First-move advantage in chess

First-move advantage in chess

The first-move advantage in chess refers to the inherent advantage of the player (called White) who makes the first move in chess. Chess players and theorists generally agree that White begins the game with some advantage. Statistics compiled since 1851 support this view, showing that White consistently wins slightly more often than Black, usually scoring between 53 and 56 percent. White's winning percentage [White's overall winning percentage is calculated by taking the percentage of games won by White plus half the percentage of drawn games. Thus, if out of 100 games White wins 40, draws 32, and loses 28, White's total winning percentage is 40 plus half of 32, i.e. 56 percent.] is about the same for tournament games between humans and games between computers. However, White's advantage is less in rapid games and in games between weaker players. Chess players and theoreticians have debated whether, given perfect play by both sides, the game should end in a win for White or a draw. Since at least 1889, when World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz addressed the issue, the overwhelming consensus has been that a game of chess should end in a draw with best play. However, a few notable players have argued that White's advantage may be sufficient to win: Weaver Adams and Vsevolod Rauzer claimed that White is winning after the first move 1.e4, while Hans Berliner argued that 1.d4 may win for White. It is possible that computers will eventually resolve the debate by determining the correct outcome of a perfectly played game of chess.

Some players, including World Champions José Raúl Capablanca, Emanuel Lasker, and Bobby Fischer, have expressed fears of a "draw death" as chess becomes more deeply analyzed. To alleviate this danger, Capablanca and Fischer both proposed chess variants to renew interest in the game, while Lasker suggested changing how draws and stalemate are scored.

Since 1988, chess theorists have challenged previously well-established views about White's advantage. Grandmaster (GM) András Adorján wrote a series of successful books on the theme that "Black is OK!", arguing that the general perception that White has an advantage is founded more in psychology than reality. GM Mihai Suba and others contend that sometimes White's initiative disappears as the game progresses, for no apparent reason. The prevalent style of play for Black today is to seek dynamic, unbalanced positions with active counterplay, rather than merely trying to equalize. Modern writers also argue that Black has certain countervailing advantages. The consensus that White should try to win can be a psychological burden for the White player, who sometimes loses by trying too hard to win. Moreover, according to game theory, playing second may be advantageous because White has to reveal his hand first. Some openings are thus considered good for Black but less so for White, because White's extra tempo allows Black to adjust in advance to the opponent's plans. Some symmetrical openings (i.e. those where both players make the same moves) can also lead to situations where moving first is a disadvantage, either for psychological or objective reasons.

Winning percentages

The opening of the following game between two world-class players, another Symmetrical English, took a similar course:

Lajos Portisch-Mikhail Tal, Candidates Match 1965: 1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.O-O O-O 7.d3 a6 8.a3 Rb8 9.Rb1 b5 10.cxb5 axb5 11.b4 cxb4 12.axb4 d6 13.Bd2 Bd7 Once again, White is on move in a symmetrical position, but it is not obvious what he can do with his first-move initiative. [As early as 1883, James Mason wrote in annotating his game against Noa from the London 1883 tournament, an Exchange French, "Here the positions are exactly similar, and, as frequently happens, the player having the move finds himself at a loss what to do with it." cite book
author=J.I. Minchin (editor)
title=Games Played in the London International Chess Tournament 1883
publisher=British Chess Magazine
year=1973 (reprint)
pages=p. 224
id=SBN 90084608-9
See cite web
url=http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1001852
title=James Mason vs Josef Noa, London 1883
publisher=ChessGames.com
accessdate=2008-07-18
] Soltis writes, "It's ridiculous to think Black's position is better. But Mikhail Tal said it is easier to play. By moving second he gets to see White's move and then decide whether to match it." 13.Qc1 Here, Soltis writes that Black could maintain equality by keeping the symmetry: 13...Qc8 14.Bh6 Bh3. Instead, he plays to prove that White's queen is misplaced. 13...Rc8! 14.Bh6 Nd4! Threatening 15...Nxe2+. 15.Nxd4 Bxh6 16.Qxh6 Rxc3 17.Qd2 Qc7 18.Rfc1 Rc8 Although the pawn structure is still symmetrical, Black's control of the c-file gives him the advantage. Black ultimately reached an endgame two pawns up, but White managed to hold a draw in 83 moves. [cite web
url=http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1113167
title=Portisch-Tal, Candidates Match 1965
publisher=ChessGames.com
accessdate=2008-06-27
]

