Solving Chess – A Challenge that Seems Insurmountable


Computer robot playing chess

One of the most searched questions online is the probability of chess being solved, basically if it came to a point that the result is already determined before the game even started. A game being saved means that if both sides play perfectly then it would lead to a predictable result, it doesn’t matter if it is a win or draw.

Some people mistake it for the silver bullet that will lead to a predictable result by following a simple strategy, this is not what it means to solve chess. In this article we will be talking about the real issue, if it can ever be solved and some other information about it, keep on reading if you are interested.

Can elite super grandmasters solve chess?

As we have seen from youtube exhibitions including the likes of magnus carlsen, super grandmasters can display superior brain processing that a lot of people think is impossible, an example is when he defeated 3 players at the same time blindfolded. This does not only apply to magnus carlsen as there are many others in his list of colleagues that can display such superior knowledge as well, this might lead some to think that they can solve chess already.

This is unfortunately not true, even the best players in the world right now do not have the ability to solve chess since it is that complicated. The potential amount of games from one is so much that there is not a word for it, if you look it up online it will display some sort of exponentiation.

The sheer amount of potential chess games cannot be accounted for by a simple brain even if they are from super grandmasters, we are not made to calculate that many lines. Geniuses known as super grandmasters are still humans no matter how alien they might look, they have other things to store in their brain other than the technical aspects of chess.

Super grandmasters no matter how genius they appear are still far in solving chess theoretically, otherwise all elite tournaments will be close already. This is the ironic thing about it, the only reason why super grandmasters exist in the first place is because chess is not solved yet.

How close are computers to solving chess?

For people who are new to chess you might not be aware that computers have overtaken human competition far in the past, now supercomputers are treated as the gods of chess. If you take the opinion of a chess computer and a profound super grandmaster most people would respect the opinion of the computer more, this is how it is.

Which is why in solving chess it is important to understand what the supercomputers have figured out so far, they are stronger so they are more capable of solving the game. They are known to perform “brute force calculations” where they calculate millions of lines in the matter of minutes, this is how advanced they are.

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If humans cannot do it then maybe we can turn to supercomputers who can do brute force calculation to win their games, with their computing power solving chess is much closer to reality. However if we are to look at the actual state of things we are far from with supercomputers either, chess is just very complicated.

Even solving a million lines per minute is not enough, you would have to run a supercomputer for years in order to truly have a shot at solving chess. And even if the supercomputer does solve it wouldn’t really solve the game if only the computer can do it, it should be repeatable enough to be considered truly solved.

Are some openings in chess solved?

This is the problem with solving chess as a question, most people imagine a silver bullet that one can take similar to a “shortcut” by following a specific set of moves. The problem lies with a pure complication of chess since there are so many pieces with different sets of moves, it is not like checkers that can be easily calculated.

This is why some people propose that instead of solving chess as a whole it might be better to only solve a specific line in the opening, this way the amount of calculation is going to be lower. There wouldn’t be as many potential games to be calculated since we are only talking about specific variations, not the entirety of chess.

Some might think that even if we are not close in solving chess entirely then perhaps we are close to solving certain openings, early lines where there are not as many choices. Unfortunately this is not true currently, there is no opening as of yet that is “truly solved”, some might be less optimal but not completely solved.

This is because there are many deviations that one can take in order to avoid the computed line which is considered solved, even an unpredictable move can throw off the whole calculation. It is not really considered solved if it can be prevented right? Even if an opening is solved there are many deviations that people can take to avoid it.

Are some endgames in chess solved?

Now if we can’t look at the opening then perhaps we can look at the other side of the coin, the endgame, this is because it is the place where there are not a lot of pieces left. And if you think about it many endgames are already considered solved, like the king vs. king and rook, king vs. king queen, etc., in these endgames one is already the winner.

In the openings there are a lot of pieces left there that can instill many possible outcomes, however in the end game there are not a lot of pieces left that need to be considered. Since a lot of endgames are already solved then it must mean that the endgame itself is close to being solved, however this is not the case since the matters are complicated.

The answer would be the same as others unfortunately, though some endgames are solved if it doesn’t really make the endgame itself easily solved, it depends on the position. There are in fact many other endgames that are impossible to be solved theoretically (king vs. king + knight + knight for example), some will never be solved due to the existence of stalemate.

