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Subject: A fresh look at an old classic rss

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"L'état, c'est moi."
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The recent passing of Bobby Fischer has inspired some discussion on the geek and I felt it was time to put in a fresh review of this classic game.

"All I want to do, ever, is to play chess." Bobby Fischer, Harper's Magazine, 1962.

Theme

Chess is ostensibly a wargame, but it could not be called that in the modern sense of the word. It does simulate to some extent what would have been important in the era in which it was created, namely the nobility (king and queen), religion (bishops), and then the things that protected both - fortifications (rooks), cavalry (knights), and ultimately infantry (pawns).

The Basics

Chess is a two player game.
It takes about an hour to play a game.
For two "average" players.

Components

Chess is played on an 8x8 board of squares which alternate between light and dark. Traditional sets tend to use light and dark coloured wood. The board is always laid out so that a white square is in the bottom right from the perspective of either player.


Each player has: eight (8) pawns; two (2) each of rooks, knights, and bishops; and one (1) king and queen - a total of 16 pieces.

The pawns are placed on the second row and the other pieces are placed with rooks on either end, then knights, then bishops, and finally the king and queen. The king is always placed on his opposite colour, and the queen on her colour.

A sample view of the starting position:



Pawns can only move froward (toward the opponents back rank). For their initial move only, they can be moved two squares, but otherwise can only move one square. They can only capture opposing pieces diagonally ahead of them. Captured pieces are removed from the game.

Should the pawn make it to the opponents back rank, the owning player can "promote" the piece into any other piece of his choosing (except another king!) - while this is often a queen, it can also be a knight, bishop, or rook.

Another special rule applicable to pawns is that they can capture an enemy pawn "en passant". If your pawn is in the 5th row, relative to your back row, and your opponent moves one of his previously unmoved pawns to the 5th row adjacent to yours, you may capture it by moving diagonally to the square behind it as if it had only moved one square. This can only happen immediately after the initial 2-sqaure advance.

Rooks can move orthoganally as many squares as they like. They cannot move through friendly pieces. They may capture opposing pieces by moving into their space. Captured pieces are removed from the game.

Bishops can move diagonally as many squares as they like. They cannot move through friendly pieces. They may captures opposing pieces by moving into their space. Captured pieces are removed from the game.

Knights move by "jumping". The knight can jump over occupied squares (yours or your opponents') by travelling moves two squares horizontally and then one space vertically (or vice versa), making an "L" shape. In the middle of the board, a knight has eight squares to which it can theoretically move. Every time a knight moves, it changes square color. It captures enemy pieces by moving into their space. Captured pieces are removed from the game.

The queen is the most powerful piece on the board. It can move orthogonally or diagonally in all directions and captures pieces by moving into their square. Captured pieces are removed from the game.

The king can move one square in any direction, and can capture any enemy piece adjacent to him by moving into their square. Your king is not allowed to move adjacent to your opponents king at any time, nor to move into any square where he would be in check.

Rules

The objective of the game is to place the opponent's king in "checkmate", a position in which the king cannot move (or use another piece to block) without being able to avoid capture.

White moves first, and players alternate moving one piece at a time. The one the exception is a special king move known as castling, wherein the king moves two squares to his left or right and places the rook on his right or left, depending on which side he goes. In order to castle, neither the king nor the rook in question can have moved previously in the game AND none of the intervening squares can be "in check".

To place your opponent's king in threat of capture is known as placing the king "in check". To get out of check, your opponent can either move his king out of harm's way, place an a piece between the king and the threatening piece, or capture the threatening piece (with the king or another piece). Note that a knight can place a king in check regardless of intervening pieces, so the only way to escape a knight's check is to move or capture the knight.

If the king cannot escape the check by any means, then the king is said to be in checkmate, and the game is over.

Players may resign at any time.

It is also possible to draw - either because the opponent cannot move any piece save the king, who in turn cannot legally move to another square without being in check, or because neither player has sufficient pieces to place the opponent in checkmate.

Strategy

The number of books and articles on chess strategy are staggering. Chess has been mathematically solved and several computers can now play chess at the grandmaster level. However, chess is as much about reacting to your opponent as it is about the simple abstractions of the available moves on the board.

Summary

Chess is not for everyone, but for two players that are roughly at the same level of skill, chess is an excellent game if one is in the mood for an abstract.
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Steve R Bullock
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Wow... the way you describe this game makes me want to play it!

Oh wait- I DO play it! A lot!

Always glad to see a chess entry here on BGG- as Rodney Dangerfield used to say "It gets no respect!"

By the way- great description of the game! Better than many rules that come with sets that I have seen.
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leroy43 wrote:
Chess has been mathematically solved and several computers can now play chess at the grandmaster level.


I don't believe you are using the term "mathematically solved" in the usual sense. Yes, algorithms exist using a strategy of recursively evaluating positions on a game tree. But this does not mean that chess is solved.

However, I'm not a mathematician, so please weigh-in on this.
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Sexy Amy wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
Chess has been mathematically solved and several computers can now play chess at the grandmaster level.


I don't believe you are using the term "mathematically solved" in the usual sense. Yes, algorithms exist using a strategy of recursively evaluating positions on a game tree. But this does not mean that chess is solved.

However, I'm not a mathematician, so please weigh-in on this.


I believe you are correct that I've misused the term. It would be more clear to say that the game tree for chess, as large as it is, is no match for the processing power of computers anymore. The direct result of this being that the algorithms for computer chess can now "see" the game state and play optimally to win (or draw).

However, computer chess is a different kettle of fish from playing against other people.
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leroy43 wrote:
The direct result of this being that the algorithms for computer chess can now "see" the game state and play optimally to win (or draw).


