I have had periods in my life when I became quite engaged in Chess. I am also a card player - particularly Bridge and Two Handed Pinochle (old game, not very popular these days). Oftentimes I get bored/frustrated with Chess because there is apparently no "luck factor" - no randomness. So I prefer a good game of two handed Pinochle to chess: It requires great skill, but also has a significant luck factor, whose impact is of course diminished the more you play against a particular opponent and the laws of probability become manifest, so that the more skillful player emerges.

I understand that's what Chess fans love about the game - it's a contest of pure skill - but I often feel that the luck of the random factor detracts from my interest - diminishes the excitement - it's all about learning everything that was done before and trying to master it and then improve in little ways that you can, although most of what you come up with will already be "old hat", unless you're a chess genius.

So, am I missing something? Is there a random factor in chess (I don't mean getting lucky that your opponent has a headache and can't play as well as he should) or am I just too lazy and superficial to appreciate the game (that may indeed be true...).

  • What kind of randomness do you mean if not "getting lucky that your opponent has a headache and can't play as well as he should" and there are no die rolls? I can't think of anything in between, so could you give us an example of a game that has a random factor? – JiK Jan 8 '14 at 22:02
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    One can use some sort of probabilistic analysis for choosing a move (if the clock doesn't permit more thorough analysis): You know that move A gives you a bad position with only little hope, and move B turns the game into an unclear tactical battle which may turn out to be completely lost or favorable for you. In the Bayesian interpretation of probability, your uncertainty about the outcome of move B can be considered randomness and you can play move B and hope you get lucky and move B turns out to be a good one. – JiK Jan 8 '14 at 22:11
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    A lack of appreciation for the game does not imply laziness or superficiality. – Tony Ennis Jan 9 '14 at 3:27
  • @JIK - that is very interesting way of looking at it. Tnx. – Vector Jan 9 '14 at 4:41
  • @TonyEnnis - I am relieved. :) But maybe now with the insight I've gotten from this question I will try it again. – Vector Jan 9 '14 at 4:42

Randomness is important in things like card games, because if everyone knew what the cards were, they could always figure out the most optimal play and it wouldn't be much fun.

Chess is incredibly hard to play well. There are many possibilities and it is often very hard to judge which one is the best. Learning everything that's gone before hardly helps, because games reach new unique positions quite quickly, and then you're on your own again.

So you get new positions, and you're often reduced to just picking one moves out of several possibilities by, basically, guessing.

To me that's close enough to the effects of randomness in other games. I believe there is luck in chess too, like making a good decision for the wrong reasons.

  • because games reach new unique positions quite quickly - I don't know the math but I assume that is correct. I also think that when playing against a human opponent a form of randomness is introduced, at least if they are a skilled and smart player. – Vector Jan 9 '14 at 4:37

If it's randomness you're after, why not try Chess960, aka Fischer Random Chess? The starting position of the pieces is random, which can lead to very exciting games dominated by tactics. There's still no "luck", but at least memorizing openings is less of a factor.

  • Chess960 under blitz time controls cannot get more exciting :) – shivsky Jan 8 '14 at 21:13
  • There is indeed some luck in this game, some randomness, but only at the beginning, and it affects both players quite equally. This seems right up the OP's alley. – Tony Ennis Jan 9 '14 at 3:27
  • I don't care for this answer so much because it's not the traditional game of chess - it's essentially a new game. – Vector Jan 9 '14 at 4:39

I'm an old chess champion. I won 3rd place in a city championship has no age limit, when I was 10 years old.

I can definitely say that chess has luck possibility/factor/variable in it. All my experiences with chess showed me chess is not only a logic war. Yes it's a war like all others have psychological side. Therefore it brings your matter. Let me give you an example. The fundamental of the issue is that "When you play chess and if you remember what I just wrote here, would it effect your feelings/logic chain of your strategy, thus destiny of the game?"

It's a deep topic to discuss here.

"You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it's really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas." -Stanley Kubrick

"Few things are as psychologically brutal as chess." -Kasparov

Hope it helps


Others have pointed out sources of luck in chess very well. However, if we know little or nothing about opponent we are playing against, there is an additional "luck factor".

For example, you are about to play me (and you know nothing about me) with the black pieces. You are equally good at all the openings; however, I am extremely good at Sicilian and very bad at everything else. After I played 1. e4, I am lucky if you play the Sicilian, and unlucky if you play anything else.

I think we all have our favorite pet lines that we hope our opponent plays, and there lines that we just never got around to study properly that we hope our opponent does not play.

The above can also be applied to other stages of the game, for example one might be great at rook endings, and terrible at knight endings. Hence, they would be lucky if the opponent chooses to simply to a rook ending rather than a knight ending(assuming the opponent is equally good at both types of endings), even if both endings are objectively equal.

In sum, we have strengths and weaknesses, and it is often sheer luck that our opponent let's us play to our strengths.

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