In a previous post about chess motivation, I wrote a section about the importance of playing and studying. In this post, I will focus on how playing chess against a computer can help improve your game.
The challenges with classical chess
Playing under classical time controls is the best way to improve your game. The problem is finding an opponent who is willing to dedicate the time to play with you. Most people don’t have an hour or two to spend playing chess several times a week. They might play in a local tournament, but are unavailable for anything outside of that. Additionally, it is hard for people to maintain their motivation to play classical chess on a consistent basis. There are so many daily distractions both at home and work that prevent players from committing to a regular play schedule.
A computer as your next chess opponent
Playing chess against a computer chess engine is an exercise in defeat. They are simply too strong. Programs like Stockfish (3500 ELO) offer reduced playing levels but even those are hard to beat. Then there is the psychological advantage. Unlike humans, chess engines do not blunder pawns or hang pieces. They don’t lose their mental focus the way a human does. And while they can be configured to play weak moves, it is still on the human to convert their advantage to a win. Computers never quit or get discouraged either and that shows in their play.
Even with these shortcomings, playing chess against a computer has its rewards too. Because they are so accurate (even at lower playing levels), you will not be able to rely on your opponent crumbling after they lose a pawn or two. Ultimately, this will help your technique and make your victory feel more rewarding.
Computers don’t have scheduling conflicts. They won’t complain about how many times you want to play them. They are the best alternative if you want to play slow games on a consistent basis. Using Chessbase’s interface to play Fritz and other UCI engines is fine but there are other alternatives too.
I consider the Chessmaster series the best programs to play if you are rated under 2200. They are designed for chess amateurs and offer a wide range of playing styles that mimic human play. So, consider using some of these programs to challenge yourself and improve your game. Playing chess against a computer has never been easier.
Chessmaster XI – your new chess sparring partner
Released in 2007, Chessmaster XI: Grandmaster Edition (CM11) is the latest in a series of dating back over 25 years. Unfortunately, this is difficult to find online. Try Ebay. Unlike the professional chess engines (Stockfish, Houdini, Komodo), the King engine that runs Chessmaster has an ELO around 3000 – still high enough to beat any player. But this isn’t the reason I am suggesting it. CM11 has built-in personalities designed for players at every level. Each personality has a name, a rating and a unique playing style. There is also a small write-up that explains the background of the “person” you are playing. For example:
Not only does it have a customized rating but a unique playing style too. Choose a personality that fits your playing strength and style. For me, I got crushed by Turk a few years ago and I want a revenge match. More on that in another post.
Playing chess against a computer – star in your own tournament
I use ChessMaster XI to play a series of games against one of its built-in personalities. These are customized settings where the program plays at a reduced strength. All games are played under classical chess time controls. I decide on the number of games (usually 5-7 games) and treat the event like a real tournament. I play the game on physical chess board. It’s simply a matter of seeing the moves on the screen and transposing them on the board. I write down my moves on a score sheet. This is good practice for those of you who haven’t played in an official tournament. It will also increase your chess motivation.
To make playing the game manageable, I give the computer 30 seconds per move while giving myself an infinite amount of time. I don’t actually use that time though. It just allows me the flexibility to walk away and do some household chores and then come back to the game later. I find the quality of my play is as close to a real tournament as I can get.
After my game is finished, it’s natural for me to want to know where I went wrong. Curiosity leads to chess motivation. This is the benefit of slow play — the ideas you had running through your head for the past couple of hours can now be dumped into a database for further analysis. So, in this case, playing leads to study.
Fidelity Chessmaster 2100
This is an old version of Chessmaster first released in 1989. You can play it for free online, here. This doesn’t have the feature-rich capabilities of CM11 but it’s still a lot of fun to play. I played a couple of games against games against it that I posted below.
Playing chess against a computer like CM2100 is still tough. Notice how it almost exclusively relies on tactical threats throughout the game.
Note: If you don’t like transposing moves between the screen and a physical chess board, consider purchasing a dedicated chess computer like the Millennium Chess King.
Try playing a few games yourself and let me know how you do. Post your thoughts in the comments below.