I first published this article on my Blogger which can be found here:http://thechesscoachingwebsite.blogspot.co.uk/
I shall be trying to update more blogs on here in future...
Hal 3000- coming to a tournament near you.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past twenty years or so, you wouldn't have failed to miss the huge influence that computers now hold over modern chess.
The explosion of popularity of chess programs like Rybka, Houdini and so on all really started with the very famous match of 1997, when the I.B.M. driven monster, Deep Blue, defeated the last bastion of mankind Garry Kasparov, in a tumultuous match.
After that the title of strongest player in the world passed to a silicon entity, seemingly forever more. There were a few more human vs machine matches of course, but they've become more one sided than a Courtney Stodden vs Stephen Hawking physics debate, as processing power has inevitably grown.
Humans are crushed by computers. I have an engine on my laptop, have played it hundreds of times, and only have a few draws. No wins. In fact the few occasions when I have been fortunate enough to make a draw, this is only because the computer has allowed a perpetual check, but if it had played an inferior line to avoid the draw it surely would have won those games as well.
This paints a depressing picture about the future not only of chess, but also of mankind. Sci-fi films like The Terminator and The Matrix, which prophesise a apocalyptic future where man has become enslaved by all-powerful machines, may not be so far-fetched after all. More and more jobs are becoming redundant, because they can be more easily done by a machine. Call me a Luddite, but what place will we have when computers will be able to do everything we can do, but much better?
Chess players now are obsessed with chess engines. Particularly what evaluation an engine gives about a position.
There's a site a go on a lot called Chessbomb. Basically it's very popular as they give computer evaluations next to every position. So amateurs don't feel lost anymore, they know as well if not better about what is going on, than a grandmaster just using his own eyes. Every amateur has become a genius, due to chess engines.
If a player makes a blunder according to the computer evaluation, then that player is immediately savaged by the Chessbomb kibitzers, despite very few of them being capable of seeing why it was an actually a mistake, without resource to an engine. Blunders are given as "red moves," hence I've started calling games that contain lots of blunders, "bloodbaths"
My view is that this obsession with computers is rather worrying. It's gotten to the point where chess players have forgotten to use their brain anymore. I must confess if I'm annotating a game and there's a position where I get stuck, where it's too complicated, the temptation to turn on the engine and let it do all the work for me, is overwhelming.
I know the machine will have a much better idea of what's going on tactically than I will have. It'll take me hours of painstaking analysis to come to the same conclusion (if I'm lucky) that an engine will in seconds.
In fact if I'm in a really lazy mood, and want to knock out some analysis quickly to make some easy money, I'll just have the engine on in the background all the time. Why not, when computer analysis is much better than anything I can come up with?
Well you are cheating the readership I suppose. After all they could have annotated these games in a similar way themselves assuming they have an engine. But people don't seem to mind. In fact you tend to have a bigger problem if you don't use an engine at all, as anyone then running it through Fritz or Houdini, can just easily rip your analysis apart.
The really conscientious chess writer, assuming such a figure exists, well they'd do their own analysis first, and only then run an engine through it afterwards to correct any mistakes. The problem with this method is that you end up rewriting EVERYTHING. As the computer analysis is just superior.
So then you wonder why you bothered to put so many hours in analysing by yourself. But as these games are likely to have already been put in the public domain by someone using an engine, the danger is without doing the same, your analysis will look vastly inferior.
I'm not the only one to be found guilty of over-using computer analysis in my writing. Take the "My Great Predecessors" books that Kasparov did with Everyman, which are generally great books.
Unfortunately they are somewhat spoilt by Kasparov's obsession with engine lines. His quest for chess perfection you could put it, but the problem is some of the computer lines are so obscure they make little logical sense to a human player.
There's little hope of replicating that kind of "Cyborgian" thought over the board. Kasparov wanted to put some of the most famous and classic games through the silicon wringer, but for the average player it's much more beneficial to hear about the general plans and themes, than being bombarded with computer lines some 20 moves deep.
Kasparov vs Deep Blue- the beginning of the end for
human dominance over the planet?
Kasparov was probably the first "elite" player who first understood how powerful a tool it could be, to use computers in preparation, perhaps due to his experience with Deep Blue. Now almost all of the top players use engines heavily. Gelfand is one expection, I think he realises how chess engines can make you lazy. I certainly think that's the case with me, and is one of the reasons why my chess development has become stunted. I have forgotten how to use my own brain.
Now there is little doubt that using computers sparingly and in the right way, can have an extraordinary effect on your chess strength. It can certainly improve your tactical ability to a remarkable degree. In fact when I was younger, my real breakthrough in chess actually came from using a Nigel Short chess computer, which I used to practice against incessantly.
I was fed up with how the top players down the club, Alan Hanreck, Gary Clark and Tony Stebbings, used to beat me at blitz all the time. With the help of my trusty chess computer it wasn't long before the tables were turned and I started to trounce them.
My tactics improved remarkably quickly, but then I was about 15 at the time, so it was easy to improve. This was quite a weak computer by today's standards, and nothing like the mega-beasts that the elite players use now. But as I said, using computers isn't the problem. The problem is when you let them take over completely, and stop doing your own analysis, which is what happened to me.
Engines have become so strong now, that the use of them to cheat in games, is becoming increasingly common. We all know about the notorious Borislav Ivanov, and although I believe cheating in chess is still relatively rare, I don't think that will be the case in future.
Top players use engines so extensively now, that I think it's small leap from using that computer in the hotel room to using it in the game itself. Why would you want to have perfect play in analysis and preparation, and a few minutes go to playing sloppy stuff over the board? It's annoying. A true perfectionist just wouldn't stand for it.
I annotate a lot of top grandmaster games, and sometimes you'll come across some game where someone plays so accurately, that so many of his moves are the top engine choice, that you do begin to wonder. Of course these are the really big names, so you have to be careful not to make accusations without rock-solid proof, but I wouldn't be surprised if in the near future there was another big cheating scandal, only this time involving a world-class player. It's surely only a matter of time.
If so many people cheat in athletics and cycling, and other sports, why not chess? I understand I have to be careful here, if you pinned me to a wall and said "name a top guy who's cheating" I wouldn't be able to. Thankfully I think there is no one, at the moment. But that doesn't mean that it can't happen.
Computers in chess are so strong and it's so easy to cheat, it's just a statistical inevitability.