Chess engines are a permanent part of our game now, whether we like it or not. Most chess players use an engine to study with at some point. The question is: How strong does the engine need to be? I hope this article helps to clear that up a little.
First off, I’d like to say that chess engines have been playing at or above the 2,600 Elo level for many, many years. Yes, they all act a little differently in each situation, and some are stronger than others. But in the end, does that really matter? I don’t think so, unless you are looking to enter your engine(s) into comp vs. comp battles.
Today, the top engines are all playing above the 3,000 Elo level. Even some of the free ones have slashed their way to the top. Crafty has always been a good, reliable chess engine to study with. No, it’s not the strongest available and it never will be, but it still has the capability to give most GMs trouble.
I have been running Shredder 11 on Fritz 10 for years and years; the engine is strong, it’s smooth, and the interface does exactly what I want. I have a rich, in-depth history with chess engines, and we used to have great big comp vs. comp tournaments on US Chess Live and WCL. I’ve run every engine from Shredder to Hiarcs to Gandalf to Fruit to Golem to Rybka to Ruffian to TheKing (Chessmaster’s engine) and on and on.
The truth is, as I mentioned, that some engines are going to just trash others, even if they are on the same tier. But what does that matter to a 1,500 rated USCF player who wants an electronic study partner? Not much, if at all.
Any engine rated 2,200 (master level) Elo or higher will be an effective study partner for any class player. Purchasing the newest and greatest engine because it has moved 25 Elo above the old version is really nothing but hype if all you are doing is studying your games and master games with it.
Take this hypothetical: Let’s say there are two engines available, Cosmos and WreckingBall. Now, Cosmos is the latest and greatest and has proven stronger Than WreckingBall. What they don’t tell you is that out of 100 games they played against each other, Cosmos won 54–that’s hardly a thrashing.
Now let’s say Cosmos plays at the 3,300 level while lowly WreckingBall tops out at 3,250. Do you really think Cosmos is better at going over your games than WreckingBall? I can guarantee you that both engines will find very, very strong continuations from any position you can throw at them.
The point is this: Get an engine you like, that you are comfortable with, that you can afford (which sometimes means free), and stick with it; the thing isn’t going to steer you wrong just because it isn’t the biggest Goliath on the field.
Now, go study!