07 Feb Chess Science – Understanding Chess as a Science
The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of chess.
–Benjamin Franklin, 1779
Science is the systematic study of a field through practical testing and observation.
Let’s look at the history and development of Chess, the understanding of Chess, the work by the masters of the past, and key figures in the evolution of chess thinking. We can see that each generation has used the past’s chess teachings and added their new ideas.
One look at the chess legends like Morphy, Steinitz, Reti, and Nimzowitsch, who promoted hyper modernism, only to be challenged by Russian dynamism of the 1950s to the present time, Chess is evolving at a breakneck pace through today. Another interesting point to note is the supercomputer programs, which are human creations but can challenge human minds with calculations, analysis, and evaluation.
Chess stakes its claim as a definitive science!
Chess Science : Or should we call it “Chessology?”
Chess is not just a simple board game. It is a complex system where various analytical methods, primarily mathematical/statistical, are used to understand pieces’ behavior on the board.
Not just scientific thinking, Chess is also about statistics, databases, representations, flowcharts, artificial intelligence, and many more, which could be used in significant, real-world, and non-game applications.
The World War II code breaker that helped Allies win the war over Germans was developed by chess masterminds. Those who say that just sitting and playing games in a chess club is only an ego boosting, non-productive activity, however, need to realize that the effects of playing Chess on the human mind may not be quantifiable in the beginning.
Still, they do add up in the end.
Read : Five Reasons Why Your Child Should Learn Chess
Science continuously produces new knowledge, and Chess does too!
There are several arguments that Chess is neither art, Science nor even a sport. Those who are relegating it to “just a board game” need to understand that Chess is as much an abstract science as any other form. With millions of combinations at every step, one can not proceed in Chess without proposing hypotheses and testing them by observation or experiment.
Wikipedia defines Science as:
“Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”
Chess players regularly deal with new knowledge at all times. Chess moves are classified as “theories,” These theories are framed using the scientific method of making predictions, conducting experiments to test hypotheses, and arriving at a conclusion.
Strong chess players behave like good scientists!
The secret behind thinking like a grandmaster is to try to knock down the well-established theory rather than finding ways to support it – precisely as scientists are supposed to do.
Grandmasters continuously think about their opponents and tend to falsify their own hypotheses. Chess players mentally map out the future consequences of up to 8 possible moves ahead before deciding which move to make.
This hypothesis testing process, called falsification by legendary philosopher Karl Popper is the best way of how, like Science, Chess constantly questions and refines itself. Falsification as a tool for testing hypotheses is often held up as a principle that separates scientific and non-scientific thinking, and the best way to test a hypothesis.
Using Chess to explain modern Science
Considered to be one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, noted American theoretical physicist, Nobel laureate (for Physics in 1965), Richard Feynman once said, “discovering the laws of physics is like trying to learn the laws of chess merely by observing chess games.”
On understanding physics and laws of nature, he says:
“One way that’s kind of a fun analogy to try to get some idea of what we’re doing here to try to understand nature is to imagine that the gods are playing some great game like Chess.
Let’s say a chess game.
And you don’t know the rules of the game, but you’re allowed to look at the board from time to time, in a little corner, perhaps. And from these observations, you try to figure out what the rules are of the game, what [are] the rules of the pieces moving.”
You might discover after a bit, for example, that when there’s only one bishop around on the board, that the bishop maintains its color. Later on, you might discover the law for the bishop is that it moves on a diagonal, which would explain the law that you understood before, that it maintains its color. And that would be analogous we discover one law and later find a deeper understanding of it.
Ah, then things can happen–everything’s going well, you’ve got all the laws, it looks very good–and then all of a sudden, some strange phenomenon occurs in some corner, so you begin to investigate that, to look for it.
It’s castling–something you didn’t expect.
We’re always, by the way, is a fundamental physics, always trying to investigate those things in which we don’t understand the conclusions. We’re not trying to all the time check our conclusions; after we’ve checked them enough, they’re okay. The thing that doesn’t fit is the thing that’s most interesting–the part that doesn’t go according to what you’d expect.
Also, we can have revolutions in physics. After you’ve noticed that the bishops maintain their color and that they go along on the diagonals and so on, for such a long time, and everybody knows that that’s true; then you suddenly discover one day in some chess game that the bishop doesn’t maintain its color, it changes its color. Only later do you discover the new possibility that the bishop is captured and that a pawn went all the way down to the queen’s end to produce a new bishop. That could happen, but you didn’t know it.
And so, it’s very analogous to the way our laws are. They sometimes look positive, they keep on working, and all of a sudden, some little gimmick shows that they’re wrong–and then we have to investigate the conditions under which this bishop changed color… happened… and so on… And gradually we learn the new rule that explains it more deeply.
Unlike the chess game, though… In the case of the chess game, the rules become more complicated as you go along, but in the physics when you discover new things, it becomes simpler. It appears on the whole to be more complicated, because we learn about a greater experience; that is, we learn about more particles and new things, and so the laws look complicated again. But if you realize that all of the time, what’s kind of wonderful is that as we expand our experience into wilder and wilder regions of experience, every once in a while, we have these integrations in which everything is pulled together in a unification, which it turns out to be simpler than it looked before.”
One closer look at any chess player, and you can see all the makings of a scientist- restless intellect, raging curiosity, and a refusal to take any idea, theory, or principle for granted.
What do you think? Is chess a science?
Share with us in comments!
Bulbul, a Finance professional-turned-content writer, is a content and digital marketing consultant. She is an avid follower of the game of chess, she has developed a life-long affinity towards the game because of its simplicity and uniqueness. In her free time, she loves to read, create graphics, and do Yoga.