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To put the question in perspective, an chess analysis engine calculates each move till a particular depth to determine best move. How did humans, having a fraction of calculation power of a computer still managed to beat computers for a long time in the past?

Brute force for obvious reasons is not the optimum strategy for humans with limited mental capacity. So, humans study chess games, analyse positions and make general observations that hold true in majority of winning games. Principles like controlling centre, momentum, etc. These help in reducing the number of opening moves to a limited number of systems that do not lead to immediate disadvantage.

Further, note that initial positions have a greater number of best moves and as we go deeper into the game, number of moves that are best would eventually come down to one. To deal with this we created a body of knowledge like various systems (Sicilian, Ruy Lopez, french, nimzo indian). Then we make observations that hold true in majority of the winning games in a particular system. This leads us to general principles/strategies in that particular system. Like in queens gambit accepted playing as black, knight does not go to c6 in order to allow for the c5 pawn push. And such general guiding principles in each system.

Using these principles (to form strategy) and mixing it with intuition (pattern recognition etc.) and tactics (calculation), humans master chess.

I am an amateur only so correct me if I am wrong and missed something.

Further, Can we conclude that only way for a novice to get better (assuming he is already good at calculating tactics), only way is to improve his knowledge of chess (study more games and memorize observations specific to certain situations) ?

closed as too broad by Brian Towers, Herb Wolfe, SmallChess, GloriaVictis, Phonon Jul 26 '18 at 10:29

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The reason a human having a fraction of calculation power of a computer (chess engine) could beat computers for a long time in the past is because computers don't understand positional chess and only used weak brute force.

Older Engines cannot make a strong judgement on the strategic (positional) value of piece relative to the others, also the depth of calculation would not be that deep going back 15 years compared to now. Brute force calculation (tactics) only get you so far. On a side note - interestingly if you look at ICCF.com ratings (where you can legally use an Engine to aid your moves), the highest rated human/machine combo cannot get near the top 50 human chess players.

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How did humans, having a fraction of calculation power of a computer still managed to beat computers for a long time in the past?

I heared Alpha Zero beated Stockfish with some kind of neural net system related with Artificial Intelligence. At a certain game it shows a Bg5 -bishop sac, a pawn in h6(minute 12:48)- that the Stockfish system wich is "linear" (*?*I would say I don't know a lot about this, maybe statical is the word) just don't see and think he is winning.

Anyhow Stockfish -or Houdini...-, a modern "linear" engine, if you give him some time to make his deep analysis, is very close to Alpha's level.

But my argument is maybe brain analyzes with that neural system, but very far from what modern engines, "linear" ot not "linear" do with a powerfull computer and some little time. At the match it was said Alpha was close to GM's style -sacs and so- than Stockfish was.

Perhaps a brain could beat the starting "linear" engines or challenge an engine at short time games because of a pattern to analyze nets of connected data we have all at our brains. It can be limitated in comparison what an AI system does currently, but a GM's brain could be good enough some years ago to beat old engines that evaluated positions "staticaly" not as far as the 25/30 moves Stockfish sees. You know, Stockfish at some games resists an endgame at the match for 100 moves or so before leaving the game. A brain, at least as currently human brains are, just can't do that.

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As you say, humans use a lot of pattern recognition. A computer might use a tablebase in a king and rook vs king endgame, while the human will simply aim to get the opponent's king to the side of the board.

Can we conclude that only way for a novice to get better (assuming he is already good at calculating tactics), only way is to improve his knowledge of chess (study more games and memorize observations specific to certain situations) ?

"Improve his knowledge of chess" and "study more games and memorize observations specific to certain situations" is obviously important, especially to a novice. But even as broad as that is, I wouldn't say that's necessarily the only way to improve. One could improve their results by improving their time management. One could improve by getting better at calculations even if they are already good at it. One could improve by getting more sleep or eating healthier or doing other things to improve their mental state during games.

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Your assertion that "a chess engine calculates each move till a particular depth" is wrong. Modern chess engines (and I'm talking about Stockfish and the like, not AlphaZero) are much more sophisticated than that, and use a variety of heuristics to optimize and narrow down the search.

I think you should spend some time studying these techniques, because I have found that many of them are analogous to the way humans think. Alpha/Beta pruning, MVV/LVA, killer heuristic, PVS etc. are all things that humans do as well.

Of course, humans also do a lot of pattern recognition, which is where they're similar to AlphaZero with its neural network.

Anyway, there are lots of ways to improve in chess. You can study openings. You can study endgames. You can practice tactics. You can study master games. And you can just play lots and lots of games. By doing all of this you can improve your strategic thinking, tactical calculation, pattern recognition and so on.

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How did humans, having a fraction of calculation power of a computer still managed to beat computers for a long time in the past?

This is easy to answer. In the past, the memory and CPU power was quite limlited. Certainly not enough to beat the best humans.

I'm very confident I can beat Stockfish/AlphaZero/Komodo/Houdini 100-0 in a simul match (all reasonable players can do it too!) if the engine can only calculate no more than a second per move.

Don't believe me? Limit your Stockfish nodes per seconds, try something less than 100 and you will see.

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