Chess: A Game of Chances?

• 3 years ago · Quote · #1

I see this word thrown around a lot in conversation about chess and have never understood why this was the terminology used.  Forgive me if I am just arguing semantics here but it just seems to be a buzzword that holds little meaning.

Chess is a game of absolutes and objective evaluation.  In any given position, assuming each player plays the best moves (obviously a huge assumption) either one player will win and the other lose or the game will be drawn. While I realize that you cannot assume that each player will indefinitely make the best moves, it doesn't make sense to look at chess any other way.  This is the same as when we say that you should 'play the board' and not the player.

If you look at a position where one player has a minor piece over his opponent and the other has no attacking combination, opportunity to queen a pawn, etc. the other player has a 0% 'chance' of winning using this model.  Unless you can calculate that even though you are down material you will be either to a) gain back more material than you lose or b) mate your opponent and there is no combination of moves to prevent this, you have lost the game.  Of course if this was the case, you weren't really 'down' to begin with.  There is no 'chance' or probability involved here unless you are playing with faulty tactics and hoping that your opponent won't find the correct defense.  The attack either works or it doesn't... purely objective.

I believe the same can be argued even when there is no decisive material deficit for one side.  Either one player has a convertable positional advantage or they don't and the game should be drawn.  For example in a rook and pawn end game where material is equal, however one player has double isolated pawns and the other has both rooks doubled on the only open file.  We would likely be able to look at that position and very quickly evaluate that the player with the doubled rooks and no doubled pawns had a positional advantage in that position.  However this is only useful if the positional advantage can be converted into a mating attack or a material advantage which will eventually lead to a mating attack.  In the original position with the rooks on the open file there is a finite number of possible moves and responses from those moves (though the finite number is very large).  Either there is a possible set(s) of moves which will result in one side gaining a mating attack or decisive material advantage (again assuming best play from each side) or there isnt.

What is the chance that 2+2=4?

What is the chance that 2+2=5?

There are no chances in chess, there are only absolutes.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #2

Very well put. I work as a chess teacher, teaching a large number students in public, private and Catholic schools and I hear the word "chance" more than I like. Of course, any of my students that utters that word will never utter that word in conjuction with chess after a day with me.

What makes chess a brilliant game is that its you, your opponent and the board/pieces. The outcome of the game is based on your skills as a player. These skills are developed through hard work, not chance. There are no "rolles of the dice" involved in the game, nor other devices that introduce "chance" into the game. A chess player is only as good as the work they put into their game.

I tend to be forgiving of parents and newcomers to this wonderful game if they talk about chess in terms of chance. I do have a few rules students must follow in my classes. My students have to play tournament games and this following scenario happens on occassion:

Upon losing, I sometimes hear a student say, after I ask who won, that their opponent got lucky. Here is what I say to that (in a sample conversation):

"Let me ask you a simple question. Did you and your opponent roll dice to determine the outcome of this game?"

"Ah....no. We just played a game of chess."

"So there was no luck involved, no decks of cards, dice, fortune tellers, etc?"

"Ah........no sir."

"Then how did your opponent beat you. Was it magic or perhaps voodoo?"

"Mutter.....(speaking so quietly I can't hear them."

"What was that?"

"He worked harder with his homework and practice games."

"Ah, my boy, there was only hard work involved and no luck."

"That about sums it up Mr. Patterson."

Case in point, there is no such thing as luck in chess. Thank you for this post. I am making it manditory for my students to read this posting! Thank again!

• 3 years ago · Quote · #3

In an ideal world where both players are theoretically "perfect" and can play "perfect" moves indefinitely, then yes the original post might have some validity in an absolute, logical sense.

But the real world doesn't often work on absolutes--chess players are human and thus imperfect. Therefore, even if we assume that there is a theoretical level of play that we can define as "perfect," a human can only very nearly approach it at best, much like matter and the speed of light. And yes, a single move in of itself can be "perfect," e.g., the last move of the game in which checkmate is delivered, but it is impossible for every move to be "perfect" along the way.

So then, what factor determines the winner of a game between two humans? It general terms, we could say that the winner will be the one who has averaged the smallest distance to perfection over the coarse of the game. And I say "average" because obviously, a game is made up of dozens of individual moves, and each one of those moves can be a difference distance away from perfection (we would call an obvious, major blunder "very far away" from perfection, while a brilliant mating attack could be considered "close to perfection").

