Is Chess A Game Of Chance?

Jun 24, 2011, 8:15 AM |

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?