With the advent of technology, the quest to solve chess, or find an optimal strategy that guarantees a win or a draw, has become a topic of immense interest.
Here we look into the idea of solving chess and the challenges faced in finding the perfect algorithm.
What Does “Solving Chess” Mean?
“Solving chess” refers to discovering an optimal strategy for the game, ensuring that one player (either White or Black) can always secure a victory or that either player can force a draw.
In a broader sense, it might also mean proving which of the three possible outcomes (White wins, Black wins, or a draw) would result from two perfect players’ gameplay, without necessarily revealing the optimal strategy itself.
Is Chess Completely Solved?
As of now, chess has not been completely solved.
Chess is solved with 7 pieces of less remaining on the board. When this is the case we know what the outcome should theoretically be.
While there’s no consensus on when or if it will ever be solved, the exponential growth of computing power has led some to speculate about the possibility.
However, the general belief is that chess won’t be solved in the foreseeable future, even with the rapid advancements in technology.
Progress Made So Far
The most significant progress in solving chess comes from endgame tablebases.
These are computerized databases that contain exhaustive analyses of positions with a limited number of pieces on the board.
Currently, perfect play has been determined for endgames with up to seven pieces or pawns.
The development of the seven-piece endgame tablebase has led to the discovery of many intriguing theoretical chess endings.
For instance, the longest seven-piece checkmate sequence, found in the Lomonosov tablebase, is a mate-in-549 position, which is beyond human capability to solve.
Chess Variants and Their Complexity
Several chess variants, simpler than traditional chess, have been solved.
For instance, the 5×5 Gardner’s Minichess variant has been weakly solved as a draw.
However, as the board size increases, as seen in larger chess variants and infinite chess, the complexity of solving the game also rises.
The Computational Challenge
Claude Shannon, an information theorist, proposed a theoretical procedure for playing a perfect game of chess.
He estimated that solving chess would require evaluating approximately 10^120 possible game variations.
However, the actual number of operations needed to solve chess might be significantly different from producing the entire game-tree of chess.
Predictions on Solving Chess
In the 1950s, Shannon estimated that even with a computer operating at one megahertz, it would take 10^90 years to make its first move in chess.
Given the physical barriers like the light barrier, quantum barrier, and thermodynamical barrier, it seems unlikely that chess will be solved within a practical timeframe.
However, with the weak solving of checkers in 2007 (generally considered a simpler game), some believe that technological breakthroughs, like quantum computing, might pave the way for solving chess in the future.
Is Solved Chess White Winning or a Draw?
The question of whether a completely solved chess would result in a win for White or a draw is one of the most intriguing mysteries in the world of chess.
We can look at it from the perspective of White’s opening advantage and the equal resources available to both players that are symmetrically placed.
White’s Opening Advantage
Historically, White is considered to have a slight advantage in chess due to the privilege of making the first move.
This allows White to immediately seize the initiative, control the center, and dictate the pace and direction of the opening phase.
However, this advantage is subtle and can be neutralized with accurate play from Black. Over the years, Black has developed several defensive systems and counter-attacks to combat White’s initial edge, such as the Sicilian Defense, the French Defense, and the Nimzo-Indian Defense.
Despite White’s opening advantage, it’s essential to remember that both players start with equal resources: the same number of pieces and pawns, arranged symmetrically.
This equality means that Black has just as much potential to create threats, develop pieces, and control key squares as White does.
The challenge for Black is to find the right moves and strategies to counteract White’s initial initiative and create counterplay.
Is Solved Chess White Winning or a Draw?
If we were to solve chess completely, there are three potential outcomes:
- White can force a win: This would mean that, given perfect play from both sides, White’s opening advantage is insurmountable, and Black cannot prevent a loss.
- Black can force a win: This is the least likely scenario, given White’s opening advantage. It would imply that there’s a flaw in White’s position from the start, which seems counterintuitive.
