# Is Chess A Game Of Chance?

Parcheesi was a game that held Bobby’s interest for a while.  He liked moving his tiger and elephant pawns through his opponent’s blockades, but he became furious if, owing to a toss of the dice, he was captured and sent back to ‘Start’...Ultimately he rejected all games of chance”, Endgame, Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise And Fall, by Frank Brady.

The modern mathematical discipline of Game Theory classifies chess as a game of “perfect information”, meaning that each player has the same information available to him to decide on his strategy. In other words, both players in chess know the position of all the pieces and what previous moves have been made.

Games of perfect information are in a minority, since most games rely on some information being hidden from your opponent(s). Card games usually fall into this “imperfect information” category, since each player’s cards are normally hidden from the other players.

It's tempting to regard games of perfect information like Chess, Go, and Tic-tac-toe as not being games of chance, since the outcome of the game is purely a function of the decisions of the players which they make with full knowledge of the game situation.

For a simple game like Tic-tac-toe this is hard to dispute, since having all the information should be enough for a player to always avoid losing, but for a game as complicated as chess it is arguable.

Frank Brady in the quote above clearly doesn't regard chess as a game of chance, but that is not to say that there is not an element of chance involved.  Or at least what feels like chance.

Say you play a nice combination which wins material, but it turns out there is a reply at the end which refutes the whole plan, which neither you nor your opponent anticipated beforehand.  Is that bad luck, or simply incorrect calculation?

A Grandmaster might happen to play an opening variation which his opponent has studied and found a devastating novelty which virtually wins the game. Bad luck?

Did the short length of the recent Candidates matches in Kazan result in the winners owing their success more to chance?

Just how much luck is there in chess compared to skill? Is the idea that chess is purely a game of skill a misapprehension we have because of the illusion of control

What do you think?

• 4 years ago

What happened Topalov? He is very good player, but not consistant. I see when he played with Anand (World Championship), he sacrifice very well and win the game. Wake up Topa!!!

• 4 years ago

Very interesting topic. I tend to agree with Jan Hein Donner, quoted by someone else in the comments - "Chess is and always will be a game of chance." How can a game of perfect information also be a game of chance? Well, because the humans who play it are limited and fallable creatures (as are the humans who create the positional evaluation criteria used by computers). Laplace famously claimed that if he knew the positions and momenta of all of the particles that make up the universe, he could predict the future with certainty - since a deterministic process guides the iteration of mechanical systems as they transition from state to state. Even leaving aside quantum phenomena, which Laplace had no inkling of in the 18th century, Laplace surely realized that such a project would be for all practical purposes impossible. What's left is a world evolving according to deterministic laws but with the appearance of chance due to the lack of complete knowledge and the inability to calculate completely and correctly.

But neither can mere mortals calculate completely and correctly in chess. And as the position unfolds, it may become clear that a refutation of a sacrifice exists, and that the defender has an overlooked resource. One might "gamble" on the sacrifice anyway, and hope for the best. Like many players, I start a new game of chess realizing that the whole thing is a gamble - will my opponent's rating accurately gauge his skill today? will I overlook a tactical shot? will I remember the opening line I need to remember? will I have a "bad chess day" or a "good chess day"?

In modern opening books it is quite common to see assessments such as "Black scores 48% from this position." There are millions of possibilities in the move tree from any of these standard opening tabiyas, and it's rare that any two games follow the same path. One is wise to select an opening according to how well it tends to score statisticallly (assuming one is comfortable with the kinds of positions it produces), even though there are no guarantees. This factor alone demonstrates that even if not technically a game of chance, there is a statistical nature to chess (as there is with baseball - also not a game of chance). This is the weak form of the Donner claim, I suppose.

• 4 years ago

Parcheesi is known as Thaayakattai in Tamilnadu, India and I have played it many times. Its a nice pastime for the family.

• 4 years ago

I suppose there is very minimal luck. The only luck involved is being lucky enough for your opponent to overlook something, for them to make some sort of miscalculation. However, it is debatable as to whether or not you can consider that luck. It really all depends on who you ask.

• 4 years ago

lol philosophy of luck on a chess website? nice one

• 4 years ago

"Chess, by it's very nature, cannot and will never be a game of chance. Poker, on the other hand, involves a fair amount of chance and luck - you are rarely guaranteed to win a hand after all."

