The Guardian: Are computers killing the mystery of chess?

by ChessBase
12/21/2020 – For long-time chess fans this might already sound like a tiring question. But for newcomers and those still invested in finding out how far computers can go in terms of solving the game, this remains to be a fascinating subject. British daily newspaper The Guardian recently published a 6-minute video — featuring Garry Kasparov, Maurice Ashley, Daniel Gormally and Alexandra Botez — exploring the issue.

ChessBase 16 - Mega package Edition 2021 ChessBase 16 - Mega package Edition 2021

Your key to fresh ideas, precise analyses and targeted training!
Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


The renaissance of chess

Thanks to the massive popularity of Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit”, many people around the world have been attracted to the royal game. The mini-series was widely praised on mainstream media, and it naturally prompted media outlets to delve into the real world of chess. In an excellently-produced 6-minute video, The Guardian presented the general public with the issue of computers getting stronger and stronger at chess.

The video description by The Guardian:

Chess is enjoying something of a renaissance, thanks to the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit – along with it being a game well-suited to Covid lockdowns.

Yet many chess-lovers contend its lure is simultaneously being killed off by computers, which take the romance and mystery from the game in ever more accurate analysis. But this is an adaptable game of paradoxes, and technology has proven to both give and take. Will chess ever be ‘solved’? And could it survive if it was?

Of course, this is well-trodden territory for those immersed in the chess world, with the emergence of AlphaZero a massive step forward in the search for ‘the truth’ hidden behind the mystery — and this is only the last step after many years of experimentation!

Nonetheless, the video is definitely worth a look.

English grandmaster Daniel Gormally, who has written excellent articles for us, quipped on his Twitter account:

Interesting video on whether computers are killing chess. Not often that I get equal screen time with Maurice Ashley and [Alexandra] Botez.

Mating Patterns

On this DVD, Grandmaster and worldrenowned commentator Maurice Ashley reviews some of the most interesting patterns with examples meant to educate and entertain.


Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

dumkof dumkof 12/27/2020 03:26
@Minnesota Fats
"not all things created by humans are positive , look at the atomic bomb or the book Mein Kampf"

Sure, even the best and safest medicine can kill, when being consumed inappropriately. Noone disagrees with that. But this is not the topic. You seem to be against computers in general. As Kasparov wonderfully says: "Don't fear intelligent machines. Work with them"!

@Joshua Green
"7-piece tablebases already exist, and according to Wikipedia they've existed in some form (perhaps without the 6 vs. 1 positions) since 2012"

Thanks for the correction. It's the 8 piece tablebase then, whose computing would take a lifetime. But the next tablebases will take even longer periods of times, despite hardware developments. This is what I wanted to say. A few more pieces and the computers will become helpless, to dig deeper.

"chess could in principle be solved without 32-piece tablebases"

To call it a "solution" all possible lines, starting from move 1, have to be worked out, including all unrealistic lines. Seemingly "unrealistic" moves can lead to very deep winning lines. We can never be sure without proving.

"Of course there was a decline in people playing checkers after it was solved."
This is interesting. I didn't know that. It's also a bit funny. What's wrong with playing a solved game? :) Not a virgin anymore? Pure psychological reaction in my opinion.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 12/26/2020 06:11
@dumkof, mind you the first thing a GM nowadays does after a game, is switch on his Deep Blue , instead of relaxing and having a drink with his collegues and analysing it with calm the day after...just saying.

+ not all things created by humans are positive , look at the atomic bomb or the book Mein Kampf.

just to say , are computers really the good for our society?
dumkof dumkof 12/26/2020 03:24
Engines are just calculators and our helpers, which are human creations themselves. They are not killing the game. You always have the possibility to shut down your computer and enjoy the game alone. Computers are a plus only.
Fact is that (some) humans simply have to be the best at anything. Their huge ego and pride get hurt when dominated by machines. No need, let's get over such feelings.
Joshua Green Joshua Green 12/26/2020 01:08
@dumkof, though I disagreed with many of your other points, I agree with this one of yours:

"In contrary, they are enriching and increasing the mystery of chess. They have shown us, how far away humans are, from playing flawlessly. They have shown us, how much space there is still left, to improve. They have shown us that chess is much deeper than once previous world champions thought to be."

