Computers in chess... The conclusion.

  • GM Gserper
  • | Mar 18, 2013

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.
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!
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.
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.
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 ! ( 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!


  • 12 months ago


    FIDE should really do something.

  • 4 years ago


    This was the best article of the series in my opinion. By the way...

    "I still can't believe that White cannot win with two healthy extra pawns, but Nalimov table bases prove that it is a draw... You will always lose with Black and draw with White because it is just impossible to memorize the whole solution."

    This is the phenomenon that I mentioned in the comments of a previous article in this series. One day, I believe humans will not have to "memorize" such solutions. Rather, I believe we will be able to express the principles behind it in human terms rather than in computer-style rote "memorization."

    It's not that humans will have invented the initial idea, just that we'll be able to explain it better in human terms.

    I think an example would be something like Aron Nimzowitch's, "My System". It's not that he invented such concepts as the outpost or blockade. Rather, it's that he was able to express them in human terms in such a way that an average human could understand. Of course, he also had the credibility of being one of the greatest players of all time. But the point is that an average player could read that book and understand things in a more "human" way, rather than a strong computer/grandmaster kind of way.

  • 4 years ago


    Years back in the North American Open I played an FM who cheated by putting minutes back on his clock (analog, of course) when I looked away to the game being played beside me. I had a better position and about 15 minutes left to his less than 5. I was provisional/unrated and my opponent was trying to save face and rating points... The guy had a sweater around his neck, and could not have seemed more meek. Who was the TD going to believe if I raised my hand? I played out the position, but since I was so mad I couldn't stop shaking, I blundered, and we played out the position without our clocks, because he knew I knew what happened. After the game he clearly felt bad, trying to compliment me on my play, being 'clearly better than my ranking'. I won't mention his name, or the year of the tourney; I'm not trying to call him out. The point here is that cheating in chess is not limited to computers.

  • 4 years ago


    interesting interview with Ivanov - he says he is now more popular - smells like a cheat to me

    - Do you have some other hobby but chess?

    - Hanging out with friends of mine, visiting night clubs, meeting beautiful girls and so on. Actually, before the Zadar Scandal I wasn't so popular at all, but now I see that the more time is turning the more my popularity rises, I just want to play my own chess-style and to have fun playing chess it's still a pity that I am famous for these ridiculous accusations.

  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago


    considering how much at stake for kramnik it is unlikely that kramnik would sane person in his position would cheat. its common sense that there is a lot for him to lose and gain not much by cheating. besides, he missed many obvious computer moves in game 1-4 in the championship matches that its clear he did not have any outside assitance..surely topalov understood that. topalov is not an idiot, he played dirty tricks to gain unfair advantage over kramnik, because the match was not going in his direction..his tricks almost worked, he stole a full point off kramnik, still could not win the wonder the world united against him to help anand win the title..just imagine, kasparov helped anand, carlsen game him practice match, and kramnik offered his personal analysis to anand for free!! says a lot about the image of topalov camp in the chess world..its a fortune that he is practically obliterated from the championship cycle.

  • 4 years ago


    kosiu-dremev: "I agree with blitzkriegbasha that the part about "toilet gate" is weak. "

    you understand that part wrong. He only gave his common sense opinion - the aim was not to give undeniable proof on behalf of Kramnik....

    what he says is that it looks unlikely that Kramnik cheated (he missed obvious moves) and yet his head was asked by Topa - and in the end the whole thing only worsened both Kramniks and chess' reputation. That while players that is more probably cheating like Ivanov goes from tournament to tournament and gets away with it- taking the tournament money before the noses of honest players ....

    I wonder what FIDE is going to do when Ivanov is asking for his IM title....

  • 4 years ago


    Maybe a referee watches the game, and if there are any devices used by the players, it could be demanded that the referre can listen to the device.

    Would work in non-online tournaments.

  • 4 years ago


    I agree with blitzkriegbasha that the part about "toilet gate" is weak. Arguments there are really unsound. Except that author knows Kramnik for a long time Smile. It's good to have faith in something /or someone/. Other parts of the articles are on usual exquisite height. Thanks!

  • 4 years ago


    When the mans son fell off a horse and broke his leg the people in the village said "Oh this is terrible" "how bad this is" "so sorry for your son"

    The man replied "I don't know why but I don't think this is bad" "I think something good will come from this"

    The next day Soldiers came to the village and took all the teen boys to fight in the war. All but the one with the broken leg.


    My point is thanks to this article a good thing can happen. Like this.

    If you were in my tournament playing for $4000 (or more) than surely you can afford a Camcorder.

    You want to play for 4k in my tourny then fine all you have to do is have the camcorder about 5 feet away from you clearly showing you so we can see your hands, feet and computer screen.

    There are sites now that let you stream live video. Like twitch tv. My clan leader always gets called a hacker on his $6000 PC in online games so he streams it live so they can see he is legit.

    Using the way I mentioned showing them and their computer screen now you can see if they are playing legit.

  • 4 years ago


    It would be very easy to cheat in chess over the computer. There is a 2000 chess computer on this site. It's never a good idea to cheat. Why don't they just have huge punishments for it?

  • 4 years ago


    Thought provoking article. Nice discussion also. I am curious to read the update to this issue two years from now - my suspicion is that attitudes will change and adjust to this prevailing reality. Computers are ubiquitously seeping further and further into all corners of our lives - almost impossible to ignore. I try to play my best game based upon my own (albeit very limited) internal cognitive resources - if my opponent is 'cheating' I do not know, it is fun for me to play and I find satisfaction in a good game, win, lose or draw.

  • 4 years ago


    Well put, thanky yous

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks, this is a great article. 

    "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."

    This is the point.

    g057721"let us with open arms welcome the new dawn where mind is not distinct from machine. The steady grind of scientific progress on transient human constructs is an indication of the glorious future that lies ahead."

    computer is a tool. computer is man's dog.

  • 4 years ago


    there will still be big money tournaments in future, but they will be played at blitz time controls, not classical ones. not exactly 'chess tournaments as we know them', but not the end of the world, and it's slightly surprising this obvious solution wasn't mentioned in the article

  • 4 years ago


    let us with open arms welcome the new dawn where mind is not distinct from machine. The steady grind of scientific progress on transient human constructs is an indication of the glorious future that lies ahead.   

  • 4 years ago


    I am always a fan of your articles and thought this one in particular was well written and thought provoking. It is always interesting to see how a GM's take on these issues.

  • 4 years ago


    Am I the only one who thought this article was strange? Took a jab at Bobby Fischer's accomplishments, and defended the toilet gate scandal with "why would they cheat if they have no reason to?" Silly. Some people will cheat if they can, simple as that. And there's no telling who will do it, and for what reason. 

  • 4 years ago


    Chess is a horrible game now.

    Bobby Fischer

  • 4 years ago


    FM Lilov's analysis of Ivanov is quite telling...

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