This isn't so much a 'hard' knowledge or analysis question, but more of a request for feedback on a moral issue.

I cheat in online chess, daily/correspondence that is. I use a strong engine not only for post game analysis, but during the game as well.

Why would you even want to do that?, you might ask. What's the point of 'empty' wins? The answer is: I don't use the engine before submitting my move, but only run it after I made my move, with the engine/GUI set to output scores only.

In other word, I'm performing an engine blunder check after I make my (unassisted) move. Not after every move, in every game, but most moves in most games.

Am I trying to argue whether that's maybe not really cheating? No, I absolutely know it is cheating.

The strongest effect, I believe, is that while I don't receive a move suggestion by the engine, being made aware of a blunder even after the fact means I'll probably pay more attention next move, which further means that my opponent, who might have been able to exploit my blunder some time later might not get a chance to do so anymore. And that is effectively a move suggestion/prediction coming from the engine.

What am I actually asking in here? Perhaps I should explain why I cheat the way I do.

One, it makes me extremely nervous not knowing whether I blundered or not. The check seems to give me peace of mind, no matter whether the move was a blunder or not. Just knowing whether it was or not seems to be enough.

Two, post game analysis in one big chunk is something I usually skip. The game's over anyway, why bother?, part of my brain thinks. The (cheating) post move blunder check seems to be the only analysis of my own games I can reliable motivate myself for. And it actually does motivate me to do so. If I see my score suddenly dropped, I will take a good look at what my blunder was, just the way I should do it after the game is over.

I mention these two reasons above not as justification, but because, aside from moral points that you might want to raise, maybe I'd also like to ask if you can think of ways to constructively address these two weaknesses above... ways to 'hack' myself out of them in a way that doesn't require cheating like I do now.

  • Welcome to the site! That's not cheating per sé (unless the site's rules prohibit the use of engines). (Almost) all participants at the ICCF tournaments use engines. And while this is certainly an interesting topic, I'm afraid it is hard to give an objective answer to this question, and it might lead to extended discussions which are more suitable for a chess forum than a Q&A site like this one. – Glorfindel Oct 4 '16 at 19:58
  • @Glorfindel I would say it certainly is cheating, both technically/legally, and morally/practically. Legally, the site I'm on allows engines only after the game is over, while I use them during the game. Morally/practically, I mentioned the main reason in my Q: while I don't get a move suggestion from the machine, but the effect of the blunder check during the game can be seen as a (1 turn delayed) attention mechanism (in ML terms) which gives me an unfair advantage. (1/2) – Monet Oct 4 '16 at 20:07
  • Agreed on your other point, I knew this question might not fit C.SE that well, apart perhaps from the more practically request for suggestions in the last paragraph. (2/2) – Monet Oct 4 '16 at 20:07
  • Your question makes an interesting exposé. If you asked my advice, I would say that you probably should not do what you describe. However, it does occur to me that, as a cyborg, you play at a certain strength and will be rated at that strength, so it is not clear to me that it actually costs me anything to play against you online. Still, if you informed me in advance that you were playing with the computer's help, I might not agree to play against you. – thb Oct 4 '16 at 21:16
  • 1
    Seing the evaluation score alone is a huge amount of help. It teils you directly if you have a winning strategy, or if your position is in danger and you need to set up defensive measures before your opponent even notices. I totally agree with @thb here - as long as your behavior is consistent, it may not hurt; but many people will feel offended. You should not do this on a sever that doesn't allow computer help. It's ruining the day for other human players (and limiting your learning in chess). – Eiko Oct 4 '16 at 22:17

"Chess is war over the board", Bobby Fischer once said.

But chess is also work. If you enjoy the thrill of playing chess, including the risk of blundering, but don't feel up to the task of the work involved to get better at it, don't worry: welcome to a fairly large club.

Engines are labor-saving devices, first and foremost. Unfortunately, the more labor you save, the more out-of-shape you get. Pretty soon you're like the robotically-attended cruise guests in the movie Wall-E, unable to get up out of their levitating deckchairs.

So, if you want to avoid that, you have to go on the hunt for a way to take advantage of what an engine can do for you without giving it all of the heavy lifting to do for you. That's what you're "check-the-engine-after-each-move" technique seems to be doing, except that you're not following up with analyzing your games. (And one other thing, too; more on that below...)

I would bet you can't find a chess coach anywhere who will tell you that you can get better at chess without putting in some time analyzing your games. They'll all tell you that you'll improve more and faster by getting knocked down for the count in about half of your games, and then studying your losses, because that's the most effective way to learn.

After all, that's what the rating system is supposed to do; it puts people of roughly equal ability in a fair match, where either one could win. That means (excluding draws) either player could lose. Therefore, half of the time, you should lose.

So, a) Unless your partner is doing what you're doing and you both know what's going on, you're tipping the scales and not disclosing it to your partner. Yes, that's unethical.

b) You are depriving yourself of being able to play better, by avoiding the work required to get there.

What kinds of work you need to do to improve:

  1. Diagnose your strengths and weaknesses. To figure these out, you need to analyze your games. Do it alone, with a friend, or with a coach, but you'll find that you make the most progress if you do it alone first. There's lots of good guidance on how to analyze your games.

Wait to use an engine until after you've done the first pass on your own. Try to find the points in the game where one side improved, and the other side got worse. Try to figure out which move caused the problem, and why. Take notes. Only then, use the engine to discover what you missed in the analysis, and to confirm what you found.

  1. Catalog the kinds of mistakes you make. What are your weaknesses? Which ones cost you the most games? Are they: Blunders? Strategic weaknesses? Poor development? Poor king safety? Unsound sacrifices? Lack of a sense of danger? Allowing counterplay? Poor defense? Lousy attacking? Floundering in the endgame? Not knowing what to do in the middlegame once the book moves are over in the opening? Messing up the opening itself?

