Chess, the game of strategy and foresight, has long been regarded as the embodiment of intellectual prowess and decision-making ability.
While the ultimate battle of wits commonly takes place competitively between two opponents, there’s a hidden gem in the world of chess that often goes overlooked – playing chess against yourself.
In this article, we’ll explore the intriguing practice of solo play in chess, considering the compelling reasons why you should embrace it and the strategies to make the most of this unique learning experience.
Whether you’re a beginner looking to improve your skills or a seasoned player aiming to refine your strategies, self-play offers a world of benefits that can enhance your understanding of the game and elevate your performance on the chess board.
How to Play Chess Against Yourself
You can play chess against yourself over the board or on Chess.com.
Over the Board
When you play chess over the board, you get a feel for a real tournament game.
In over-the-board solo chess, it’s a good idea to maintain a record of moves to ensure that the game progresses smoothly. You can do that on a scoresheet using algebraic chess notation.
By keeping track, you can review and analyze your games afterward to identify areas for improvement.
If you want to simulate the pressure of a real game, set a time limit for each move. This helps you practice making quick and sound decisions under time constraints.
You may also choose to play without restrictions and take your time to think of the absolute best move you can come up with. In this case, the game can prolong for days! However, it would still be a powerful tool for chess improvement.
To play against yourself on Chess.com, all you need to do is hover over the Learn section and click on Classroom.
Then, click on New Room and you’re good to go!
On the sidebar, you have the option of setting up an arbitrary position or loading a game to analyze, but you can ignore that and jump right into the game.
As soon as you do that, your moves will automatically be recorded for you, and you can navigate back and forth between the moves using the arrow keys, or by clicking on the move number you want to go to.
When it’s Black to play, you can flip the board by clicking the button right under the gear icon on the top right of the chess board.
You also have the option of including the engine evaluation bar as you’re playing, but you really should be leaving this until you analyze your game after it’s done.
Benefits of Playing Chess Against Yourself
1. Improving Decision-Making
Playing chess against yourself provides an excellent opportunity to enhance your decision-making skills. It forces you to consider multiple perspectives and evaluate moves from both sides, which can translate into improved strategic thinking and problem-solving abilities.
2. Minimizing Tunnel Vision
Playing against yourself helps combat tunnel vision – a common issue in chess where players fixate on their own plans and overlook their opponent’s ideas.
Many times, we are selfish when we play chess; we tend to forget that there is a human being sitting across the board (or the screen) and get held up in our own plans without putting ourselves in our opponent’s shoes.
Chess is all about anticipation and strategic thinking, and playing against yourself encourages you to see the board from both sides, simply because both sides are you!
3. Improved Pattern Recognition
Playing chess against yourself allows you to repeatedly encounter familiar positions and patterns. This repetition trains your brain to recognize these patterns more quickly and efficiently, enabling you to make better decisions during actual games.
4. Deeper Tactical Analysis
By playing both sides of the board, you gain a deeper understanding of the tactical possibilities and threats within each position. This enhanced perspective helps you anticipate your opponent’s moves and develop more effective countermeasures.
5. Eliminating Biases
Another advantage of solo chess is that it reduces biases in your thinking.
When you play against a human opponent, you may expect certain moves based on your understanding or expectation of their playing style. Playing against yourself eliminates these biases and forces you to consider a wider range of possibilities.
Playing against yourself also teaches you not to play hope chess – sometimes, beginners play moves hoping their opponent will respond in a certain way which will allow them to carry out their plan.
In chess, you should always assume your opponent will play the best response, and playing against yourself certainly helps you practice that assumption.
6. Developing Objective Evaluation
This is a very important one, even for very experienced chess players.
Some GMs are known to be too optimistic; in many of their games, they tend to believe their position is better than it actually is.
On the other hand, some players frequently underestimate their chances, aiming for a draw at best when they really have the resources to go for a win.
Playing against yourself removes the emotional bias that can cloud your judgment during competitive matches. This allows you to objectively evaluate positions, identify your weaknesses, and make decisions based on sound strategic reasoning.
Strategies for Effective Solo Chess
Don’t Play Preferentially
Because the player with the White pieces goes first in chess, you might feel a slight inclination to win with White.
As you play, consciously detach yourself from any emotional attachment to the outcome of the game. Focus on making the best possible moves based on the objective evaluation of the position.
Flip the board after each move and play as if you were competing against a strong opponent. This approach challenges you to think critically and make the best moves for both sides.
Don’t Copy Moves
Although you are playing both sides, don’t just copy moves.
Each turn, pretend that it wasn’t you who played the previous move, but rather a tough opponent that you’re desperately trying to beat. In a real game, Black cannot continue to copy White for too long, since White will always have a one-move advantage that will give them the edge.
Copying moves is not the way to go, and solo chess is no exception.
Try Different Openings
Experiment with different opening positions to expand your chess knowledge and challenge your ability to adapt to various playing styles.
This will not only help you improve your opening repertoire, but will also give you ideas on how to refute certain openings.
Learning from Solo Chess Games
Self-play allows you to recognize patterns and tendencies in your own gameplay. You may identify certain openings or tactical weaknesses that you need to work on. Recognizing patterns can be instrumental in refining your chess strategy.
For example, I recently found out a weak point in my game: I have some trouble finding moves that lead to eventual pawn forks – whether for me or my opponent.
Analyzing your games is a valuable part of the process. Review your moves, consider alternative strategies, and identify mistakes and areas for improvement. This post-game analysis helps you learn from your errors and consider how you could have played each position differently.
You can use a chess engine like Stockfish or Torch to analyze your game for you, which lends itself to using the Classroom feature on Chess.com that I referred to earlier.
Aside from engine evaluation, there is a very powerful resource you can use: the Explore tab in the Classroom.
With the Explore tab, you tap into an extensive database of real games that have been played featuring every position that you had in your game. This gives you valuable insights into various popular responses and their respective win ratio.
Let’s take a look at an example together.
After 3… Nf6 in our earlier solo chess demonstration, we can see many options for White on the fourth move.
The database tells us that more than 15,000 games have been played on Chess.com with 4. d3, and of those, White won 38% of the time.
In contrast, White chose to castle kingside around 400 times in this position, and of those, Black won 45% of the time!
What can we conclude?
For White, playing d3 in this position is a much better option than castling short.
At the bottom of the Explore tab, you also have a database of games played between grandmasters that featured the same position. It’s a very good idea to go through some of these games and try to learn from the experts.
I highly recommend you use the Explore feature not only when analyzing games you played against yourself, but all your other games as well.
Playing chess against yourself is a valuable and effective way to improve your chess skills; it provides numerous benefits and sharpens your understanding of the game.
Setting up self-play games is straightforward, and by following specific strategies and analyzing your games, you can turn self-play into a powerful tool for chess improvement.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, self-play is a valuable addition to your chess training routine.
Have you ever played chess against yourself?
If you have any questions or any insights you’d like to share about solo chess, please join the conversation by leaving a comment below. I’d be more than happy to have a chat with you.