Tal himself lost a famous game as White from a symmetrical position in Tal-Beliavsky, USSR Championship 1974, an important game that allowed Beliavsky to tie for first with Tal. [cite web
url=http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1140195
title=Tal-Beliavsky, USSR Championship 1974
publisher=ChessGames.com
accessdate=2008-06-27
] [cite book
author=Belyavsky, A.
title=Uncompromising Chess
publisher=Cadogan Chess
year=1998
pages=pp. 16–19
id=ISBN 1-85744-205-9
] [cite book
author=Cafferty, B. and Taimanov, M.
title=The Soviet Championships
publisher=Cadogan Books
year=1998
pages=pp. 164–66
id=ISBN 1-85744-201-6
]

olving chess

Computers may someday be able to determine the outcome of a perfectly played game of chess. Information theorist Claude Shannon wrote as an aside in his influential 1950 paper "Programming a Computer for Playing Chess": [cite web
author=Shannon, C.
year=1950
title=Programming a Computer for Playing Chess
url=http://archive.computerhistory.org/projects/chess/related_materials/text/2-0%20and%202-1.Programming_a_computer_for_playing_chess.shannon/2-0%20and%202-1.Programming_a_computer_for_playing_chess.shannon.062303002.pdf
format=PDF
accessdate=2008-06-27
] [Shannon, C., "Programming a Computer for Playing Chess", "Philosophical Magazine", Ser. 7, Vol. 41, No. 314 (March 1950).]

:With chess it is possible, in principle, to play a perfect game or construct a machine to do so as follows: One considers in a given position all possible moves, then all moves for the opponent, etc., to the end of the game (in each variation). The end must occur, by the rules of the games after a finite number of moves (remembering the 50 move drawing rule). Each of these variations ends in win, loss or draw. By working backward from the end one can determine whether there is a forced win, the position is a draw or is lost. It is easy to show, however, even with the high computing speed available in electronic calculators this computation is impractical. In typical chess positions there will be of the order of 30 legal moves. The number holds fairly constant until the game is nearly finished as shown ... by De Groot, who averaged the number of legal moves in a large number of master games. Thus a move for White and then one for Black gives about 103 possibilities. A typical game lasts about 40 moves to resignation of one party. This is conservative for our calculation since the machine would calculate out to checkmate, not resignation. However, even at this figure there will be 10120 variations to be calculated from the initial position. A machine operating at the rate of one variation per micro-second would require over 1090 years to calculate the first move!

It is thus theoretically possible to "solve" chess, determining with certainty whether a perfectly played game should end in a win for White, a draw, or even a win for Black. This has been done to a limited degree by endgame tablebases, which have determined perfect play in a number of endgames, including all non-trivial endgames with no more than six pieces or pawns (including the two kings).cite web
author=J. Hurd
coauthors=G. McC. Haworth
title=Chess Endgame Data Assurance
publisher=Cambridge University
url=http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~jeh1004/research/papers/ceda.pdf
format=PDF
accessdate=2008-06-27
] It is probable that seven-piece endgames will be solved by the end of 2015. According to Rowson, "in principle it should be possible for a machine to ... develop 32-piece tablebases. This may take decades or even centuries, but unless runaway global warming or nuclear war gets in the way, I think it will eventually happen." [Rowson 2005, pp. 205–06.]