- The game is a draw: This outcome suggests that, despite White’s opening advantage, Black has sufficient resources and defensive strategies to neutralize White’s initiative and hold the position to a draw.
Given the vast number of drawn games at the highest levels of chess, especially when both players are well-prepared and avoid mistakes, many experts believe that a solved chess would most likely be a draw.
Also, if we look at modern chess engines playing each other (e.g., Stockfish vs. Alphazero), which are 3500+ rated, most of their games end in draws as well.
However, this remains speculative, as chess has not been solved, and the game’s complexity ensures that it remains a topic of debate.
What would solved chess look like? How would it be played (e.g., Ruy Lopez opening)?
If chess were to be completely solved, it would mean that for any given position, the optimal move (or moves) would be known.
The outcome of the game, when played perfectly by both sides, would be predetermined.
Here’s what solved chess might look like and how it would impact the gameplay:
1. Predetermined Outcomes
A solved chess game would have one of the three possible outcomes:
- White can force a win.
- Black can force a win.
- Both sides can force a draw.
The outcome would be known right from the start, assuming perfect play from both players.
We know that Black winning wouldn’t be the outcome because White has an opening advantage and both sides have equal resources.
2. Standardized Opening Sequences
If chess were solved, specific opening sequences would be identified as the optimal paths to the predetermined outcome.
For instance, if the Ruy Lopez opening led to a guaranteed draw with perfect play, players aiming for a draw would consistently opt for it.
Similarly, if another opening ensured a win for White or Black, it would become the standard choice for that color.
3. Reduced Creativity in Professional Play
One of the charms of professional chess is the creativity and surprise elements players bring to their games.
With a solved chess, top-level matches might become predictable, as players would stick to the known optimal strategies.
Deviating from the perfect path would be a tactical error.
At the top levels of the game, deviations are done to guide the game into less familiar territory for the opponent. But while still being a relatively solid choice such that the game is most likely to be a draw if the opponent deftly navigates all the complexities.
4. Shift in Focus to Lesser-Known Variants
To keep the game interesting and maintain the element of unpredictability, there might be a shift towards playing lesser-known chess variants or even creating new ones.
These variants would not be solved and would allow players to explore and innovate.
Fischer Random (aka Chess 960) illustrates this. The game is now popular among top grandmasters due to its lesser focus on memorization and preparation.
5. Enhanced Role of Endgame Tablebases
Endgame tablebases, which are databases of solved endgame positions, would play an even more crucial role.
Players would study them extensively to ensure they make the perfect moves in endgame scenarios.
6. Changes in Chess Education
Chess education would undergo a significant transformation.
Instead of focusing on strategic principles and positional understanding, the emphasis would be on memorizing the optimal sequences and understanding the reasons behind each move in solved game trees.
Arguably it’s already gone this way with the way the best moves have already been studied with modern chess engines.
7. Potential Decline in Popularity
One of the reasons chess has remained popular for centuries is its depth and complexity.
If it were solved, and every game became predictable, it might lose some of its allure, leading to a decline in its popularity.
However, this may likely be true at longer time controls like Classical, but Rapid and Blitz help to prevent this and ensure creativity stays in the game.
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Types of ‘Solved Chess’ Solutions
A game is considered “solved” when the outcome (win, lose, or draw) can be correctly predicted from any position, assuming that both players play perfectly.
There are three types of game solutions:
- Strongly Solved: The outcome can be determined from any position.
- Weakly Solved: The outcome can be determined from the starting position.
- Ultra-Weakly Solved: It can be determined whether the initial position is a win, loss, or draw, but not necessarily the optimal strategies.
Chess is an extremely complex game with a vast number of possible positions, which makes solving it a very challenging task.
The number of legal chess positions is estimated to be around 10^40 to 10^50, which is a number so large that even with the most powerful computers, it would take an incredibly long time to solve.
However, some simpler games and endgame positions in chess have been solved.
