According to Grandmaster Larry Christiansen, chess is more than a strategy game — it’s a “mental war” involving sharp mental faculties and efficient cognitive processing.
Christiansen gave a simultaneous exhibition at a Cornell Chess Club event on March 30th. At a simultaneous exhibition a highly ranked chess player plays multiple games at the same time with a number of different players. In this event, Christiansen faced more than 20 opponents without suffering a single loss. Prior to the exhibition, Christiansen shared a few secrets of the trade with other avid chess players.
Also present at the event were former Chess Club members Rob Weinberg ’75 and Frank Niro ’74. The pair explained how chess increases mental acuity and improves logical thinking. Prof. Shimon Edelman, psychology, who was not at the event, explained a connection between chess and cognitive science. Chess benefits the individual because it involves decision-making and forethought he said. Edelman related chess to the various computational aspects of cognitive science.
“In chess it all boils down to finding the best move, which is constrained by the rules of the game,” he said. According to Edelman, there are many logical faculties necessary in a game of chess. A game of chess begins with 20 possible moves and the number of moves increases significantly as the game progresses. The vast number of possible moves are comparable to the branches of a tree, Edelman said.
“The tree is rooted in the initial situation of 20 possible moves. Once the white piece makes its move, the number of possible moves is likewise affected. Each possible move is represented by a branch of the tree. You have to reason through all possible combinations of your moves and your opponent’s moves in order to get to the leaves of the tree, that is, the final outcome: a win or a loss,” Edelman said.
He said it is impractical to find every possible combination of moves at one particular point in the game because the number is so great. Skilled chess players implement the most successful plays by assessing the efficacy of each move in relation to the position of the other pieces at that particular moment. Players implement these series of moves through the use of short-cuts which are the same as how computers use shortcuts Edelman said.
“Thinking of and executing the move boils down to computing parts of this tree-structured space of possibilities, which in its entirety is too large to compute, and searching through it for optimal moves.”
In addition to the cognitive science aspects of chess there are computer science aspects of the strategy game as well. Computing may be at the foundation of chess in the modern world.
In 1996, IBM supercomputer Deep Blue and World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov played a six-game series of chess matches. Although Kasparov defeated Deep Blue with three out of four wins in the match, Deep Blue’s one victory marked the first time a machine won a chess game against a world chess champion. A year later, Deep Blue and Kasparov had a rematch where the machine had an overall victory over the world champion.
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