When it comes to strategic thinking and intellectual prowess, no game can rival the allure of chess.
Whether on classical over-the-board battlefields or modern-day online arenas, chess has captivated minds for centuries with its blend of logic, creativity, and psychological warfare.
Today, Chess.com has become a digital haven for chess enthusiasts, providing a platform for players of all skill levels to engage in competitive matches and hone their strategic skills.
Many players on Chess.com wonder whether they should test themselves against bots or only play against real players.
This article provides a comprehensive answer to this question.
Bots on Chess.com
Chess.com offers a wide selection of bots to play against.
All bots are powered by the Komodo chess engine, and they vary in terms of both strength and style of play.
- Beginner bots are rated between 250 and 850.
- Intermediate bots are rated between 1000 and 1400.
- Advanced bots are rated between 1500 and 2100.
- Master bots are rated between 2200 and 2450.
The Elo rating system measures the relative strength of chess players based on their game performance. If you're not familiar with it, you should read my article where I explain all about this rating system.
There are also many bots modeled after famous athletes, YouTubers, chess streamers, and top chess players.
You can also play against special bots:
- Coach bots provide insights about the game as you play against them.
- Adaptive bots play stronger moves if you’re winning, but go easy on you if you’re behind.
Finally, you can skip past all the goofiness and choose to directly play against an engine with a certain skill level.
How to Play Against a Bot
To play against a bot on Chess.com, all you need to do is hover over the Play section and select Computer.
A basic account on Chess.com only has access to a few bots. To unlock all the bots, you need to upgrade to a premium plan: a gold, platinum, or diamond membership.
I have written an in-depth review of these memberships, discussing all their features and whether it’s worth it to upgrade. I highly recommend you take a look at it.
The Pros and Cons of Chess Bots
Bots have undeniable benefits as training partners, providing players with a consistent and reliable source of feedback and practice.
Their consistent playing strength allows you to accurately gauge your progress, identify areas for improvement, and track your development over time.
Such a reproducible level of competition is particularly beneficial for beginners and intermediate players, as it provides a stable foundation upon which to build their chess skills.
Bots also offer a low-stress learning environment where players can experiment with new strategies, test different opening variations, and practice tactical patterns without fear of judgment. This pressure-free atmosphere may help beginners develop creativity, confidence, and a willingness to take risks on the chessboard.
In particular, the coach bots on Chess.com provide immediate feedback on moves, which may help players analyze their decision-making process, identify patterns in their gameplay, and make adjustments accordingly.
While bots offer a multitude of benefits, it’s important to recognize their limitations in replicating the complexities of human chess.
One of the primary drawbacks of playing against bots is their inability to adapt their playing style to match a player’s unique strengths and weaknesses. This lack of adaptability can hinder a player’s development against diverse opponents, as they may struggle to adjust their strategies to counter different playing styles.
Another important limitation of bots is that they do not have the psychological elements that are inherent in human chess.
While bots can execute complex calculations and evaluate positions with great accuracy, they lack the ability to bluff, manage time pressure, and understand the emotional cues that human players often use. This absence of psychological factors limits the preparation for real-world competitive scenarios, where emotions and pressure can significantly impact decision-making.
Also, over-reliance on bots can lead to complacency and limit the development of critical thinking skills.
When players get used to the predictable and consistent nature of bots, they may develop a tendency to rely on habitual memorization and patterns rather than engaging in deep strategic analysis. This can limit their ability to adapt to unexpected situations and make creative decisions when faced with uncertainty.
Moreover, Chess.com offers you the option of having hints and taking back moves when playing against a bot. It is definitely bad practice to get accustomed to this.
Chess is a game that teaches you to think ahead and take full responsibility and accountability for your moves.
You will always make mistakes, but you should build a habit of carrying on with the game for two important reasons:
(1) You may be in a completely losing position, but it’s very helpful to watch how your opponent tries to win. This way, you can learn how to convert similar winning positions in your future games.
