How to tell if an online opponent used a chess computer?

A player can determine if their online opponent used a chess computer if their opponent is taking too much time in the opening, they have a consistent interval between the played moves, they do not rush even if they are low on time, or they make sacrifices without going into deep thinking.

One of the dangers of going online to play chess is the possibility of meeting a cheater, particularly the one who is using a chess computer.

It is annoying to meet such individuals especially if you have done studying manually and want to see results, I have been irritated with this for a while now.

There is actually a report option in most of the chess platforms to make cheaters face consequences, however you cannot use this if you can’t identify a cheater in the first place.

This article will help you know about the signs, and properly identify if there are suspicious signals for cheating with a chess computer. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Can you tell if someone is using a chess computer with experience?

Serious chess competitors usually have a good idea of about 1-5 sound moves that are available in a position due to their years of experience.

If several offbeat moves have been played by an online opponent, it is a sign that they might be cheating with a chess computer.

This is the reason why famous chess YouTubers (who are usually titled players)  make a lot of accusations for cheating with a computer with the opponent that they play.

It is not because they are just sore losers (although could be) but because they have been playing for years and know how much of humanity is there in the opponent.

A regular chess player for example can pretty much tell if their opponent is playing too many great moves for the rating that they have, if the quality of the moves do not match the rating it is a red flag.

A titled player can acquire such a chess master title if they have enough rating, it is basically the number that they have been chasing their entire life, they know if a player is too good for their rating.

You don’t even need to be a titled player however to do this, a good player who has an online rating can pretty much have an idea of how strong their opponent should be depending on the rating.

If there is a huge disparity between the rating and their strength, it means that their opponent is either a titled master in disguise (which is unlikely) or cheating with a chess computer.

There is such a thing as human and computer moves

There is something called human moves, something that is sound logically for human players only, an engine move does not have this feeling which can be sorted out by experienced players.

Primarily this is a phenomenon of human players to identify patterns, pretty much most competitors follow the pattern of moves rather than looking for the best move available (since it is hard to do).

Anything outside this pattern is considered to be an offbeat move, and too much of this can warrant the suspicion that someone is cheating with an engine.

Of course, offbeat moves can be played throughout the game occasionally, however engines do have a tendency to do this on a consistent basis due to their algorithm.

These so-called offbeat moves are what grandmaster Aman Hambleton used to assess if his opponent uses an engine in this video:

A few days later chess.com banned the account that GM Hambleton is playing against due to the quote “violating fair play rules”, so we could say that he is correct in his assessment.

The funny thing is he won anyway since his opponent is playing slowly (engine moves) and he won on time.

Look for the interval between their moves

The biggest sign that the opponent is using a chess computer is if they are using the same duration of time in between the choices of their moves, meaning they are taking equal amounts of time to make decisions.

If someone is using a chess engine they would not play moves instantly, they would wait for the engine to make recommendations before playing any moves.

The biggest sign is if they are spending exactly the same equal amount of time for every move (both simple and complicated) then it is an indication that a chess computer is present.

Otherwise, the time interval between the moves normally would be different at the different stages of the game, if they are exactly the same then there must be something/someone that is giving recommendations.

Some cheaters would only use a chess computer once they are losing

Some cheaters have become smart overtime and hesitate to use a computer in fear of being caught, so they only bring their companion when it actually counts.

If you have been playing with them for a while and winning, then suddenly feeling as if you are playing against someone of superior strength all of a sudden it is an indication that they have used an engine.

If someone has just entered their zone and is playing with extended focus the difference in strength should not be far off from where they’ve started.

If it feels like you are playing against a completely different opponent in the middle of the game, then it is possible that they’ve only used the chess computer at that point.

Is the behavior of a human chess opponent different from a computer?

A chess computer will usually take more time in the opening than a human player, do major moves like a sacrifice without going into deep thought, and do not rush moving even if they are out of time, these indicators can be used to determine if someone is using a chess computer.

The opening in particular is very interesting, most people usually don’t spend that much time in the said phase since they’ve already memorized a lot of the theories beforehand.

Therefore if you are playing against a human player, they are more likely to think less in the opening (even if the time format is long) since they already have an idea of what moves to play.

This means that one of the great ways to tell if someone is using an engine is their behavior in the opening, if the opponent takes too much time even in theory it is an indicator.