However, Hans-Joachim Bremermann, a professor of mathematics and biophysics at the University of California at Berkeley, argued in a 1965 paper that the "speed, memory, and processing capacity of any possible future computer equipment are limited by certain physical barriers: the "light barrier", the "quantum barrier", and the "thermodynamical barrier". These limitations imply, for example, that no computer, however constructed, will ever be able to examine the entire tree of possible move sequences of the game of chess." Nonetheless, Bremermann did not foreclose the possibility that a computer would someday be able to solve chess. He wrote, "In order to have a computer play a perfect or nearly perfect game [of chess] it will be necessary either to analyze the game completely ... or to analyze the game in an approximate way and combine this with a limited amount of tree searching. ... A theoretical understanding of such heuristic programming, however, is still very much wanting." [cite web
author=H.J. Bremermann
authorlink=Hans-Joachim Bremermann | title=Quantum Noise and Information
publisher=Proc. 5th Berkeley Symp. Math. Statistics and Probability
url=http://www.aeiveos.com/~bradbury/Authors/Computing/Bremermann-HJ/QNaI.html
year=1965
archiveurl=http://web.archive.org/web/20010527190358/http://www.aeiveos.com/~bradbury/Authors/Computing/Bremermann-HJ/QNaI.html
archivedate=2001-05-27
]

Notes

References

*cite book
author=Aagaard, Jacob
title=Excelling at Technical Chess
publisher=Gloucester Publishers
year=2004
id=ISBN 1-85744-364-0

*cite book
author=Adams, Weaver W.
title=White to Play and Win
publisher=David McKay
year=1939
id=ISBN 978-0-923891-83-1 (2007 Ishi Press edition)

*cite book
author=Adorján, András
title=Black is OK!
publisher=Batsford
year=1988
id=ISBN 0-7134-5790-2

*cite book
author=Adorján, András
title=Black is O.K. in Rare Openings
publisher=CAISSA Ltd
year=1998

*cite book
author=Adorján, András
title=Black is Still OK!
publisher=Batsford
year=2004
id=ISBN 978-0713488708

*cite book
author=Adorján, András
title=Black is OK Forever!
publisher=Batsford
year=2005
id=ISBN 978-0713489422

*cite book
author=Berliner, Hans
title=The System: A World Champion's Approach to Chess
publisher=Gambit Publications
year=1999
id=ISBN 1-901-983-10-2

*cite book
author=Chernev, Irving
title=1000 Best Short Games of Chess
publisher=Fireside; Rei Sub edition
year=1955
id=ISBN 978-0671538019

*cite book
author=de Firmian, Nick
title=Modern Chess Openings (15th edition)
publisher=McKay Chess Library
year=2008
id=ISBN 978-0-8129-3682-7

*cite book
author=Donaldson, John and Tangborn, Eric
title=The Unknown Bobby Fischer
publisher=International Chess Enterprises
year=1999
id=ISBN 978-1879479852

*cite book
author=Evans, Larry
title=Chess Catechism
publisher=Simon and Schuster
year=1970
id=ISBN 978-0671215316

*cite book
author=Georgiev, Kiril and Kolev, Atanas
title=The Sharpest Sicilian
publisher=Simolini 94
year=2007
id=ISBN 978-954-8782-56-2

*cite book
author=Hooper, David and Whyld, Kenneth
title=The Oxford Companion to Chess
publisher=Oxford University Press
year=1992 (2nd edition)
id=ISBN 0-19-866164-9

*cite book
author=Kaufman, Larry
title=The Chess Advantage in Black and White
publisher=David McKay
year=2004
id=ISBN 0-8129-3571-3

*cite book
author=Rowson, Jonathan
title=Chess for Zebras: Thinking Differently About Black and White
publisher=Gambit Publications
year=2005
id=ISBN 1-901983-85-4

*cite book
author=Saidy, Anthony
title=The Battle of Chess Ideas
publisher=RHM Press
year=1975
id=ISBN 0-89058-018-9

*cite book
author=Saidy, Anthony and Lessing, Norman
title=The World of Chess
publisher=Random House
year=1974
id=ISBN 0-394-48777-X

*cite book
author=Suba, Mihai
title=Dynamic Chess Strategy
publisher=Pergamon Chess
year=1991
id=ISBN 0-08-037141-8

*cite book
author=Watson, John
title=Play the French
publisher=Pergamon Press
year=1986
id=ISBN 0-08-026929-X

*cite book
author=Watson, John
title=Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy: Advances since Nimzowitsch
publisher=Gambit Publications
year=1998
id=ISBN 1-901983-07-2

*cite book
author=Watson, John
title=Mastering the Chess Openings, Volume 1
publisher=Gambit Publications
year=2006
id=ISBN 978-1-904600-60-2


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