Before I get to my question couple things to get out of the way:

  • This question is a sensitive subject. But I assure you that I'm not a troll, I have deep respect for your community. It is my first question here, so please be gentle.
  • I am a beginner chess player with mere 50 games that I've played total in my whole life.
  • By asking this question I'm trying to uncover answer to the question: "What do we do as humanity when AI proves to be superior in all ways 100 years from now? - not just chess". I'm asking here specifically because I'm assuming "you've been there, done that"

With that out of the way: What motivates you to keep playing chess? I notice that lot of players here are very focused on ranking, too, so it's not purely social there is some need to be better (or even perhaps to be "the best"). But what can you do when you've worked hard for your ranking but you know that a couple silicon chips have a ranking superior to yours? And that you will never catch up (the gap between chess abilities in AI and humans will just widen). Is it something that just never bothered you in the first place? How come? If it did bother you but it doesn't any longer, how did you get through that slump?

Or am I making the wrong assumption? Are you into chess in some ways AI is INFERIOR to the human mind and you are fascinated by the ways that human mind still remains superior to AI regardless of the historic AI-human match outcomes? Or perhaps you even want to prove this somehow?

Or are we talking about a situation much like horse racing? Yes, horse races still make billions of dollars around the world, even though SR71 could beat any horse with it's Mach 6 performance? Is it just a question of the pure feeling that's unique experience of playing and watching human chess? Same as a horse race can never be replicated with robot horses, neither can chess?

What aspects of chess as a game allow the human chess-playing community to persist despite the existence of chess computers?

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    For future answers in the spirit of: cars are faster than a marathon runners, still people keep running.... note that there is a tiny difference in chess. While the marathon runner does not stand a chance against the engine for reasons beyond his influence (basically physics/nature), a chess player could theoretically beat the engine. In the case of chess it seems rather a statistical problem: the probability to play 40 good moves in a row is rather low.... Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 16:16
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    One criticism specifically of AI engines is that, while they apparently play better chess than anybody/anything else, nobody knows how to understand their "thought process". So basically they tell you the best (or at least a very good) move, but don't tell you why that's the best move. That's a big difference to human chess, where any move can be explained/justified. Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 16:40
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    Why bother with eyes if telescopes see further? I'm sure you'll agree the existence of telescopes doesn't mean we can all dig our eyes out.
    – Allure
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 2:36
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    For the common folk, nothing actually changed. 100 years ago, I would have lost 100 of 100 games against Lasker. Today, I lose 100 of 100 games against Stockfish (and against Carlsen). Does it make a big difference to me? Not really.
    – Annatar
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 6:58
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    Because it's never about beating or surpassing anything (computers), it's a game and it's a hell lot of fun to play! These kinds of questions are similarly asked in physics, and Feynman said it best: “Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.”
    – Ellie
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 10:08

1 Answer 1


I think one of the reasons humanity continues to play gams that computers will always win at is that chess is a useful tool to inprove critical thinking skills, such as pattern recognition and analysis of consequences. No matter how good at chess computers become, and even if chess is one day solved, humans can learn the game and still enjoy it, not to be the best on the planet, but to improve oneself and also for entertainment. Lord knows no one plays chess for the fame or the lifestyle.

Additionally, chess doesn't have to be played with computers. Two humans can enjoy a game of chess regardless of their skill level because it's a form of competition. It's also one of the most widespread forms of mental competition, so for those who don't enjoy physical competitions like other sports, chess can be appealing.

We still teach our children to play games like Tic-Tac-Toe (or Noughts and Crosses, or whatever you wish to call it), even though it's solved. The idea, apart from providing relief to the kids' parents, would be that they learn. Chess, and other activities, are not about being the best in the world or defeating computers. They're about the journey to get there.

Another reason humans don't care that much about being inferior to computers and AI is that we can simply exclude those from competing. Sure, cheetahs might be faster than Usain Bolt, but humans don't care; we don't allow cheetahs to race us in competition.

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    I want to add, that humanity has a soft spot for imperfections. If you compare a classical piece played by an orchestra and played by Synthesia you will most likely find, that the synthetic piece is, while technically perfected, simply missing something (often called "the soul" of something. I adore watching engine games - to admire their perfection and inhumane foresight. But I PLAY chess to feel the imperfection, to get into your head, to watch you (or me) doubt and tremble. I want to feel our struggle, as we fight each other and ourselves. Regardless of the outcome. Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 12:38
  • While I agree, I might pose that the two scenarios are not directly comparable, as there are so many things that separate Synesthesia from humans (timbre, attack, decay, sustain, recording quality) that aren't mistakes at all. Chess computers playing a game differ from human play only in the regard that they make fewer mistakes.
    – user45266
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 3:45
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    +1. About imperfection: Even if they now have superior skill than us, there's a good chance that engines will forever be imperfect, too (that "amount of possible chess games > atoms in the universe" thing), so there's that.
    – Annatar
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 7:03
  • Well, there's that :) Thank you, @Annatar.
    – user45266
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 7:04

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