I have been playing with chess engines for over a year now at extreme difficulty levels. I never played a single game with a human player. I am worried that when i face humans in a tournament, my chess thinking must be completely different and i might not survive.

Does playing against chess engines improve your ability better than against human players? What do you think?

  • 2
    What exactly is your setup when you play against an engine? Which engine do you use? Do you allow yourself to take back moves? Do you play against some kind of reduced playing strength? Do you always lose? Jun 22, 2015 at 13:22
  • Also, this is probably a duplicate of chess.stackexchange.com/questions/2244/… or chess.stackexchange.com/questions/8285/… Jun 22, 2015 at 13:27
  • I use stockfish, chess.com etc.. I sometimes take back moves, i lose 100% but i love putting up a fight against the engine.
    – pbu
    Jun 22, 2015 at 13:27
  • 2
    How do you learn to play winning positions if you lose all the time? Do you ever play the engine from a set-up position where you have a winning material or positional advantage?
    – bof
    May 29, 2017 at 19:26

5 Answers 5


There are two separate problems with your trainingspartner: Strength and style.

  • Generally you improve the most if you play against opponents slightly stronger than you. You have to adapt by upping your game, but you are still able to adapt! If you are always crushed you only learn to be solid at all costs. You can see this a lot if teenage prodigies play too early against world class opposition: Their game dries out. They systematically unlearn all creative impulses, because every risk taking is punished.

  • If you play against engines that always beat you, their style doesn't really matter. But if you would play against an engine only slightly stronger than you (which would be a better choice), you would experience the problem, that you adapt to their particular style. Which usually means you get very good at sniffing out tactical pitfalls, but your positional understanding will stay underdeveloped. I know this very well because I played for two years almost daily against a Mephisto board computer before I joined a chess club and it took me many years to stop losing against human opponents who were far weaker tactically.

  • You mention you are weak tactically against humans?. Is it positional tactic? To me losing is everyday bread. It doesnt matter if i play human and computer. I strongly believe if you beat strong chess engine, you can be an exceptional chess player. But playing against humans needs a different approach.
    – pbu
    Jun 22, 2015 at 13:58
  • 3
    No, I was tactically stronger than my human opponents but it didn't really matter, because I was positionally so much worse. Jun 22, 2015 at 14:35
  • Good answer, maybe one can add to this, against a slightly better engine, if you are down a material or position,engine is not care and no chance to score, but against human, the opponent can get excited and you have chance. So playing too often with engine, trains your mind to give up in bad situation. Jul 31, 2015 at 23:39

A Strong Chess Engine will make less mistakes than a human. Humans are tempted to play the moves that feel like winning or attacking moves. Engine plays solely on calculation. Intuition is one of the main difference between Engine and Human. A lot of times Humans play moves trusting their instincts and may not calculate to the very end. Engines are bound with depth levels and there are chances that moves that are winning after depth levels are not found by Engine but can be found by human on intuition.

Playing under time pressure is also a major difference. Engine as an opponent would hardly come under time pressure. So putting more pressure on opponent when he/she is in time trouble is one to be experienced. Playing same moves repeating for 2 times to gain time on the clock is what a computer may not do.

In a long game, as the game progresses, chances of Blunders/mistakes increase in case of Human players. On other hand Engine will perform same after any amount of time. So playing with humans can be helpful to increase stamina.

One obvious factor is managing the time along with writing the game on score-sheet.

So yes, for accuracy purpose engine is great opponent. But along with that for some small factors human touch is must!


I think there is some benefit to playing against players (human or machine) who are stronger than you are. You can emulate their openings, pick up tactical tricks, or go back and analyze the games to try to figure out where you went wrong.

One of the keys to improving though is to put yourself into situations where you have to raise your game to a new level in order to win. Clubs or web sites with ratings systems can give you a better idea of whether you are improving or not, and you may make friends with people who can give you tips.

There are anti-computer strategies (blocking the centre, simplifying, steering for the endgame) which may work well against computers, but not against strong human masters. Conversely if you are strong at tactics, it will be a lot easier to play against humans.


The online computer programs I play against are all very aggressive and tactically perfect, which can be disheartening if they are on the higher settings. But they do make you look for tactics, which can't but help against a human opponent. The old saying is that chess is 99% tactics, so I doubt if you will have much trouble against human opponents, who aren't as tactically astute as the computers,


Computer training is invaluable, as long as you set the level of the engine to something fair. You don't want every encounter to be one-sided, or you'll get discouraged, and it's not representative of OTB play.

Computers don't play like humans, but I've learned a lot of ideas by annotating master games using a good engine. Some of these are ideas I can't find in any games played by humans, so they're valuable surprise weapons my opponents will never have seen.

Annotating along with an engine (I go first, then check to see what I overlooked) will also teach you how to spot trouble before it develops, and how to balance offense and defence.

Engines can be set to be very aggressive (you can generally alter the level of by aggressiveness by adjusting engine parameters), but sometimes that's a good model to follow to get you out of the rut of being too defensive and/or too cautious, if that's one of your playing faults.

I don't recommend annotating with the engine at full strength; it will spot variations where the killer blow comes on move 15, and no one's likely to see that in a real game unless it's a forcing variation or an endgame, and they're a GM. So, although you'll find lots of interesting lines, you won't be able to emulate it in real play. Stick to learning what you can actually use.

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