  2. Figure out where to start. It's usually either the most common problem, or the one that kills the game instantly when it appears. Then, devise a plan to correct the problem. You will probably need advice from better players or a coach to help with this. Here are some common problems and some possible solutions:

4a. If you miss tactical opportunities (a common weakness among players below about 1800), practice tactics problem sets, and track your progress.

4b. If you allow tactical opportunities, pick up a fresh tactics problem set, and for each one, turn the board around, remember that it's now the other side to move, and figure out what your opponent could do to you. Then try to figure out how you could prevent it, if it were your move. See the New Art of Defence in Chess, by Andrew Soltis, or Colin Crouch's How to Defend in Chess.

4c. If you have a tendency to blunder (miscalculate, overlook a simple capture or immediate tactic, etc), get a book on avoiding blunders; both Angus Dunnington and Lev Alburt have written one, and they're both good resources.

4d. Do you find yourself missing good candidate moves, or misjudging which move was the best, or missing a tactic that came up after the line you analyzed was played out? These are all analysis mistakes, and a disciplined method of analyzing at the board will help. Try Per Ostman's Your Best Move, or Soltis' How to Choose A Chess Move, to solidify your thinking technique.

Then, once you've fixed that problem, Rinse, and Repeat with Step 3.

4e. If you frequently get into time trouble, work on i) budgeting your time per move, ii) knowing when to have a long think and when not to, and iii) finding the best available move when short of time. Blitz games are not a remedy for this; the right approach is to develop a sense of what kinds of situations allow quick thinking, and which ones don't, and learning how to steer the game in the right direction. I can recommend "What It Takes to Become a Chess Master," by GM Andrew Soltis; it has several sections on finding moves quickly and when to apply the techniques.

Then, play slower games, but work on ending the game with a budgeted amount of time to spare. If you meet or beat the budget, you're improving. If not, you won't lose on time, but you'll know you have to improve. Once you can reliably meet your budget, play a slightly faster time control. Do this until you can play a 5 minute game with 10 second delay respectably well. You'll lose quite a few, but you'll be thinking faster and more efficiently. Note that this approach will work much better if you do 4d) first, to make sure you're using your thinking time as efficiently as you can.

During your game, keep track of the time you spend on moves. When you analyze the game, in addition to finding and cataloging the mistakes, try to figure out where you spent what turned out to be too much time, and why. Did you rehash the calculation of lines multiple times? Did you get anxious when faced with only poor choices, and just procrastinate? Did you get distracted?

You can't justify doing any of this work unless you are confident that it will help you improve, and that doing this particular work will be the most help to you now. Many players simply decide they need to work on openings because the lost a quick game. Or that they need to work on endgame theory because they missed a fork in a knight-and-pawns endgame. They could be right, or they could be wrong. If they're wrong, they'll end up spinning their wheels and wasting effort, and will continue to struggle to improve. This happens all the time.

To justify this work, you need that analysis of your games. Set aside time to do it, ideally soon after you play the game. If you wait, you'll forget key information that could provide insight into why you made a particular mistake. If you play multiple games before you get around to it, you might find the amount of work daunting and never get around to it. It's a simple choice: Procrastinate, or Improve. You can't have both.

Another potential issue you mention is that you get anxious not knowing whether you've made a mistake. I'm not a psychologist, and I certainly don't want to read too much in between the lines here, but risk is inherent in everything we do. Sure, it's nice to minimize it, but in the end, we need to get accustomed to accepting risk, and dealing with failure.

On top of the other things it is, chess is also a game. Unless you're trying to make a living at it, it might help to try to develop a greater tolerance for blundering, possibly not finding out that you've blundered until your opponent takes advantage of it, and losing. You should want to win, or you won't be motivated, but you will play better if you're not afraid to lose.

Postscript on Fear of Failure: In his article "An Improvement Plan" for ChessCafe.com back in 2006 which I recently rediscovered, Dan Heisman said: "...results will be strongly diminished if you can’t abandon your fears about losing and your rating. Any good improvement program will include enough practice that you will be faced with plenty of losses and the need to endure times when your rating goes down. That’s life; it happens – no one goes straight up. So if multiple setbacks cause discouragement and not determination, it’s going to be one long path…"

You will learn much more from your mistakes than from perfect play. Make the mistakes, and then learn from them. Play, on your own, and study your games afterwards.

You will improve fastest if you can persuade yourself to do those things. Good luck!

  • I have not voted, but the downvote looks harsh. Would the downvoter care to explain? – thb Oct 5 '16 at 20:34
  • @thb thx for the assist, but evidence suggests i have a nemesis (rather like a personal troll) who prefers to remain anonymous (and unhelpful). I no longer pay any attention to downvotes that have no explanatory comment. – jaxter Oct 5 '16 at 21:55
  • Great answer. And much obliged for thoroughly addressing my actual points -- not that I blame them, but some comments on my question seemed to think I'm arguing whether it's cheating or not, while I never doubted that. Your (psychological) remark about fear of failure is spot on. Not completely sure how to "get over it", but I'm working on it. And your practical suggestions re: post game analysis are extremely helpful, I will re-read them when I'm in doubt. (aside) Sorry to see you're getting burned (vote wise) for such an excellent answer. Marked as answered, least I can do. – Monet Oct 6 '16 at 9:41
  • @Monet thx for the support. see my earlier comment regarding the importance I attach to the earlier (commentless) downvote. – jaxter Oct 6 '16 at 16:03
  • I have not downvoted, but I would explain the downvote in the following way. The question is useless (it is hard to even call this a question), so answering such useless question only promotes a bad behaviour of posting bad questions. – Salvador Dali Oct 14 '16 at 1:39

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