Thursday, December 23, 2010

Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!

To me, chess is sometimes a sad thing. There are a million strategy books out there that discuss different moves you can make in different situations. There are debates about whether a move is good or bad. They say Mikhail Tal and Paul Morphy were "swashbucklers". Mikhail Botvinnik was an "analytical" player.

But it's all made up. Chess is a game of perfect information. In any situation there is exactly one move for either side that is better than any other. Assuming perfect play by one's opponent, there is always exactly one move that assures the best possible outcome. The only exception to this is a situation where there are two moves that each assure the same result- for instance, if Qf4 and Qf5 both checkmate your opponent, they are equally good moves.

There are too many variables for a human mind to keep track of and too many lines for us to follow. The best chess players are the best in part because they can keep track of more lines in their heads. When you make a bad move, they know why it's bad because they know more of the ramifications than you do. But no human can follow it all. Already the computers are better than we are, though; someday, in the not too distant future, they will map out all the correct chess moves in any situation. On that day, in a sense, the game will be over.

The whole nature of the game is predicated on the shortcomings of the human brain.

1 comment:

  1. This is why I'm a "bad" chess player. I'm okay at tactics, but terrible at strategizing because I can't map out more than a couple of moves at a time in my head. Plus, I am utterly incapable of seeing another person's moves and being able to understand why they're making them.

    Have you ever played the card game Egyptian Ratscrew? It's a really fast-paced game where the object is to take all the cards, and I used to play with a guy who could memorize the sequence of cards and remember who had what when. No matter how good the rest of us were, he was always better, because his brain was on another level. It was maddening. That's kind of how I feel when I play chess with someone who's even a little bit better than me at keeping track of information.