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Remember in the endgame in order to win you not only have to deliver the checkmate but also avoid any stalemate that may spoil the position, this means that some endgames will not be solved since it will only lead to a stalemate. In other words, even when we have already solved some aspects of the endgame some parts of it will never be solved, unless we change the rule then this answer will stay true.

How do you solve a chess game?

Upon reading this article you might feel that there is no way to solve chess at all, so it is important to visualize if it is even possible in the first place. Actually it is possible but there will be a lot of restrictions in order to really solve chess, the game as it is right now is just too complicated.

Certain openings might be solved if a player goes for the very best moves (set of moves that are predictable), but this is unlikely to “truly solve” the game. All it takes is one unpredictable move to break a chain that would lead to a loss, by definition this is not really a solved game.

If we are to introduce a rule that minimizes the total amount of potential moves then solving it might become a reality, strong chess engines who can do brute force calculations can already work on something like this. The only problem is the total number of moves that are to be considered in every play, if we are to somehow remove that then solving chess would be a possibility.

The problem in doing something like this is you can never truly call it solving chess, it is like inventing a new game that is similar to chess. If people enforce ridiculous amount of restrictions on the moves then it will become or game that is somewhat different from chess therefore not to be considered as truly “solving chess”

Are there other strategic games like chess that have been solved?

When it comes to strategic games there are many other strategic games that have been solved that are similar to chess, one and in fact that is almost played on the chessboard itself. Of course I am talking about checkers, a game that is so similar to chess that you can literally play the thing without having a checkerboard (and just a chessboard).

There are many strategic games that have been solved such as checkers and tic tac toe (with checkers being very similar to chess), but this does not really translate to chess being solved in the near future. There are many differences between checkers / tic tac toe and chess, and that is complexity, chess is just more complex as a game.

If we’re talking about checkers specifically there are many elements about it that make it much simpler, the first reason is there are fewer pieces to be had in the first place (half fewer than chess). This makes the calculation much easier and the brute force method can work wonders unlike with chess, with half the fewer pieces it will be easier to solve.

Second is the individual pieces do not have unique moves that adds to the complication, each piece in checkers can only move one square at a time (until promotion). Lastly the moves in checkers are quite predictable, there is no piece like the knight which can jump over a blockade, with the combination of these factors it makes it different from chess.

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Can chess ever be solved?

Nobody can tell if chess is to be solved one day, there are so many things about it that are complicated and far from our current technology. If it were to be solved in the future it is likely going to be in the next decades, or even centuries, sometime far in the future.

As of today any opinion that you can get on the internet is mostly opinionated such as this one, our advancement in this area is not as well understood. On one hand our advance in technology is so phenomenally fast, and on the other that we might be reaching our limit (diminishing returns), but chess probably won’t be solved in the near future.

We might be able to realize a breakthrough in the near future which can totally shift our current understanding, just like how the internet came and changed everything about the world. Or it could be the opposite, that we have discovered so much that there aren’t many discoveries left to be had, either way the probability suggests that it will be very far in the future.

Is chess being solved good for chess?

This is another phenomena that we have to consider, is solving chess actually good for the game? I mean there is a reason why checkers right now is a dying / dead game. One of the appeals of chess is that it has that complication that can never be solved, this means that mastering this area won’t make it redundant in the future.

Imagine spending countless years of your life mastering chess and becoming the renowned world champion, only for some computer to solve chess the next day and kill the field entirely. Chess tournaments rely on the fact that chess is still not solved, if it were then there would be no point in competing professionally, since it is solved it would not be a display of skill.

In order to visualize the effect of chess being solved we must look at its cousin, checkers which have been solved to always lead to a draw once both sides play correctly. Checkers is a dead game in the competitive level, this is likely what will happen to chess if it is solved, in this case chess being solved is not that good.

There are many beginners who desire the solving of chess in order to attain a shortcut, something that can be used to keep up with people who have been playing for years. What we do know is that the game being solved is bad for the community, it will kill the competitive spirit and make chess a boring game for everyone.

Chess is likely not to be solved in the near future since it is so complicated, and this is probably for the better since solving the game would not bring any good anyway. So if you are waiting for chess to be solved then do not bother, it won’t happen in the future so you should just learn manually which is the best method, thank you for reading.

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