How to Play Chess Like a Computer

Ever since Deep Blue, a chess computer, defeated Kasparov, chess engines have been an integral part of the game. All super GMs and elite players rely heavily on those machines to predict the best move.

For that reason, you might wonder how to play chess like a computer to improve your game. Focusing on accurate calculations and letting go of the psychological aspect are some of the ways that’ll help you mimic chess engine plays.

Continue reading this article to learn three tips that’ll help you think like an AI and play better chess!

Can You Play Chess Like a Computer?

No! No matter how good you are, humans can’t play chess like computers. That’s simply because engines think differently than we do. Compared to chess computers, humans, even top GMs, are limited.

To play perfect chess, you need a high level of abstract thinking, visual pattern recognition, and a deep understanding of chess rules.

Plus, you need a strong mindset and resilience since the psychological aspect also influences how well you play chess.

Computers do none of that, which makes sense since they don’t have the same thought process as humans.

How Do Chess Engines Work?

While not all engines have the same programming, chess computers still follow similar heuristic algorithms.

Computers build and search tree diagrams representing a sequence of possible moves in a particular position. Then, they use an evaluation function to eliminate the bad moves and execute the best play.

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Of course, analyzing all possible moves isn’t a simple task. In theory, a perfect computer can look at all the possibilities at the bottom of the tree at a depth of 10 to a power of 120—the number of possible chess moves.

Now, the universe will likely end before the engine can calculate all those positions. For that reason, computers run at limited depths—around 60 moves ahead. Even then, it can take days to calculate such positions.

As you can see, humans can’t figure out all that, regardless of the time limit. In fact, super GMs can even exclude top-engine moves if they’ve not recognized the pattern from prior games.

That’s because engine plays are risky and don’t make much sense. You have to accurately calculate the line ahead to see the big picture.

How to Play Chess Like a Computer

From the above, you know it’s impossible to play exactly like a chess computer. However, you can train to predict top engine moves and improve accuracy. Here are three tips to help you play like a chess engine:

1. Let Go of Emotions

To think like an AI, you need to let go of the psychological aspect while playing chess. Of course, that’s difficult to achieve, at least consistently. As you know, a computer chess technique involves calculating the best possible move after each play.

While it’s easier said than done, you can still learn how to think as an AI. That can be handy in the early game, as it’ll help you achieve a winning position.

However, to calculate accurately, you need to let go of biases. Don’t exclude a variation simply because it doesn’t make sense at first—most of the AI moves don’t either.

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Let’s discuss the 2022 Tata Steel championship game between IM Polina Shuvalova and GM L’Ami to help you understand how chess computers think. In move 20, the former had played the queen to d1, which is reasonable, stacking the rook and queen to control the d file.

However, the top engine move was the queen taking the b4 pawn! At first glance, such a move doesn’t make much sense. You’d sacrifice the a1 rook and allow the opponent to check your king. Not to mention, you’ll pin the bishop—all of which are too risky for humans to play.

So, why did the computer choose such a move?

If you look at the continuation, you’ll see that “queen takes on b4” threatens the f4 and e7 squares, both of which allow a series of checks, leading to a forced checkmate.

Finding such AI plays requires letting go of the psychological aspect and depending more on your calculations.

2. Work on Your Calculations

Not only does looking deeper into as many chess moves as possible help you play like a computer, but it also improves your game. But what is a calculation in chess?

Simply put, a calculation is reading deeply into a move while considering your opponent’s best counterplay as well. In human games, you need to consider three to four moves ahead.

In the case of forced moves involving delivering checks, you’ll probably need to calculate 12-14 moves. That requires great visualization skills.

To train the former, start by playing any chess opening you’ve memorized—usually, humans and engines will follow the same moves in a book opening. Then, play a move in your head and consider your opponent’s best move.

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Continue from the same lineup to four plays ahead and evaluate your position. Look for multiple candidate moves and repeat the same thought process.

Normally, you’ll look at checks, capturing loose material, or other winning tactics. Aside from that, consider other “bad plays,” like un-developing a piece or doubling pawns, to gain a better understanding of AI thinking.

3. Focus on Positional Play

Chess engines are getting stronger compared to decades ago. In the beginning, computers used to be more tactical, playing highly aggressive games. However, engines are getting better at understanding positional chess.

The truth is that whether you’re playing a computer or a human, making strong positional chess moves will probably give you an upper hand in any game.

Controlling the board’s center, pinning pieces, and finding discovered checks, among others, are important chess principles. You’ll achieve a solid position and increase your chances of winning.

Aside from that, practice against chess engines. Additionally, analyze each game to gain insights and incorporate them into your next game.

Wrapping Up

Learning how to play chess like a computer is no easy feat. However, you can still train yourself to think like one and have a similar style to chess engines.

All you do is let go of your emotions and work on calculating lines accurately. Focusing on positional strategies can also help you achieve the former.

While humans can’t play like chess engines, incorporating those tips into your game will help you improve and play stronger chess like computers!