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Computers in chess... The conclusion.

  • GM Gserper
  • | Mar 18, 2013
  • | 14215 views
  • | 55 comments

It is time to summarize our discussion about all the positive and negative aspects that computers brought to our game and see which side outweighs.

One of the biggest positive sides I see is that computers really enhanced our chess knowledge. Some discoveries are truly mind-boggling.  Who could have thought that the next position is a draw?

I still can't believe that White cannot win with two healthy extra pawns, but Nalimov table bases prove that it is a draw. There are many more surprising discoveries like this. By the way, this position can help you to understand why you should never worry that computers will 'solve' the game of chess one day.  Just try to hold the above mentioned 'theoretical' draw against a computer.  You will never be able to do it.  You will always lose with Black and draw with White because it is just impossible to memorize the whole solution.  So, if one day a computer says that White wins by force after 1.e2-e4, good luck to memorize the quadrillion of bytes of information!

The second great benefit is that chess engines are one of the best learning tools available (providing you know how to use them, see the first parts of this article). As the result, we have teenager Grandmasters and overall, in my opinion, an average  chess players today is stronger than 30 years ago.

Now let's go to the dark side of the computer chess.
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One of the most benign and yet annoying effects of computer invasion into the Royal Game is... well it is less and less Royal!  Computers slowly but surely kill the mystery of the game. In the past when for example Tal sacrificed a piece, chess analysts around the World were busy for years trying to find out if the sacrifice was sound. Today you just plug in your favorite engine overnight and in most of the cases you get your answer first thing in the morning.  As the result the Royal status of top chess players is long gone. In the beginning of 80ies of the last century the giant city of Moscow had only three Mercedeses.  They belonged to Leonid Brezhnev (of course!), Vladimir Vysotsky (the legendary actor and songwriter) and Anatoly Karpov.  Karpov's wedding took place on the Red Square and was covered by media almost like the Royal Wedding in London.  These days, when computers are much stronger than any human, just take a look at any live translation from a super tournament. You will hear something like "What?? This guy is in the top 10 in the World? He cannot calculate two moves ahead! My Houdini can see it in less than a second!". The respect to the top chess players is gone forever and so is the Golden Age of chess!
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But what really makes me concerned is the computer cheating.  We discussed this subject last week. About ten years ago I told late Jerry Hanken (famous US chess journalist) that we are lucky that so far the cheaters are mostly dumb.  But when a smart person who is rated 2300-2400 FIDE decides to cheat, it will be next to impossible to detect him.  Unlike stupid cheaters who don't know how to play chess at all and depend on the computer every single move, the 2400 guy knows thing or two about chess.  So, all he needs is just a couple of moves or variations in the critical moments of his games. Sometimes just a sheer knowledge of having 'something' in the position is more than enough, so a tiny sign from an accomplice would suffice. Also a smart 2400 cheater would probably understand that a win in a tournament with a score 10 out of 11 and 2900 performance would be suspicious, but winning $4000 as a class prize with a performance of 2600 is nothing extraordinary.  I don't want to give all the advices and pointers to cheaters, but I think you got the idea. And as the chess engines play more and more human-like, it will be almost impossible to detect the fraud. In the long run all the tournaments with big money prizes are doomed.  The organizers won't be able to prevent cheating since jammers and similar tools are not the perfect option because they can interfere with pacemakers and other medical devices and pretty much a clear invitation for a lawsuit.
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The side effect of the computer cheating is the suspicion of cheating which is probably even worse. When they accuse Topalov or Kramnik of cheating in the World Championships they played, it is very sad. Of course any reasonable person would realize in less than a minute that these two great players would never cheat.  Why? Just think about it: in the World Championship match in Elista the prize fund of $1 million would be evenly divided between the players - regardless of the outcome of the match. So by cheating Kramnik would not gain any monetary rewards. But in case he gets caught his career would be instantly over. Since you usually need an accomplice it increases the risk. Meanwhile, as the World Champion he earned at least half a million per year from chess related activities. So, who in his right mind risks millions of dollars and his whole chess career for pretty much nothing?  I know Kramnik since childhood and he is a very decent person, believe me.   But even if you never met him in your life, you can assume that he is at least not a fool to do such stupid things. And yet people talk about the "ToiletGate".  Utterly disgusting! It is my deep believe that Fischer was luckiest person on Earth because he played before chess engines could tell a Bishop from the Rook, otherwise his unbelievable double 6-0 against both Taimanov and Larsen would be explained by the latest development of American programmers and engineers.
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So, I am very pessimistic and in my opinion in the long run, chess tournaments as we know them are doomed.  FIDE is not doing anything, but truthfully speaking, it is difficult even to recommend them a solution. A delay of the live transmission for 15 minutes (the most popular remedy) is not going to help in the long run, but at least it can make the cheaters life more difficult.  By the way, reportedly in one of the recent tournaments in Russia chess players who got cheated by one of the participants decided to borrow a page from Carrie Underwood:

Now my dear readers, you can understand why if it was up to me, I would prefer to return to the Chess Stone Age before computers. Yes, I would lose a beautiful endgame table bases and the ultimate chess analyst who can tell me almost instantly what is the best move in practically any position.  But in return I will get back the innocence of our beautiful game!

Meanwhile Borislav Ivanov (who we discussed in one of the previous parts of this article) has just won another tournament ahead of a dozen of Grandmasters with the fantastic result 8 out of 9 ! (http://chess-results.com/tnr93301.aspx?art=1&rd=9&lan=1) I cannot wait to see his games. According to his interview he already beat both Rybka and Houdini with the same score 10:0!  Maybe he decided to follow my advice and challenge Carlsen? In this case I'll bet my money on him!

