AI-Powered Apps That’ll School You in the Ways of Chess and Go
Humans are losing. Last week artificial intelligence, for the first time in history, secured a definitive victory over a grandmaster Go player. While chess playing humans were outpaced by computer brains almost two decades ago, Go is multitudes more complex than chess, with an estimated 10761 possible games (Chess tops out around 10120). Given this complexity, experts didn’t expect artificial intelligence to be able to beat a master Go player for another ten years.
But this news shouldn’t send Go players into a panic about the coming robot insurrection. Chess players, for the most part, have chilled out about the fact that computers are now much better than we are. Many, including myself, have even come to embrace artificial intelligence as a way to improve our skills for beating fellow humans. And it’s time for Go fanatics to join the club—AI is here. It’s smart, and it’s better than you at tactical board games.
The draw of playing against man-made machines is centuries-old; from the Mechanical Turk, the fake chess machine of the 1770s secretly powered by a small man playing inside of it, to the devastating loss by Gary Kasparov in 1997 to IBM’s DeepBlue AI.
I started playing chess against artificial intelligence in mobile apps a few years ago, out of curiosity as much as anything else. But my curiosity quickly turned to timid admiration. Without any ambition or intention to do so, by playing the computer, I improved. Dramatically. If you engage in some human-computer play, you can improve too. And all you need is a smartphone or a tablet.
If you’d like to give Go a go, a great app is Igowin Tutor, which is powered by the Many Faces of Go game engine. Another one to try is Champion Go, which runs with the Crazy Stone engine. And then there’s SmartGo, a favorite amongst Go enthusiasts who appreciate how the AI automatically adjusts for handicaps to help strengthen your game.
A couple of favorites for chess include DroidFish and Analyze This for Android, both powered by the open source engine Stockfish. Analyze This is cool because it allows players to examine any given position and replay moves with the chess engine’s brain. DroidFish does everything Analyze This does, except it also has adjustable player strength and a two player mode, so you can also play other humans.
For the iPhone, chess lovers can play the Stockfish engine with SmallFish, a simple and attractive app. Another iOS option is the app made by the Stockfish team themselves. Both offer great analysis and are lightweight and usable.
Just Starting Out?
Computer-powered Go and chess can be daunting for some novice players. You’ll get the most out of your early games by playing with someone who can talk you through how each piece can move.
If Go is your game, the American Go Foundation website just for kids is a great way for beginners to learn the game.
For chess, a good place to start is with the Chess Learn and Play app. It matches you with real players based on ability, and it has tactical exercise. If you pay for the premium service, you get video tutorials from grandmasters. If you’re trying to nudge your young one to become a future grandmaster, DinoChess has animated lessons, and as an added bonus, you’re always playing against a dinosaur. Finally!
Many game enthusiasts will tell you that tactical exercise is the path to enlightenment. As your play becomes more advanced, engage in tactics drills. These will help you execute quick moves that pose a greater number of threats; so many that your opponent can’t respond to all of them.
The app Tactic Trainer has over 20,000 tactical chess problems to solve. Another favorite among mobile chess players, Shredder, has a well-paced AI that can range in difficulties, as well as a nice user interface to match.
About These Game Engines
Just as Google’s AlphaGo AI, the computer brain that beat grandmaster Lee Sedol in Korea last week, is now the best Go player in the world, the best chess players in the world are the computer engines Komodo and Stockfish. The two chess computers have exchanged titles for king on multiple occasions, and they are the brains behind these chess apps I’m recommending.
To give a little perspective, 25 year old Magnus Carlsen, by most accounts the greatest chess player of all time, scores a 2,851 on the rubric used to measure a player’s performance, whereas Stockfish and Komodo rank at 3,340 and 3,339 respectively.