20

These days I have been watching the candidates tournament, and I couldn't avoid noticing that players are reeling/scared of computer home preparation "a little bit too much".

For example:

1) In the game Anand vs Kramnik (round 4), Kramnik at the move 22 just played the "incredible" move Nd4 (home computer preparation), giving the Knight for "free" without any apparent compensation, four moves later we end up understanding that Nd4 just forces a draw:

[FEN ""]
[Event "FIDE Candidates 2014"]
[Site "Khanty-Mansiysk RUS"]
[Date "2014.03.17"]
[Round "4.2"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2770"]
[BlackElo "2787"]
[ECO "D37"]
[Opening "QGD"]
[Variation "4.Nf3"]
[WhiteFideId "5000017"]
[BlackFideId "4101588"]
[EventDate "2014.03.13"]
[StartPly "43"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. e4 Bb4 6. Bg5 c5 7. Bxc4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Bxc3+ 9. bxc3 Qa5 10. Bb5+ Nbd7 11. Bxf6 Qxc3+ 12. Kf1 gxf6 13. h4 a6 14. Rh3 Qb4 15. Be2 Ne5 16. h5 Qd6 17. Qd2 Nc6 18. Rd3 Qh2 19. f4 Rg8 20. Bf3 Bd7 21. Ne2 Qh1+ 22. Ng1 Nd4 23. Rxd4 Bb5+ 24. Kf2 Qh4+ 25. Ke3 e5 26. fxe5 Qg5+ 27. Kf2 Qg3+ 28. Ke3 Qg5+ 29. Kf2 Qg3+ 30. Ke3 Qg5+ 1/2-1/2

2) Topalov vs Kramnik (round 6). Kramnik at the end of the game, in the press conference, was "whining" that he lost the game because Topalov had prepared all in home with a computer, almost like suggesting that he lost to a computer:

[FEN ""]
[Event "FIDE Candidates 2014"]
[Site "Khanty-Mansiysk RUS"]
[Date "2014.03.19"]
[Round "6.1"]
[White "Topalov, Veselin"]
[Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "GM"]
[WhiteElo "2785"]
[BlackElo "2787"]
[ECO "D37"]
[Opening "QGD"]
[Variation "classical variation (5.Bf4)"]
[WhiteFideId "2900084"]
[BlackFideId "4101588"]
[EventDate "2014.03.13"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 Nbd7 7. c5 Nh5 8. Be5
c6 9. Bd3 g6 10. h4 f5 11. Bh2 b6 12. b4 f4 13. O-O a5 14. b5 bxc5 15. bxc6 Nb8
16. Bb5 Ba6 17. a4 Qc8 18. dxc5 Nxc6 19. Nxd5 exd5 20. Qxd5+ Kh8 21. Qxc6 Qxc6
22. Bxc6 Rac8 23. Bb5 Bxb5 24. axb5 Bxc5 25. Rxa5 fxe3 26. fxe3 Bxe3+ 27. Kh1
Rc2 28. Rb1 Rfc8 29. Raa1 Bb6 30. Be5+ Kg8 31. Ra6 Be3 32. b6 Rc1+ 33. Rxc1
Rxc1+ 34. Kh2 Rb1 35. g4 Bf4+ 36. Kg2 Bxe5 37. Nxe5 Nf4+ 38. Kf3 Ne6 39. b7 Rb3+
40. Kf2 Rb2+ 41. Ke3 1-0

So, looks like nowadays high-level chess players have to take in consideration when analyzing variations during the game, that some of that variations may be had been analyzed beforehand by his opponent with the help of the computer.

For a fan o chess as I, this computer home preparation takes all the fun of the game, because when for example Tal sacrificed a piece, was awesome because he had to think about it over the board, or at least it was human home preparation. Nowadays, if a player sacrifices a piece on the opening, people will most likely thing that this sacrifice was home computer preparation, so it is not awesome anymore. Looks like the game is becoming more about memorizing sequences of moves.

My question is:

It is true the engines have level up the game, but can we also conclude that engines at a certain level are destroying the human cognitive process or figuring out moves by them selfs over the board (mainly at opening phase)?

