Computers in chess... Good or Evil?

  • GM Gserper
  • | Feb 12, 2013

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:  ( )   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: )
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...


  • 4 years ago


    I call Nakamura's game 'Knights of the Round Table.'

  • 4 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    Doesn't white win the game with 3.C4+ I don't know with you but if black king avoids taking the bishop, pawn to C4 is a winning point for white.

    No - Rb5 blocks and the K has b7 for an escape square.

  • 4 years ago


    Computer's are slowly removing creativity from chess... ergo evil.

  • 4 years ago


    I study chess books and play against the computer; I enjoy both.  The weird irony is I bet Hikaru Nakamura comes out with his own chess book one day.  I wonder if he will read it?   

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you for the study and the comment by the Patriarch. If Botvinnik thought a computer was a "tireless idiot" what was his interest in building an unbeatable Chess computer in the 1st place?

  • 4 years ago

    FM gauranga

    Hm, it took Nakamura 69 moves to mate Crafty from the time he captured White's last pawn. Under the old 50 move rule, this would have been a draw. I'm sure he enjoyed the slow torture.

  • 4 years ago

    FM gauranga

    Crafty played like a 2200 player at best in the above game. Shows again that computers are often clueless what to do in closed positions when long term maneuvering is called for. Great finish! Too bad the computer can't get the joke.

  • 4 years ago


    I use technology as a way to learn (tool...etc.) not an end because technology keeps improving as do most of us who study and play chess.

  • 4 years ago


    Computer chess again is good if you want to interact with a software program that knows nothing about human emotion or psychology. However, the game of chess was created by humans.... not an inanimate object like a computer. Besides, who wants to sit there for hours on end playing against a computer program nowadays when we can play on a site like this one against another human being from anywhere in the world who has access to the internet? I truly believe that playing against another human is more beneficial than playing against a computer program. I mean even Bobby Fischer acted as though he was his most challenging rival without a computer program and became the world champion in 1972. 

  • 4 years ago


    As the game proved! to be quite true; ironic as it may seem, the computer or as i would liken it: the Robot was not found lacking in the department were our race is most encumbered and flawed! Yes indeed and quite so; Heart! dear Sirs  Heart! I say, I shout! For the robot fought to the last man until its back met the icy wall and in deafeat; our robot was beyond humble, not even willing to utter a mere wimper! Imagine had he won. By golly, I 'd go as far to say it would be as calm as a Monk watching a Hawk soar amongst the clouds. Ay, yes; I believe credit is due and whats more respect, too! We must respect the Robot, for when it finally decides to take over the world! in its almost infinite memory it will remember! it will remember those who were on its side.

  • 4 years ago


    While I have great respect for Nakamura (He is the top player in my country), seing him get thoroughly crushed by Magnus in the final game of TATA Steel is evidence enough that practicing with a computer alone, even if you're a very gifted player, does not guarantee that you will be the best in the world.  Reading this article, you'd think that Magnus never studies with computers because he doesn't play like one, yet I know for a fact that he does.  He's just bridged the gap between computer calculation and human psychology better than any other player. 

  • 4 years ago


    The potential for computers IS massively underestimated. Computers are actually too strong for their own good. Nobody wants to fight them anymore. They would lose.

    The other thing is that there is an important distinction between "ENGINE" and "COMPUTER" which HAS to be made, hopefully in a continuation of this article. You need a solid combination of both.

    For example, Window's "Chess Titans", on highest level, takes something like 10 seconds per move and gets absolutely crushed by's 2000+ computer and narrowly beaten by even the 1600 computer. Yet, the 2000+ plays in less than a second, including the latency between me and Chess titans was running on one of the best processors money can buy, by the way.

    Chess Titans is a very very bad engine. It would take an obscene amount of processing capability for it to ever beat any good player. On the other hand, something like Rybka or Houdini can probably beat a GM under normal time controls when running off some crap 1.7GHz netbook.

    " computer will ever be able to solve..." (sorry to use the same quote, elindauer but this is just so horribly wrong)

     "Any engine will indicate..."

    These are some very broad, sweeping statements. It's like the author thinks computers are forever condemned to be stupid. While it is completely true they have no brains, the programmers have lots of brains.  The chess geniuses assisting the programmers also have lots of brains.

    It's just a matter of computerizing the logic a human follows. In your draw puzzle (even though white is down 2 rooks and a bishop) the reason the game is a draw is that white is in no way obligated to take a piece and NOTHING can get through the fortress. It's that simple. Computerizing that is a bit more of a challenge but it's still very doable. A very coarse way of doing it is saying: "If white can prevent me from giving check or from capturing even a single piece for 25 turns, then the game must be drawn." And this is just off the top of my head.

    Given time, the logic to eliminate the horizon effect will be developed. Given time, a computer's ability to see into the future will also be increased just with Moore's Law. Combine both of those and it is only a short time until computers are unfathomably more powerful than humans.

    Just have a centaur play against a computer identical to the one he is using and watch the strength gap between them absolutely collapse.

  • 4 years ago


    to Robert Houdart :

    great that you are reading this. I fully agree with you that the article is pretty much outdated. I also want to indicate that computers bring back to life gambitplay, as the gambiteer can study old gambits in advance and pose new challenges to the defender.

    In defense to the author - can Houdini already solve Behting's study ?? ( cfr 

    Behting's study ).

  • 4 years ago


    They took out all the mystery of chess. I like a bit of mystery.

  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago


    @Gustaran Confirmed here, though it took a bit longer. Without  endgame library or table base.

  • 4 years ago


    I really don't think that chess at its highest levels would be as far along as it is without computers. Also, computers excel at some parts of the game, like endings; I remember when a computer found a number of errors in long-standing chess endgame theories and even found forced wins where the humans only saw draws. Unfortunately, the dark part is that people often use computers to cheat online. Yahoo used to be the worst because everyone was cheating in some way, and it got taken over by groups of cheaters who just wound up cussing each other out in chat. I do like getting a computer analysis of my games to see where I went wrong. That's very helpful.

  • 4 years ago


    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 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.

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