Reports | February 10, 2010 5:09

The role of computers in preparation

The role of computers in preparationBeing able to use a computer has become extremely important for today's professional chess players. This technological development was described in an article at TechRepublic, focusing on the story of Kris Littlejohn, who is not a grandmaster but a successful second of top grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura nonetheless.

Screenshot: Debra Littlejohn Shinder

Mainstream media have recently started covering chess a bit more, mainly because of Magnus Carlsen's rise to the top. In the Philippines they have their story (Wesley So), in the Netherlands we have ours (Anish Giri), and of course there are more examples of very young chess players becoming strong grandmasters.

The general explanation of this development is the increasingly important role of the computer in the world of chess. But how does this work exactly? How can someone who's not into chess, but a little into computers, understand what's going on in our scene?

At first it seemed very surprising that Hikaru Nakamura, the reigning US champion and currently the world's number 28 (but 17th on the live rating list), is working with Kris Littlejohn as his second. Littlejohn is not a GM, not even an IM. But from the start Nakamura has made clear that this doesn't really matter for him, and that he's very happy with Littlejohn's work.

Hikaru Nakamura and Kris Littlejohn

Hikaru Nakamura and Kris Littlejohn at the NH Chess Tournament in August 2009

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, a technology consultant, trainer, and tech writer, wrote an article for TechRepublic in which she explains how chess players actually work with computers, and how her son Kris works for preparing Hikaru well. TechRepublic is an online trade publication and social community for IT professionals, designed to provide timely and relevant advice, best practices, and tools for the day-to-day needs of IT decision-makers.

A fragment:

Kris performs some of his work weeks or even months before a tournament, as soon as he knows which players are entered. He starts gathering information from the databases about the moves those players like to use. Once he knows which players Hikaru will be going up against and finds out the “colors” (who will play white and who will play black in each game), he analyzes the openings commonly used by Hikaru’s opponents. Then he tries to find a “novelty” — a responsive move that has never been played before. (...) Since the tournaments are played all over the world, Kris uses his laptop and the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to connect to his Nehalem computer back home and perform all these tasks. He also has a backup laptop available that runs the chess engine and database, albeit more slowly, in case of Internet outages.

You can read the full article here.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Damp's picture

I'll get banned for this I'm sure but I think they look like a nice gay couple at their wedding reception in that picture.

test's picture

lol @ the picture. Well spotted. :D

I guess it takes a

test's picture

n actual chess player to spot these kind of things.

(PS: it is too damn easy to "Submit Comment", as you can see... ;)

siow, weng nian's picture

Hmmmmm ...... !!! It looks like "everyone" is reporting the same old stories.

Antichrist's picture

Old wine in new vessels is great, especially when it's served with chips

Bionic Lime's picture

I find it very odd that picture of the Nakamura - Aronian (apparently) game, looks like it is a picture of Chess960, where virtually no opening prep is possible!

unknown's picture

Talking about chess and computers, today is 14th anniversary of defeating Kasparov by Deep Blue (14 Feb 1996):

Meppie's picture

I wonder if Nakamura is happy now somebody writes down how he prepares for a tournament. This is useful information for his opponents. You can also call this article "How to avoid the preparation of Nakamura"!

Jeffrey "notyetagm" Hall's picture

I don't see how this article revealed anything about Naka's prep. All the top players do exactly this, have seconds go over their opponents' games with computers to look for novelties and weaknesses.

That's probably why Naka allowed the article, because it is just common knowledge.

Thomas's picture

And maybe he wants to scare his opponents, suggesting that he prepares in such a way even for Chess960? :) Another interpretation is: Nakamura's second's mother doesn't really know what she's writing about ... .

Huh?'s picture

Where's the Chess960 position? The screen shot probably came from an English opening.

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