How can someone play the game in a way that he can avoid computer home preparation?

Thanks.

  • 3
    This is an interesting question, but it is purely opinion based, which is not a good fit for SO format. – Akavall Mar 20 '14 at 16:14
  • 1
    @Akavall: The first question is opinion based, but the second can have a concrete answer though. Maybe OP should rephrase the first question? Best regards. – AlwaysLearningNewStuff Mar 20 '14 at 16:45
  • Humm, Okey I will try to rephrase first question. – dreamcrash Mar 20 '14 at 18:22
  • 3
    Links to games would be nice. Not everyone knows about what happened in round X in tournament Y between A an B. – Salvador Dali Mar 21 '14 at 12:01
  • As soon as I get home, I will edit the question with the links, if I managed to find them of course :D. – dreamcrash Mar 21 '14 at 12:04
23

My short answer: no, computers are not destroying chess. And now here comes a really long version ...

Your first question:

It is true the engines have level up the game, but can we also conclude that engines at a certain level are destroying the human cognitive process of figuring out moves by themselves over the board (mainly at opening phase)?

As indicated above, in a word, I'd say no. In more words, I don't think there's anything particular to engines about the phenomenon you describe, and the "problem" of preparation, to whatever degree it exists, is really just about the single, well-analyzed starting position of chess. Chess960 (as alluded to in Fischer's earlier answer) tries to address that latter concern, as did things like Capablanca Chess well before that. When Capablanca thought that chess theory was all played out already in the 1920s, it certainly wasn't because of the chess engines of his day (and he also happened to be quite premature in his assessment).

Yes, engines raise the quality of players' home preparation these days and can do a lot of heavy lifting, but still the engines are just tools which strong players use to aid their creative opening endeavors. Consider this: even if you were to have as fantastic a chess memory as, say, Kramnik, so that you could efficiently memorize a ton of engine-aided preparation, if you don't also have Kramnik's all-around understanding of the game and what to aim for out of the opening, the preparation he has memorized will far outshine yours, not necessarily in the quality of the individual moves, but certainly as regards the body of lines he has chosen to learn. (And of course, there will still basically always come a point in the game where the preparation is left, and Kramnik will certainly start crushing you then.) Some players are stronger than others, and that sort of strength still applies to engine-aided preparation.

Again, there is nothing special about engines here. The same was true of preparation in eras where it was aided only by books and periodicals; then too games were sometimes won simply from superior opening preparation. Here is a game from 1935 in which Botvinnik does just that, and which GM Kavalek references in a recent article on the sixth world champion:

[fen ""]
[White "Mikhail Botvinnik"]
[Black "Rudolf Spielmann"]
[Event "Moscow 1935"]

1.c4 c6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 Qb6?! 7.cxd5! Qxb2? 8.Rc1! Nb4 9.Na4 Qxa2 10.Bc4 Bg4 11.Nf3 Bxf3 12.gxf3 1-0

As Kavalek notes, Spielmann had played the white side of this line up through move 6 the previous year, though in that game he played the weaker response 7.c5?!:

[The aggressive move 6...Qb6?!] was recommended by the Czech master Karel Opocensky in his chess column in Narodni politika and it was used for the first time by Josef Rejfir against Spielmann in Maribor 1934. 'Surprising and good,' wrote Rejfir in Ceskoslovensky Sach 8-9/1934 about Opocensky's invention. The Wiener Schachzeitung called it the Prague variation.

So Spielmann was certainly familiar with this line when he chose to go into with the black pieces. But Botvinnik was also familiar with the earlier game, and he managed to analyze a bit deeper than had been done before, which netted him a win out of the opening. That sort of thing happened before engines, and sometimes happens with them today. Still, in the preparation itself, as well as playing the games once out of preparation of course, the skill and creativity that chess has always demanded is squarely on display.

Given what I've written above, my response to your other question is probably pretty predictable.

How can someone play the game in a way that he can avoid computer home preparation?