Don’t get me wrong there are instances where a strong player can think too long even in the opening, but there should be automatic moves that are played instantly in any line for most opponents.

This is because human players do not want to waste their time on something they already studied so they are quick to play the moves.

This does not apply to someone who is using a chess engine, they would wait for the recommended options even if it is very early in the game.

Complicated moves for the most part needs a deep calculation

There are no takebacks in a chess game, meaning if a mistake is to be made by the competitor they have to commit to the mistakes and suffer the consequences.

This means that if a human player is doing something serious (sacrificing a pawn/piece, getting their queen in tight spaces, or moving their king into attacks) they would at least think longer than what is normal.

This does not apply to chess computers however since there is a default time setting in their algorithm limiting them to only calculate at a certain timeframe, so long thoughts are impossible.

Look for complicated decisions that should take some longer considerations and see how much time your opponent has made on those moves, if they make it really fast there is a suspicion.

If they make moves that for a human player would not make sense without going into deep calculations, then you are likely to be playing against an engine

Chess computers are incapable of rushing their moves

When someone is at time trouble they would be overtaken by panic and would try to move as fast as possible even at the cost of efficiency.

A chess computer does not have a concept of time, if your opponent does not try to rush moves even when they are in time trouble it’s likely that they are consulting an engine.

Because again, chess engines have a default setting of how much time they need to think, they are incapable of shortening this without user demand.

It is quite hard to change this manually when the player in question is in time trouble, so they would still wait for the engine to make recommendations even if they are running out of time.

Human players are more likely to play obvious moves

In chess there is something called obvious moves such as getting the queen out of an attack, defending a pawn, or moving a hanging piece, if your opponent is in time trouble and doesn’t make these obvious moves a computer is likely to be the culprit.

Don’t get me wrong, a good player does not play automatic moves (obvious moves) by default, however most people who play online are not really good players by rating.

This means that most of the time, obvious moves are pretty much something you will frequently encounter in online games.

If somebody doesn’t have a high rating and keeps denying the most obvious moves in the position it is an indicator of strength, perhaps a strength that is beyond their rating?

What things can you do after the game to tell if someone is using a computer?

After an online game, a player can put their previous encounter with a suspicious opponent by measuring how many of their moves are recommended by the engine, they can also look at the winning streak of the said player to verify if the accusation of using a chess computer is warranted.

The best way to find out if you are playing against an engine is to compare it side by side with another engine, then see the accuracy of the results.

Analyzing the actual game after the match will confirm your suspicions, if they are only making the top 1-3 moves recommended by the engine throughout the match then you’ve come across a cheater or one of the top 10 players in the world.

It is very rare to see a human player being able to match the recommended moves of the engine for the entirety of a match, they would play something that is not recommended at some point.

It is definitely possible but will most likely not be the case in online chess since most players who compete in such a platform usually have a low rating.

A low-rated opponent would definitely not play the best 1-3 moves in the position for the entirety of the game especially if the match has reached the endgame.

Sure there could be false positives if the game for example if it didn’t last that long, however most games even on online platforms at least reach the end of the middlegame, so I think this is highly applicable.

Check the winning streak of the suspicious player

Another trace of someone who is using a chess computer is the existence of an excessive amount of winning streaks, particularly even when they are new to the platform.

Someone who has access to a chess computer during their games will obviously have an abnormal win-loss record, sometimes even no losses if they do not hold back on the results.

You can check out their previous win/loss record history and verify if they are winning too many games (look for winning streaks), it is not a complete method but will definitely bring suspicions to the table.

Can someone be that good even early into their account’s life? Obviously yes, but most human players in online platforms do have some losing streaks and patterns here and there, so it is something you should check out when background checking.

Can you now identify when an online opponent uses a chess computer?

Cheating is definitely one of the major disadvantages of playing online games, it is harder to monitor an illegal activity than if done physically.

And that also applies to online chess where computers destroy the experience of serious competitors that want some good games (which are played fairly).

This article helps to minimize the effect of such cheaters by helping you identify whenever there is suspicious activity and be able to report them.

Let’s help in making a positive environment where only the best actually excels, I think everyone can appreciate the outcome of the games if this is the case.

I personally think so since again, I have a bad experience against cheaters who abuse chess engines, I hope this spreads awareness, sleep well and play chess.

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