(2) You should always try to find the best move to complicate things for your opponent as much as possible. Chess is a game of many opportunities and sometimes, you can save a draw or even turn the tables on your opponent when you least expect it.
Therefore, whenever you play against a bot, I recommend you always choose the Challenge option.
The Benefits of Real, Human Chess
Playing chess against real people exposes you to a diverse range of playing styles, forcing you to adapt your strategies, broaden your tactical horizons, and develop the versatility necessary to thrive in a competitive environment.
Unlike bots, human opponents have a wide spectrum of strengths and weaknesses, so you always have to think and tailor your approach accordingly. This constant adaptation not only enhances your strategic flexibility but also helps you gain a deeper understanding of the game’s intricacies.
Playing against humans also introduces a host of psychological factors that elevate the chess experience and prepare you for the mental challenges of high-stakes matches.
Bluffing, time management, and emotional cues become integral elements of the game, forcing you to develop resilience, emotional control, and the ability to think clearly under pressure. These psychological skills are essential for success in competitive chess, where the ability to maintain composure and make strategic decisions under pressure can make or break a game.
Beyond the strategic and psychological benefits, playing against humans fosters a sense of community and social connection.
Engaging with fellow chess enthusiasts provides opportunities for shared learning and the exchange of ideas. This social aspect enriches the chess experience and makes it a dynamic and engaging activity.
Harness the Strengths of Both
You don’t have to choose between playing against real people or bots — it’s a good idea to strike a balance between the two.
For example, you can play a couple of games against real people every day, while strategically incorporating computer training into your chess regimen. This can help you maximize your learning outcomes and accelerate your chess progress.
Bots, with their consistent playing strength and immediate feedback, serve as excellent practice partners for refining strategies, identifying areas for improvement, and developing a strong foundation in chess principles.
You can utilize bots to practice specific openings, tactical patterns, and endgame techniques, gaining confidence and proficiency in these crucial aspects of the game.
On the other hand, playing against real opponents is where you test your skills in a dynamic and unpredictable environment, developing your resilience, adaptability, and critical thinking skills.
This exposes you to a diverse range of playing styles, and requires you to adjust your strategies on the fly and develop the ability to think creatively under pressure.
Tailor the Balance to Your Individual Preference and Learning Style
The optimal balance between playing against computers and humans is not a rigid formula, but rather a dynamic process tailored to each player’s individual preferences, learning styles, and chess goals.
Some players may thrive in the structured and low-pressure environment of bot matches, while others may prefer the constant challenge and social interaction offered by playing against humans.
The key lies in experimentation and self-reflection. You should experiment with different proportions of bots and human opponents, observing how each combination impacts your performance, enjoyment, and overall chess development.
Through this process of self-discovery, you can determine the balance that best suits your unique learning journey.
Personally, I spend most of my chess time playing against real opponents and solving tactical puzzles, but I do play against bots every now and then.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) Should I play against bots or humans on Chess.com?
Both playing against bots and playing against humans can be beneficial for your chess development. It is a good idea to experiment with both to see what works best for you.
Playing against bots provides you with a consistent and structured environment for refining strategies, identifying areas for improvement, and gaining confidence in chess fundamentals.
Playing against real people, on the other hand, introduces the psychological elements and unpredictable nature of real-world chess, fostering resilience, adaptability, and critical thinking skills.
Q2) What is the difference between playing against bots and humans on Chess.com?
Apart from the elements of psychology and social interaction, the main difference is that bots are predictable while humans are unpredictable.
Bots have a consistent playing strength, so they will always play the same way.
On the other hand, humans will adapt their playing style based on the game situation and their opponent. This makes playing against humans much more challenging and exciting.
Q3) What are the best chess engines?
There are many great chess engines, but here are some of the most popular ones:
- Stockfish: Stockfish is probably the most famous. It is a highly powerful chess engine that consistently ranks as one of the strongest. Because it’s open-source, Stockfish is widely used by players of all levels. This is the default engine used on Chess.com game reviews.
