Computers are very good at playing chess. But if I could examine a million positions per second, I’d be pretty good too. Throw in the ability to remember gigabytes of openings/endgames and I’m more than prepared for my next club championship…
There are many aspects of how a computer plays that we cannot or should not try to emulate - afterall, our brains work very differently. However, some aspects are interesting to compare and may even be instructive… it’s not just speed of “thought”…
Possibly the most under-estimated skill in human chess, the skill of discovering candidate moves is critical to calculation ability. Humans are often prone to being drawn to too small a set of move options, and we don’t make enough effort to look for alternatives.
Alternatively, computers are good at looking at a wide range of moves; in fact, their weakness is usuallly that they look at too many and attempts to prune this wide range can be risky in terms of disgarding a good move. People are sometimes in awe at how deep a computer calculates but the breadth of the search is a key part too. Often it’s the computer’s short range tactical ability that is deadly – it simply considers a move that we don’t.
Further to candidate moves, computers are good at not calculating too deeply, too soon. So they search a range of moves at a depth of 8, before looking at any at 9, 10, etc. using “iterative deepening”. The deeper the search, the longer it usually takes. This means that they have to repeat some of their search, but this is vastly outweighed by avoiding spending too much time searching a given move when a better move exists. Spending a minute looking at 33.Qg4, before realising 33.Rb2 is checkmate, isn’t clever. This is an extreme example but humans will often start calculating too deeply before looking for earlier candidates. This may be ok in some cases, e.g. if the play is forced, but it can also turn out to be wasted effort if an earlier better move is discovered. Maybe we need more "iterative deepening".
Look at all checks/captures
Computers often put more emphasis on forcing moves such as captures and checks. In particular, they often don’t stop calculating a given line while there are further forcing moves. Disabling this approach can seriously weaken their play. I think this helps highlight the importance of paying attention to such forcing moves.
Registering change in position following a move
Humans need to visualise during calculation whereas computers are effectively making moves on a “physical board”. Ok, but more instructive is how following a move, a computer will “observe” the new position with total disregard for how it was arrived at - it won’t even factor in the last move! Us humans like to know what our opponent’s last move was and this helps to identify how the position has changed. However, we’re sometimes guilty of not fully registering all changes. Yes, we may see that the knight has gone to e5 but have you realised all the ranks/files/diagonals which have been opened/closed as a result? Sometimes we’d benefit by fully acknowledging all changes.
Playing for both sides
A computer shows no bias in terms of who it wants to win. It looks, with equal effort, for good moves for both sides. As a comparison, some players put more emphasis on finding ideas for themselves and it’s not always easy trying hard to refute a nice idea that you want to work. The benefits of being objective is clear.
Do not play blindly on general grounds
It’s all too easy to play similar positions in a similar manner. Sometimes having a slight change in the position may not matter. Or it may make a big difference. Again, computers are superior to humans in this respect since they always play on the basis of the specific position at hand. Of course, their brute force calculation is a key part in identifying whether a slight difference matters or not, but it’s still instructive to see how effective such specific play can be.
So, while we’re very different from computers, I don’t see why they should be ignored when considering what makes a strong player play well. Their approach to chess can add further recommendation to techniques that we have recognised as being useful in human terms. It’s not always that computers are simply faster; sometimes their “thought process” is simply better.