Just try and end up in a line that your opponent hasn't analyzed. But again, I would stress that there is nothing particular to computer home preparation here; it's the same problem it has always been. If I'm Rudolf Spielmann, and I recently got burned by Botvinnik's home preparation (without engines of course), then if I want to avoid the same fate next time we play I need to try and steer the game to lines where Botvinnik won't have had the chance to out-analyze me ahead of time. Maybe I'll be successful, maybe I won't, but the challenge was the same in the era of books as it still is in the era of engines.

  • Like both answers really, but since you have the most voted, I choose yours. Thanks for answering. – dreamcrash Mar 22 '14 at 1:41
12

Bobby Fischer:

Radio Interview, June 27 1999

I love chess, and I didn't invent Fischerandom chess to destroy chess. I invented Fischerandom chess to keep chess going. Because I consider the old chess is dying, it really is dead. A lot of people come up with other rules of chess-type games, with 10x8 boards, new pieces, and all kinds of things. I'm really not interested in that. I want to keep the old chess flavor. I want to keep the old chess game. But just making a change so the starting positions are mixed, so it's not degenerated down to memorization and prearrangement like it is today.

Radio Interview, October 16 1999

You know I'm finished with the old chess because it's all just a lot of book and memorization you know.

Radio Interview, May 15 2005

In chess so much depends on opening theory, so the champions before the last century did not know as much as I do and other players do about opening theory. So if you just brought them back from the dead they wouldn’t do well. They’d get bad openings. You cannot compare the playing strength, you can only talk about natural ability. Memorization is enormously powerful. Some kid of fourteen today, or even younger, could get an opening advantage against Capablanca, and especially against the players of the previous century, like Morphy and Steinitz. Maybe they would still be able to outplay the young kid of today. Or maybe not, because nowadays when you get the opening advantage not only do you get the opening advantage, you know how to play, they have so many examples of what to do from this position. It is really deadly, and that is why I don’t like chess any more.

Radio Interview, October 16 2006

Capablanca wanted to change the rules already, back in the twenties, because he said chess was getting played out. He was right. Now chess is completely dead. It is all just memorization and prearrangement. It’s a terrible game now. Very uncreative.

Authors@Google: Garry Kasparov: Minute 40 and 49

How can someone play the game in a way that he can avoid computer home preparation?

Kasparov talked about it a bit, if you want my opinion, play blitz or Fischer's chess. Or play an opening that isn't too mainstream, that's what Peter tried to do, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Peter Svidler.

  • Nice, I like the references also, but can you suggested something about "How can someone play the game in a way that he can avoid computer home preparation?" – dreamcrash Mar 20 '14 at 19:33
  • @dreamcrash answer edited – Lynob Mar 20 '14 at 19:41
  • Fischer also said the Karpov-Kasparov games were fixed and the better play was stolen from his games. – Fred Knight May 29 '18 at 22:09
11

In some ways, computers have been taking the "fun" out of chess, in the sense of creating an arms race of opening preparation in fashionable opening lines.

However, if you look at any current games in top-level play, you will still constantly see fresh new positions, and even opening play that would once have been considered completely bizarre just twenty or thirty years ago (see Richard Rapport's games, for example). What this means is that computers, while "killing" well-known openings, also enable a creative player to explore lesser-known openings that contain strange, and often actually quite deep and subtle middle game ideas.

Therefore, computers have not killed chess, but have transformed it. But chess was changing long before computers came along. Every step in the history of chess has involved deepening the global pool of knowledge and experience. The differences now are that computers make the turnaround of testing and verifying ideas much faster, and also that the Internet means that the transmission of information is almost instantaneous, so that the days of hoarding specific kinds of knowledge are over. But this just means that one must be even more creative than ever in depth of understanding and in the psychological aspect of the game. Kramnik famously lost a game against Leko in 2004 because he analyzed a position with a computer and the computer said the position was winning, but actually, it was winning for Black, but Kramnik had not let the computer analyze the position long enough to see that. That game was truly a victory for the creative human spirit.

