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Computers in chess... Good or Evil?

  • GM Gserper
  • | Feb 12, 2013
  • | 25759 views
  • | 106 comments

Computers are an essential part of the modern world and it is impossible even to imagine our everyday life without them. As a matter of fact, you wouldn't be able to read this article if there were no computers and the miracle called "Internet". But let's talk about the computer's impact on our beloved little world of 64 squares.  Is it positive or negative?

Please do not rush to call me the Luddite who hates Progress. Let's just analyze the positive and negative sides of the computer's invasion.

It is a well-known fact that computer is an excellent tool to study chess. And I am not even talking about the unlimited amount of chess related material you can find on the Internet. Simply by using a chess engine you can significantly improve your chess.  Just ask Hikaru Nakamura who claims that he hasn't read a single chess book and credits all his achievements to the countless hours he spent with a computer. So, you play with a computer, analyze with a computer and at some point you start think like a computer... at least according to Nakamura. Hikaru likes when he gets compared to a chess engine and therefore in the following game we can witness the battle between the best human computer and one of the best silicon monsters of that time, Crafty. The game is remarkable because the majority of computers don't have the word 'resign' in their vocabulary and play till the bitter end. Playing with a lonely King against   4 or 5 pieces and pawns of your opponent is not the best strategy against one of the World's best players. We discussed this problem here:  ( http://www.chess.com/article/view/what-is-a-proper-moment-to-resign-a-game )   Hikaru found a very elegant solution.  He ...well, I am not going to spoil the fun, judge for yourself!


Still, I wouldn't recommend the Nakamura's way of learning chess to everyone. If you don't have his enormous talent, I would advise the traditional approach of learning using chess books. I still believe that one comment of Capablanca or Fischer is more valuable than a dozen of games against a chess engine. Moreover, in my opinion, had Nakamura in his childhood combined his purely computer-based training with old fashioned chess books, then the number one player in today's rating list could have been different. I find it very symbolic and significant that the current number one Magnus Carlsen is not a 'human computer' in any way. He is a superstar, he is genius, but he is not a computer! When we analyze his games we can see reflection of old masters: the technique of Capablanca, calculation precision of Kasparov and the Fischer's desire to win.  But I digress here...  

I still think that a computer is invaluable teaching tool. For example, when I analyze my student's games and see that he mentally gave up at some point, I ask him what happened and he usually says that the position was completely lost and the game was over anyway.  Then I suggest him to play this position against a computer and see if he would be able to beat the beast at least once. Or when you analyze a very dry, technical position with a computer, it constantly surprises you with a maze of unexpected combinations. But there are certain limitations you should know about before you start working with a computer.

You can sum up all these limitation with one short statement: 'computers do not understand chess'! Yes, they can beat the World Champion and yet they don't really understand chess. It is all about brute force or by other words an amazing ability to calculate, calculate, calculate. It is for this reason Botvinnik called a chess playing computer a 'tireless idiot'. If you are confused, let me show you a simple example:

This is a basic position of a Bishop of a wrong color.  the position is a 'dead' draw.  How dead?  If you have a friend who doesn't know the rules of chess and just tell him how the Chess Kings, Bishops and pawns move , then explain him to move Black King back in force keeping it in the corner 'h8', he will be able to make a draw against the World Champion even if he doesn't know how the other pieces move! ( we discussed this position here: http://www.chess.com/article/view/excuse-me-sir )
However, a chess engine would evaluate this position as completely won for White (assuming it doesn't have an endgame library or table bases).  Here we can see the phenomenon known as 'horizon effect'. A computer can analyze a certain number of moves ahead, but it is not enough to see that the position is  a draw. That's why a chess fortress is a completely foreign concept for any computer! Therefore, no computer will ever be able to solve the next relatively simple puzzle:
The final position is an excellent example of how helpless computers become in this kind of a situation! Any chess engine will indicate an easy win for Black, while most of human players won't have any difficulties to understand that it is a draw.
To be continued...

Comments


  • 18 months ago

    yucca

    Apparently there was a time when people suggested that the ability to play chess would be proof of computers achieving artificial intelligence: obviously doesn't make a lot of sense.  And then when Kasparov was beaten by Deep Blue I guess we all had to accept that computers ultimately had the edge on humans - I mean can anyone actually beat the best chess engines now?  To me, trying to play a computer at chess is like having a running race against a car - the only way you're going to win is if the car deliberately goes slow, but that's no reason not to use them for training and no reason to give up running Smile  In terms of sites like chess.com I personally would find it more difficult to play as many humans without it, although there is probably a lot to be said for OTB and joining your local chess club.

  • 18 months ago

    Gustaran

    Wow, Critter 1.6 indeed solves the "impossible" endgame study in 3 seconds...

    Engines - GM Serper 1-0

  • 18 months ago

    Joshius

    I feel that computers have done wonders for the world of chess. Not only making learning materials much more accesible via the internet, we can also play other people across the internet as well. As for straight up computer chess engines, they are useful in testing your moves out and practicing. When you analyze one of your games you often are unsure of where you went wrong, and what you could have done differently. Computers can help point to a possible reason.

    That being said, I have no problem with someone learning chess straight from playing chess engines. If he wants to limit himself by limiting his learning materials all the better for his opponents! (The same applies to those not willing to use computers at all, by the way)

  • 18 months ago

    Changgi

    How about Bd4 for the final position? Does it make any difference to capture the rook(s)?

