Positional Chess Engines

I like positional chess engines.

Although you mostly hear me talk about violent, aggressive, craaaazy attacking engines –

I really do love positional engines.

Watching them play gives you a sense that you’re watching a sophisticated human master doing his thing, especially when he crushes his opponent without the need for a single tactical stroke.

It can be even more impressive when you’re the one on the receiving end of the “lesson”.

In this post, I’m going to put a whole bunch of engines (as well as engine personalities) through an experiment to see which produces the most “positional” games.

All engines will be those with a reputation and/or that were designed to play in a positional manner.

And all variables such as time control, opening position, color and opponent will remain consistent- with only the engine playing black being different.

Positional Chess Engines – Test Conditions:


Alfil 11 (CCRL 2555) – an engine with a strong, dynamic style, yet not so strong as to smother an opponent’s style and prevent it from showing it’s “personality”.

Time Control:

  • 1 minute + 1 second increment (Long enough to see style and get a decent quality game, but short enough to test a lot of engines)

Color Contestants Will Play:


Position to Begin From:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.Nc3 Nbd7 4.e4 e5

Positional Chess Engines Start Position

Why This Position?

Because it is very solid and tough to crack, which will give Alfil a difficult job in using his strengths.

On the other hand, black will not have so many dynamic chances himself, but will be maneuvering behind the lines, trying to find good squares, especially for his knights. He’ll often be slightly cramped.

This will require good positional play.

In such positions, it will be very easy to tell if the player of the black pieces focusses more on strategic considerations or tactical.

What Makes a Game “Positional”? 

Intelligent use of any of the following randomly chosen themes (I’m an artist, not a scientist! 😆 ), especially a combination of them, will result in higher ranking.

Reaching a decisive position utilizing them, and without the use of tricky tactical play is even better.

Static Positional Advantage Themes:

  • Good Knight vs Bad Bishop
  • Good Bishop vs Bad Knight
  • Bishop Pair
  • Superior Pawn Structure/Destroy Enemy Pawn Structure
  • Space Advantage
  • Dominating Outpost
  • Domination of Open File/Diagonal
  • Control of Center

Dynamic Positional Advantage Themes:

  • Trapping Enemy Pieces
  • Domination of Color Complex
  • Rolling Pawn Phalanx
  • Positional Pawn Sacrifice
  • Restriction Motifs (Reduce Enemy Mobility/Chances/Scope)
  • Exchange Sacrifice (for Positional Compensation)
  • Early and/or Intelligent Centralization of King for Endgame

So as a random example, if game features a player (1) deliberately chasing opponent’s bishops and exchanging his knights for them, (2)thus achieving the bishop pair and then (3) dominating the diagonals with them, without playing any tactically forcing moves to achieve all of this – this will be considered good positional play and that engine will pass our “test”.

Participants in the “Positional Chess Engines” Test:

The following players are known to play in a manner that emphasizes the positional qualities outlined above, and although they can all hold their own tactically, they tend to already have a positionally crushing advantage before they engage in a clash of swords.

That is, they have already outmaneuvered and outsmarted the opponent, they simply need to deal with his final few moments of thrashing around before collecting the point. Sometimes this requires tactics.

      Gaviota 1.0 NirvanaChess 1.7 Naum 3.1 Fruit 2.3.1 Ares 1.005 Hiarcs 12.1
RomiChess P3K Rybka 1.0 Beta ProDeo 1.2 MACHEIDE  Trace 1.37a  Rodent III Karpov Shredder 6 Paderborn
Wasp 1.25 Zappa Mexico II Wael Deeb ProDeo 2.6 Positional Jeff  Rodent III Positional Vlad Texel 1.06 Komodo 1.0
Rodent III Dynamic Pawns Star Zarkov 6.55 Karpov The Baron 3.29 Rodent III Petrosian Rodent III Positional Sergei Amyan 1.72

Okay, so now that the conditions of our competition are clear, let’s see who came out ahead.

What Were the Results?

Well firstly, one of the engines who I expected to come out as MOST positional lost his game to a spectacular attack from Alfil 11.

Let’s see it – this is an example of what can happen if you let Alfil get a even a sniff of the initiative.

Wasp Gets Crushed!

I can’t explain Wasp’s play in this game. Within a short time he is a pawn down and under attack. His position is already worse when he plays 29…Ra8? allowing the winning sacrifice.

RomiChess P3K is a Positional MASTER!

Michael Sherwin’s RomiChess engine played his game is such a human-like positional fashion that my jaw was on the floor – and Alfil’s king was picking up his teeth from the floor.

Naum 3.1 Fights Hard in an Intelligent Positional Battle 

Naum decides that his bishop will be more powerful fianchettoed on g7 and this is smart. But to do this (instead of …Be7) he has to spend an extra move.

Alfil decides to capitalize on this and throws a pawn at his opponent immediately trying to gain the initiative.

Naum stays calm and patiently nurtures an advantage until Alfil is completely passive.

Rodent Petrosian Shuffles Behind the Trenches then Creeps Forward!

Bobby Fischer once said:

I was amazed during the game. Each time Petrosian achieved a good position, he managed to maneuver into a better one.

In this game, my Rodent Petrosian personality heads into his trademark closed position and with little space, he starts to maneuver.

The position he sets up is rock solid and after 20 moves of hitting his head on a brick wall, Alfil decides on a plan involving f4.

Around this point Rodent Petrosian makes tiny, incremental improvements to his positions which eventually become overwhelming.

What About Gaviota, Positional Jeff and NirvanaChess?

Although these guys are capable of playing beautiful positional chess, they all lost their games to Alfil!

Who is the Most Positional?

From this test, I was most impressed by the game of RomiChess, but all of the games were great and since conducting the test, I’ve encountered some even more positional engines which I’ll reveal at a later date.

What’s Next?

I will soon be running a large 34 board challenge match between a team of attacker chess engines and a team of positional chess engines.

All matches will be recorded with and posted on this blog in video form with commentary, so if you’re into such awesome stuff…stay tuned!

Oh! And share this article on FB, Twitter and whatever other social media you use.

See you soon.