  • @FranklinChen, I just noticed this post of yours. Welcome to the site. – ETD Jul 28 '14 at 1:37
5

From the seventies to the nineties, there was a development in chess, that more and more, a chess professional was someone, who tried to outprepare his opponent or make a draw if this didn't work out. Or in many cases, try to outprepare weaker opponents and make a draw right away with his stronger opponents.

This is one of the reasons, why Karpov and Kasparov were so incredibly dominant: They both had a far superior opening preparation compared to the other players and a team of seconds at home, which worked hard to keep it this way.

Nowadays computers have enabled players from all around the world, to create an opening repertoire that isn't easily crushed by the top players. This, together with anti-draw rules, has shifted the focus back to middlegame and endgame-proficiency.

Personally, I'm very happy that we have a world champion who just tries to "get a position" that his opponent didn't work out to a draw, and then proceeds to outplay even the very top. To my mind this shows, that chess isn't dead and isn't likely to ever die the "draw death".

Incidentally the players you mentioned (Topalov, Kramnik, Anand) are all part of the "old" generation. Their biggest successes are all based on superior opening preparation and they still base their play very much on the "old" model. (I'm not trying to say there is complete paradigm shift, there are young players who concentrate on the opening as well, but still, it is a noticeable and welcome change.)

4

Computers (engines) have changed chess on the professional level. There is no doubt about that. In some ways, it was inevitable that chess engines would become unbeatable machines. Personally, I sometimes wish they didn't exist. But change is here and one has to adapt!

When it comes to professional play, everyone has an engine at home, ready to help during opening and middlegame preparation. So in this way, everyone has equal possibilities to prepare for their next game or tournament. The better prepared player will on average get better positions out of the opening.

Yet in my view, there are two major areas where the engine cannot help the human player

  1. An engine can say e.g. +0.5, but cannot explain why or where this advantage is located.
  2. An engine can show you nice moves or ideas, but cannot explain how to find them yourself.

Thus, while the engine helps to navigate positions, it is a terrible teacher. Using your engine correctly is also a skill. Thus, the player with the better skills at the preparation stage, will on average perform better in tournament play. Which is fair, in my opinion. I should also add that chess is a lot about human passion and emotion. Engines don't really care. So don't lose sleep, chess is still chess and the majority of the games are still decided over the board in practical combat!

  • 1
    Yep, computers gives us good moves, not good plans Are good to check tactics not so much for positional/strategy moves. – dreamcrash Mar 22 '14 at 13:03
3

Chess is the only game where Computers can show the best performance . I mean they play the real moves .

From a learning perspective I believe Computers are not a good tool for strategic perspective . They are good for analysis for the Players who are above the 2000 + Elo level . Computers find the moves mainly based on Calculation abilities and are powerful Tactical opponents . There is a term called " Gambit " in Chess which does not apply to Computers . If a Player plays a gambit which means a temporary sacrifice of a Pawn to get some good activity then for Computers it is honorary to accept the Sacrifice but for Humans it has to be thought twice before accepting ,else I would recommend to have professional chess players where the good moves can be found based on discussions of Strategic & tactical motifs with a Plan.

The good part of Computers is they can make a Beginner's opening to the level of a Grandmaster . One more equation where the Computers can take a advantage to the balance is that Chess can be a Self Study game . It is not easy to find good coaches all across the Globe . People who are isolated and do not have access to Professional Chess persons can take help with Computers to improve their game . Their are a lot of Chess Videos , training materials where Computers can help to conglomerate the Openings/ Middle/ End game and help a Chess maniac to go ahead & become a Chess Master.

3

A new answer like this to a four-year-old question is probably doomed to lie, unread, at the bottom of the answer column, yet four years late I have something different to add, so here goes.

That computers have not killed the game is one of the great surprises in the history of chess.

Computers have perhaps damaged the game. Not a few masters have concurred on this. The kind of chess Tal once played against Botvinnik, for example, seems to be gone forever, a real loss to the game.