Comments


  • 13 months ago

    gspaulsson

    Maybe we should all take up Go

  • 13 months ago

    BTP_Excession

    I find computers (and tools like chessbase) brilliant for helping me understand the game. The most annoying aspect of engine ubiquity is in training sessions online with IM and GM's where smart-arse kibutzers just turn their engines on (and their barins off) and shout out computer lines. If you are in a training enviornment and the trainer is suggesting moves you are cheating yourslef by leaving an engine running...

  • 13 months ago

    Sean_Mallory

    Well done, thoughtful article! I agree 100% with what daviderice and Laskerfan said.

  • 13 months ago

    pingo420

    chess.com computer analysis feature is extremele bad. It often gives second best move, from the comuter point of view, a double question mark, although the move is absolutely winning, and much simpler than the first-choice computer move. as a rule of thumb a move cannot be blunder if the resulting line leads to forced win, altough its not the most efficient from computer point of view. a checkmate in 5 in a complicated position is easiest way to victory for a computer, trading down into a super-simple winnning ending is much easier for a human, even if it means giving up a queen for a rook..fritz is much better in this regard..fritz shows the best computer ways, but usually does not put double question mark to alternative ways..

  • 13 months ago

    Oraoradeki

    Who would you consider worse, Cheaters or Sandbaggers (people who deliberately lower their rating to qualify for lower rated tournaments)?

  • 13 months ago

    dragonair234

    Great article, thank you for writing it! Yes, computer chess is a sticky subject 

  • 13 months ago

    insidejob

    Your articles were thoughtful and well done, and yes, cheating is the biggest issue for now and for the future.  However, one way computer analysis has benefited me is by running the computer analysis on some of my interesting games on chess.com.  The computer gently says, "hey, stupid, look at this move you could have made!  Instead you went to a worse position."  I've learned a lot from that (still not a good player, though).  - Insidejob

  • 13 months ago

    charliecrush

    I do agree about the cheating part actually I agree about 99% of the article the mystery of chess is just broken by engines while beggining players are just trying to take run in for a new discovery

  • 13 months ago

    jooe15

    i guess u could have a metal dector and you couldnt bring it inside the tournement and only after the game could u go into the lounge with your electronics... but thats too much effort...

  • 13 months ago

    SocialPanda

    tubebender, computer use in correspondence chess is just cheating where is not allowed, if you are talking about ICCF or IECG, is not cheating.

  • 13 months ago

    tubebender

    Technology is both a blessing and a curse! Not the most original of statements but quite true. In general, I tend to side with the blessing side of the argument of things in life in general. I have wracked my brains in correspondence Chess games for many months, literally, and was barely able to draw with people who not only had lower correspondence ratings but who had much lower OTB ratings. "Borderline circumstantial proof" of computer cheating said one of my lawyer friends but in the next breath he said lots of luck trying to even beginning to prove it! Not to get off on a tangent (although I`ve seen it on this site) imagine a world in which a Chess playing algorithm had never been developed. This might be like imagining a world in which not only space travel had not ever been developed but things like electricity, internal combustion engines, radio, telegraph, TV. According to the famous atrophysicist, Carl Sagan, A society could have evolved to a high degree and not have ever invented or discovered these things that we take for granted. The point is that we Chess players would still evolve to understanding the game more and more but the computers have geometrically "short-cutted" this process. Still love Chess but I, too, still miss the "old days". And I`m "only" 65.

  • 13 months ago

    goodhabit

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 13 months ago

    SocialPanda

    GM Serper, you forgot to say that between the 2700 performance in Spain, and after the 2900 performance in Zadar, Ivanov made a 1900 performance in Bulgaria...

    So, there must be a way to stop that way of cheating, since he couldn´t made it on the Bulgarian Open.

  • 13 months ago

    FM Boorchess

    The answer for the cheaters is simple. These people should be banned from chess for life and also charged for grand theft in a court of law. If the chess players at the tournaments mobbed a proven cheater this would not hurt either and would be good advertising for how brutal chess really is.

  • 13 months ago

    FM Boorchess

    I disagree that computer's have taken away the myster of chess whole heartedly. The difference now is you just have to dig deeper to find it. Indeed if anything the artisty of chess is now at the highest level ever, that is to say we now have a measuring stick of creativity, can you play a move that the computer does not understand! The human mind can still create positions and concepts in chess that defy an engines horizon. Please see my blog "dancing on the horizon" for the tip of the ice berg on this topic as well as my recent blog about my win over GM Shabalov. Please plug these two games of mine into Houdini and see if there is still some mysteries!

  • 13 months ago

    pete321

    Video killed the Radio Star was the refrain in my youth, well the radio star is alive and well, cheating in chess will be detected in the anaylis after games....yeah i could maybe cheat a game from Karpov but afterward my stumblebum statis would be revealed with post game analysis, and my first simul, or heh GM so and so wants to write chess book with you, or Chess.com wants you to do a video series or just the innocent " heh grandmaster play me a game, i'll give ya 25 dollars.. ".the cheat is always found out in the quietest moments

  • 13 months ago

    gustavo789

    I don`t think computers are ruining chess anyway, they are just making things easier for people to play all around the world and to study chess.

    About cheating I think that the solution is simple: inspections before and during games.

    I do understand you opinion on how chess analysis made by humans got ruined, but I still like computers in chess.

  • 13 months ago

    CP6033

    This was a very interesting series of articles. I completely and totally agree that if used wrong, or at all even, computers ruin chess

  • 13 months ago

    Ziggyblitz

    Maybe humans will need to play in a faraday cage.  

  • 13 months ago

    JF1

    Absolutely brilliant series of articles, very insightful! Thank you!

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