If you’ve ever played chess, you probably wondered about the possibility of a perfect game—to know every move and be able to choose the right move every single time, no matter how good your opponent is.
However, is this even possible? Can chess be solved?
In short, while chess can be solved theoretically by computers someday in the future, there’s no conceivable way for it to be solved at the moment.
In this post, we’re going to offer our take on the debate about the solvability of chess. More importantly, do we really want chess to be solved?
What Does It Mean to Solve Chess?
Solving chess, or any other game, for that matter, means knowing all the possible moves to achieve a win or a draw regardless of your opponent’s moves.
Solving chess is knowing the answer to every single play.
It can also mean that both players know all the possible moves and play them perfectly, which makes the outcome of the game predictable from the beginning.
Many games, like connect four, tic-tac-toe, and checkers, are already solved. Unlike chess, these games have only a set of limited possibilities, making them easier to crack.
On the other hand, chess is only partially solved, which means there are some positions in the game where all the following plays are predictable.
This way, a win, loss, or draw is inevitable with two players playing perfectly.
However, ever since the appearance of chess engines on the scene, the question of solving chess has become even more debatable—especially in 1997, when IBM’s Deep Blue won against world chess champion Garry Kasparov.
Some chess engines are currently able to win against human players. It doesn’t only defeat amateurs but even chess grandmasters. In addition, the existence of these chess engines has also helped with both learning chess and cheating.
All that said, what’s standing between us and fully solving chess?
Will Chess Ever Be Fully Solved?
The question of the possibility of solving chess is a loaded one because it’s currently impossible to solve chess fully. However, with the leaps in AI technology and quantum computers, we’re closer to solving chess than ever.
Why Is Chess Not Solvable?
Chess is one of the oldest and most popular games in the world, and it maintained its popularity because of its infinite complexity. Players dedicate their lives to study the tactics and strategies of the game, becoming chess grandmasters, and even then, these players aren’t unbeatable.
That said, no human nor computer in the world is capable of solving chess because it has an unfathomable number of moves and positions. To illustrate its magnitude, the entirety of chess moves is about 10^123 possible moves.
In comparison, checkers only have 5 x 10^20 moves, and it took about 19 years to solve every possible move.
Seeing these numbers on your screen wouldn’t have the same impact as knowing that atoms in the known universe are far fewer than possible chess moves.
For this reason, even if in theory, chess has a finite number of moves. These numbers are still too vast for our comprehension.
Knowing that, chess fans are intrigued by this endless pursuit. The seemingly impossible feat has drawn a lot of minds to work on computers that can one day solve complex problems like chess.
So far, chess is only partially solved and even this partial solution is merely a fracture of chess. These partially solved chess endgames consist only of the moves of 7 pieces or fewer on a chess board.
The chess endgames with 7 pieces or less aren’t only very minimal chess variables, but they’re also limited chess endgame possibilities. As such, even chess endgames aren’t anywhere near solved.
However, this didn’t dismay chess enthusiasts, and they’re still working on solving all endgames with 8 pieces or fewer.
Can AI Solve Chess?
Even with the most efficient computer, chess can’t be solved due to the sheer amount of time it would take a computer to process all variables.
To process all these moves and outcomes, computers will need far more than their life expectancy and anyone’s life expectancy, for that matter.
On the other hand, some believe that quantum computers would be able to solve similar problems in far less time because of their parallel operations. However, no evidence supports these assumptions.
In addition, AI doesn’t need to solve chess. Without solving chess, AI has become unbeatable in the game.
That’s because AI has become adept at playing against human players as it processes the player’s tactics and counters them with the right moves.
Given that, AI is highly adaptable to its human opponent, and it feels like it has already solved chess.
What Happens If Chess Is Solved?
Chess’s timelessness is dependable on having endless possibilities. For this reason, knowing the perfect moves to play chess might lessen interest in the game.
All chess enthusiasts are on a quest to play better games, but actually playing an inevitable perfect game is quite dull.
The most intriguing aspect of chess isn’t only the complexities of the game, but also the fallibility of the players.
Even if chess is solved one day, people will continue to play and learn chess through trial and error because it’s more worthwhile this way.
Our Final Verdict
The beauty of chess is in playing a different game every time. Can chess be solved? Maybe, but that won’t be the end of chess.
Theoretically, chess or any other game with a finite number of moves can be solved. However, the number of chess moves is unfathomable and can’t be all processed using the human brain or even the best of computers.
In addition, current chess AI doesn’t need to solve chess to excel against human opponents. Instead, it analyzes each game, adapts accordingly, and counters its opponent’s every move.
No matter what happens in the future regarding solving chess, chess will continue to be a popular game that gets discovered and rediscovered by newer generations.