In the beginning of “Jupiter Mission” in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Frank and HAL play chess:

Frank: Anyway, Queen takes Pawn. Uhh. . . okay.
Hal: Bishop takes Knight's Pawn.
Frank: What a lovely move. Uhh... Rook to King one.
Hal: I'm sorry, Frank. I think you missed it. Queen to Bishop three, Bishop takes Queen, Knight takes Bishop mate.
Frank: Uhh... yeh. It looks like you're right. I resign.
Hal: Thank you for a very enjoyable game.
Frank: Yeah, thank you.

But the moves HAL suggests will mate Frank are actually wrong. HAL should have said “Queen to Bishop six”.

Was this a subtle clue by Kubrick that HAL is testing the astronauts?

  • Stanley Kubrick used a game from history, Roesch v. Schlage 1910, discussed at "2001: A Chess Space Odyssey" <chess.com/article/view/2001-a-chess-space-odyssey>. But I don't understand your question or the explanation there. Hal's "Queen to Bishop Three" means 15... Qf3 in today's notation. Why should it have been "Queen to Bishop six" (15... Qf6)? HAL has a queen, a bishop, and two knights movin' in on the white king, three of white's pieces are still jammed up in their original position and here Poole (ie. Roesch) has now put his heavy weapon in behind obstacles. Qf3 is what the
    – Wood
    Apr 13, 2020 at 4:28

3 Answers 3


This was taken from a real chess game Roesch vs Willi Schlage from 1910. You can see the whole game here

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. source

However, Hal is indeed cheating

Frank chooses to trust HAL's assessment of his future moves and resigns the game, giving the computer the victory. Here's the thing, though: HAL didn't describe his moves properly. He should have said "queen to bishop six." He's describing a mate in two moves when in reality Frank could have prolonged the game and didn't need to concede it so early. In describing the wrong move, HAL cheats his way to a victory. source

You can read this motive in two ways: either it is yet another sign that HAL is broken (a few moments later he will report that a working correct component is damaged) or that he is indeed cheating (he expects that Frank will believe him), which makes HAL more sinister but also more human.

  • Your second source (a blog post from syfy.com which has since been deleted) is just wrong. Frank's position was hopeless, and resigning was the sensible thing to do. "Queen to bishop three" couldn't have been an attempt to deceive Frank, since HAL showed the correct move on the board at the same time. The rest was just an example of how Frank might lose. Frank could have prolonged the game by a couple of moves, but that's not what a good player would do. A good player would resign, which loses even faster than HAL's suggested line.
    – benrg
    Oct 8, 2023 at 3:06

As with any work of art, you are free to interpret what you like into the scene. Here's my take on it. In 1968 the ultimate goal of AI research was to build a computer that could beat humans at chess. So by showing HAL playing and beating Frank, and indeed having a civilised conversation about the game, Kubrick is showing us the heights that human technology has achieved. The fact that HAL says the wrong move is at worst sloppiness in the script.

However if you insist that the script is demonstrating a subtle clue as to HAL's motives, it would be a pretty high risk strategy on HAL's part to "cheat" in this way, assuming that Frank is at least as competent at chess as the many people who spotted this cheat. Imagine HAL's embarrassment when Frank points out that Q-B3 is not possible from that position!

  • 1
    I don't know if we can chalk it up to sloppiness. Clarke later confirmed that HAL had been driven insane by being given the command to lie to the crew about the overall mission; any instance in the script of a "smaller" lie by HAL is potentially evidence that, having started lying, now he can't stop. Another possibility is that he is testing his ongoing ability to deceive the crew by lying about something trivial.
    – tbrookside
    Aug 17, 2020 at 15:53
  • Whilst I agree that HAL has ulterior motives, which I would say are more concerned with a desire to be the first intelligence to make contact with the makers of the monolith, rather than having been driven insane (any more than the ape people are driven insane for a desire to dominate the water hole) I don't think it's a very convincing lie for the reasons mentioned, namely that Frank would easily spot it. HAL's inner conflicts are shown to us via the issues with the AE-35 unit.
    – PeteBabe
    Aug 17, 2020 at 16:40

The fallacy here is that HAL lied to win the game. In fact, the game was won in a forced checkmate no matter how many moves it took after Poole played 'Uh-hrumph. ... anyways, Queen takes Pawn'¹. Note here that Poole doesn't observe contemporary descriptive notation for his moves against HAL and HAL's subsequent description of the force mate was either a verbal courtesy for Poole's benefit or a vernacular that the two had fallen into.

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 Immediately prior to 'Bishop takes Knight's Pawn'

The following interview with the the Earth-based reporter Amor was conducted before the chess game.

AMOR: The sixth member of the Discovery crew was not concerned about the problems of hibernation for he was the latest result in machine intelligence: the H.A.L. nine-thousand computer which can reproduce - though some experts still prefer to use the word "mimic" - most of the activities of the human brain and with incalculably greater speed and reliability. We next spoke with the H.A.L nine-thousand computer whom we learned one addresses as Hal. Good afternoon, Hal. How's everything going?

HAL: Good afternoon, Mr. Amor. Everything is going extremely well.

AMOR: Hal, you have an enormous responsibility on this mission. In many ways perhaps the greatest responsibility of any single mission element. You are the brain and central nervous system of the ship and your responsibilities include watching over the men in hibernation. Does this ever cause you any lack of confidence?

HAL: Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The nine-thousand series is the most reliable computer ever made. No nine-thousand computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

Forced mate was the ultimate decision for the game after Poole's Queen takes Pawn'. It doesn't matter whether it wa 2, 4, 6 or a hundred moves ahead of current play. If I was in a forced mate position with stalling moves, I would abandon my stalling efforts and accept the inevitable.

HAL's only 'mistake' was to call his/her moves from Poole's position. That is to say that the black chess board chess move positions were called relative to the the White chess pieces ; they should have been called from black's position. Of course, that could be also be called a courtesy.

¹ The game was in fact a classical chess match familiar to chess aficionados.

  • The issue is not as much in the fact that HAL would win the game but in the point that it wouldn't be in two moves. He, a machine has lied.
    – Yasskier
    Apr 14, 2020 at 9:30
  • @Yasskier HAL didn't say that he would win on the next move. He just gave an example of how Poole might lose in a position where anything Poole did would lead to a loss. There was no reason for Poole to delay the mate. A good player would resign in that position, which loses even faster than the line suggested by HAL.
    – benrg
    Oct 8, 2023 at 3:02

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