This is my feeling as well -- they're showing how many more ideas are possible (in the sense of not being quickly refuted). It's possible that they will all be refuted eventually, but for now it's clear that there are a lot of viable ideas that haven't really been explored.
Joshua Green Joshua Green 12/26/2020 01:03
@dumkof, 7-piece tablebases already exist, and according to Wikipedia they've existed in some form (perhaps without the 6 vs. 1 positions) since 2012. Moreover, chess could in principle be solved without 32-piece tablebases. "Connect Four" was first solved by establishing heuristics and proving their validity, and it's conceivable that something similar could happen for chess. Finally (for this thought), though the number of "possible move sequences" may be quite large, the number of distinct positions that can occur is considerably smaller, far smaller than the number of atoms in the universe (or even in the Earth).
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 12/25/2020 06:00
My fear is that we wouldn't be allowed to be humans anymore.... a human is not a logical machine, but is much more powerfull , has emotional traits, has social skills etc...
This over focus on logicality is brought to us by a society who lost all it's human interests and is ruled by science and over calculating politicians who are indoctrinated at universities that 'optimalisation' is the good to strive for. It's a dehumanisation process that has slowly started from 1980s onwards...
It ignores all other values and aspects of life. Only calculation and robot thinking, black and white thinking, bits and bites, o and 1 are becoming our languages? the computer is now our only GOD to seek guidance from.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 12/23/2020 04:03
Of course there was a decline in people playing checkers after it was solved. Look at membership numbers in the checkers federation. Why is there no boom in checkers today like there was with chess with the pandemic? Checkers is a mind sport that can be played online just like chess can. The reason is because chess is not solved.

@Minnesota Fats, I agree with you that most of the new examples you give did kill the old ones. Video killed the radio star. Just look at the radio stars of the 1940s and 1950s, the number of programs there were, and what happened after video came. Similarly for cinema and theatre. There is a fraction of the drama and theatrical performances today compared to 100 years ago. Just like computers are killing the mystery of chess. Look at interviews with top grandmasters of the 1960s eg (I think Timman gave an interview about that period) describing how they were spending the vast majority of their time on chess trying to understand it. Today professional players spend the vast majority of their chess time memorizing theory. Besides opening theory, almost everything practical in chess has been discovered (eg, the 2nd rank defense and all the other computer/tablebase findings, middlegame theory). This is why Carlsen recently said that there is not much of a future for classical chess.
dumkof dumkof 12/23/2020 03:22
Checkers (English draughts) has been solved in 2007, after years of computing. All possible board positions are at a 10^20 level, which is very little compared to chess. But despite being solved, has the joy of players changed? Any decline in the number of players? Not at all! Since noone is able to memorize the solution database, the players have to calculate everything on their own, as before. Nothing has changed for checker fans. The "mystery" is still there :)

Compared to checkers, chess is a completely different story. Chess will never be solved. This has been discussed many times here. We won't even see a complete 7 piece endgame database in our lifetimes. Reaching complete 8, 9, 10 piece databases would take increasingly other hundreds (if not thousands) of years. The possible move sequences in chess is far over 10^120, which is far more than the number of atoms in the universe. There is no way to compute and store this much of data. Chess is 100% safe in this aspect. The mystery will remain forever.
physica physica 12/22/2020 01:56
Of course they are!

To get decisive results with engines, you have to throw them bad openings and/or fast time controls on a 'potato' hardware. Chess is 'weakly' solved meaning white has the edge but cannot win and black has never winning chances and can only draw. The exact solution is not that interesting at least not before quantum computers are actually capable counting 32-piece tablebases if computer chess exists by then.

