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.