• 3 years ago · Quote · #4

Chess has an element of luck.  How is your opponent feeling on the day that he plays you.  Does he have the flu?  You just gave your opponent a tactical blow.  Will he see it?  Perhaps in time trouble he is moving too quickly and misses it.  Or maybe he is an old man and has run out of stamina, losing his concentration in the critical moment. You just got lucky, punk.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #5
happyfanatic wrote:

Chess has an element of luck.  How is your opponent feeling on the day that he plays you.  Does he have the flu?  You just gave your opponent a tactical blow.  Will he see it?  Perhaps in time trouble he is moving too quickly and misses it.  Or maybe he is an old man and has run out of stamina, losing his concentration in the critical moment. You just got lucky, punk.

Haha, or maybe the old man just drops dead in the middle of the game? That count as luck too? xD

• 3 years ago · Quote · #6

The human brain isn't perfect, 2+2= 4 but not too many people on the planet know that

People might be able to play chess perfectly some of the time but not all the time, not even world champions

• 3 years ago · Quote · #7

I wasn't arguing that people could play chess 'perfectly' all the time.  That was merely an assumption used for a model to make a point.

Say you had a line where your opponent had a forced mate in 8, but if he didn't find the correct line you would be able to win decisive amounts of material.  Lets say that you actually see this opportunity for your opponent but it is exorbitantly difficult to find and your opponent is much lower rated than you.  In your head you estimate that your opponent has a ~1% 'chance' of finding this line.

Does this mean that in that moment before your opponent makes his move that you have a 99% probability of winning and a 1% probability of losing?

I don't think that is the correct way to look at it.  In that moment you are absolutely lost.  You are 100% losing.  In that moment there is a set of moves in which you lose the game by force.

The moment after your opponent misses his opportunity and allows you to win decisive amounts of material you are absolutely winning.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #8

Nothing is perfect, so you have to work with probabilities.

If everyone would play only a perfect moves, there would be no reason to play chess, as outcome of the game would always be the same.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #9
dschaef2 wrote:

I wasn't arguing that people could play chess 'perfectly' all the time.  That was merely an assumption used for a model to make a point.

Say you had a line where your opponent had a forced mate in 8, but if he didn't find the correct line you would be able to win decisive amounts of material.  Lets say that you actually see this opportunity for your opponent but it is exorbitantly difficult to find and your opponent is much lower rated than you.  In your head you estimate that your opponent has a ~1% 'chance' of finding this line.

Does this mean that in that moment before your opponent makes his move that you have a 99% probability of winning and a 1% probability of losing?

I don't think that is the correct way to look at it.  In that moment you are absolutely lost.  You are 100% losing.  In that moment there is a set of moves in which you lose the game by force.

The moment after your opponent misses his opportunity and allows you to win decisive amounts of material you are absolutely winning.

You mean in theory if the absolute best moves are played? but it can't be applied to human vs human matches because humans are flawed, less blunders occur in top level plays but you could be winning after certain moves then losing the next.

Even the same player might not be able to find the exact same solution or forgets the next time he's faced with the exact same problem on the board

• 3 years ago · Quote · #10
dschaef2 wrote:
.....

You mean in theory if the absolute best moves are played? but it can't be applied to human vs human matches because humans are flawed, less blunders occur in top level plays but you could be winning after certain moves then losing the next.

Even the same player might not be able to find the exact same solution or forgets the next time he's faced with the exact same problem on the board

You seem to be missing my point.  This has nothing to do with whether it is probable that a human will consistently play best moves.  I am merely arguing that it is theoretically possible for best moves to be played.  Given a winning position, of course it is very possible for a human to blunder and throw away a game, it happens all the time.  But the mere fact that given that initial winning position there was a set or sets of possible moves that would result in checkmating the opponent regardless of attempted defenses makes the concept of 'chances' in chess useless.  If the person on the losing side of that game were to ask me "What are my chances of winning here?", I would say "zero, you are completely lost".  However I completely understand the concepts of external human factors, blunders, etc. and would not even suggest resigning in all of these positions.

I just think that 'chances' is an innapropriate term and sometimes will cause players to get into the mindset that a position is subjective when I do not believe that is at all the case.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #11
dschaef2 wrote:
dschaef2 wrote:
.....

