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Computers in chess... Good or Evil?

  • GM Gserper
  • | Feb 12, 2013
  • | 26629 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


  • 19 months ago

    shahrokh1975

    thanks!

  • 19 months ago

    thinkinghead

    I agree mostly with this article, PCs cant do everything... And for those of you who say yes... I have 1 simple answer, psychology... The psychology of the game is something a PC cant "calculate" or even realize. It's been at least 2 years since i have been a regular on chess.com and my rating here sucks... But in real life i beat 2 Masters and almost had a draw with Predrag Nicolic (one of the worlds top 100 players)... So dont judge what i say through my "rating" here on chess.com

    PCs dont get excited, you do... And in tournaments your opponent wont be a computer, it'll be a human, and he will also get excited... Or afraid, or he'll want revenge on a game you won last time... A PC doesnt realize these things and they affect the game SO MUCH its surprising... You can make a tactically wrong sacrifice but because of the psychology of the game, it works... You realize that through experience and playing real humans, while PCs will make you miss these little things.

    Human Chess > PC Chess ... 

    Its true though, i use the PC to learn some new stuff about chess, but i dont use engines or any of that stuff, i listen to the Power Play series by Daniel King (GM), a human teaching a human about chess through experience and knoweldge, thats the best way to go in my opinion

  • 19 months ago

    Tjornan

    @Rhoudini

    Obviously your own misconceptions regarding your own expertise with respect to computer strength is clouding your vision :). I suggest you shelve your lofty opinion and take the time to actually put the position into a computer. Houdini regards the position as losing for white and recommends exf6, a losing move. In the end position, it has black "winning" by 12 points. But nevertheless, it is still drawn.

    Perhaps you should take the time to check your advice against that against one of the most respected GMs on this site and in the world. 

  • 19 months ago

    seymour27

    Dave, what are you doing.

  • 19 months ago

    RHoudini

    With all respect, but the author appears rather clueless about the current state of computer chess.

    Using a Crafty game of 2007 is not very relevant for today's chess engines - Houdini 3 is now maybe 500 Elo stronger than 2007 Crafty.

    Then using a fortress position with the claim that "Therefore, no computer will ever be able to solve the next relatively simple puzzle" is again rather silly, as current engines WILL solve this position.

  • 19 months ago

    Vulnerable_King

  • 19 months ago

    pieace

    I am a beginner, but so far I am not impressed with computer chess analysis as it applies to my games, because what helps is precisely the 'why' part; why I did it, why it is not good, and - occasionally - why it wins anyway.  I submitted my 30 min 'best win' for analysis today, and apparently about a third of my moves were wrong - 9 inaccuracies, 8 mistakes, 5 blunders - whereas less than 10% of my opponents moves were wrong. (0,3,7).  Yet he resigned a completely lost position.  To me, it is difficult enough to keep my head in a game I am playing now; trying to understand moves that were not played afterwards is something I might be able to do in a human dialogue, but not alone!

    Also, I have followed your suggestion about playing 1.e4 for attacking games, and found it helpful, thanks.

  • 19 months ago

    eagles_claw

    Why do humans survive and many species now were instinct? The answer is ADAPTABILITY. (Adaptability is the ability to adjust oneself readily to different conditions. - dictionary.com)

    If I used a computer for cheating, then it is evil.  But when I say, "Okay, why should I buy the best chess book, or why should I hire a chess coach that's only rated 2600+ when I have my Houdini which is rated above 3000?" Then there will be another story to tell. Still, there is no substitute for a human coach or opponent even we owned the strongest chess engine in the world.Smile

  • 19 months ago

    kcsmith169

    wonderful article, thank youCool

  • 19 months ago

    axhed

    i can't believe i went through all 271 moves. when cyberdyne systems goes online, the terminators' first target will be nakamura. 

  • 19 months ago

    goommba88

    saying things like computers should be banned, or a wish the computers that play chess should have never been invented, shows a kind of defeatist mentality. computer are here, they arent going anywhere and people who want tp play modern chess need to try and find ways too work with them as best they can. particularly the pro 2300 and up players, they have no choice in a competitive sport where it is already difficult to bring money into. they cannot put themselves at a big disadvantage by not using computer resources.

  • 19 months ago

    GreedyPawnGrabber

     Computers are no good. They killed the game. Moreover today's super grandmasters play boring chess. All of them except the old guns like Gelfand and Anand learned the game with computer. It's no fun anymore. I prefer to look over the games of the true masters like Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Karpov, Kasparov.  

  • 19 months ago

    Shibin123

    Great Article!

  • 19 months ago

    Eeyore12

    Great article! The fact that Carlsen knows dozens of classical games by heart (and not only games but ideas!) makes all the difference.

    It was a pure delight to watch him speak during the London Chess Classic couple of months ago. He is so superior to his peers , especially young ones, because of his great knowledge of both theory and chess history.

    Bottom line, computers can tell us WHAT, or HOW, but never can offer answers to the WHY questions...and I belive that understanding is equally important as information or data.

  • 19 months ago

    Vulnerable_King

  • 19 months ago

    Vulnerable_King

    True, my program says he's up +15.88 and ends with a fifty move draw

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