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Computers and their all-pervading influence on modern chess

User Rating: / 103
Written by Administrator   
Monday, 28 October 2013
By GM Daniel Gormally, England, FIDE 2504

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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 IBM-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.

Originally published in GM Danny Gormally's blog

Other posts by GM Danny Gormally:
From Russia with love
The England Chess Team & Jack Wilshire
Should the grandmaster title be scrapped?
ECF Book of the Year?
Is being a chess pro worth it - continued?
Is being a chess pro worth it?
An Elitist Game?
Does hard work in chess pay off?
World Cup Final preview
World Chess Cup Semi-Final preview
World Chess Cup Quarter-Final preview
World Chess Cup 1/8-final preview
Why are Russians so good at chess?
British Champs-2013
Ghent and now the British
I'll never be fat again!
Lessons learnt!
The sad case of Borislav Ivanov: Part II
Does Anyone Have a Cure for Anger Problems?
The Depth of Chess
Fundraising in chess
Nurturing a Chess Prodigy
The Sad Case of Borislav Ivanov
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men - Part II
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men
One move, one line - Part II
One move, one line
Candidates Final Review & Preview of Upcoming World Championship Match
Would Carlsen have beaten Capablanca?

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Comments (8)
1. Written by 0_x on 15:05 28 2013 .
Lol! How can one survive with all these doubts and negative thoughts..seriously :p 
Terminator movie... 
not to be worried, robots will not be sent from the near future, atleast 5K years,maybe? :zzz 
U forgot X-men! 
A genetic mutation, as a result of using cell-enhancing drugs by athletes or any(i.e. if they really used those) & Bomb wars, creating radiations...will give birth to extraordinary babies with superpowers; Mutants or Son of gods,as they were called in Histories.. or whatever new names may be given...:x 
By the time the 'Terminator Robots' are powerful enough to take over the world, those genetically mutated humans or mutants will beat them all! :p 
No worries... 
2. Written by 0_x on 19:32 28 2013 .
not intended in any way to support drugs & Bomb wars. 
the point was- human beings, can always beat machines or atleast one day! They may. 
I know. I know. It sounds stupid. i talk like a crazy kid lost in his imaginations? U might think... :zzz 
I am. Im a kid,. . 
i think :p 
why do people say,  
"The gods are among us" phrase isnt 'surprising!' anymore? (Not religion)  
Is it because anyone in our generation can look at the sky and see that heaven is just an empty space...unless its a life sustaining dimension or planet?? 
Nah..thats crazy, 
more reasonable would be; 
genetic mutation Or 
Some kid has finally developed & solved the mysteries of bio-energies, the four elements? Maybe & human mind/senses...Naturally 
So even without drugs, radiations or artificial methods, there is nothing to be worried, dude. . 
Nature beats Machines and cheaters! 
[Proved] :p 
3. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 08:18 29 2013 .
1-Machines need to be put in competition with other machines only and not with men, this is a serious error of form. (The fact that this has happened in the past only served to test the machines in the first place) 
2-No Olympic athlete has ever run the 200m against a motorcycle, what's the point? 
3-The machines are man-made, to facilitate and help to train and study never to confront. Confrontation lead to point 1 and 2 
4-Any stupid 1 dollar digital calculator never misses a square root but this is not a sufficient reason to worship it 
5-This sick obsession to reach machines perfection dehumanize people, men are not computers and they should never aspire to be.
4. Written by 0_x on 15:37 29 2013 .
RE: Machines are perfect? 
Machines are only shortcuts with simple codes. 
The only reason Man isnt ready yet to challenge machine's logic in our generation is that we are still under-developed in sciences&tech. esp. those related to dimensional physics,math & psychology. Our Periodic table is still incomplete,machines cannot help! If we're lucky,one day, the world may see a chemical scientist again who understand that man has all the perfect skills, not machines 
We cannot solve mysteries, even those within our tiny planet. With all our "perfect Machines" today Who has explained how pyramid stones were cut accurately upto mathematical precision beyond machine calculations? Coincidence. Maybe theyre just lucky,because they didnt use machines. huh? 
Needless to mention, latest experiments show that waves of certain frequencies and bio energies are created through human thoughts & imaginations... Clearly, machines dont have thoughts. :p 
Sorry, machines dont help. Its always Nature, in the end 
Humor me. 
Prove me wrong 
5. Written by 0_x on 18:30 29 2013 .
And. . .aaa 
if u arent aware of historical predictions and astrological arrangements, 
The world ended in 2012. :zzz 
Its time there are talented kids who has unlocked their senses (chakras). Means Theyre Perfect Beings. 
Probably, kids or anyone, with pure imaginations. 
Pure thoughts > pure elements 
what if life is just a dream, & our brain thinks its reality? 
What if a kid can \"Fool\" his brain as if> 
imagination is reality! 
Of course these are just suspicions and craps.(maybe?) 
But thats what makes it a mystery. :p 
Do not underestimate the power of human mind, if you havent tested it yourself, my friend. 
-me :p 
6. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 00:31 30 2013 .
The Kid programming the good Terminator smiled effortlessly, whereas the Terminator even had to program a human smile first in order to smile. In chess terms, there are subtle moves beyond the reach of chess engines.
7. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 15:25 01 2013 .
I don't care if computer programs can beat us in chess... So what? Machines can now (a long time ago actually) lift more height then men but we still have heavy lifting sports.. Cars and planes are much faster then us but we still have running sports... The same goes for chess to me, I love this game and I will keep playing no matter if a computer can beat me.  
Do you know what is the difference between men and computers in chess? We can enjoy it!
8. Written by 0_x on 09:45 02 2013 .
RE: difference between men and computers in chess? 
=> We can edit the source codes :p 
What about Man vs mechanical Machines? 
=> We have wrenches, pliers and nut-drivers! :p 

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