Magnus & The Human Concept

The ultimate fight between man and machine in the 21st century?
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Elizbar Ubilava

Perhaps we have underestimated innate talent, intuition, and therefore the importance of the human concept in the chess game?

When a 22-year-old breaks all barriers, it is almost inevitable to recognize that he is one of the greatest figures in chess history.

Magnus is opening a gap with the other players and we all know that there are bright names behind. Only Bobby Fischer and Garri Kasparov have been able to make a notable difference from their contemporaries.

Would it be an exaggeration if I said that the three best players in history are R. Fischer, M.Carlsen, and G.Kasparov? I wonder if such a young player can be one of the best in history. If about R. Fischer and G. Kasparov things are clear for their enormous contribution to the development of our game (by this I mean not only the pure chess field, that is, the theory of openings or the dimension of strategic understanding of the game. half game, as well as the technique of the finals – but to the ambition of both to turn this sport into something universally recognized.

Would it be an exaggeration if I said that the three best players in history are R. Fischer, M.Carlsen, and G.Kasparov?

In the case of M.Carlsen, I would like to share some reflections that show that he is an extraordinary figure. The visible part of this is the level of his game and his remarkable stable results, made it clear to me, a long time ago, that he will break the ELO 2900 barrier in 2-3 years.


What seems even more important to me is THE HUMAN CONCEPT, and by this, I mean that it is not “contaminated” by the influence of Module Analysis. He said many times, and his games prove it, that his “concept” is not influenced by the suggestions of computers. With this, I do not mean that the other professionals lack that human concept, but that the intervention of the modules during the preparation is much less in the case of M.Carlsen. I believe that he is the most indicated to restore the confidence in the human concept over the pressure of the computer analysis.


Therefore, it is very important to understand and define what the human concept means, that is, our way of making decisions on the board, the tools of a professional expert, what computers are based on to mark their preferences, and to what extent we can trust the power of your calculations.


When a professional chess player makes the right decision not only uses calculations but fundamentally, their concepts. I would call these concepts “advanced knowledge.” This term contains various aspects of our general knowledge, from the most elementary rules, advancing towards structural knowledge, different types of ideas and mechanisms of operation of the middle game, typical positions, the bases of compensation with material inequality, theoretical positions, the endings and the mechanisms of its operation, the strengths, etc.


Of course, to navigate throughout the game, a player also uses his intuition, experience, or imagination, for example. I have never doubted that the human concept, in general, is correct and the strategic decisions we make are good and profound. Now, the fact around our “Achilles heel,” the calculus, is also well known. In today’s age, where the pressure of computers on our decisions is so great, staying as “pure” as is the case with Carlsen is impressive.

Concepto Humano singularidad

As we have said, the tools that we normally use to solve complex strategic problems are made on intuition, experience, advanced knowledge, and obviously, calculations.

In Carlsen’s case, I would highlight his capacity for deep and precise evaluation of the position, which reminds me of Anatoly Karpov in his best years. 


All of this makes me think that Magnus’s greatest powers are, on the one hand, his intuition which helps him find the correct strategic directions relatively easily, and on the other hand, his playing technique, not only in complex and difficult positions but also in the relatively simple ones.


Carlsen’s personal qualities include his enormous willpower and ambition. No one doubts that the contribution of computers has changed the understanding of chess. However, the analysis modules are eating more and more the terrain of our understanding. The difference between the human and the machine is evident. Our advantage over the computers is the conceptual vision of this game.


Our strategic understanding depends a lot on those concepts that we discover through knowledge, experience, intuition, imagination, and of course through calculation. But there are many positions where simple calculations do not lead to solving problems, however, the conceptual vision, that is, the global understanding of the problem gives us the key that opens the doors of victory in front of the machine.

“A professional chess player when making the right decision not only uses calculation but fundamentally, their concepts.”

Programs only move through the results they get through calculations. We use the “advanced knowledge” that we obtain through study and experience, or that we sometimes discover on the board. What I mean is that the tools of an expert professional are more sophisticated than those of the analysis module.

Of course, our concepts are not always correct and the possibility of failure exists, but generally, we fall due to calculation, due to the order of imprecise moves, tactical blows, etc., ultimately due to specific calculations.

One of the most admirable contemporary scientists of our time and a great friend of chess, K. Tompson, defined strategy as the long-term calculation. A shocking definition.

(I apologize for the following passage but I can’t help it) Aristotle, although he admired his teacher Plato, criticized him for defending the truth. There will not be another Aristotle, nor do I claim to possess the truth, I simply state my point of view. In my opinion, strategy is understood as a global, conceptual vision of the future, where the calculation is just one more element.

The difference between the human and the machine is evident. Our advantage over the program is the conceptual vision of this game.

These are some examples where the conclusions of the analysis modules through the calculations are not reliable, however, the conceptual vision of an expert and his advanced knowledge help us to solve those same problems. (The Kazancev and Kasparian studies, the excerpt from M.Carlsen-L.Aronian London 2012.)

The question is, can we trust the suggestions and evaluations made by the modules, especially when it comes to chess strategy? My answer would be that I prefer to have as guides R. Fischer, G. Kasparov, M.Carlsen, V. Kramnik, V. Anand, among others.

In general, I prefer the more defined and advanced human concepts to the suggestions of the more powerful computers. In this respect, Magnus is an example for future generations, who must first develop the “human intuition”.

When I listen to Carlsen’s comments, his deep insights into the heritage of his predecessors are clear. This means that he not only assumes and shares the historical experience, but he makes his interpretation of that experience. Magnus says that his game is not brilliant, that he can still improve and must learn a lot. I am sure that Magnus knows perfectly well that he must improve and from whom he must learn.

In my opinion, strategy is understood as a global vision, conceptual of the future, where the calculation is just one more element.

Personally, the most impressive example is the transformation of V. Kramnik in recent years, after the defeat in the world championship against V. Anand, I think that Kramnik has made a remarkable effort to transform some aspects of his game. The Russian grandmaster is still the greatest reference in the theoretical aspect but now his middle game is much more attractive and aggressive, especially with Black. I think he is an example for many Chess professional players.


Due to the personality of M.Carlsen and his level of play, I believe that the possibility of a resurgence of interest in facing man against the machine again is not that far off. It does not seem to me to be a matter of simple sporting attraction, but I perceive it as a hope for chess, to regain lost prestige. Will he be able, at least, not to lose the contest? I see it as Armageddon, where Magnus will need special preparation and the advice of those colleagues who have already gone through that experience.