Training With Chess Engines: The Smart Way to Improve

Chess players looking to improve are fortunate to have access to many powerful free chess engines. In fact, the highest-rated chess engine available to the public is a free engine called Stockfish.

Improve FAST With Chess Engines blog image

Most chess moves offer a balance between giving and taking. A pawn advance gains space but leaves weak squares behind.

In like manner, we need to cultivate an awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of using a chess engine. On the whole, the benefits of using a chess engine outweigh the disadvantages.

Chess engines have improved tremendously in recent years. They play fantastic chess games, and we can learn a lot from them.

GM Alex Lenderman thought there was so much we could learn from them he created an iChess exclusive Master Method course on the subject. Here we see a game where Stockfish sacrifices the poisoned b-pawn and keeps his opponent’s king from castling.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Choosing A Free Chess Engine

Top 5 Best Chess Engines Of The World In 2018. Stockfish is the strongest free chess engine
Stockfish is the strongest free chess engine

All of the free chess engines available today have a very high Elo rating, far higher than anybody you are going to play. In light of this, it makes sense to focus on the style of play and positions arising from the lines suggested by your free chess engine.

Although we might think one free chess engine is very much like another, there are differences between them. That is why it is a good idea to test different chess engines.

Even if Stockfish is the highest rated, it is not the best choice if the openings it suggests lead to positions you are not comfortable playing.

For example, the Komodo chess engine plays in a positional style. Thus, players who enjoy attacking chess might prefer another chess engine.

The paid version, Komodo Dragon 2, offers you the option of choosing a different personality. This option is not available in the free version of Komodo chess.

One of the personalities plays attacking chess. Here is how the attacking personality is described – “The Aggressive personality will attack relentlessly with no concern for their own safety. They prefer active pieces and are biased toward playing with the Queen.”

Igel and RubiChess are two other free chess engines with a rating of over 3400. You can find out more about these engines and where to download them in this article:

Getting A Second Opinion

Because all chess engines, not only the free chess engines, have different playing styles, it is a good idea to double-check analysis with a second engine.

Komodo Dragon 2 is a paid chess engine. Earlier versions are available for free.
Komodo Dragon 2 is a paid chess engine. Earlier versions are available for free.

Chess engines that use multiple cores, often called the deep version, usually cost between $70 and $80. For this reason, using a free chess engine with a paid chess engine can free up enough cash for you to invest in an annual subscription at a paid chess website.

This subscription will get you access to an online analysis of your games by a chess engine, or you can use the money you saved to invest in training courses.

The personality feature in Komodo Dragon is a helpful feature for getting a different opinion. You can analyze a game from an attacking and positional perspective in one engine.

Chess Engines Don’t Explain Why

We all know there are chess coaches we get on with better than others. They explain things in a way we can understand.

Whether it is a paid or free chess engine, a chess engine is going to help you by suggesting moves you might overlook. What the chess engine can’t do is explain the chess principles that make a move work.

As long as the line leads to checkmate or winning material advantage, this is not a big issue. However, what if your free chess engine suggests a sacrifice for active piece play, or it has calculated that the material will be regained in fifteen moves?

What are the chances of you remembering those fifteen moves over the board? Another thing it is essential to realize is your opponent might not play this exact line. 

In other words, you need to understand why the move works.

Your chess engine is an essential training aid, but it can’t be your only training aid. There will always be the need for somebody you can ask questions with when you are stumped.

Even when chess engines were in their infancy they managed to stump GM Garry Kasparov. Here is how the first engine to beat Kasparov did it.

Learning From Your Free Chess Engine

Showing you why a particular line won’t work is where your free chess engine excels. You can enter a move and see how the chess engine responds. 

Maybe there was a time during your game when you could have played two or three moves. After the game, while analyzing the game, you can enter these moves and see if they are better than what you played.

When practicing different checkmates in the endgame, a chess engine makes a great training partner. Once you have mastered delivering checkmate with two bishops, you can work on reducing the time you take.

In a classical or rapid game, you will have a lot more time than in blitz chess. The more you practice against the computer, the better prepared you will be.

Another good use for your chess engine is to play against your opening repertoire. Play the other side and see how the chess engine plays the position.

In the following video, IM Eric Rosen did this to see how Stockfish would play the London System. He tried to defend against Stockfish.

After all, nothing is stopping you from using the same attacking patterns your free chess engine uses in your own games.

If you would like to learn more about the London System our 80/20 Tactics Multiplier: The London System is a must-have.

In Conclusion

Generally speaking, it is always best to train with another person. One of you can suggest moves while the other uses the chess engine.

In that case, you can discuss why a move suggested by the engine works. Furthermore, it might get you to consider other moves.

Whatever you do, never take the word of your free chess engine as the absolute truth.

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