4 Important chess lessons that computer-engines teach us

Chess Engines - Maybe we can't beat them, but we can learn a lot from then. In any case, who wants to be a computer? Not me.
Chess Engines – Maybe we can’t beat them, but we can learn a lot from then. In any case, who wants to be a computer? Not me.

If you can’t beat them, learn from them.

Computer engines have become so strong that, realistically, not even the best players in the world can beat them.

But let’s not allow the killing-power of computers engines to hurt our love for chess. Instead, lets rather be happy that we aren’t computers and rather focus on what we can learn from them.

I have noted 4 things in particular that computers do very well (and we can learn from it):

1) Avoiding mistakes can be an important strategy in itself

Your chess rating is not only an indication of your ability to find good moves. It’s just as much an indication of your ability to avoid mistakes.

I find it interesting that a computer engine will give its evaluation of a certain position and often suggest a large number of playable candidate moves.

Some of the top candidate moves would make sense but then the computer will also suggest a whole bunch of moves which make no sense at all. Yet those moves still get a good evaluation-score from the computer.

Why?

It’s because those moves aren’t mistakes! Yes, even a pointless move can be quite playable if it isn’t a mistake.

Avoiding mistakes also adds pressure on your opponent. They must now show how they will improve their position. Am I suggesting that you should regularly make pointless moves and wait for a mistake from your opponent? Of course not, we should always strive to find moves that serve a purpose. However, at the same time you should understand that a pointless move is still much better than a blunder.

2) Objectivity is vital if you want consistent results

A computer is not intimidated by any psychological factors which so easily affect humans. The computer simply goes to work finding the best move according to its programmed algorithm.

We can learn from this. We should try to do the same – just try to find the best move and focus on the quality of your game instead of the result. In the words of Bobby Fischer: “I don’t believe in psychology, I believe in good moves.”

It is a useful skill to have when we can train ourselves to not be overwhelmed by our concern for the outcome of the game. Rather, play to the best of your ability, regardless of the outcome. That is objectivity.

3) Knowing your tactics is indeed very important

Anyone who have played against a strong computer engine can vouch for the incredibly annoying tactical ability of the computer. The computer will find a seemingly small weakness in your position and attack it with relentless accuracy. Any attempt you make to try defend the weakness is usually refuted by a totally unexpected tactical blow.

It is important to know how to get into good positions, but if we miss the tactical opportunity in a position, it might very well mean that our advantage start to slip.

Developing strong tactical and visualization skills are very important if you want to be able to take advantage of your opponent’s mistake.

4) There can be more than 1 right move in a position

There are many ways to skin a catfish. This idiom is quite valid in the world of chess engines.

Have you ever noticed that various chess engines don’t always agree on the best move in the position? Stockfish’s first choice may not even be a viable option to Komodo. Or Houdini will suggest a certain move, whereas the latest Fritz engine might not like that move. In most cases all the suggested moves aren’t only playable, but even good.

The computer era has shown us that there is indeed room for different playing styles in the game.