Humans Still Matter in Chess

(p. A14) Magnus Carlsen, of Norway, steamrolled Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi 7.5-3.5 in the best-of-14 series, capturing a decisive victory that solidified his legacy as the greatest in the history of the sport. He has been the world champion since 2013—this was his fifth win—and is the highest-rated player of all time.

What even his rivals marvel at is how Carlsen, 31, has weaponized the computer revolution against them. He does it not by overpowering opponents with calculation, but by harnessing that digital knowledge to turn games into more human battles.

“Magnus is proud of saying that he’s probably the top player who works the least with the computer and is the least influenced by the computer,” said Carlsen’s coach, Peter Heine Nielsen. “He wants to trust his own evaluation, his human touch and to keep that.”

. . .

. . . here’s the twist: the most lethal use of computer-based analysis isn’t to find something that only the machine can see. It’s figuring out what it sees and dismisses that might still be useful. The dream of any computer-savvy chess player is to discover a string of moves that an engine doesn’t necessarily favor, yet taps into a line that their opponent hasn’t prepared.

“That’s the Holy Grail,” said grandmaster Cristian Chirila, who assisted world No. 4 Fabiano Caruana when he faced Carlsen for the world championship in 2018. “If you can get there, that’s a huge advantage.”

In any given situation, the engines might recommend any number of moves and suggest that they are all relatively equal. Those are the obvious ones to study. But by playing a more obscure move—perhaps even one that the computers suggest is disadvantageous—Carlsen thrives by throwing his opponents into that unfamiliar territory.

For the full story, see:

Joshua Robinson and Andrew Beaton. “Computers Revolutionized Chess. Magnus Carlsen Wins by Being Human.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 10, 2021): A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 10, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

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