You mean in theory if the absolute best moves are played? but it can't be applied to human vs human matches because humans are flawed, less blunders occur in top level plays but you could be winning after certain moves then losing the next.

Even the same player might not be able to find the exact same solution or forgets the next time he's faced with the exact same problem on the board

You seem to be missing my point.  This has nothing to do with whether it is probable that a human will consistently play best moves.  I am merely arguing that it is theoretically possible for best moves to be played.  Given a winning position, of course it is very possible for a human to blunder and throw away a game, it happens all the time.  But the mere fact that given that initial winning position there was a set or sets of possible moves that would result in checkmating the opponent regardless of attempted defenses makes the concept of 'chances' in chess useless.  If the person on the losing side of that game were to ask me "What are my chances of winning here?", I would say "zero, you are completely lost".  However I completely understand the concepts of external human factors, blunders, etc. and would not even suggest resigning in all of these positions.

I just think that 'chances' is an innapropriate term and sometimes will cause players to get into the mindset that a position is subjective when I do not believe that is at all the case.

I still think that you are not grounded in reality. Case in point, you wrote "If the person on the losing side of that game were to ask me "What are my chances of winning here?", I would say "zero, you are completely lost". That statement is absurd to make, especially when you suggest that you would use it even when the opponent only has a very small advantage.

Yes, many things are "theoretically" possible, but in the human realm those theoreticals have no meaning and should thus not be applied. Apply human standards and human common sense to human matters, and let God deal with the theoretical, "perfect" chess player.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #12

Yeah in theory you could have a game where chance doesn't exist (Though you could argue that chance still plays a part in determining who plays white and who plays black), but in practice, as long as we're playing people chance will always play a part in chess.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #13
Teary_Oberon wrote:

I still think that you are not grounded in reality. Case in point, you wrote "If the person on the losing side of that game were to ask me "What are my chances of winning here?", I would say "zero, you are completely lost". That statement is absurd to make, especially when you suggest that you would use it even when the opponent only has a very small advantage.

Yes, many things are "theoretically" possible, but in the human realm those theoreticals have no meaning and should thus not be applied. Apply human standards and human common sense to human matters, and let God deal with the theoretical, "perfect" chess player.

Yup, you got me, I'm not grounded in reality.  Completely insane.

"That statement is absurd to make, especially when you suggest that you would use it even when the opponent only has a very small advantage."

Very small advantage?  I said if he made one set of moves than he won the game and there was nothing you can do about it, if he made any other set of moves than he would be at a decisive disadvantage.

I'm not going to bother responding to anymore strawman arguments that completely bypass my actual points.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #14
dschaef2 wrote:
...

You seem to be missing my point.  This has nothing to do with whether it is probable that a human will consistently play best moves.  I am merely arguing that it is theoretically possible for best moves to be played.  Given a winning position, of course it is very possible for a human to blunder and throw away a game, it happens all the time.  But the mere fact that given that initial winning position there was a set or sets of possible moves that would result in checkmating the opponent regardless of attempted defenses makes the concept of 'chances' in chess useless.  If the person on the losing side of that game were to ask me "What are my chances of winning here?", I would say "zero, you are completely lost".  However I completely understand the concepts of external human factors, blunders, etc. and would not even suggest resigning in all of these positions.

I just think that 'chances' is an innapropriate term and sometimes will cause players to get into the mindset that a position is subjective when I do not believe that is at all the case.

How do you think winning position was reached? Chances are, that winning position occurred because one of the players played some bad moves along the way.

And why does probability and statistics bother you so much?

• 3 years ago · Quote · #15
dschaef2 wrote:
Teary_Oberon wrote:

I still think that you are not grounded in reality. Case in point, you wrote "If the person on the losing side of that game were to ask me "What are my chances of winning here?", I would say "zero, you are completely lost". That statement is absurd to make, especially when you suggest that you would use it even when the opponent only has a very small advantage.

Yes, many things are "theoretically" possible, but in the human realm those theoreticals have no meaning and should thus not be applied. Apply human standards and human common sense to human matters, and let God deal with the theoretical, "perfect" chess player.

Yup, you got me, I'm not grounded in reality.  Completely insane.

"That statement is absurd to make, especially when you suggest that you would use it even when the opponent only has a very small advantage."

