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The Contender
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Is Chess a game of Luck?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 3/21/2015 Category: Games
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 892 times Debate No: 72097
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
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I will be arguing why chess is a game of luck while my opponent must argue why chess is a game of skill that is to say a game whereby the outcome is determined mainly by skill rather than luck.

When I used to play Tron Evolution (xbox 360 game) I found that once I became familiar with the game having made ~10,000 virtual kills (the point where the game began to get boring) I could easily beat newbies. However what really surprised me was that I was just as good as Dark Angel - a player who had ~2 million virtual kills. He was basically 400 times more experienced! Yet I was able to beat him half of the time! This got me thinking that all competitive games i.e. human vs human games are determined by luck.

Many people say that chess is a game of pure skill, but I believe that people who say this do because they have won, and want to feel it was because they are better at playing. There are elements of luck in all games when players play against each other, but does skill determine the outcome of chess or does luck?

I wish to have a friendly debate and am eager to learn more about this

Any comments are welcome


Thanks for making the round!

Contention 1: The game you play

In your first round you stated that you have been playing this shooting game and even though someone had more points than you, leading you to believe he had more experience, you still beat them half of the time. However this is probably just an anomaly of the game itself. For instance, the game Ping Pong, where there are two which lines on each side hitting a white ball back an forth, is very simple. Because it is so simple it doesnt take long to get good at it, and once you get to a certain 'level of goodness' you really can't improve anymore because in order to get better you would have to start seeing the tinest detail which humans just cant react to. Or in other words, our ability curve stops growing so fast. The problem in your theory is that you are relating experience to ability, as if it were a direct relationship to each other, when in reality it is not. Imagine that on your first day in the game, you had to play against that guy, do you think you could have won even once? No because it ultimately requires skill, unlike gambling which is pure luck. In summary: Argument A is that you are mistaking the relationship between experience and ability and Argument B is proving that point by asking you if you could have won on your first day of playing the game, I ask because if it were a real game of luck, your experience wouldnt matter at all.

Contention 2: Chess

Now let's move on to chess itself. Chess is very much a skill based game, on your first game of chess 99.999% of the time you will lose if going against an experienced player, if it were a game of luck howere, like I said in contention 1, you would have an equal chance of winning despite your experience level.

In chess, there are only a set number of outcomes that can possibly happen, thus you must be more skilled than your opponent in trying to make the better more intelligent moves than him. Chess is 100% skill based, in fact scientists made a computer that played chess against the world champion chess player and the computer won, this is simply because the computer can map out every single possible move that the opponent can do and can thus prepare for every situation before the chess master can, thus proving that chess is purely a game of skill.
Debate Round No. 1


I would first like to thank my opponent for the opportunity to debate this topic.

If someone who has never played chess before and only read the "how to play manual" decides to play against an expert he would mostly probably lose hundreds of times in a row. Does this mean the expert won as a result of being skilful, or because the game was unfamiliar to him?

I do apologise for failing to say: "Dark Angel" experienced many more losses than myself (orders of magnitude more), I have forgotten the exact figures, as it has been such a long time since I played 'Tron Evolution', but I can tell you that "Dark Angel" was definitely more experienced than me because he had far more wins and losses than myself.

Winning and losing is how we gain an ability to do something well. In chess, a person does not have to play in order to be good at the game, a person can familiarize them self with the game by reading books about chess, not the "how to play" manual. If all players took this recommended step, players would have a similar level of what you refer to as skill and then have roughly 50/50 chance of winning, which would mean luck is more influential than skill and chess is a game of luck.

Skill or ability is usually achieved through succeeding and falling e.g. tightrope walking. Darts is a game of skill; someone can easily measure the amount of skill two players have when they play many rounds of darts. Chess is a turn taking game like darts BUT chess is much more like the computer game 'Tron Evolution'. This is because they are both interactive games whereby players must make decisions based entirely upon the decisions made by other players. Humans are well known to be unpredictable. Con may argue that in this case players require more skill when if anything players require more luck.

Connect four is a game which has been strongly solved, it is possible for the first player to force a win. However chess has only been partially solved [1]. Whether computation could ever solve chess remains an open question. Connect four is a game which will finish in a finite number of moves, but a game of chess could in theory be played forever. This leaves me to believe that two players who can play perfectly will have an equal chance of winning, but it should be noted however that humans will never play this well unless aided by computers.

Do you have any evidence to show that making optimal moves increases a human player's chance of winning?


[1] wikipedia


If we remove the component of flawed, human players from the equation and consider just the game of chess itself as it is spelled out by the rules, then chess is purely a game of skill with no room for chance. That is, it is in principle possible for there to be a perfect chess player that plays optimally against every possible move sequence by an opponent, and that perfect player would never falter due to chance or luck. Such perfect players already exist at the level of chess positions with only a handful of pieces: endgame tablebases consist of all the information necessary for perfect play in those positions, and if you play from such a position against an opponent with access to those tablebases, chance can play no role in stopping them from getting their deserved result.

However, the problem of computing a tablebase for the starting position of chess, with its 32 pieces, is far, far from tractable. So while optimal play does exist for all positions in chess, nobody knows for sure what optimal play is for the vast, vast majority of positions. Looked at in that light, when two humans (or even strong chess engines) play a game against one another, something that can reasonably be viewed as chance (for one side at least) can definitely play a role, but for what I have in mind at least, the root cause of any outcome is still skill (or its temporary absence).

Here's an example of what I mean. In the recent Zurich Chess Challenge, Nakamura was playing a fine game against Carlsen, to the point where he had an overwhelming, winning advantage. At that point, it could safely be said that Carlsen "deserved" to lose.

