Computers, Humans, and Just Desserts
They don't always succeed, however - sometimes the good guys absorb the computer's blows and survive or even win. What follows is one of my more satisfying online victories, over a player I realized early on was a computer cheat.
Bad Guy-DM, 15-minute game, ICC 2000
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 d5 3.Bf4 g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.Be2 Nbd7 6.O-O O-O 7.Nbd2 b6 8.c3 Bb7 9.Qa4 c5 10.Rfe1 a6 11.Qd1
At this point, I suddenly feel suspicious. My opponent is a good player, his rating is fairly high, so what's with 9.Qa4 one move and 11.Qd1 two moves later? The retreat might be sensible, but it's not the sort of move a human would just play, and quickly, if only because of the embarrassment factor.
11...Ne4 12.Rb1 Rc8 13.Qc2
Okay, now I'm getting really suspicious! Why not 9.Qc2 or 11.Qc2? And who makes such a move in response to my putting a rook on the c-file? That's the sort of thing strong players typically (though defeasibly) avoid!
13...Re8 14.Rbc1 Nxd2 15.Qxd2 Nf6 16.Qd1
Sigh. I always make a point of not bothering playing computers, but it's clear that's what I'm up against. As it's against the rules to use a chess engine (unless one's account is explicitly marked as a computer account), I started to request that the game be aborted. My opponent refused, and we continued:
16...Ne4 17.Bd3 b5 18.a4 Qb6 19.axb5 axb5 20.Ne5 Red8
Annoyed though I was, I felt pretty good about my position, but I was in for a surprise, as my opponent produced an extremely strong idea:
21.Ra1! b4 22.Qb1!
This is a fantastic prophylactic idea, as playing 22...bxc3 23.bxc3 favors White. I attempt a tactical solution to my problems, but my opponent is more than up to the challenge:
22...Nd2 23.Qc2 bxc3 24.bxc3 Nb3 25.Ra4! c4 26.Rb4! Qa7
Very nice play by White, who was moving extremely quickly, too, and taking pretty much the same amount of time on every move (another tell-tale sign of the computer cheat). What follows now is even more impressive, both as a chess idea and as evidence of the cheating claim:
27.Bf1 e6 28.Bxc4!
A very strange sequence - why not 27.Bxc4 straight away? That sort of freedom from embarrassment about past moves is typical of computers, but not at all of humans.
28...dxc4 29.Nxc4 Bd5 30.Nb6 Nxd4 31.exd4 Rc6 32.Qb2 Bf8 33.Nxd5 exd5 34.Rb7 Qa3 35.Qxa3 Bxa3 36.Rb3 Bf8 37.h3 Re6
White's play so far has been quite strong, and although overall I've played pretty well for a 15-minute game, my inaccuracies here and there have left it with an extra pawn. It's not the greatest extra pawn in the world, but it's certainly up to me to prove that I can hold the position.
From here on out, however, White's play is bad in a way that would have been impossible for a human player exhibiting White's strength so far. The problem for White is that his queenside pawns are on dark squares while Black's are on light squares, thereby making White's bishop essentially impotent. Thus what's clear is that if the rooks are removed, it's a trivially easy task for Black to hold. Accordingly, White should avoid the exchange of at least one pair of rooks, when Black will have to suffer and grovel. But behold!
38.Rxe6?! fxe6 39.Rb6 Kf7 40.Rb7+ Kg8 41.Kf1 Rc8 42.Rc7?? Rxc7 43.Bxc7
Wow, that was easy! The position is perfect for me now - all my pawns are ideally placed, and White pawn advances simply lead to exchanges. I was way behind on the clock (I had two minutes left to White's seven and a half), but as I only need to play Kf7, Be7-f8-e7-f8-e7-f8 and trade the pawns as they come, I figured I'd have good chances to save the draw in spite of the clock.
43...Kf7 44.Be5 Be7 45.Ke2 Bf8 46.Kd2 Be7 47.c4 dxc4 48.Kc3 Bf8 49.Kxc4 Be7
and now check out White's next three moves, which taken together are completely insane.
50.g3?! Bf8 51.h4?? Be7 52.f4? h5!
Now it's really, really, really a dead draw, as White can never create so much as a single target in my position. But White finds resources in the position...for Black.
53.Kd3 Bf8 54.Ke4 Be7 55.d5 exd5+ 56.Kxd5 Bf8 57.Kc6? Ke6 58.Kb5 Kf5 59.Kc6?? Bb4
and now, of course, it's over, as my bishop hoovers the White pawns.
60.Kd7 Be1 61.Ke8 Bxg3 62.Kf8 Bxh4 63.Kg7 Bg3 64.Kh6 Bxf4+ 65.Bxf4 Kxf4 66.Kxg6 h4 0-1
After the game I reported my opponent to the server's computer-cheat police, and some time later my judgement was confirmed. It's disappointing when people do that, but to be honest, it did make the win much, much sweeter than it would otherwise have been! (Not because it was a computer that was defeated, which is certainly pleasant enough, but because a cheater got his just desserts.)