Playing chess against a computer is a new wrinkle to the game; for over 1500 years, chess has been a game played and enjoyed by royalty and commoners alike. The rules of chess are basic, and mostly simple, but the complexities of the game make it difficult to master. Now that we’re in the information age, we’ve used the computer to great effect in enhancing our knowledge of and our skills at chess. Both computers and humans can be great opponents, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore playing chess against a computer, and compare that experience to playing another human being.
Today, when we play chess against a computer, it’s usually a computer chess engine available online. One immediate advantage to playing chess against a computer on the internet is that computers are always available and running. We’ll never have a problem finding a computer with sufficient skill to play against. When computers play chess, they reason through brute force — they consider every possible move, from the next move to several moves out. While that means that computers are intelligent players, they aren’t intuitive — sometimes, it takes a human to foresee a genuinely innovative or unique path to victory. When you play chess against a computer online, you can use its ability to analyze on your own behalf: enter a position that gives you trouble, and ask the computer to analyze and produce the best options. All in all, playing chess against computers on the internet can be a challenging and a learning experience, but it lacks the thrill of matching wits against an opponent.
Playing Chess against Computers Isn’t the Best Way to Play
There’s a sense of anticipation when you sit across the board from another person. Either one of you can make a critical mistake that a computer would never make. Your play could be so imbalanced that, in his confusion, your opponent makes critical errors. And when you play in person, there are psychological effects: looking him in the eye, reading his body language, and the like. When you play against another person online, these aspects are missing, even though you’ll be able to start up a game at any time, night or day.
When you play against a computer, your improvement comes through sheer analysis: maybe you should have moved a different piece on move 34. With a human opponent, a broader, deeper discussion is possible. What were we thinking, and how could we think and act differently in order to improve our strategic approach? How could we have avoided a tactical misstep?
Finally, there are the tactile sensations involved with holding the pieces and feeling them slide across the board. Playing on a beautiful chess set with well-crafted pieces is an experience a computer opponent can’t match. And so while there are certain benefits to playing chess against computer opponents on the internet, the richest and most rewarding chess experiences are against humans, face to face.
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