Think Like a Chess Computer

Have you ever wondered how a chess computer or chess engine thinks? How do they find the right move so fast? Is it possible for me to think like that too? In layman’s terms, no it is not. A chess engine is a number cruncher. The chess engine takes predetermined values given to certain positional and material features and adds them up in a way that gives it a numerical assessment of the position that is usually pretty accurate. There are some major weaknesses that a chess computer has however that makes it problematic to assess certain positions. One is when there is a static advantage that can be obtained such as a doubled pawn. If the computer calculates that it cannot win that pawn in an x number of moves it will usually scrap that variation. Another weakness is the so-called Horizon Effect. This is the limitation of the computer’s ability to calculate variations x number of moves ahead. Since a computer “knows” nothing, all it can do to look for the best move is to try every possible combination of moves. There is a problem with this method however which is the Horizon Effect. For example, say there are 20 different moves that I can make and then there are 20 moves that my opponent can make in response to each one of those moves. Simple math tells you that there are 400 different combinations. Now a strong player will eliminate almost all of those moves from the beginning because they know them to be bad. A computer cannot do this; it has to calculate all the possible variations to make a correct assessment. 400 move combinations is no problem for a computer but when it goes 7 or 8 moves into a line there will be trillions upon trillions of different move combinations.

So you may be saying to yourself know that it is not possible to think like a computer does and you are right. It is, however, possible to look over your moves in a way that your opponent will feel like they are facing a computer! There is a simple way to do this.

1. Ask yourself why your opponent made that move.

-What are his threats?

-What is he planning?

2. Now ask yourself, “What can I do in response to his move?”

-Can I make any threats of my own?

-Did he blunder?

-Did he create any weaknesses for me to exploit?

3. Is my move tactically safe?

-Go through the threat levels

• Checks

• Checkmates

• Captures

• Move that threatens to capture

• Positional threats

By using this method correctly and before every move you will make far fewer mistakes and eventually you will do these steps subconsciously.

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