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4 Important Lessons That Chess Engines Teach Us

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 be happy that we aren’t computers and rather focus on what we can learn from them.

Image: Chess Engines–Maybe we can’t beat them, but we can learn a lot from them!

Chess engines can be a very useful tool to analyze your own games but I have also noted 4 things that chess engines do very well (and we can learn from it):

  1. Avoiding Mistakes Is More Important Than to Find Killer Moves
  2. Objectivity Is Vital If You Want Consistent Results
  3. There Can Be More Than One Right Move in a Position
  4. Knowing Your Tactics Is Indeed Very Important

Avoiding Mistakes Is More Important Than to Find Killer Moves

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. Chess engines never make simple tactical mistakes. And on top of this, they immediately capitalize on any mistake their opponent makes. This is, to a large extent, why humans can’t beat them.

Interesting note: Have you ever noticed that a chess engine will sometimes suggest a whole bunch of moves which make little sense? Yet those moves still get a decent evaluation-score from the computer. Why? Because those moves aren’t mistakes! In other words, your position won’t be worse if you play those moves.

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 move that doesn’t make your position worse is still much better than a blunder.

Objectivity Is Vital If You Want Consistent Results

A chess engine 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–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.”

Don’t be overwhelmed by your concern for the outcome of the game. Rather, play to the best of your ability, regardless of the outcome–that is objectivity!

There Can Be More Than One Right Move in a Position

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

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.

Chess engines may not even agree on the best move in the position. Stockfish’s first choice may not even be a viable option to Komodo. Or Houdini will prefer 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, till now, has shown us that there is indeed room for different playing styles.

Knowing Your Tactics Is Indeed Very Important

Have you ever tried to play against a super strong computer engine? I have. The computer will find a seemingly small weakness in your position and attack it with relentless accuracy. Any attempt to defend the weakness is then refuted by another unexpected tactical blow. Anyone who have played against a strong computer engine can vouch for the incredibly annoying tactical ability of the computer.

A superior tactical skill can also help you convert a good position into winning position. In chess you don’t always get a second chance and if you miss a tactical opportunity you may very well lose any advantage you had, on the spot.

Strong tactical and visualization skills are very important if you want to take on strong players.