I started playing correspondence on chess.com purely for the fun of it and to gain some deep learning (i.e. there's no prize involved).

We are about 10 moves in and coming close to me being out of book. To help my learning, I'd like to set the position up against a computer and spar against that. I am not interested in the computer's evaluation, recommended moves for me etc. I'm really just interested in practicing from a specific position.

My question is, is it ethical to spar against a computer between moves in a correspondence game?

  • 16
    It would be completely ethical if you just wrote down the positions you're interested in practising and then actually did the practice after the game has ended. Mar 14, 2017 at 17:53
  • 1
    Think of an examination. I am sure that many of us would be "interested" in the answers to exam questions during the exam. For some reason, that is not permitted. Mar 15, 2017 at 9:54

7 Answers 7


Chess.com's site rules have the following to say:

You can NEVER use chess programs (Chessmaster, Fritz, etc) to analyze current ongoing games unless specifically permitted (such as a computer tournament, etc). The only type of computer assistance allowed is games databases for opening lines in Turn-based Chess and Vote Chess. [...]

So it boils down to the question if playing out positions from a corr game against an engine counts as analyzing.

The answer can only be "yes" because for some possible continuations of your game, the engine provides its best moves. This is clearly an act of analysis.

There will be plenty of time to play against your engine after the game jas finished.

  • Very clear. Thanks! In my case, my program is Chessmaster, so your answer leaves no doubt in my mind.
    – user1108
    Mar 14, 2017 at 10:29
  • 3
    There might be workarounds, though. Naturally, you and your opponent are free to play a game under any rules you can agree between the two of you. You might have to take the game off the site, so as not to mislead their stats/rankings as to what kind of game is being played. And even if they agree, you might find your opponent takes the game less seriously knowing that you're messing with programs. Mar 14, 2017 at 12:45
  • @SteveJessop they could also start using the same strategy, and gain even more advantage than you. Mar 14, 2017 at 20:35
  • This answer addresses whether the rules allow something, which is often a different question than whether something is considered ethical. Mar 15, 2017 at 16:42
  • @Weston: fortunately in this case the one seems to reduce to the other -- the questioner accepts that breaking the agreed rules of the game is unethical. If a life were at stake or whatever, then naturally the moral value of cheating at chess might be irrelevant, and we'd need a more complex (albeit probably still easy) ethical analysis :-) Dec 1, 2018 at 14:40

In chess we have to find the best move to play. In order to achieve this, we calculate several moves ahead. By using a computer 'only for sparring' you're effectively limiting the depth of your search tree by half - namely the opponent's moves. This is not like starting the 100m sprint at the 50m line and asking if it's ethical, because the number of possible lines grows exponentially with the depth of the tree. It turns out using a computer for only your opponent's moves is more like starting the race 87m ahead.

On Chess.com specifically computers are never allowed (as the rules state), although correspondence chess usually allows computer analysis for all moves. See the lack of a rule against it in the International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) Rules.


The answer is simple, and nobody has come out and said it: NO. Not ethical. You need to either disclose to your opponent, find a way to save the game, and play with the computer later. The reason it is not "ethical" is because the other player assumes they are playing a human only, that is the underlying assumption. I don't think it is "terribly" unethical, but it kind of fits the very definition of unethical, it is violating the understanding between you and the other player. Full disclosure will handle it, and the other player can decide to play or not. My chess computer is so damn good, I can beat anyone, if I secretly use it! Wish life itself were that easy.


If you want to do this, you must play on a site whose rules explicitly permit it. FICGS(www.ficgs.com) expects that its players, who call themselves 'centaurs', will use computer assistance to the maximum. I tried it for a while. Anyone who is not a geek will find it very tiring.


As mentioned, it's against the rules. But if you just want to learn and have fun, just play against a computer in the first place. Why even involve another human being? You'll get the same practice benefits you want without any ethical concerns.


As others stated I think it depends on the server's rules. If the server allows it then of course it isn't unethical. If the server specifically states that you can't then its unethical. You agree to their terms by playing on their server.

As you are sparring against the engine you will be influenced on how to make the next move in your current game. Doesn't mean you had intentions of cheating just means, you analyzed the position and if you play to win, regardless if a prize is involved or not, you will naturally go against the move that isn't good to play because you sparred against, essentially, a super grand master and you want to win. That isn't fair play to your opponent on a server that has rules against using a computer.

My suggestion would be, if you are on a server that has rules in place against using computers during play, make notes in your game where you want to analyze and analyze the game AFTER the match is over.


USCF correspondence chess rules forbid the use of computers except to record moves. In other words, you can not use the engine for any form of analysis.