Very small advantage?  I said if he made one set of moves than he won the game and there was nothing you can do about it, if he made any other set of moves than he would be at a decisive disadvantage.

I'm not going to bother responding to anymore strawman arguments that completely bypass my actual points.

Wow, somebody has their special chess underwear in a knot this evening. =P

I wasn't only referring to your previous comment, I was referring to your writings as a whole, specifically:

"If you look at a position where one player has a minor piece over his opponent and the other has no attacking combination, opportunity to queen a pawn, etc. the other player has a 0% 'chance' of winning using this model."

Taking in your arguments as a whole and naturally taking them to their logical ends, then you must surely be implying the following:

There are only a finite number of moves that can be made in any chess game (following normal draw rules). Therefore, if a theoretically perfect player starts at an advantage over another theoretically perfect player, then the former will perfectly hold on to that advantage forever and thus win the game. If this advantage is gained early in the opening, then this infers that there is a possible set (or sets) of moves that will always result in victory for the one who starts at an advantage. Therefore, even a small advantage for a perfect player would result in a situation where he makes "one set of moves than he won the game and there was nothing you can do about it," as you so eloquently put it.

See how ridiculous arguments over theoreticals can get?

• 3 years ago · Quote · #16

They don't bother me, I love statistics.  They just don't apply.

"Chances are, that winning position occurred because one of the players played some bad moves along the way."

Not chances, absolutely that is how it occured.  One player played better moves than the other: luck, probability, chances, etc. had nothing to do with it.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #17

"If the person on the losing side of that game were to ask me "What are my chances of winning here?", I would say "zero, you are completely lost".

That statement is simply false . Both, form practical and logical point of view.

Why from practical , seems obvious for everyone .

Let us deal with logical. If we take a sentence , we have to assume it has a logical value. Since we cannot determine if it is true or false, until we see the outcome- we have to assign it 1/2 value which means the outcome can go both ways. Since, sentence with value 1 has 100/100 chance of being true, and value 0 has 0/100 chance of being of true, our sentecne is somewhere in between , meaning we can assess CHANCES of it actually happening.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #18
Teary_Oberon wrote:

See how ridiculous arguments over theoreticals can get?

Only if you keep trying to make it that way.

I just found it to be interesting.

"If this advantage is gained early in the opening, then this infers that there is a possible set (or sets) of moves that will always result in victory for the one who starts at an advantage. Therefore, even a small advantage for a perfect player would result in a situation where he makes "one set of moves than he won the game and there was nothing you can do about it,""

I was just thinking about that actually, especially the last part is interesting.  It seems that there would be some kind of threshold here.  If we consider computer evaluations of positions:

1) Look at an early game advantage of say +.50.  If each player was to play 'perfect' moves from this point I think the evaluation would eventually come to 0, rather than mate for one side.

2) However if we had an advantage of +2.25 for one player, I think that evaluation would continue to grow as the game progressed until the player that began with the 2.25 advantage checkmated his opponent.

The difference here boils down to imperfect algorithms and finite resources/evaluation time.  I think a 'theoretical' computer with infinte resources and immediate calculation time of all resulting positions would evaluate position 1 as 0.00 and position 2 as +infinity (or whatever number you want to use for checkmate).

Yes, the discussion is completely theoretical.  Yes, I understand how chess works in reality.  I still think the term is incorrect.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #19
Wolfwind wrote:

"If the person on the losing side of that game were to ask me "What are my chances of winning here?", I would say "zero, you are completely lost".

That statement is simply false . Both, form practical and logical point of view.

Why from practical , seems obvious for everyone .

Let us deal with logical. If we take a sentence , we have to assume it has a logical value. Since we cannot determine if it is true or false, until we see the outcome- we have to assign it 1/2 value which means the outcome can go both ways. Since, sentence with value 1 has 100/100 chance of being true, and value 0 has 0/100 chance of being of true, our sentecne is somewhere in between , meaning we can assess CHANCES of it actually happening.

If you kept reading past that quoted line you would see that I did not claim that to be true in a practical sense.

I'm not exactly sure what your argument is in the second part, it's not written in a very coherent manner.  "Since we cannot determine if it is true or false", you mean humans cannot determine?  Yes I agree.  That doesn't mean that there isn't an answer as to whether one move has a boolean value.

• 3 years ago · Quote · #20

Anyways, I'm going to bed.  Be safe.