Never Again!

by admin on October 30, 2015

Today I swear I played my last game ever against my computer. If you ever see me playing one again, you have my permission to come over and unplug my computer. I know that I’ve written several entries about “Matrix chess,” and I’ve enjoyed analyzing the complicated-as-hell positions that I get into against Shredder. But let’s face it, even in the best of times, playing against your computer is a really dubious training technique. It just isn’t the same as playing against humans.

And in the worst of times… you get today.

I sat down to play a couple games for fun against Shredder. But I lost the first. And I lost the second. No problem, I’ll just play one or two more so that I can finish on a positive note. But I lost the third and the fourth.

Break for dinner and watching the World Series. Come back to my computer. Shredder is still open, inviting me to play. Sure, what the hell. I lose game five. I lose game six.

Now I get into this spiraling downhill mental condition, where I start getting mad at the computer and then I really can’t think any more. I lose game seven. I lose game eight.

Finally I grit my teeth and set the computer’s rating so low (2150) that I’m sure to finally be competitive. And then comes the game that breaks my heart and my spirit. After some typical Shredder madness, we get to this position.

lastPosition after 21. … Kh8. White to move.

FEN: r3r2k/pp3pbp/3p1n2/1qpP1P2/8/3PBN1P/PP1Q2R1/R5K1 w – – 0 22

White is completely winning here. I’ll insert a little bit of space in case you want to think about what you would have done.


So I  played the move 22. Bh6. And Shredder did something that it sometimes does, which I hate. It put up a screen that say, “I think that move is not so good. Are you sure you want to play it?” and gives me the option to take it back.

This supposedly helpful feature completely messes with my head. Most of the time, probably at least 80 percent, that message is an indication that I’ve made a blunder or (less often, but sometimes) missed a crushing move and made a less effective one. As a matter of principle, one should never take back moves. But against the computer it’s hard to stick to principles, so in practice I often do take the move back, if I see what is wrong with it.

So okay, I take its advice and take back the move 22. Bh6, curious about what the machine saw that I didn’t see. And then I saw it! Or I thought I did. I played 22. Rxg7??, which looks like a killer because if he plays 22. … Kxg7 I have 23. Bh6+ Kh8 24. Qc3! Black has to give back the exchange with 24. … Re5, but even that doesn’t get him out of trouble, because of 25. Nxe5 de 26. Qxe5 Qb6 27. d6 and the pin on the f6 knight is just murderous.

But 22. Rxg7 has a big flaw! Do you see what it is? The computer played 22. … Rxe3!, an amazing resource. The point is that after 23. Qxe3 (which I played) it has 23. … Qxb2, which not only attacks the a1 rook, it also defends the knight on f6 so that … Kxg7 is threatened. I couldn’t figure out what to do here. After 24. Rxf7 Qxa1+ 25. Qe1? Rg8+ I was busted and resigned a few moves later.

So then I went back to the diagrammed position to see what the computer thought I should have done on move 22. And the answer was (drum roll) 22. Bh6! The move that I originally played! Black has only two plausible defenses: 22. … Nh5 23. Bxg7+ Nxg7 24. Qh6 Rg8 25. Ng5 and White threatens two different mates or 22. … Rg8 23. Bxg7+ Rxg7 24. Rxg7 Kxg7 25. Qg5+ and White wins a piece (and defends b2!)

None of this should have been too hard, but it was a blitz game and I missed 25. Ng5 in the blue variation above.

It was a perfect storm of everything that’s awful about playing the computer. First, the spiraling downhill, losing game after game. Second, the computer got inside my head with its stupid “Are you sure you want to play that move?” Third, I didn’t have enough faith in my own analysis to stick with the move I wanted to play. That’s the worst thing. Instead of improving my chess, the machine is tearing apart my confidence and my grip on reality.

Never again!

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