I am wondering whether or not playing against chess against a computer will help you get better as quickly as playing against humans.

The motivation for this questions come from video gaming. I used to play a certain video game called Rome:Total War a lot, which is a game in which you control 100s of troops in a battle set in ancient times. It also is a tactical and strategical game like chess, but the 2 are not really very similar in any other respect.

In that game, I avoided playing against AI at all costs. That is because they play in a totally different way from humans, and you didn't really learn to play against humans from playing against the AI.

I myself have noticed that if I use some chess programs, the same kind of things happen. If I put it at a very low level, the computer still makes some good moves, however, if you capture something with your Queen, while the captured piece is protected by a pawn; the pawn won't take it, because the computer is trying to play terribly. This is totally not how humans would play, quite the opposite actually.

So, my final question is: If you play x matches against the computer set at a comparable Elo rating, would you learn as much as playing X matches against a human with the same Elo rating?


3 Answers 3


I read an article in chess life about a man who won an significant open tournament even though he was unrated when he entered. He had practiced only against the computer.

I myself have learned a lot of what I know from computer programs. It is very difficult to find good players here and the computer is always available. From what I have read you learn most when you play against a player who is just a little better than you are. The computer allows you to control the level of play of your opponent. This is most effective when you opponent can tell you afterward what you did wrong and what you did right, so you will want to have the computer analyze the game afterward.

I would recommend also using books of games (or a database of games) where you can go over the analyzed games from players about your own strength. I have one of my grandfathers books which is a collection of games by Capablanca called "The Immortal Games of Cabablanca" the games early in his life helped me a great deal. I couldn't understand his later games enough to get much out of them.

To conclude, you can learn from playing a computer. They will play at the set level of play and can analyze your games, however use other sources to help you advance as well.


The computer is a calculator. It does not think but just calculates. As a result, it is very good at tactics, seeing deeper as the level is increased. I've been playing the computer exclusively for the past 8 months or so, generally at a medium setting to have a better chance to make a combination against it. I find that it does help sharpen my tactics, since I must have a very deep combination to beat it since it does not make calculating mistakes, while conversely, I must calculate its tactics very carefully if I want to avoid losing. I find that the best strategy to use against it is a positional, constricting game, not allowing it free rein for its tactics. Since it does not "think" like a human, it does not understand strategy. For exanple, if I mass my troops behind the lines for a kingside attack, it has no idea what I'm doing, and it might be too late to use saving tactics when I've finally encroached on the king position. In that sense, it can help you to become better at strategical thinking. So to anwswer your question, I think that playing the computer can help you to a limited extent to develop you game for use against humans. It will sharpen your tactics, but as explained, it wil not help you as much against a human who understands strategy and can see what you are planning if you are using a positional approach as opposed to an open game, tactical approach. By extension, it would follow that a match against a human at a certain rating would teach you more than a match against a comnputer of that rating.


I would say that playing against engines helps a lot both in the positional and tactical aspect, but you should acknowledge that human players' pattern repertoire is stricter than the one of a computer. This means that, given a human and an engine at the same strength, the engine's moves will surprise you more than the human ones on average.

I disagree with CConero's answer about engines being good at spotting tactics and bad at positional plans. In fact, positional plans are nothing but prolonged tactics, with an added layer of fogginess due to the inability of the player to exactly calculate the following moves.

Engines are probably less better than humans at positional play than they are at tactical play - this is due to the human's capacity of absorbing the "dead labour" of chess books which engines can't read for now (as far as I know) - but they still are better than humans at positional play.

As a support for my argument, notice that many positional strategies of today's top players (the most notorious being the flank pawns' pushes) are borrowed from engines' ideas.

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