2001: A Chess Space Odyssey

  • billwall
  • | Jun 22, 2007


In 1968, Stanley Kubrick (a strong chess player himself) directed 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It 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 computer (voice by Douglas Rain).  The game in the movie is from an actual game, Roesch vs. Schlage, Hamburg 1910.  The initial position in the movie is after Black’s 13th move.  The astronaut says, “Umm…anyway, Queen takes pawn.  OK?”  HAL responds, “Bishop takes Knight’s pawn.”  The astronaut says “Hmm, that’s a good move.  Er…Rook to King One.”  HAL responds, “I’m sorry Frank.  I think you missed it.  Queen to Bishop Three (this should have been Queen to Bishop Six - the computer was cheating).  Bishop takes Queen (this is not forced).  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.”  The moves are said in English  descriptive instead of  the universal algebraic notation.




  • 2 years ago


    Stanley Cubrick was a perfectionist when it came to his later films and he admitted to adding subliminal messages in 2001 A Space Oddyssey. The chess game was a perfect opportunity to do so, but I don't think there is much to it other than it showing how HAL is superior to Poole intellectually. It could mean that the intelligence of machines have surpassed the intelligence of men. Considering the film's theme of evolution, HAL could perhaps be the first artificial intelligence. Man has created machines that surpass them and a new evolutionary step is necessary for human survival. This is why the aliens help Poole reach this next step. This is only my interpretation of this brilliant film though, maybe I'm wrong. I just don't understand how HAL cheating would fit in this film and I don't think he does.

    15...Qf3 is definitely winning and HAL is right that it is checkmate in 1 move if Poole takes the queen. But if Poole doesn't take the queen, it is checkmate in one with 16...Nh3# (or knight to rook 3 if I understand the English descriptive method correctly). Poole can delay the checkmate a little bit but the game is over. If Kubrick wanted to subtlety say that HAL made a mistake or was lying, wouldn't it make more sense to do it in a situation where it would at first seem that HAL was winning but that Poole actually had a fighting chance?

  • 2 years ago


    Guys I think you're reading way too much into that scene.  I do like the game itself.  It got pretty wild very fast.  Purests may scoff, but at least some interesting tactics came out of it.

    But I don't think the message had anything to do with bluffs from Hal, or supposed computer cheating.  The point of the scene was to show Frank's tentative, unsure manner - contrasted with the immediate effectiveness of HAL - as one way to show the huge differential in capabilities and intelligence.

  • 4 years ago


    Kubrick presented this sequence of moves to hint at HAL's bluffing ability. It's funny to think that the only people capable of understanding this clue misunderstood it so. But then again, I guess many use chess to try to prove that they're smarter than other people, so attempts to find flaws in everything make sense.

  • 4 years ago


    I believe Kubrick knew it wasn't a mate in two (as did HAL), and he threw this subtle clue into the movie as an indicator that HAL was not being honest with the crew. Of course White doesn't seem to be a strong player and would be unlikely to catch HAL's mistake (even if he were inclined to believe HAL was capable of error), so perhaps it's just HAL practicing at lying (or making a "human" oversight) to see what it feels like. That's my interpretation anyway.

  • 6 years ago


    And after cheating and not getting caught, it became aware that humans are not 100% realible... and started to do bad bad things...

  • 7 years ago


    Yea, I don't remember it at all. Gonna have to break it out and rewatch for the chess scene.

  • 8 years ago


    2001 is a favorite movie of mine. I had no idea that the moves that Hal called out, Hal was actually cheating. VERY interesting. Thank You for pointing that out to me. Anyway, what a great chess scene.

  • 9 years ago


    WOW! I had forgotten that chess scene. I will have to see the movie again so I can marvel at the evils of silicon LOL. ;-)
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