See, that's the thing in human chess: our ideas stray from nature all of the time. Essentially, luck is manufactured, by means mentioned in some of my previous posts.

• 4 years ago

"Todays computers have proven that chess is all math or algorithm based, and at advanced moves very advanced math due to the number of combinations available, probibility etc. The seemingly only random factor is the human input upon the game. Which I would suppose your daily biorhythms would come into play on what your general consistant math output is for that particular moment. I also believe that humans have the ability to transcend math at times and touch upon inspiration subconsciously which gives us the brilliant moves that can counfound a computer's logic."

(Note: avoid the term math and use the term computation instead; the former is very much linked with human inspiration since it is the art of constructing meaningful results dependent on self-chosen axioms; the latter is what you are referring to)

Probability is needless baggage when you deal with certainty, like certainty a perfect chess player has of the success of a position.  Similarly, it is not necessarily required that one solves a chess position similar to the way a human or computer does.  They may "just know" the proper move in any given position reached--that is not computational too, why not classify it as brilliancy.

• 4 years ago

@ nimzoroy

What Capablanca means by that is that there is no luck in the game...hence the word 'always'. More luck in chess than poker? That doesn't make any sense.

Can someone provide a sound argument why the game of chess involves luck? The people playing have little to do with the situation, as does ANYTHING apart from the board and the pieces.

Chess, by it's very nature, cannot and will never be a game of chance. Poker, on the other hand, involves a fair amount of chance and luck - you are rarely guaranteed to win a hand after all.

• 4 years ago

Chess indeed is a game of perfect information, the same as tic-tac-toe. It is more complex sure, but anything that might seem like it was due to chance in chess isn't a property of the game itself but of the mind of the players playing (or observing) the game.

For a couple two year olds playing tic-tac-toe might come down to luck but this doesn't say anything about the game being inherently chancy but about them being unable to calculate where to put the X-es further then one or two moves.

• 4 years ago

The good chessplayer is always lucky CAPABLANCA (my emphasis)

IMHO there is actually much more luck in GM chess than in GM class poker, since memorizing all the odds of drawing hands in poker (and remembering which cards were played) is a rather miniscule task compared to knowing a fraction of what there is to know about chess - and this isn't to take anything away from highly skilled poker players, who will always beat lesser-skilled ones with enough time - and money of course!

• 4 years ago

While I do believe in luck in other circumstances, I don't think it qualifies in chess.

• 4 years ago

A game of chance is when 0<P(A)<1, or the probability of an event A occurring is greater than 0 and less than 1. It is not a game of chance when P(A) = 0 or P(A) = 1.

• 4 years ago

"... The seemingly only random factor is the human input upon the game. Which I would suppose your daily biorhythms would come into play on what your general consistant math output is for that particular moment. I also believe that humans have the ability to transcend math at times and touch upon inspiration subconsciously which gives us the brilliant moves that can counfound a computer's logic."

You also do not address how human chess can be 100% skill when good things happen to people in the game despite it (mentioned earlier). What if that "random, brilliant move" was played for reasons totally contradictory to the actual reason why the move worked? Would that be skill? If so we define skill, at least pertaining to chess, differently.

• 4 years ago

Chess is a fairy tale of 1001 blunders - Savielly Tartakower

Chess is as much a mystery as women - Purdy

Todays computers have proven that chess is all math or algorithm, i think this is not chess, per se, but termed as computer chess. However using computers does not guarantee a win, so even if we have the illusion that we are still the ones playing the game and pretending that the move is ours, chess is still a game of chance. I think the only things in this world that are not a game of chance are death and taxes, based on the movie I saw starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins and I forgot the title of that movie. It's a nice movie and I'll give it four stars.

• 4 years ago

"Chess itself is not a game of chance.  If two beings which have entire knowledge of the game, infinite stamina, agility, etc., compete they are still playing chess.

That is, external factors cause it to seem like it is a game of chance."

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Todays computers have proven that chess is all math or algorithm based, and at advanced moves very advanced math due to the number of combinations available, probibility etc. The seemingly only random factor is the human input upon the game. Which I would suppose your daily biorhythms would come into play on what your general consistant math output is for that particular moment. I also believe that humans have the ability to transcend math at times and touch upon inspiration subconsciously which gives us the brilliant moves that can counfound a computer's logic.