What many of the masters did not however expect was the rise of deliberately suboptimal opening play. Today, a grandmaster like Magnus Carlsen can make a move both players know is not quite objectively best and can gain an advantage thereby, insofar as the move invalidates the opponent's preparation.

In Botvinnik's day, grandmasters seldom thought so; but today, even a grandmaster would rather not play against a memorized line a computer has developed. Thus, though one can reasonably argue that chess was—on the whole—a better game in the precomputer age, there is in chess a new tension between

  • pursuing a computer-generated line of your own and
  • disrupting the computer-generated line your opponent has memorized.

Thus, in grandmaster play, the well-timed deviation from memorized lines has become rather an art.

In summary, many have said that chess was better in the precomputer age. Maybe chess was indeed better, but players have adapted in unexpected ways to keep the game alive and, in some ways, arguably, to make the game almost better than ever.

It's funny how that has worked.

Here is a sample of the new style of play.

[fen ""]
[startflipped "0"]
[startply "8"]
[title "M. Carlsen v. F. Caruana, São Paolo, 2012"]

1.e4 e6 2.d3 (2.d4) d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.Ngf3 (4.g3) Nc6 5.c3 (5.a3) (5.e5) Bd6 6.Be2 O-O 7.O-O a5 8.Re1 e5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nc4 Re8 11.Bf1 Bg4 12.h3 Bh5 13.g3 Nb6 14.Nxb6 cxb6 15.Bg2 b5 16.a4 b4 17.Be3 Bc7 18.Qb3 h6 19.Qc4 bxc3 20.bxc3 e4 21.dxe4 Bxf3 22.Bxf3 Ne5 23.Qe2 Nxf3+ 24.Qxf3 Qd3 25.Kg2 Qxe4 26.Bd4 Qxf3+ 27.Kxf3 b6 28.Rab1 Rac8 29.Re4 g6 30.g4 Kf8 31.h4 Rxe4 32.Kxe4 Re8+ 33.Kd3 Re6 34.Be3 Kg7 35.Rb5 Bd8 36.h5 Rd6+ 37.Kc4 Rc6+ 38.Kd5 Re6 39.Bd4+ Kf8 40.f4 Bc7 41.f5 Rd6+ 42.Ke4 Rc6 43.Rb1 Ke8 44.hxg6 fxg6 45.Rh1 Kf7 46.Kd5 Rd6+ 47.Kc4 gxf5 48.gxf5 Bd8 49.f6 Bxf6 50.Rxh6 Be7 51.Rxd6 Bxd6 52.Kb5 Ke6 53.Bxb6 Kd7 54.c4 Kc8 55.Bxa5 Kb7 56.Bb4 Bf4 57.c5 Ka7 58.c6 Kb8 59.a5 Ka7 60.a6 Ka8 61.Bc5 Bb8 62.Kc4 Bc7 63.Kd5 Bd8 64.Ke6 Bc7 65.Kd7 Ba5 66.Be7 1-0

According to de Firmian's Modern Chess Openings, 14th ed., Carlsen as White enters an unusual line as soon as the second move and, on move number four, leaves the book altogether. I do not know what White's standard fifth move should be in so already unusual a position, but apparently, after four moves, Carlsen is still not yet satisfied that he has disrupted Caruana's preparation. According to Stockfish, Carlsen chooses the third-best option for his fifth move, the move being suboptimal by a margin of more than a quarter of a pawn. Yet Carlsen, finally satisfied with his opening disruption, still wins the game, for—though Carlsen's opening is not unprecedented—it is unusual enough that Caruana cannot easily have prepared.

I would add this as a final note. If you are not a master or grandmaster, but are just an ordinary patzer like me, well, human chess coaches are expensive. By quickly spotting missed tactics in a player's recently finished games, a computer can inexpensively help a social, nontournament player to improve his or her play. A human chess coach is still better, I don't doubt, but the computer does fill a certain gap. I personally would have preferred precomputer chess on the whole but the computer has brought some compensating advantages. In the computer age, the game of chess is still okay.

Good question.

1

Another top grandmaster (Wang Hao) who believes computers are damaging classical chess. "chess is doomed"

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