For instance, as we mentioned, endgame tablebases have been created for all positions with up to 7 pieces (including kings), which means that these specific positions are strongly solved.
As for whether chess will ever be solved, with advancements in computing power and artificial intelligence, it might be possible in the future.
However, given the current state of technology and the sheer complexity of chess, it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.
FAQs: Solved Chess – Finding the Perfect Algorithm to Play Chess
1. What does “solving chess” mean?
Solving chess refers to discovering an optimal strategy for the game of chess.
This strategy would allow one of the players (either White or Black) to always secure a victory, or either player can force a draw.
The term also encompasses the idea of determining the outcome (win for White, win for Black, or a draw) when two perfect players face off, without necessarily revealing the perfect strategy.
2. Has chess been completely solved?
No, chess has not been completely solved in either of the senses mentioned above.
It is not anticipated that chess will be solved in the foreseeable future.
There’s ongoing debate about whether the rapid growth of computing power will persist long enough to eventually solve chess by examining all possible moves and outcomes.
3. What progress has been made towards solving chess?
While the complete game of chess remains unsolved, there have been significant advancements in specific areas.
For instance, endgame tablebases have been developed that offer exhaustive analyses of positions with a limited number of pieces on the board.
These tablebases have determined perfect play for various endgames, especially those with seven pieces or fewer on the board.
Some chess variants, simpler than traditional chess, have also been solved.
4. What are endgame tablebases?
Endgame tablebases are computerized databases that contain precalculated exhaustive analyses of chess positions with a limited number of pieces remaining on the board.
They have been instrumental in determining perfect play for specific endgames.
For example, the Lomonosov 7-piece tablebase revealed a mate-in-549 position, which is beyond human capability to solve.
5. How did Claude Shannon view the complexity of chess?
Claude Shannon, an information theorist, in 1950 proposed a theoretical method for playing a perfect game of chess.
He suggested considering all possible moves for each position until the end of the game.
By working backward from the endgame, one could determine if there’s a forced win, draw, or loss.
Shannon estimated that solving chess this way would involve evaluating around 10^120 possible game variations.
6. Are there predictions about when or if chess will be completely solved?
In 1950, Shannon estimated that even with a highly advanced computer, solving chess would take an impractically long time, far beyond conceivable technology.
Hans-Joachim Bremermann later argued that physical barriers, such as the light barrier and quantum barrier, limit the capabilities of any future computer equipment.
However, while the complete solution of chess remains a daunting challenge, technological advancements might bring unforeseen possibilities.
7. Have other games similar to chess been solved?
Yes, some games that are simpler than chess have been solved.
For instance, the game of checkers was weakly solved in 2007.
Some chess variants, like Maharajah and the Sepoys and Gardner’s Minichess, have also been solved or analyzed to a significant extent.
8. What are the implications of solving individual chess-like games?
Solving specific chess-like games provides insights into the game-theoretic value and complexity of these games.
However, as the board size increases, as seen in larger chess variants and infinite chess, the challenge of solving these games becomes considerably more difficult.
9. What is the significance of chess variants in the context of solving chess?
Chess variants offer alternative rules or setups that can change the game’s complexity.
Some variants are simpler than traditional chess and have been solved.
Studying these variants can provide insights into the broader challenge of solving the standard game of chess.
10. How do endgame tablebases contribute to our understanding of chess?
Endgame tablebases provide definitive answers on perfect play for specific endgame scenarios.
They have revealed complex positions and sequences that are beyond human or standard chess engine comprehension.
These tablebases have expanded our understanding of chess endgames and have uncovered fascinating theoretical chess endings.
The journey to solve chess is a testament to human curiosity and the relentless pursuit of knowledge.
While the game remains unsolved, the progress made offers fascinating insights into the game’s intricacies and the potential of computational power.
Whether or not chess will ever be completely solved remains a mystery, but the quest continues to inspire and challenge minds worldwide.