The Controversial Computer

The Controversial Computer

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Being a chess second of #14 female player in the world WGM Natalia Pogonina, I would like to share with you her article on home preparation and advanced chess (originally published at her website - Hope you'll find it useful:

The attitude towards PCs in the modern world is controversial due to the changes they have brought into our favorite game. The obvious advantage of using chess engines is that they help find new ideas and speed up the preparation process, while the downside is that the game becomes more “dry”, mechanistic. Often the game turns into a struggle between their chess engines, a “let’s see whose home prep was better” competition.

I use chess engines in two main ways:

  1. Opening analysis
  2. Game analysis

Nowadays great attention is paid to the opening. A strong novelty, extensive home prep, and your opponent may already start “packing up his suitcases”. Or, vice versa: you forgot to do your homework, made a dubious move, and now are struggling for a draw

My ratio (human/engine) in home preparation is about 50/50. First of all, I and my coaches choose the direction in which we’re moving, search for strong and humanlike moves, then check all these variations with the engine and pay attention to its suggestions, new ideas. It’s essential to determine the search direction yourself and not to follow the first engine line thoughtlessly. Sometimes the “first line” variations don’t work out, while the 2nd, 3rdor even “worse” (while you feel that it’s interesting) proves to be just great

While analyzing games my main priority is not to just find mistakes and the right moves, but learn something new. That’s why I prefer analyzing myself first and only switch the engine on from time to time. Of course, it’s much easier to become a spectator and just enjoy the PC’s performance, but this hardly helps develop your own thinking. So, once again, first I look at the game myself and only then I “unleash the cyborg” and let him do his filthy job

Talking about advanced chess – I have a little experience in it. Namely, I used to analyse a certain opening variation and then play it in advanced chess against my coach. A man using an engine is a chess lethal weapon! PCs are great at calculating variations, while experienced chess players know how to choose the most promising, strongest ones from the suggested. These training games were tough, especially from the psychological point of view. For example, a sacrifice that could be just great in a regular game against a human would fail against an advancer. So you aren’t sure against whom you’re playing: this very opponent or his chess engine. That was confusing. At some point I decided to quit playing advance chess matches although I agree that they might be useful in terms of analyzing openings and memorizing them

To sum this all up, I would like to say that one can’t do without using chess engines, but to a certain extent: at the tournament you will have to play for yourself, without the help of “the silicon monster”. So it’s your brain cells that matter, not his transistors!

(C) Natalia Pogonina,

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