeat: the visibility and interest generated by the event proved that the game itself is winning an ever-growing number of enthusiasts around the world.
Originally called Chaturanga, the game began in northern India, probably around the sixth century, and quickly spread to Persia, then into the Arab world and finally to Europe. It has its pantheon of legendary players and masterminds--who are not without their share of eccentricities, superstitions and extravagant behavior. At a now famous match between American wunderkind Bobby Fischer and the Russian player Boris Spassky in Iceland, the Soviets demanded the right to inspect for undercover hypnotic devices. Earlier in history, one famous player was so nonplussed after a defeat that he tried to shove his opponent out the window. Another leapt onto a table. "Do I have to lose to this idiot?"
Behavior of this sort is perhaps not surprising for a game requiring such intense concentration that, one research team concluded, it can drain energy at a rate comparable to football. So, will the public soon be forsaking the NFL in favor of the Four Knights Opening or the Leonhardt-Sozin Attack? Not yet, says writer Rudolf Chelminski. But the evolution of the game might be the ultimate triumph for the army of chess fans, those inclined to celebrate what Garry Kasparov calls "the most important superiority, the most total one...the superiority of the mind."