Play Chess Against the Computer

Excalibur Phantom – chess computer that moves it’s own pieces!

I’m asked all the time by chess beginners whether or not they should play chess against computers. My answer to this question has changed as I’ve gotten older.

It’s also changed as the strongest chess software has evolved to become the best players in the world. Now, I’m not old enough to remember when computers were laughed at by how weak they were. Most computers on their highest levels were already Master strength (2300 rating), which would whip me quite easily back in the day. They still had a long way to go to beat a Grandmaster, though.

Less than 10 years is all it took to make the computers not only as strong as human Grandmasters, but even stronger! And since about 2003, humans have been no match for the best computers in the world.

My Experience with Computers

My first opportunity to play against a chess computer was the ChessMaster (click link to purchase a copy) on the Super Nintendo gaming system. I was in high school by then and had a rating of about 1500. I would occasionally beat the machine on its lowest level, about 4 out of 8 or 9 games.  I would win usually in the endgame, because computers back then were TERRIBLE in the endgame.



My second chess computer was a stand alone game made by Fidelity (see pic on right). I actually still have this machine, even though I almost never play against it anymore. It does still work though. This machine was funny because it didn’t learn from its mistakes. I could literally play the exact game more than once. Of course, I would only try this with games that I won. I had another stand alone chess game that was about 2100 strength at it’s highest level. This game I was able to beat the most. Unfortunately, that computer broke down on me after a few years. I used to enjoy playing round-robin (everyone plays everyone) tournaments with them. Instead of playing with their tiny little pieces, I would setup the game on my normal set and play that way. It was fun for awhile, especially during my time spent in Tennessee, far away from any available tournaments.

It was just before the turn of the century when I bought my first chess software, I think it was Fritz 5.32 (today Fritz is on version 15). It was cool because it would talk to you. During games it would actually insult your playing skill level. Not surprising, I was no match for the software, even though I was a pretty good 1700 rated player back then, better than almost 80% of the players in the world. Losing every game was no fun, so I eventually stopped playing against it. Now I just use it to analyze my tournament games.


Just after the turn of the century, I bought the Chessmaster software for the PC. This software was very cool because it had many different characters of all different strengths to play against. I loved playing against this engine because I could set up tournaments, both fast and slow time controls. However, it had it’s weaknesses. For example, some of the characters would make elementary blunders, even though their “rating” was quite good. All in all, worth the buy if you can still find one. Chessmaster hasn’t upgraded in about 10 years and old copies are not all that easy to find.


So, back to the original question – should you or should you not bother playing against computers? My answer is it depends on your situation. If you have the Chessmaster software (or game for SNES, Playstation, Xbox, etc), then yes you should play against it on a level that fits your skills. If all you have is a strong engine such as Fritz or Komodo, I say don’t bother because you WILL lose every game and that can take the joy out of playing. We need to win, at least occasionally.

I hope this helped you. I’d love to hear about your experiences with computers. Please leave a comment and let me know how you feel about them.

8 thoughts on “Play Chess Against the Computer

  1. Awesome article! I remember playing chess with my grandpa when I was young and ever since have loved the game. Definitely gonna try playing against the computer, in the past I haven’t had too much trouble beating them (This was years ago). But now that the software improved I’ll for sure have to give it another shot.

    1. Hi Dennis,

      I wish you luck. Unless you are Master strength, you wont have much of a chance these days. That is, unless you are playing a program like Chessmaster, which allows you to play against a hundred different opponents of different playing strength. The Chessmaster program also allows you to play against characters that were designed to play like the famous players in history, such as Bobby Fischer or Paul Morphy.

  2. I can’t believe how powerful these softwares have gotten. Its like they know every time the best chess move they can make, almost like they have a mind of their own. I couldn’t agree more, that playing on the highest difficulty almost defeats the purpose of playing.

    Of course, we all need some chance of winning when playing the next game of chess. I didn’t know Chessmaster was available for Playstation. I may just have to check that out!

    1. Yeah, it all started when IBM started programming a machine to beat former World Champion Gary Kasparov in 1996. They failed the first time, but beat him in 1997. Next thing you know there was 3 or 4 different programs out there that were easily Grandmaster strength.

      Ironic part is it was a team of Grandmasters who helped Deep Blue beat Kasparov in ’97. I know at least one American GM, Joel Benjamin was on the team.

  3. I used to play chess against a computer when I were younger, and I’m sure it used to cheat! Unless it was just down to my bad player skills. lol

    I can see computers being great for beginners because they can get some basic experience of the game. But personally, I don’t think computers can ever replace people because we always need that human engagement side of things. However, chess players will always have different opinions on the matter.

    It’s great to hear about your own computer chess playing experiences. I suppose people at different skill levels will do what suits them best when it comes to chess.

    I’ve not played draughts for a while either. Now, that, I could always win at. lol.


  4. Hey there! This is pretty interesting to read. I’ve beem playing chess lately. I wanted to develop my skills and thinking to chess. I played chess against computers but I feel that it’s unfair. Since they’re computer they already knew what are the possibilities or the tactics that we the players are trying to do. I much prefer chess against human because some of our tactics or strategy that we gonna use against the other player is still uknown for him/her. What I mean by that is he/she doesn’t know the possibilities and how to defend it’s king. But playing against computer is still good if you don’t have a person that will play against you. Thanks for sharing this information.

  5. When I first started playing at the age of 12, I would play my father and two older brothers but once I left home I didn’t play that much until I got a computer and played with chess on it.

    I think it was in the 90’s that I was playing chess on the computer and managed to win a few games, I can’t remember the name of the program but I tried a few others since then.

    What I did notice is that they were getting harder to beat and I was losing a lot which is why I stopped playing because you like to win sometimes.

    So I might even be tempted to give it another go as it’s a great game that really teaches you to think, so I’ll have to have a look at Chessmaster.

    1. Hi Adrian,

      Another cool feature about Chessmaster is it has a classroom section. It this section it teaches tactical ideas and other cool stuff for less experienced players. Highly recommended.


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