Chess Vs. Other Board Games

Occasionally I see comparisons between chess and other games such as Go, Shogi and Checkers. I thought it worth saying a few words about this so that we know that chess improvement is a worthwhile goal. And I should also say that although my speciality is chess I have deep respect for these other games and those who play them, not to mention the benefits I think they all offer to young and old alike.

Some people say that chess is not as deep as Go, Shogi, or 10×10 Checkers because computers are beating the best human players. But this is based on a lack of understanding of simple mathematical possibilities.

Unlike these other games chess has a very settled form (8×8 board, powerful pieces) but in the last few years it has been discovered that this enables brute force computing to work quite well. All that is needed to make this work less well is a larger board and/or pieces with lesser power to extend the duration of the game, for example we could move up to 10×10, have an extra pair of knights and take the double square pawn advance away. And we are seeing people trying different forms, for example chess 960 is being played quite a bit whilst a variant with a 16×16 board is being used at FICGS.

Others have made quite the opposite argument, that chess is too complex and individual in its piece movements to teach people much. Yet this seems to be refuted by the fact that many highly successful people have been serious chess players at some time in their lives (a good current example is the Harvard Economics Professor GM Ken Rogoff). There have also been studies showing the value of chess for the young, which is why I made a serious attempt to teach my son how to play. Admittedly he is a sample of one but 14 months on his school results have shown a massive improvement along with his self confidence. I think chess is largely to thank for this.

As is so often the case people just need to know what they’re talking about. As players advance in their chess training there is a world of insight to be gained on everything from military strategy (my latest Chess Cafe column will be quoting Sun Tzu) to risk control in financial markets. As far as I know there is no equivalent of Steinitz’s theory in other games or indeed in any other art form.

So let’s hear it for our beautiful game and perhaps not be too squeamish about adapting it so that computers have a harder time.