From Chess to Infinity!

Chess is a complex game, and so is the mathematics surrounding it. The number of possible chess moves is for all practical purposes infinite. It is a finite number – but incredibly long.

The number of the total possibility of all the possible chess moves there are is known as the ‘Shannon number’. Named after mathematician Claude Shannon, the number is 10 to the power of 120. Shannon developed his mathematical lower number, in a paper called “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess” to show just how impractical it was to try to instruct computers to solve chess via brute force methods (which work through every single possible move).chess-game

A simpler way to understand how ridiculously huge the number of possible moves is is to break it down move-by-move. After white’s first move, there are 16 possible moves. Thereafter, there are 400 possible moves. Following this, by only white’s second move, there are 5,362 possible moves. As you can see the number grows exponentially. After the fourth move, there are 71,852 possible moves.

Say that every person on earth paired up together and played a chess game every single day and played a different game to their previous ones – in order to play all sensible logical games it would still take many trillions of years, as with so many possible moves, one game could theoretically take infinitely long to play.

Many chess games have been recorded all the way from hundreds of years ago to the present. The longest game that has been recorded ended in a draw and was 296 moves long.

Some of these moves would be game-wasting time – one player could win in a single move but would proceed to move their bunch of pieces for tens or hundreds of moves still. In chess, something called a ’50 move rule’ is sometimes used. According to this, if both parties have exceeded 50 moves and no one is in checkmate then the game is drawn.

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