  • 18 months ago

    ChiseledChessy

    i also have never read a chess book i spend hours on deep rybka 4.1 SSE and as a result of that i get a lot of blowouts in the opening, but i also like to believe i have the intuition and ability to impravise. i guess computers dont tell u why the move is the best move u gotta meet halfway and understand the reasoning since they dont narrarate the "thought" process since it goes by the algorithm as i keep hearing of... but its helped my game more than anything because i pick up on patterns and "algorithms". i get accused of cheating frequently and i dont like to not get credit for what i spent effort, but at the same time i feel like its validation of my ability and it gives me a satisfaction at the same time

  • 18 months ago

    JohnderriLLL

    I dont trust computers or thier evaluations. They really have no idea whats going on.

  • 18 months ago

    shakespeare123

    I love to play winning positions against a computer - e.g. a won piece after a tactical manoever - try it against Rybka 4 or so - its a phantastic training - and if you do not have a very high rating I am sure you will have often a very hard time to win - its incredible how resourceful an engine can be Wink

  • 18 months ago

    alescia

    I don't understand why "no computer will ever be able to solve the next relatively simple puzzle". 

    Given enough time and calculation power, a chess engine should be able to find the solution IMHO. I do not see why this would be theoretically impossible.

  • 18 months ago

    tanev

    Why not 40...Nxd5?

  • 18 months ago

    cwfrank

    @elindauer -- Research the term "qualia".  While I don't entirely disagree with your assertion, there are more facets to a game than simply what can be solved with 1's and 0's.  That includes OTB, and correspondence.  A person, irrespective of ever having come to meet another, can identify a stylistic approach to something and potentially anticipate a move.  Whereas, a computer does not have this capacity.  Computers can utilize implicit discipline in-so-far as they are programmed by the humans behidn them.  Computers cannot "sense" or get a "feel" for a game, or another player or stylistic approach.  I could be wrong, but, show me a computer algorithm that adjusts for a specific stylistic approach and takes into account the prior moves of the player, style and game, and tell if it's as easy to ascertain as using an fMRI to be deterministic about what someone says on a stand in a court of law.  Kind of hard to break down without doing the research first, though, I've tried my best.

  • 18 months ago

    elindauer

    "...no computer will ever be able to solve..."

    I think you are massively underestimating the potential for computers.  The problem you describe is not especially difficult, the technology exists today to solve it.  The only reason it doesn't exist yet is that there is not enough money in it to attract the attention of people that can do it.

  • 18 months ago

    chessmaster12344

    knights..... wow...... this guy must love knights or horses

  • 18 months ago

    CharlesConrad

    After being told by a Greek Master that I basically know sh*t about Chess I can't help but add logs to the fire of wanting to get better. But when looking at what playing a computer can do for my ability to augment my Chess play I wonder what exactly does playing a thoughtless chess algorithm do for me that the books I read and the articles/puzzles/tactics I do here fall short to? 

  • 18 months ago

    Scott_Southall

    Computers have helped us master chess theory. But at the same time there's less for humans to discover about chess theory now and everyone is beginning to play the same.

  • 18 months ago

    eagles_claw

    There are pros and cons of using computers, chess books, and human trainers/coaches individually in learning chess. Perhaps, it is a good try to experiment which is/are the best methods of approach in learning and studying chess theories and positions. One may try to learn by combining the power of a chess engine plus books. The other will try the method of human coach plus books. One will try to use a computer with the assistance of a chess master. And lastly, one decides to use them all! After trying those things, then this is the time we can feel what method or methods is best fit for our capacity to learn. In this way, we can also discover where we are most comfortable.. (Ohh! Don't get offended. This is only a matter of suggestion since I believe many of us didn't try all of those combinations but lucky for those few (or many) who did.Smile)

  • 18 months ago

    Ohanessian

    I hate computers.  They are killing the game..

  • 18 months ago

    cwfrank

    I agree with what I see as the very first comment here... "computers are just a tool."  It's my profession, and my passion, and I (ab)use computer as tools to accomplish a task.  Beyond that, they're useless hunks of plastic and metal.  Although my rating may be poor, I disagree with the last Fisher-Capablanca remark.  I prefer Chernev, MCO (de Firmian) and Silman in that order. Others are great, but, unlocking the mind of a GM is oft a difficult task (artisits in their own right, at least in the old days before more than 1/2 of norms were 1/2 point draws).  You don't have to be a GM to be a great analyst or author.  What matters is how you convey the idea.  And this is what computers don't get in doing statistical analysis of position versus implication and imagination leading to a solution.

  • 18 months ago

    Noreaster

    Chess was created by humans for humans.....computers are just a tool. Nakamura's absolute devotion to the computer is sad and just one more reason for me to route for anyone else but him...... 

  • 18 months ago

    matttang27

    computer don't think like us.we have plans computers only act like"if I do this he'll do this"

  • 18 months ago

    aryanadrian

    We (human) doesn't have the ability to make very long calculations like computers. So, we need "concepts"... we need "rule of thumbs".. such as center control, bishop pairs, pawn structures, etc ...

    Learning with computers are good... but I don't think it's enough (unless you have computer brain) as those rule of thumbs and insights can only be gained by learning from other human beings...  :)

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