Is this true? Most chess software can be beaten by Master-level players, no? And the real dedicated systems, like Deep Blue, I thought were still being beaten now and then by Grandmaster-level players.
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loquitur wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
The direct result of this being that the algorithms for computer chess can now "see" the game state and play optimally to win (or draw).


Is this true? Most chess software can be beaten by Master-level players, no? And the real dedicated systems, like Deep Blue, I thought were still being beaten now and then by Grandmaster-level players.



There's a great summary of the current state of computer chess on Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_chess

Beyond that, I don't know much since I'm not a computer chess guy.
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Nice rules summary.

leroy43 wrote:
Chess is not for everyone, but for two players that are roughly at the same level of skill, chess is an excellent game if one is in the mood for an abstract.


I think a lot of people unneccessarily restrict themselves to this "same level of skill" idea. But it's really not hard to handicap someone of greater skill by having them start without one or more of their units. You get more potential opponents that way and still have fun, tense games!
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JohnnyDollar wrote:
Nice rules summary.
I think a lot of people unneccessarily restrict themselves to this "same level of skill" idea. But it's really not hard to handicap someone of greater skill by having them start without one or more of their units. You get more potential opponents that way and still have fun, tense games!


There's no "official" way of handicapping chess, unlike say, Go, which does. This isn't to say it isn't done or can't be done, but it's much less common practice.
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loquitur wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
The direct result of this being that the algorithms for computer chess can now "see" the game state and play optimally to win (or draw).


Is this true? Most chess software can be beaten by Master-level players, no? And the real dedicated systems, like Deep Blue, I thought were still being beaten now and then by Grandmaster-level players.


No, it's not true. A computer being able to play optimally would imply that chess is solved, which it definitely is not. The endgame of chess has, in a sense, been solved. The search space has been completely explored and huge databases created for every state of the board with less than some small number of pieces. Once a game gets to this point, a computer utilizing these can play optimally. Up until then they will search the state space as deep as possible in the allotted time, but will not be able to see the entire search space or play strictly optimally (unless a checkmate is on the horizon, of course). The branching-factor (i.e. number of possible moves from any given position) is just too high.

P.S. My first post, hi everyone!
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leroy43 wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
Summary
Chess is not for everyone, but for two players that are roughly at the same level of skill, chess is an excellent game if one is in the mood for an abstract.
JohnnyDollar wrote:
Nice rules summary.
I think a lot of people unneccessarily restrict themselves to this "same level of skill" idea. But it's really not hard to handicap someone of greater skill by having them start without one or more of their units. You get more potential opponents that way and still have fun, tense games!


There's no "official" way of handicapping chess, unlike say, Go, which does. This isn't to say it isn't done or can't be done, but it's much less common practice.


Good point, there's no official way as per most rules instructions. Since the game is in public domain, it's an interesting question as to why this hasn't been established.

I guess it also depends on what you're looking to get out of the game (which is also a related issue to only playing others of similar skill level). If you just want a quick-and-dirty play of chess with a decent chance of winning, it's probably best to find an opponent of similar strength. But if you really want to improve your chess skills, the best way is find someone stronger (but not *too* much stronger) to play against.
 
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FWIW...there were no queens and bishops in the "era" when chess was invented. In fact, most of the pieces as we know them and how they move, are medieval changes to the original game, which was Persian and came to Europe more or less through Muslim contacts.

Just a historical note...Chess goes waaaayyyyy bak.
 
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Malacandra wrote:
FWIW...there were no queens and bishops in the "era" when chess was invented. In fact, most of the pieces as we know them and how they move, are medieval changes to the original game, which was Persian and came to Europe more or less through Muslim contacts.

Just a historical note...Chess goes waaaayyyyy bak.


I find all of this really fascinating! If anyone is interested in a historical perspective, I've just started reading a great book on it:

The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, by David Shenk.

So far it's very well-written and absorbing, and really anyone can enjoy it, as it doesn't assume the reader already knows how to play.
 
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Fischer is said to have rarely played standard Chess in the last few years of his life due to the fact that opening positions had been analyzed to the umpteenth degree. He advocated his "Fischer Chess" where the position of the back row pieces for each player are somehow chosen randomly each game. I can certainly see how this would throw a wrench in the monkey works so to speak and force people to come up with fresh new ideas from move #1 , rather than move # 21. The endless analysis would have to begin anew !
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Novel variations that (as you say) begin at move 21 are really only for the realm of grandmasters or perhaps international masters. For the rest of us chess players, most do no analysis and I may as well be in "new territory" in every game I play after the first 4 or 5 moves. Fischer chess holds no interest for me, and to the contrary, I actually like that there are opening variations that I'm a little familiar with.
 
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Interesting to me is that computer vs human chess changes some with metagame. Humans can adopt longer-term strategies vs computers, since computers currently have decision tree shorter than a full game. In addition, humans can study computer strategies (as they do leading up to matches against other humans) and adjust accordingly.

As a result, there was a brief moment in the mid 90s when humans regained some ground vs computers.

This is one of the reasons some argue chess is unsolvable, it has a subtle metagame whereby humans can adjust their play to best overcome the computational advantage of computers. In other words, computational chess has the weakness of being predictable, which can be exploited by a sufficiently skilled opponent.

The current level of computing power is such that these human advantages are not sufficient to overcome the computer advantages, and as a result the human vs computer matter is pretty much closed. However, the ideal computer strategy is not solved - because people try to build computer programs which contain these human advantages, the ability to predict play "style" of the other player, and adjust accordingly.
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