- Komodo: Komodo is a commercial chess engine known for its strength and strategic understanding. It has been a top competitor in various chess engine tournaments. This is the engine that the bots on Chess.com run on.
- Houdini: Houdini is another strong commercial chess engine that has been popular for its tactical awareness and strength in analysis.
- Leela Chess Zero (LCZero): LCZero is unique in that it utilizes neural network technology for its evaluations. It’s an open-source engine and has gained popularity for its remarkable strength and unique playing style. Leela recently beat Stockfish in a game, which is considered a historic result in the world of chess bots.
- AlphaZero: Developed by DeepMind, AlphaZero relies on machine learning techniques, and is known for its self-learning capabilities; it learned to play chess by analyzing millions of games against itself and quickly achieved remarkable success in chess and other games through reinforcement learning.
- Fire: Fire is an open-source chess engine that has gained attention for its strong play. It is often used in various chess interfaces.
- Torch: A new powerful chess engine developed by the Chess.com team, Torch is an open-source engine based on the PyTorch deep learning framework, and has been trained on a massive dataset of chess games. Torch has quickly risen to the top of the chess engine rankings and is currently ranked second in the world. It is known for its strong tactical and positional play, as well as its ability to adapt its playing style to different opponents.
The performance of a certain chess bot changes with each new version, and it also depends on the hardware it’s running on.
For practical use, I highly recommend Stockfish — a strong and reliable option for players at various skill levels.
Q4) Why are bots easier to beat than real people on Chess.com?
There are many reasons that make chess bots easier to beat. Here are a couple of them:
- Despite the development in making them play in a more human way, bots are still somewhat predictable.
- It’s very tough to program a low-rated bot to emulate a human at a similar rating. The bot usually plays much worse.
I have written a detailed article on why bots are easier to beat than real people on Chess.com, so have a look at it if you would like to take a deeper dive into the reasons.
Q5) How are chess engines ranked?
To rank chess bots, they are usually matched up against each other in tournaments, and their results in these tournaments are used to determine their overall strength. The Computer Chess Rating List (CCRL) is a widely used ranking list for chess engines based on statistical analysis of such tournament results.
However, if left to play without human intervention, the result will almost certainly be a draw. Therefore, in order to get decisive results, engines are usually given specific openings to play to make the position more dynamic.
Of course, the engines alternate between playing with the white and black pieces.
Q6) What is the best way to analyze my chess games on Chess.com?
Here are some of the most effective ways to analyze your games:
- Built-in analysis tools: Chess.com provides analysis tools that can help you identify your mistakes and learn from them.
With a basic account on Chess.com, you can only review one game per day with coach explanations. A Platinum membership gives you unlimited game reviews, but only one game per day with coach explanations. A Diamond membership gives you unlimited reviews as well as unlimited coach explanations.
Again, if you would like to know more about whether it’s worth it to upgrade to one of these premium plans, I highly recommend you have a look at my in-depth review of these memberships.
- External chess engine: There are many open-source chess engines available online that can provide an in-depth analysis of your games. The most popular option is Stockfish.
- Feedback from a stronger player: If you know a stronger chess player, try asking them to analyze your games and give you feedback. If you’re a beginner or early intermediate, this can be an especially valuable way to learn from your mistakes and improve your game, as you may find that some of the top computer moves suggested in your game reviews are difficult to understand.
The answer to whether you should play against bots or real people on Chess.com does not lie in choosing one over the other, but in combining the complementary benefits of both.
Ultimately, chess is a human game. If you want to become better than other people, you should play against other people frequently.
However, playing against bots is a great way to practice specific openings, tactical patterns, and test yourself against a consistent playing strength.
The key is to strike a balance that suits your style and maximizes your enjoyment and overall chess development.
If you have any questions or insights you’d like to share, feel free to leave me a comment down below. I’d love to have a chat with you.