“A Chess Engine Is NOT Your Friend!”

In their new book, “Play Unconventional Chess and Win,” Noam A. Manella and Zeev Zohar posit, “…that technological tools do contribute toward creativity of top human chess players.” This flies in the face of conventional thinking, and they mention this in the preface to the book:

“Experienced chess players, those who learned the game some decades ago (or even recently),
are sometimes puzzled while being in the tournament hall or watching a live
broadcast of a top game. Do they witness a game between two wise and experienced people,
having enormous knowledge combined with a unique creative ability, or is it rather a
battle between machines, cold, technical, mechanical super-computers which happen also
to have bodily needs, feelings and desires?
The influence of technological tools over the game of chess is controversial. Some think
that chess players become robotic, lose all creativity and avoid taking any risk. The inevitable
outcome is a lot of uninteresting games ending in a draw.
Back in our youth, when chess programs had not yet been used, the players found the
moves “over the board”. The first impression is that the game was then slightly different,
and that nowadays we witness the decay of classical chess. Our intuition suggests that top
players find it hard to play creatively, and the computer plays an important role in this
situation. The fact that those top players and their seconds spend most of their time preparing
while looking at the computer monitor surely contributes to this.
However, others think that technological advances have made a huge amount of information
available to chess players. Thus they can solve, within a short time, problems
which were hitherto considered too complex. Today’s players have more resources to look
for new creative ideas, and those emerge in abundance.
One of the co-authors, Zeev Zohar, a chess expert, has investigated this subject deeply
as part of his academic work. He looked deeply at the arguments of both sides while interviewing
professional chess players as well as chess software developers. Finally he became
convinced that technological tools do contribute toward creativity of top human chess
players. He shared his conclusions with Noam Manella, who is a well-known expert in the
field of creativity, besides being a chess national master and study composer whose works
have received many awards. Mr. Manella, author of the best-selling book The Creative Code,
was highly enthusiastic about the subject. Thus this book was born.
Chess is a game based on patterns, axioms, rules and mathematical calculations. A
computer has no psychological barriers. It is “willing” to check moves that most humans,
including top players, reject instantly as part of a psychological elimination process based
on paradigms. Computer-aided home analyses of top chess players leads to a reassessment
of all old axioms, principles and evaluations. Hence one can easily understand why work
with computers adds a new creative layer to the game.” (http://www.everymanchess.com/chess/books/Play_Unconventional_Chess_and_Win)

I have not seen the book, only an excerpt provided at the Everyman Chess website. I am not now, nor have I ever been, one to “tow the party line.” Knowledge is only advanced by those who question conventional thinking. Although it is true “…that technological advances have made a huge amount of information available to chess players,” I do not understand how that fact can be considered “creative.”

The computer chess programs have drastically altered the Royal game; this is not your father’s chess. For example, take the response to a question posed by Sergey Kim to Rafael Vaganian during an interview on the Chess24 website, “Both at the board and simply in life you met all the Soviet world champions from Botvinnik to Kasparov. The world champions of the twentieth century – of your generation – and the champions of the third millennium – first and foremost, Carlsen: how do they differ?”

GM Rafael Vaganian: “It’s hard to compare, because the chess is totally different. Those champions worked in another setting, playing another kind of chess. With no computers, they worked and created on their own, and their creativity was immense. If they found something it was with their own minds, while now there are these amazing programs. Theory has “grown” to 30-35 moves, and you simply can’t compare the two types of chess. Frankly speaking, I don’t like modern chess, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. After all, a person isn’t capable of remembering so much, so they simply suffer because of it. They need to remember and learn it all, but then what of creativity? They barely play at the board, but at home, and that’s bad.” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/rafael-vaganian-anand-won-t-lose)

Prior to the domination of the chess “engines” knowledge was gleaned from intercourse between humans. Mikhail Tal was forced to work with Anatoly Karpov by the Soviet authorities and it changed his style of play. Contrast the games of the young Tal from the 1950’s and 60’s with that of the Tal of the 80’s and you will see an almost complete transformation. Granted, most players change as they age, but not to the drastic extent of Tal. Back in the day human players fed off of each other and learned from their human peers. Today the intercourse is between man and machine. The chess playing programs have altered the natural development of the game of chess. We will never know how chess play would have developed if humans had been left alone.

Former World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik had this to say in an “Indepth interview with Vladimir Kramnik” on Chessbase: “Chess openings are like science. It keeps evolving. Judging by the standards of the time when Garry was an active player, he indeed knew the opening extremely well. Now it is over, his preparation isn’t good anymore. It is part of the past. Chess is developing very rapidly – just like the Internet, gadgets. You know, no one cares about the first models of iPhones now. Without day-by-day opening studies it is not possible. You can’t just invent a bunch of ideas and then spend ten years capitalizing on them. In the 70s or 80s this might have been possible. Now, in the computer age, you have to keep finding more and more new ideas. This is a paramount amount of work. You can’t rely on the old databases.” (http://en.chessbase.com/post/indepth-interview-with-vladimir-kramnik-120413)

Kramnik had this to say in response to a question by mishanp, on August 4, 2013, during an interview on the Chess in Translation website:

“A lot has been said recently about how super-computers will put an end to chess. Is chess really finite?”

Vlad: “It’s finite, no doubt, but it’s a number with 27 or 28 zeros – for the human mind it’s still infinite. Checkers, and particularly Russian checkers, really has been exhausted by computers, if you can put it like that. Chess is too complex: even the most powerful computers we use to train can analyse positions to a maximum of about 30 moves ahead. Games, meanwhile, can sometimes stretch to 200 moves. Yes, computers are strong, but they don’t calculate the game to the end and sometimes they make mistakes.” – Kramnik: “Intellectual effort gives me enormous pleasure.” ( http://www.chessintranslation.com/2013/08/kramnik-intellectual-effort-gives-me-enormous-pleasure/)

Computer chess programs are now two of three classes above Vladimir and have become so powerful that it is rare when Black loses a game in a match between these monsters. The same fate awaits human grandmasters as they become stronger.

Colin McGourty posed this question to GM Levon Aronian, “Is there a particular part or subject of the game you enjoy studying? (openings, middlegames, endgames, tactical combinations, etc.)” Levon answered, “I really enjoy finding new ideas in the early stages of the game. The biggest joy in the modern chess era is the discovery of good moves that are not approved by the computer.”

If the grandmasters today are “creating” anything, what is it they are creating? The young players today eschew post-game analysis so they can put the moves played into a computer in order to learn how the “engine” evaluates their moves. Things have changed in the same way things have changed for the game of Checkers. Name the current World Human Checkers Champion. As the “engines” become ever more powerful, chess will inevitably follow the same path as that of the game of Checkers.

IM Jeremy Silman wrote this recently, “The point of this article is to discuss something that needs to be addressed: CHESS ENGINES ARE OFTEN DETRIMENTAL TO THE CHESS HEALTH OF NON-MASTERS. – A Chess Engine Is NOT Your Friend!” (http://www.chess.com/article/view/chess-engines-are-not-your-friend)

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