Given there are practically infinite number of chess games possible, does there exist a standard system of classifying or naming games simlar to how there are rules for naming a chemical compound uniquely? There are 10 pieces that can move initially, so I imagined there would be 10 families of games and each game's pgn would be the identity of the game and so on. But the ECO classification system is quite different than what I imagined. What I am really interested in is this-will a certain family of games would be more interesting than the other? Will certain family of games have less draws or wins with perfect play? Is there more zugzwang positions in a certain family?

3 Answers 3


Such a system doesn't exist exactly, but a few similar concepts do. There are many reasons, but the main reason is that it's not possible to classify chess games like this in any useful way.

Yes, you could classify them based on the first move -- but who cares? Only 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4 and 1.Nf3 are really important, and they often transpose into each other (1.d4 is followed by 2.Nf3 quite often, and 1.Nf3 is followed by 1.d4).

For a system like this to be useful, it needs to have some properties:

  • It should be based on the games of really strong players, after all they are the ones who care about this sort of thing
  • Some people have really amazing memories, but even they are quickly overwhelmed by chess. It has to be of a practical size
  • It has to help you find good moves at the board, as that is really the only thing that matters for chess players

And a whole chess game is quite long. Some parts of it can be categorized, others defy such attempts completely. So in chess it is positions that can sometimes be classified, not entire games.

I can think of three phases that can be treated like this:

  • The early opening. Theory can be worked out exactly, because the starting position is known. Related lines will have things in common but also important differences, and they mostly just need to be memorized. Opening names like in ECO are mostly so you can find in which book you need to look up your theory.

  • Most middlegames (not all) can be usefully classified based on the central pawn structure. That's the main thing most players will think of. In e.g. a position where one side has "the isolated queen's pawn" (a pawn on d4 and no pawns on the c- and e- files, after the opening, and the other side say a pawn on e6 and no pawns on the c- and d- files) has a list of standard plans that people know by heart. The actual positions differ, the tactical details will matter, but recognizing lots of types of position like this and knowing the standard plans helps. It is what books like Mauricio Rios' Chess Structures are about.

  • Very simplified Endgames can again be classified and studied. Many positions with bishop + pawn vs bishop have similar ways for trying to promote the pawn or stopping it, and knowing about them helps (and it helps to decide whether you can safely trade down to this endgame in a particular case), and so on for lots of other material distributions. Many, many books are written about endgames in such a fashion.

But there are also phases of the game in between the early middlegame and the late endgame, and they lend themselves much less to classification. The differences are more important than the things games have in common, here.

And there is no "standard" classification for any of this. It's an art, more knowledge of this sort of thing (and the skill to apply the knowledge) is what separates strong players and even stronger ones.

  • 1
    Deeply offended 1.b3 player here
    – David
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 9:27

Yes, there is. It derives from the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings and the codes they used to classify openings.

You can find a comprehensive list of the ECO codes here.

  • 1
    but that is not a standard classification as many openings are grouped together and thee is no analysis or comparisons between different openings. Are there any other classification systems. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 15:52
  • 2
    @shashankshekharsingh Isn't grouping things together the point of a classification? (not to mention the naming from your question, which the ECO clearly does).
    – Annatar
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 13:56
  • @Annatar OP mentions in his question that he is not interested in ECO classification.
    – AKP2002
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 12:43
  • @Annatar i believe segregating things in a systematic way is the proper definition of classification. e.g. grouping all elements into solid,liquid and gas is useful but differentiating them based on some fundamental property(e.g. atomic no.) is more beneficial. Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 15:47
  • @shashankshekharsingh I think your problem is that you mix up things: The elements/atoms are the single moves, games are more like molecules. You try to group your molecules (games) by the atomic number of their first atom (move). Does that make sense?
    – Annatar
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 8:17

The Encyclopedia of Chess Openings is the standard game classification system of the chess world, with "standard" in the sense of "what almost everyone uses". I don't really understand the issue you seem to have with that.

Regarding your actual questions:

What I am really interested in is this-will a certain family of games would be more interesting than the other? Will certain family of games have less draws or wins with perfect play?

We don't know for sure, as Chess is not solved yet. We have some approximation though by looking at the winning percentages, which any decent online game database (example: https://lichess.org/analysis#explorer ) will show. "Interesting" is of course a subjective predicate, but at least we can say that White will have better prospects to win the game by starting 1. d4 or 1. e4 instead of say, 1. a4 or 1. h4.

Is there more zugzwang positions in a certain family?

This is even more unanswerable. Due to their nature, zugzwang situations mostly occur in the endgame (when there are fewer pieces left, which naturally reduces the number of move options all by itself). We are very, very far away from safely linking specific endgame positions to specific openings. Just too many different paths to connect, and that's not even accounting for transpositions.

  • 1
    "We are very, very far away from safely linking specific endgame positions to specific openings" - If you get specific enough it's actually easy, since you can filter a database by position or material count, and also by ECO code. But "zugzwang" isn't something you can easily search for.
    – D M
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 20:56
  • "Chess is not solved yet" i have encountered that a lot but wouldn't classifying games in a certain manner help us in solving chess. Regarding certain positions being achievable through many paths, if perfect play or close to perfect play is imposed on the games then we can have many interesting findings i believe. Those positions which have many pathways will be even more interesting. Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 16:00
  • @shashankshekharsingh If you have encountered the problem, you should know that the only thing that would help us solving chess is some computational magics that allow us to process a number of games that is bigger than the number of atoms in the universe. I don't know how sorting the games based on their first move would help in that in any way.
    – Annatar
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 8:01
  • And as long as there is no such solution, you cannot "impose perfect play".
    – Annatar
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 8:03
  • @Annatar if not perfect play then "blunderless play" may be. that's why i wrote "close to perfect play" and i don't think it is out of human reach to solve chess. maybe some brilliant mind comes up with an unorthodox idea some day and we might have it. Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 8:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.