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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Engine Use Questions

Bear in mind we are talking about correspondence chess here where reference materials are, and always have been, the norm. Top levels CC players justify engine use because, as they point out, this type of chess involves delving much deeper into a position than it is possible to do in OTB chess. As such, in their view, engines are just another tool. I am not talking about them but your average CC player.

Here’s the rule for almost all correspondence sites:
While a game is in progress you may not refer to chess engines, chess computers or be assisted by a third party. Endgame tablebases may not be consulted during play but you may reference books, databases consisting of previously played games between human players, and other pre-existing research materials.

OK, so you can’t use openings lines from a computer tournament; that part is clear. It’s the last part that’s of interest… other pre-existing research materials. Exactly what does that include? These days it is not unusual for top level players to use, and even some opening books have, engine generated lines. If I’m using Nunn’s Chess Openings, for example, and play a line that has been engine generated (of which there are a few in the book), is that legal?

Almost all commercial databases contain some games involving computer input. Thus, any database of top level correspondence chess will contain some information generated by engines. If you play one of those lines, is it legal? This is pertinent because these days some opening variations go 20-25 moves deep. What if I am following my own unpublished opening research where I have used an engine to generate lines?

Which brings up another question. On most CC sites where I play my rating is ~2300 and it won’t go any higher unless I manipulate it by playing only opponents who I’m reasonably sure I can beat. Let’s say I decide I want to go for an official CC title. Since most players rated over 2400 on all sites are, in fact, using engines, what if I play one of them? Is it right to level the playing field by switching on Fritz? If it’s OK to use an engine against other engine users, where is the cutoff point where you say you won’t use one because it’s unlikely your opponent is? I guess it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you want a title, you have to be ruthless and win any way you can. If you are playing for fun then losing to a 2500 rated engine user really doesn’t matter.


  1. The correct answer is:

    If the site says you can't use and engine...you don't under any circumstances.

    There are plenty of places that allow engine use. Playchess has an "engine room" The rybka forum has correspondence play that allows engine use. Where it is okay to use engines you do, where it isn't (as stated by the site rules) you don't.

  2. I wish it were that easy. For me it’s no fun beating up low rated players. I prefer opponents around 2200…and that’s a problem because most of the CC players you run into at that level on any site are using engines no matter what the rules say. If I know an opponent is using Fritz is it fair that I have to play him without the benefit of an engine even if the rules prohibit it and the site does nothing about it anyway?

  3. I believe chess.com has indeed banned people for using engines. I think they have a system for being able to tell if someone is cheating or not.

    And how do you know that your opponent is using Fritz?

    I still say go by the site rules and hope that others are doing the same.

    There is too much moral rationalization that goes on nowadays. That is why we see so many sites allowing downloads of books that are still not in public domain, or music being downloaded stealing money from the people who created that music or engines like Houdini with less than original origins. (check out the author of Houdini's posts on computer chess forums---he always dances around legalities--he should run for office...he is that slick.

    So to me the rules as stated by the site are what should be followed.

    I have played correspondence chess at Rybka forum where they do ALLOW engine use...so I used an engine to help.

    I have played a lot of correspondence chess at chess.com where they DON'T allow engine. So I didn't use an engine. It really is that easy.

    I am not making a judgment on whether engines should be used in corr. chess or not. I am just saying that whatever rules are agreed upon should be followed.