But Nakamura made a crucial mistake that let Carlsen off the hook, later followed by further poor play that even allowed Carlsen to win. If someone were to say, "Carlsen was lucky to win that day," I'd say there's truth to that. (Carlsen certainly deserves credit for defending in such a way that Nakamura could still go wrong, but even so, he was fortunate that Nakamura erred as he did.) But the luck from Carlsen's side originated from nothing more than a momentary lack of skill on Nakamura's part. Finding the right move was entirely within Nakamura's power, but he wasn't quite skillful enough to find it in that moment.

As in most human endeavors, there is some element of chance in the competitive results of chess games. But that luck for one side generally comes in the form of what kind of lack of skill one's opponent shows (and when).;

Debate Round No. 2


Your source - "wikipedia" is incorrect, I have found your argument for round 2 to be an exact copy from:

Anyway, I have now realised thanks to your explanation in round 1 that I was wrong in thinking earlier that winning about 50% of the time despite having a huge difference in experience/knowledge is evidence that Chess is a game of luck - after all two very good dart players may seem identical for the most part, yet that is a game of skill.

Unlike darts, chess is far more difficult, and more importantly it is impossible (at least in my view) to know if a player has won as a result of skill or luck, particularly in championships. This is because chess takes much longer for a player to make a move (it can take a day simply to remove "unlucky" mistakes, and to also think ahead to the best of your ability). Only long games can tell if a person truly won by skill, these are mentally tiring and it could take a lifetime of playing to know for sure, however during that time people's ability may increase or deteriorate. Also if you are competing in a championship and win more games than other players you may conclude you are more skilled, but if you add new players to the arena who have studied different moves which everyone else has studied you may no longer be the champion, even if you have more overall knowledge and thus deserve to win. Who you play is an important factor.

A lot of end game scenarios have been believed by expert chess players to be unwinnable and players agree the match is tied, but computers have proven that checkmate can be forced in 500 moves. Computers don't have the last say on who has won. Should computers say who has won before players know?

Considering the game itself without humans is nonsensical. If we have two computers/machines doing something perfectly then it no longer becomes a game, chess is a game because it is played by imperfect humans and there will never be perfect human chess players. Even though Humans are unpredictable and the rules are set, there are too many positions for a player to play optimally. Chess gives players an illusion of control; a player who takes many pieces may inadvertently give their opponent an unforeseeable advantage.


sorry about mistaking the cite but it summed my argument better than I could have and all of the points still stand.

Pro utterly fails to realize what a game of luck is, remember the resolution is Not 'does chess have Some luck in it'. It is whether it IS a game of luck or not. In a game of luck your skill level has nothing to do with how you do and if you win, a game of luck is litterally played and won by fate and chance Alone. The simple fact that there is strategy involved in the game proves that it is Not a game of luck, simple as that. The very fact that every single move in chess Can be mapped out and perfected as to reduce the amount of error and thus chance, to 0% proves that this is in no way a game of luck nor chance nor fate.

Pro went on last round about how whether or not computers can win and map the game out doesn't matter. This is simply an argument that pro has crafted in order reduce the debate to the limits of human imperfection thus giving him the ability to argue that this whole time he has actually been arguing about the limits of human forsight resulting in a conclusion of luck. To his possible dismay however this point is completely mute, not only has pro not given a reason to support the claim rendering it invalid but I can also easily show how this doesn't make sense. For starters the resolution says nothing about people, it is about The Game itself, chess. We are discussing a game, not the agent or actor playing the game and thus it matters not who or what is playing it. If a computer played Black Jack, it is still a game of luck.

Pro has launched a 'muddy the water campaign in this match so to speak. He has made points such as, computers still havent been able to calculate every more, stating verbatim: "Whether computation could ever solve chess remains an open question" what I found funny was that not only has pro contradicted himself by stating last round that "computers have proven that checkmate can be forced in 500 moves" but furthermore he has made the claim that chess "gives players the illusion of control". Again this is simply not true. Each peice in chess serves a restricted purpose and holds a specific function. Each can move a set distance and thus, if each party is actually playing each other, there is a finite number of moves that can be possibly be made. This being the case, it is up to each party to come to the route resulting in the least number of moves until the checkmate. This requires skill. Even if you mess up and make an 'unlucky' move, that is simply a lapse of skill and gives the other person the ability to Harness their own skill to come to the quickest check mate, so even still it is proven to be a game of Pure Skill. These points cannot be ignored, I have thuroughly explained and highlighted the reasons that chess is in litterally no way a game of luck nor chance and for these reasons the vote should undeniably go to pro.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by TheJuniorVarsityNovice 2 years ago
Posted by mostlogical 2 years ago
Voters please be aware: Con does say he is Pro in the final round when he really means he is Con.

In round one I defined a game of skill as being a game whereby the outcome is determined mainly by skill rather than luck, a game of luck is determined mainly by luck rather than skill. I am sorry if this was not made clear, a game of luck is not literally played and won by fate and chance Alone as Con says. I'd like voters to be aware of this before casting their vote.

Also, I do apologise if I appear contradicting. I am new to debating, when I said checkmate can be forced in endgame scenarios (typically 6 or 7 pieces left) in 500 moves, it was just an example. It can be forced in more or less moves.

I don't wish to make any new arguments on here, but to summarize there is no doubt skill is involved in chess, but in the top of the "ability curve" where experience/knowledge makes very little difference to the results, I argue that luck in the form of rules, who plays who etc can have a greater influence on the outcome than skill, and have argued that everyone should have pretty much the same level of skill if everyone is familiar with the game via reading before playing.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Con for having this fun debate, I have learned some new things, and hope you have also found this interesting.

I look forward to reading any comments, thanks
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