Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chess Assisstive Tools

Computer Chess - Assisstive Tools

My first serious exposure with computer chess was back in 1987. The chess program was called Colossus and it ran on a Spectrum 8-bit computer connected to the TV. It had no mouse. It had no hard disk. I ran the program for a cassette tape!. Moves were entered via keyboard (eg: "e2-e4"). I'd rate Colossus at ELO 1600-1700. Initially I lost all my games against Colossus.

That really fired me up to improve and try to beat it. After about a month I got to beat Colossus half the time. The real benefit for me was that I had a challenging opponent to play against anytime of the day. Also, Colossus taught me the practical use of opening gambits. I found it frustrating playing against a gambit played by Colossus as black - The Marshall Gambit of the Centre Counter.
 1. e4 d5 2. Nf6 c4 3. exd5 c6?! 4. dxc6 Nxc6 
and Black has good compensation for the sacrificed pawn. As a teenager back then, it made a deep impression on me. I thought:- Giving a pawn early in the opening just to develope and bring up pieces a move or two earlier. Wow what a concept!

Against today's computer programs like Fritz, Shredder, Chessmaster, I can forget about scoring a decent win at any levels or at any time control. It's no longer human vs computers. Computer has long surpassed the average human GM in terms of chess strength. It's no fun playing against Fritz to get trounced 100% of the time.

Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.
Albert Einstein
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that computers have a place in chess, not as a good sparring partner but more as an assistant to learning chess.

For example, I found immediate benefits using a PDA for chess. The mobility gave me freedom to view games from mini-databases I saved into the PDA. A good example was my game vs Chan Tze Chen. With a cheap RM100 (about USD 27) Palm PDA I could refresh my memory on a killer anti-French variation I used against my opponent just a few minutes before the game. (Thanks to Ching Kim Lye for emailling me the variation a few months before)

It won't end there as I will use the PDA to make preparations for the coming Royal Selangor Club tournament next week (27th Nov 2005). I do not have much time with work commitments (lame excuse I know) to make any serious preparations so most of it will take place in the time I can steal from my commute to work on the PDA. That's about 30 mins everyday.

The programs I am using is Pocket CT-Art for solving chess tactical puzzles and Pocket Fritz 2 as a sparring partner.

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