• 4 years ago

"Chess is and will always be a game of chance."

---Jan Hein Donner

• 4 years ago

"So only the skilled are lucky?"

From where do you get this? Many examples have made it clear that anyone can have lucky moments.

And I'm saying that skill often results in good things happening to you more consistently -- that seems to be true.

You seem to be too black-and-white -- I don't know why people are like that -- this argument for luck makes up an absolutely minute part of the game, and again, I am not advocating that anyone could ever rely on such a thing.

Another thing I think you misunderstand is that you may think that I believe chess to be a game that intrinsically carries luck in it; that's not true; I believe the opposite. I think the luck element only comes into play when the imperfect nature of human competition is involved, when rewards are proportional to how much skill you demonstrated (and once again, that doesn't just mean playing the right moves, but having the correct thought behind it) most of the time but in a frequency <100%.

Anyway, for some fun, let me present you this scenario:

Some amateur gets to play Carlsen for some reason. Maybe he payed him lots of money. The amateur's strategy is to make a totally random selection on what his move will be -- this could perhaps be done with a random number generator, with each move assigned a respective number. This would be redone for each new move.

Would you agree that it is possible, for this person to play like a genius and beat Carlsen, in the event that all of the moves he randomly selected just happened to be stronger than Carlsen's? Well, I don't see why not, it'd just be super unlikely, which is obviously why it would not be practical to base a career off of this which you somehow think I imply. If it did happen, what would be the reason? Luck? Skill? Chance? None of the above? Well it would certainly be hard to believe there was much skill involved using a random number generator.

Clearly, good things can happen even if you don't see or strategize soundly, i.e., make the move for the right reasons. [Again, I want you to tell me if you think this is an ideal way to define skill or not in this case.] So if it is indeed possible to win without making the move for the right reasons, how can it all be 100% skill and not 99.99% skill or something?

• 4 years ago

So only the skilled are lucky?

"As it is now, even an unsound conclusion on how to make the shot can work sometimes, perhaps for the wrong reasons. As mentioned, skill will improve your general chances of good things happening to you, since by considering variables correctly, you are putting, a portion of the game in your control, yet not all of it."

That's like the quote, "A good player is always lucky."  That quote contained sarcasm, by the way.  Just like when Fischer said everyone had been playing below their rating against him for 10 years.  Oh, wait, maybe Fischer was lucky that everyone played poorly against him.  Heh.  Luck...

• 4 years ago

"You're talking about statistics.  For that one hole in one, the golfer indeed had the proper form, angle, strength, wind, etc. in order to make the shot. "

This is correct, but, if we are assuming this is a novice golfer, it wasn't so much due to his skill, rather, the manner in which he did the shot, though probably not calculated out soundly or perfectly, "just happened," to be the right one, as erroneous the grounds with which he based his shot on may have been (this is what I really define as skill here -- those grounds. Maybe this is a point of controversy?). They didn't matter this one time.

"Like I said, if luck exists, why bother with the form?  Heck, why bother with practice, you'll probably get lucky and nail every shot."

Because to get lucky in golf is unrealistic, since there are zillions of ways for a ball to land?

Certainly, it'd be better to have at least decent control of your results, which is what extra skill offers; still, it's clear that sometimes you could do well without it, once in a blue moon.

Just like I said with chess, golf is only a game of 100% skill if the ball, every, single, time, with zero exception, punishes or rewards you ONLY based on the consideration you made before the shot, i.e., what caused you to execute the shot correctly (sound thinking? etc.). [If there was ignorance that led to the correct decision, for example, I wouldn't consider whatever happens subsequently, good or bad, to be a consequence of skill in that case.] But obviously, this is impossible, because golf doesn't read your mind, as doesn't chess.

As it is now, even an unsound conclusion on how to make the shot can work sometimes, perhaps for the wrong reasons. As mentioned, skill will improve your general chances of good things happening to you, since by considering variables correctly, you are putting, a portion of the game in your control, yet not all of it.

• 4 years ago

@Webhead: The argument you're addressing doesn't seem to exist; that luck will do just as well as skill in golf. No one seems to be advocating that hoping you will get a hole-in-one despite ignorance of proper technique is going to get you at the top in the long run.