This has affected on human chess too. Now it has been stated that 'chess is draw at classical TC' and faster TC tournaments are wanted. Why? To attract people like chess was e-sports with commentators racing "Blunder, omg!" which is a turning point for old time chess fans. Human chess is losing its dignity to mass media and mass sports i.e. changing dedicated fans to numerous casual fans.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 12/22/2020 10:46
The game's mistery does not stand in the best variation and its evaluation. There are so many geometrical, paradoxical, stunning aspects of the game that it is silly to think that its mistery will be killed by computers. Even though the geography of the Earth is a computerized thing, we still feel awesome when we climb that mountain and see the misteries of the forests on it.

Yes, it's a big question whether the perfect game is a win for white, because of the tempo advantage, a win for black because of a zugzwang or a draw. Maybe we will never know. But even if a computer figures it out in some way, we will be able to drag our opponent into the woods in just the same way. Grandmasters tend to play long memorized lines, but they occasionally drift from those.

The problem with chess is this political fight against draws. Grandmaster draws were always part of the game and chess was much better when they were not fought against. Also, all these blitz and rapid tournaments taken so seriously undermine the interest in top tournaments. If the GM does not find that obvious move, then why should I bother looking at the tournament? I could play classical games instead of watching this blitz and they will be better in quality.
chessgod0 chessgod0 12/22/2020 06:26
Cars have been faster than humans for a long time, but we still marvel at Usain Bolt. The awesome strength of chess computers probably won't dull our admiration for the best human players.
jadumontelle jadumontelle 12/22/2020 05:06
Does allowing an AI mean it is a conscientious being or does it only reflect the programming of the engineers? The computer is not much more than a tin-man, nor heart-no unconscious-only mimicking humankind in a "foolish circus"!
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 12/22/2020 12:41
should i now bow to your adoration to computers dumkof?

what about social things, instead of all the logic thinking?
aren't we all missing the point of being able to calculate 2000% correctly with a pc but being -2000% not able to say hi or being able to make social contact? Which chess player is better? the one how is a robot , or the one who is still a human?
dumkof dumkof 12/22/2020 12:01
Computers are not killing the mystery of chess.
In contrary, they are enriching and increasing the mystery of chess. They have shown us, how far away humans are, from playing flawlessly. They have shown us, how much space there is still left, to improve. They have shown us that chess is much deeper than once previous world champions thought to be. As you know, Capablanca introduced a 10x10 board, thinking that chess had reached its "drawish limits".
Aighearach Aighearach 12/21/2020 10:44
@Minnesota Fats: "Did video killed the radio star?"

Yes. This one is yes.
Aighearach Aighearach 12/21/2020 10:41
If humans had perfect memory, perhaps computers would have the capability to damage chess by discovering evaluations.

But since humans can't remember most of the human analysis, there is no danger whatsoever.

Even a motor scooter is faster than Mr Bolt, but don't be surprised if he isn't impressed.

I've been playing the Classical French and since my opponents aren't grandmasters either, I get good positions, exiting games, and memorizing the lines doesn't actually help that much.

For the white pieces there are lots of d4 lines where even if your opponent lives in a memory palace, you're out of book by move 8 because your op didn't know your unfashionable but good old system.

Computers killed the memorized opening line for people who live in ape brains. There are two solutions; play a system instead of a line, or move into a memory palace.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 12/21/2020 09:55
Did the radio killed the live (street) music?
Did video killed the radio star?
Did cinema killed the theater or drama?
Did the electric cigarette killed the rolled cigarete?

Did video games killed real games outside the garden with friends?

Did computers really made us smarter or actually less intelligent as we are just staring to a screen 8 hours a workingday?
tom_70 tom_70 12/21/2020 07:36
I think those of us who were playing chess computers in the 1980's and getting our butts kicked by them, knew that eventually computers would get strong enough to beat all humans. The only people who were shocked at Kasparov's loss were people who had never actually played chess against a computer.