Man vs Machine

There is a believe that the computer will “solve” chess and render the game unplayable. Some has strong believe to this and started to play another variation of the game, named Fisherandom. What is does is that it randomizes the starting lineup of the pieces; abiding only by these two rules:

  • The bishop pair must be on a different colours
  • The king must sit in between the two rooks.

However, I believe that the problem is not that machine will solves chess, but rather machines are taking the soul of chess away.

How the machine sees position

The machine doesn’t really see positions, it sees numbers of evaluation.

20. Rxf2! +2.34

22. Kb6! =

15. …Qxe5! -3.44

The numbers denotes the computer’s analysis of the move; a + means white has the advantage, a – means black has the advantage, and a = means it’s equal.

A stronger engine can do more analysis based on certain knowledge coded inside it’s algorithm (which are still numbers); for the endgame the developer can load what we call “tablebase”, a precalculated table of endgame positions.

What the machine can never do

These numbers are the end results that chess players seek – am I winning, or am I on the verge of defeat? Yet, the machine can never do a simple task unique to humans:

WHY does this move gives me a winning position?

WHY does this move saves me from defeat?

WHY is this move bad?

The machine, as strong as it is, can never explain to a human being why such move is winning. Machines are devoid of emotions and only do one thing – calculate. The end results is based on the algorithm set by the developer.

The problems that I see

The threat machines has on chess is not solving the game; the issue is that the machine takes away the soul and beauty of the game. I encounter numerous students who give out a conclusion to a position:

White is better because the engine says it’s +1.34

Yet when a simple question – “Why did the engine says that?”, surprisingly, even strong students were unable to answer. They will make up their own theories to support their claim.

The process is now in reversed; you are suppose to gather evidence first and then make a conclusion based on the deduction process you made on the evidence.

Using an engine, we arrive at the conclusion first, then we find evidence to support our claim.

This reliance on chess engine is actually a bane to chess players especially young players.

Take this example, on how Bobby Fischer sees the position:

Byrne – Fischer, New York 1963

On move 14, white played 14. Rfd1, which Fischer mentioned that it is the “wrong rook”. Why?

He understood that the rook is needed on f1 to defend f2 – something which no chess engine can tell us. He went on to win the game in a beautiful way. You can view the game here:

Everybody dreams of playing like Fischer, but we rarely put in the effort like how he did.


Players are suppose to develop their understanding first prior to using any chess engines. Without strong basic understanding, they cannot progress far.

Sadly, developing this basic understanding takes time, and time is one thing that players do not want to invest in. Players wanted an “easy way out” or “an easy win”. The engine is the quick solution.

Chess960, or Fischerandom, doesn’t solve this issueit only solves the issue related to opening preparation and memorization.

We should learn how to look at the game from a human’s perspective and embrace the fact that humans are creatures that were created to make mistakes. The great Tigran Petrosian even blundered a queen, that did not deter him from being a World Champion (yes he did blundered a whole queen. Check out the game here.)

I really like how Aron Nimzowitsch explains the beauty of chess:

The beauty of a move lies not in its appearance but in the thought behind it.

Aron Nimzowitsch, My System

We have to face the fact, that there is no easy way to master chess. What we can do is enjoy the learning process, and in due time we will be amazed at how strong we can be.

  • Embrace the fact that we are humans – do not be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from them.
  • Understand that the beauty of chess is not the move, but the thought process and reasons behind the move.
  • Enjoy the learning process, focus on challenging your past self instead of the opponent in front of you.

Use the engine when we are strong enough and has build our own thought process and foundation.

Ahmad Justin
Kuala Lumpur

1 comment

  1. The beauty of chess is not lies on how many you got the engine move correct. It is really in the understanding of why the move was played

    Even in the same position, grandmaster tend to play different move to justify their plan base on own understanding. That is to me is beautiful.

    In high level chess, grandmaster not only must find the best move as close to engine move, but they also must fight against each style (aggresive, defensive, neutral) and psychology in order to win which engine can’t do.

    Thank you for sharing this

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