A trash-talking cat bot on chess.com is at least partly responsible for the biggest Chess boom ever. Yes, bigger than the boom during the pandemic and after the release of the fabulous chess mini-series on Netflix called The Queens-Gambit.
It is only logical that now I get asked many times: “Noël, should I play against chess computers or only against humans?”. In this blog post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of playing chess against a computer, and help you determine if it’s the right choice for you.
At the end of the article, I will also reveal my favorite chess computer challenge.
The Mittens Chess Boom
Before we jump right into the tips, I want to quickly summarize what happened in January 2023 in terms of the Chess boom. In an article titled ‘Chess is Booming! And Our Servers are Struggling’ chess.com listed the cute Cat Bot Mittens as one of the reasons for the recent chess boom.
So what is this “Mittens” cat bot and why should you know about it?
Play Against Different Computer Opponents On Chess.com
Chess.com has many different computer bots you can play against. They range from famous streamers to Top Players and chess personalities. The weakest bot is rated 250 while the strongest has a whopping 2840.
On top of that, you can play against an Engine ranging from Level 1 (250 rated) to Level 25 (3200 rated). While those computer opponents were appreciated, a little silly cat called “Mittens” rated 1 point strong brought millions of new users to the site.
Mittens plays much stronger than her ‘1’ rating point and even trash-talks you while you play against her. This obviously attracted not only chess fans but also all content creators. From GM Hikaru Nakamura to Levy (Gotham Chess), the Botez sisters, and my amazing fiancée Alessia, everyone made a video trying to beat this bot.
40% Increase, Number 1 Free App
This attention led to a huge increase in chess players online. On January 19th Chess.com for the first time got 1 Million visits in a single day via Google. Their servers are constantly struggling because the traffic in January was 40% higher than ever before.
We can finally say that playing chess is cool! Now that you know that is cool, let’s answer the question you came here for: Should you play against chess computers?
Pros And Cons Of Playing Against Computers
My short answer would be: if you do it for enjoyment, yes, if you want to improve your games against humans, no. If this sounds mysterious right now, I’m sure it will make sense after reading the whole article.
Pros of Playing Chess Against Computers:
Let’s dig into some of the upsides of playing against a Computer.
- Always available. At least if the servers of chess.com are working… You don’t have to wait and can play against them any time of the day.
- Stability. As you can decide the rating of your computer opponent, you know what you’ll get. A 1500-rated Computer will play similarly in most games. Amongst human opponents, the range of strengths and weaknesses will be much bigger.
- No fear of losing your rating. Many chess improvers are intimidated to play “real” games online because they might lose some rating points. In that case, playing against computers can make sense, because you get some practice in and don’t risk losing rating points. (If the fear of losing rating points is something you struggle with, make sure to read my articles in the mindset category.)
- Play against the bot-versions of famous chess players. It can be fun to face off against the computer version of your favorite player/streamer.
As you see, playing against a Chess Computer can have some upsides. But there will be downsides as well.
Cons Of Playing Chess against Computers:
As you will see, the main issue with playing against a chess computer is that you don’t train against a human. What is totally obvious has one serious flaw: you most likely want to improve your game against humans.
The best way to do so is also to train against humans!
- Lack of human factor. Most of you reading this will want to improve your (online) rating. This rating comes from playing against human opponents. When you play against a computer, you are not 100% training for what you will face in a real game. You might then get upset by the “weird” choices from humans.
- No time pressure. Playing against a computer bot usually happens without time. When you suddenly switch to playing with limited time, you will not be ready for it.
- Standardized openings. Especially if you play against the same computer several times, you might face only some standard openings. While this is nice, human players, especially online, will confront you with weird gambits all the time. You will feel uneasy about these gambits if you never trained to play against them in the first place.
- Limited Emotion: Chess is a game of strategy and tactics, but it also has emotional elements. Playing against a computer can be a less engaging experience as it lacks the emotional elements which can be experienced while playing against a human opponent.
Should you play chess against a Computer?
As a Coach, I don’t recommend playing chess against Computer opponents as training. I believe the cons are outweighing the pros. Only if the alternative would be not playing at all (most likely because of the fear of losing the rating mentioned above) should you play against a computer.
Playing games against human opponents will have a bigger impact on your chess improvement. If you want to enjoy a game against a computer opponent from time to time (especially with fun bots like Mittens) that is totally fine.
Above all the key is to analyze your games no matter if you play against Computer or human opponents. Make it a habit to analyze every single game you play and you will improve your chess. If you don’t know how to do that, make sure to read my article on it.
My Favorite Chess Computer To Play Against
I promised you at the beginning that I will reveal my favorite bot challenge. Here we go.
On the Play Magnus App, you can play against World Champion Magnus Carlsen at different ages. You can choose his age and test yourself against the AI version of Magnus, starting at only 5 years old. I recommend starting early because there is a reason he is the greatest player of all time…
If you don’t mind getting totally destroyed by a young kid, this app can be a fun challenge. My best was to beat him aged 15 when he was already a strong Grandmaster. But don’t be fooled. I got my ass kicked many times even against young Magnus aged 12…