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Once, I played a game against an amateur player, who played really well. When I asked him where he'd learnt to play that well, he merely said that he had used Stockfish to reach that level and had had no formal coaching.

So I got Stockfish and Komodo, the best chess engines, I believe, along with Arena as a GUI. While I clearly see that the engines are really, really good at chess(they beat me easily), in what ways can I use them to improve my game?

To make my question concrete: what are the ways in which a weak amateur chess player can use chess engines to improve his/her game? So, not an expert and not a top player.

My thoughts

I'm not sure of what the answer could be, but maybe it could include something like using engines to develop a sound knowledge of openings? That needn't be the answer, though, it's only my speculation.

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    Possible duplicate of How do top players use computers to improve their play? – Herb Wolfe Aug 22 '17 at 21:13
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    @HerbWolfe Definitely not a duplicate in my opinion. The OP is not a top player and top players are certainly not going to be using the computer engine in the ways I suggest in my answer because they already have the knowledge and skills they are aimed at developing. – Brian Towers Aug 22 '17 at 22:09
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Endings

Far and away the best way to use engines to improve your play and possibly the easiest is to improve your endgame.

For instance: you are learning to mate with K+B+N v K. Set up the position on the board and play against the engine. You have 50 moves to deliver checkmate. The target is 33 for best play from the worst winning start position. Try several times with the engine display switched off. If you are struggling to do this then try once or twice with engine display switched on. This is a bit like cheating but this way the computer can help you correct your mistakes. Then go back to no engine display.

Similarly, you are trying to defend K+R v K+R+P. Repeat as attacker. Again occasionally switch on the engine display to get help.

Openings

This is a bit more tricky and requires a lot more work on your part. You need to be able to give the engine your own opening book.

First, build or get a pgn file with the opening lines you want to practice in the format your engine requires. Second, set your opening book to be the opening book for the engine. Third, play against the computer as both black and white so you get to know your opening both from your point of view and that of your opponent so you think also about his ideas. When you are following your "book" you should know because the computer should reply instantly. When you go out of "book" it will start thinking. In your opening you might have opponent's moves that you are frightened of. Play them against the computer and see how it reacts so you can get good ideas how to play against them and not be afraid.

  • Thanks, @BrianTowers ! You mean that engines are good for openings and endgames, but I must learn about the middlegame elsewhere? Thanks again!(+1) – Harry Weasley Aug 23 '17 at 18:44
  • What might the player in my question meant though, @BrianTowers , when he said that he used engines to improve his game without any coaching? I'm not sure! – Harry Weasley Aug 23 '17 at 18:46
  • And thanks for not letting the question be closed as a duplicate, @BrianTowers ! – Harry Weasley Aug 23 '17 at 18:47
  • If this isn't a naïve question, what is the opening book and how to access/use it? I find Arena a little complicated. – Harry Weasley Aug 23 '17 at 18:48
  • I don't use Arena I use Scid vs PC but the principles are the same. Scid uses a common opening book format called Polyglot. If you want to make an opening book from a pgn file of games then you use the polyglot command line to create the database and then use the options to set the programs opening book to be the one you just created. I'm sure Arena will have the same feature. It is just a matter of you reading the help file and following the instructions. – Brian Towers Aug 23 '17 at 20:13
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It's super hard to get better using chess engine. Those are only tools to help you verify if your calculation is okay. So let's say:

  • You can check if you saw all the variations that may happen after your sacrifice
  • You can verify if you calculated that pawn endgame correctly
  • You can also analyze your games

    BUT... (!)

Do not use engines if you want to improve. I swear. The best way, in my opinion (and not only mine) is to analyze your game YOURSELF.

Then, you need to draw conclusions. Then you'll know what you need to work on the most.

  1. Endgames
  2. Openings
  3. Calculation

Some great player (don't recall who) said you can learn the most out of endgames. But it really depends how advanced you are, i.e. if you are a beginner - don't spend your time on openings too much. We would need to know more information to help you better.

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  1. Sparring against the machine. Seeing as you have an opponent willing to play at any time, then you can get a lot of practice in. Most engines have a range of settings, 'personalities', and you can set up positions against them. E.g. if you want to practice mating with KQ vs. K, then an engine is a great opponent for that
  2. Analysing your games. Engines give detailed variations to help you improve your game. For beginner players, engines are best at telling you when you made tactical blunders
  3. Tutorials. Many engines come complete with tutorials, videos, exercises etc.
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what are the ways in which a weak amateur chess player can use chess engines to improve his/her game?

Null moves: You can (with chessbase, at least), have the engine play a null move. Let's say you are staring at a position and it is your move. You are clueless as to what to do. You force the engine to play a null move for you and look at the resulting moves the engine would like to play (i.e., you basically give the engine 2 moves in a row). In this way, you see 'threats' that you need to consider parrying, and play your parrying move instead of the null move. Rinse and repeat. After a while you learn to identify threats more quickly.

Opening Verification of recorded games: Load the game in and review the opening for mistakes. Simple.

Middlegame improvement: Replay a position from both sides in the middlegame just after the kings have castled and most of the pieces are developed. Note what plans the computer tries and what plans of yours fail. Rinse and repeat, several times.

Endgames: When you reach an endgame, you can replay critical positions from both sides and evaluate your play while learning how to handle such positions. Note what the computer tries and what fails for you.

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