Why isn’t every game of chess the same? (Explained!)

Chess is a game that hasn’t been updated for a long time, it has stayed the same way for over hundreds of years. People have played it over and over in the past and still do today.

Have you ever wondered why every game of chess isn’t the same? I mean it is basically the same game as hundreds of years ago. A lot of positions surely would have repeated over time.

I am going to answer this question with this article, here is what I know:

Chess games are not always the same since there are so many potential games to be had (a total of 10^50^50 possible games while there are only 10^81 atoms in the observable universe). Aside from this, it is hard to find the objectively best move in a position which makes games more unique.

There might be limited optimal moves in a position but it is not as simple as you think, there are too many factors that make most chess games unique. If you’ve wondered about this then this article is for you!

With all of that in mind, let’s get started. 

Chess games aren’t the same because chess is too complicated

Chess is too complicated, there are theoretically 10^50^50 total chess games possible from all the 32 pieces present on the board. For comparison, there is an estimated total of 10^81 atoms in the observable universe.

This is an incredible amount of potential positions that could unfold from a seemingly simple game, it is no wonder why there is still uniqueness in most chess games.

Even if a particular position has been repeated, since there’s just too many potential positions, it is likely that there’s going to be a deviation. A couple of moves that will make a chess game unique.

We have to remember that it only takes one different move in order to differentiate one chess game from many other similar games. It is actually no wonder why most positions are not the same.

Just the sheer amount of possibilities is enough to make unique chess games for a couple of centuries. I mean there are more potential chess games than atoms in the observable universe.

The complication makes it so that not every chess game is completely identical (although some games are definitely identical). There might be a couple of positions that look similar, but are not necessarily identical.

Some chess games played in an elite level are the same

Many games that are played in the elite level are actually repeats from previous games that are also played by other elite players. In the majority of cases, the games are not repeated since the players do not memorize as extensively.

There is a lot of home preparation involved in an elite chess game, this is usually based on another elite player’s games that have been analyzed for improvements.

We have to understand that even when there are a lot of potential positions in a chess game, it doesn’t necessarily mean that elite players would go for them. Optimal positions are limited after all.

This means that if we’re only taking good moves into consideration, the number would be significantly reduced. Even with this there would still be a lot of potential positions though.

Also we have to understand that memorizing an entire game from start to finish is possible but not practical. A competitor needs to play many games in order to win a tournament, not just one.

If they’ve only prepared one game extensively and didn’t really do much of anything else, it is likely that the particular line they’ve memorized will be refuted eventually.

This is why not every chess game on the elite level is the same, most of them don’t prepare the entire game fully.

Chess games aren’t the same because some players have a low skill level

At every move there are many potential replies that make sense for someone who is already an expert, and even more for those who are just starting. This is why not all games are the same.

As I have stated above, there are only limited optimal moves in a position which someone who is an elite can cut down to a limited number of games. This doesn’t apply to everyone though.

The majority of people who play chess are not on the elite level obviously, they are just casuals who play here and there. This means that a whole new possibility opens up to them.

Suddenly it is not only a limited number of possible games any more, they are more likely to actually play every potential game out there since they can also choose to play bad moves.

Even if a particular move doesn’t make sense but will lead to a unique position, most people who are not on the elite level can still play it. 

This is why not every chess game is the same, many participants in the game are not necessarily elite players that can choose to play a limited number of positions.

Most casual players can still bring a new variation on the table even if what they are doing doesn’t make sense objectively.

Elite chess games are identical in some initial 10-25 moves

There are games that are quite identical to each other if you are going to look for it in the database, but often, there will be one move that deviates a game from an already explored line.

It is not like there aren’t any identical games out there especially on elite levels, there are of course games like that. However it is only at the first 10-25 moves in most cases.

This is actually the idea behind theoretical openings, to make a standard set of positions at the start of the game where both players can have options. Plus some players prepare at home as well.

I would even say that most chess games on the elite level were pretty much always identical at the first 10 moves at least. However it would not last until the end of the game.

Down the line players are more likely to deviate since they don’t want to just draw the position and receive half a point, perhaps they will try an improvement that they have figured out at home.

This is why not every chess game is the same even on elite level, it may be identical at the first couple of moves but it will be different down the line.

Chess games aren’t the same because chess is too long

Chess is a long game, if it is something that would be concluded in 20 moves or so then it is reasonable to assume that the games would repeat often. This is not the case however.

The typical game played on an elite level would last around 30-60 moves in general (perhaps even more). A miniature game is rare when two sides play the optimal moves available in the position.

In other words the games are just too long to be identical since more possibilities open up at this point, this further establishes my previous point in this article.

Even if the initial 10-25 moves are the same, there will still be a lot of moves to be played that offer an opportunity for deviation. The longer the game the more likely that it will be unique. 

And most games that are initially identical are not even half of the full game, this would offer a lot of opportunity to create unique positions. 

A lot of casual games do end pretty quickly, but they are usually composed of bad moves that also bring unique positions on the table. 

Even if the games of casual players are short, it doesn’t mean that every game will be the same since they can also play nonsense moves.

Chess games aren’t identical because it is hard to identify the real best move

Just because a particular move is the correct move does not mean that it is the best move to be played in a particular position. There is also a psychology to this which needs to be considered.

Some people think that chess games should be identical in most cases since the players just need to find the best in the position right? There is only one best move after all.

Or is it? Is there really only one best move in a position? The answer is of course no, there are too many factors to consider that would make one move the best over the other.

The biggest would be the style of the player in question, if this is someone that is more on the defensive side they will not play aggressively without direct compensation.

Defensive players usually do not like taking risks where the compensation is still vague, they can still play aggressively but only if the return will be apparent. 

Even if one argues that a particular move is the best, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best for the player since they may not convert as well with a particular style.

Other factors include psychology, home preparation  history of the opponent, tournament standings, rating difference, pressure/stress, lack of knowledge, etc.

There are many factors in determining the real “best move” ; this means that not every chess game would be identical.

Chess games aren’t identical because both players don’t know the best moves

The main reason why every game of chess isn’t the same is because there isn’t any player who absolutely knows the best moves in every line. It might be that one player knows it, but it is likely that their opponent doesn’t.

If someone did their due diligence in home deprivation and consulted an engine, they might be able to tell which is the real best move in the position. 

However, even if one of the players know the real best move in the position, it doesn’t mean that their opponent can play on the same level. It is the opposite in most situations actually.

What usually happens is that one player know the best move and the other don’t, which means they are likely to play suboptimal moves that will lead to a unique position.

Most players will actually try to avoid a home preparation made by their opponent so this is rare to happen in the first place, but in cases where it did happen it doesn’t necessarily guarantee an identical game. 

This is the reason why not even chess games painted with home preparation are identical, it is because one of the players will be on the receiving end and will play suboptimally (making the game unique).

Final thoughts

Even for a game that has been around for such a long time there is still opportunity for a unique creative encounter. If every chess game were identical it would be too boring.

Thankfully, there are many ways that the competition makes the game more unique. Even in the era of modern chess computers, not every individual game is completely identical.

Some people think that since home preparation is essential in today’s elite chess games, most games would be identical. This is not true, most elite games still have room for new positions.

Not every chess game is the same for a reason, this article helps in explaining that. I hope you are satisfied with my points, sleep well and play chess.

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