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February 06, 2003

Free Reads -- Amy Harmon on computer chess

Friedrich --

It's become one of our themes, I guess: the wonderfulness of digital technology, but the new quandaries and conundra that seem to come along with it. How to resist the convenience and fun of digital photography? Yet the images are so ... so ... Well, they're kind of twinkly, metallic and overdetailed in some inhuman way. How great that DV videocams and computers can put a mini movie studio on just about anybody's desktop. Yet the imagery tends to lack poetry, and what gets made often bears little resemblance to traditional movies.

Now: chess. Amy Harmon reports in the New York Times that similar discussions are taking place in the chess world (about which I know less than zilch). Chess players are using computers for study, for competition, and in online matches as silent partners and crutches. "We don't work at it anymore... We have lost depth," she quotes one top player as saying. Computers make it possible to study lots of games and moves, but some players have noticed that studying with computers "detracts from an ability to concentrate intensely on devleoping a personal style or strategy." More people are getting better at the game, it's being noticed -- but they're burning out faster too.

Aha: sounds familiar. Computers make so much available -- yet they can also tend to pancake matters, including (sometimes) style, personality, and imagination. Maybe we're all onto something. Or maybe style, personality and imagination are simply going to be taking new forms and working their way through different channels. Or maybe all of the above, and more.

In any case, the piece is readable here.

Sample passage:

"Because of computers, humans are playing more broadly, and there are astonishing numbers of new ideas," said John Watson, the author of several books on modern chess strategy. "Computers are opening the game up much more than they are closing it."

But others say chess is becoming more like checkers, with so much known or memorized that games now more often end in draws. They complain that players have become slaves to their software, so fascinated with the myriad possibilities it presents that they do not bother to work out their own new strategies.



posted by Michael at February 6, 2003


I used to play chess in middle school, and was one of the best in the US for my age. But I quit when I reached the point I would have to *study* a lot to get better. I know a lot of other people who also don't like studying chess very much, and many ponder quitting. Now, for some kinds of studying, a computer won't help. But for others topics, computers are an invaluable aid that can save many hours or days. And it would really be a shame to tell chess players not to use them.

The truly good players will combine creativity with tactical accuracy, and thus excel beyond what computer preparation alone can do.

Posted by: Elliot Temple on February 7, 2003 6:39 PM

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