How the AI Revolution Impacted Chess (2/2)

by Joshua Doknjas
1/14/2022 – In the second part of the series, Joshua Doknjas examines opening system influenced by the neural network engines and discusses the modern battle between two well-prepared players. | Graphic: Europe Echecs

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See Part 1 of the series

Dubov’s Tarrasch

In 2019, Dubov introduced many new ideas in a rare variation of the Tarrasch Defense, which quickly attracted attention at the top level. Several of the world’s best players have tried it, including Carlsen who employed it successfully in the 2019 World Rapid and Blitz Championships. Dubov’s double-edged opening system is based around concepts that are suggested by the newer engines, including early h-pawn advances and pawn sacrifices for the initiative.

Note that both game annotations are based on work I did for my book, The AI Revolution in Chess.


Battle of Neural Networks

At the top level these days, everyone uses neural network (or hybrid) engines. It is much less common to see the clash of styles between a classical and neural network engine, as occurred frequently in 2019 and 2020 (such as the first game of the previous article, Grischuk – Nakamura).

Instead, we see a battle of AI-approved ideas in many games at the highest levels. This clash of preparation can rapidly drive opening theory forward. An example of how theory has advanced in a fashionable line of the Rossolimo is analysed below.


Final Remarks

There are two final points regarding modern engines that I want to mention briefly: (1) practical use of these engines, and (2) the extent of their impact on chess.

The themes discussed in these two articles can be useful for the practical player. Besides providing creative and fresh opening ideas, modern engines can give insight into many types of positions that the classical ones struggled to play well in. Among others, strategic/closed middlegames and material imbalances have shown to be difficult for older engines to handle. 
Lastly, the originality of the newer engines’ play is an interesting discussion point. Have they invented new ideas or simply reintroduced old ones?

From my work on the topic, I saw that modern engines have done both: they found new ideas and drew attention to older ideas in every popular opening system. For example, advancing the h-pawn to h6 in the Grunfeld (e.g., Paravyan – Wagner from the previous article) has been known for many years, long before Stockfish and AlphaZero. However, the point is that newer engines have a greater appreciation for such concepts, attracting the attention of top players during opening preparation, and thus increasing its popularity. This process of developing ideas applies to many other opening and middlegame concepts, several of which were examined in these two articles.


Joshua Doknjas is a FIDE Master from Canada and the author of two books on the Sicilian Najdorf and Ruy Lopez. He enjoys teaching, following, and writing about chess. Joshua is especially interested in the role of engines during opening preparation and understanding how AI has influenced modern chess.


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lajosarpad lajosarpad 1/15/2022 12:55
@onlye4 I agree with you. Engines changed the game drastically and while they have brought new fascinating lines, chess games tend to start as a memory game, where if you go into a prepared line of the opponent without knowing it, then it will be improbable that you could solve it at the board. Which, if you want to be successful, forces you to compromise your creative play and start looking with an engine. Once you start looking with an engine, you will start to believe the engine's suggestions to be objective facts, because the engine is so much more powerful. The game has changed a lot, it's still fascinating and interesting, but the human element is much less important than before.
e-mars e-mars 1/15/2022 12:49
@genem Leela Chess Zero can play 960 at the level you want
genem genem 1/14/2022 08:04
Is there a genuine Machine Learning or AI chess engine (like AlphaZero) available for the amateur chess player, at a sensible cost, that can play itself in Fischer Random Chess (FRC; chess960; chess9LX)? Only recently have I seen some games between AlphaZero vs Stockfish (2018). It is amazing to see AlphaZero win with so many very odd looking moves: mobility above all might be the underlying theme.
onlye4 onlye4 1/14/2022 06:44
science cannot be stopped. but there is something I don't like. once everything came from the brains of humans and great champions brought ideas and the ability to put them into practice. today the ideas come with the help of the engines or even worse, they are the ideas of the engines. maybe I'm old or purist, but I don't like it. as we say in my part: it's not all your sack flour.