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Why does white always go first?

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In chess, there is a general consensus among players and theorists that the player who makes the first move (White) has an inherent advantage. Since 1851, compiled statistics support this view; White consistently wins slightly more often than Black, usually scoring between 52 and 56 percent. White's winning percentage is about the same for tournament games between humans and games between computers; however, White's advantage is less significant in blitz games and games between lower-level players.

Chess players and theoreticians have long debated whether, given perfect play by both sides, the game should end in a win for White or a draw. Since approximately 1889, when World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz addressed this issue, the consensus has been that a perfectly played game would end in a draw (futile game). A few notable players have argued, however, that White's advantage may be sufficient to force a win: Weaver Adams and Vsevolod Rauzer claimed that White is winning after the first move 1.e4, while Hans Berliner argued that 1.d4 may win for White. Chess is not likely to become a solved game.

Some players, including world champions such as José Raúl Capablanca, Emanuel Lasker, and Bobby Fischer, have expressed fears of a "draw death" as chess becomes more deeply analyzed. To alleviate this danger, Capablanca and Fischer both proposed chess variants to revitalize the game, while Lasker suggested changing how draws and stalemates are scored.

Some writers have challenged the view that White has an inherent advantage. Grandmaster (GM) András Adorján wrote a series of books on the theme that "Black is OK!", arguing that the general perception that White has an advantage is founded more in psychology than reality. GM Mihai Suba and others contend that sometimes White's initiative disappears for no apparent reason as a game progresses. The prevalent style of play for Black today is to seek unbalanced, dynamic positions with active counterplay, rather than merely trying to equalize. Modern writers also argue that Black has certain countervailing advantages. The consensus that White should try to win can be a psychological burden for the White player, who sometimes loses by trying too hard to win. Some symmetrical openings (i.e. those where Black's moves mirror White's) can lead to situations where moving first is a detriment, for either psychological or objective reasons.

In 1946, W.F. Streeter examined the results of 5,598 games played in 45 international chess tournaments between 1851 and 1932. Streeter found that overall White scored 53.4% (W: 38.12; D: 30.56; L: 31.31). White scored 52.55% in 1851–1878 (W:45.52; D: 14.07; L: 40.41), 52.77% in 1881–1914 (W: 36.89; D: 31.76; L: 31.35), and 55.47% in 1919–1932 (W: 36.98; D: 36.98; L: 26.04). Streeter concluded, "It thus appears that it is becoming increasingly difficult to win with Black, but somewhat easier to draw."

Two decades later, statistician Arthur M. Stevens concluded in The Blue Book of Charts to Winning Chess, based on a survey of 56,972 master games that he completed in 1967, that White scores 59.1%. However, Stevens assembled his games from those that had been published in chess magazines, rather than complete collections of all the games played in particular events.

More recent sources indicate that White scores approximately 54 to 56 percent. In 2005, GM Jonathan Rowson wrote that "the conventional wisdom is that White begins the game with a small advantage and, holding all other factors constant, scores approximately 56% to Black's 44%". International Master (IM) John Watson wrote in 1998 that White had scored 56% for most of the 20th century, but that this figure had recently slipped to 55%. The website Chessgames.com holds regularly updated statistics on its games database. As of January 12, 2015, White had won 37.50%, 34.90% were drawn, and Black had won 27.60% out of 739,769 games, resulting in a total White winning percentage of 54.95%.

New In Chess observed in its 2000 Yearbook that of the 731,740 games in its database, White scored 54.8% overall; with the two most popular opening moves, White scored 54.1% in 349,855 games beginning 1.e4 (moving the king's pawn two spaces forward), and 56.1% in 296,200 games beginning 1.d4 (moving the queen's pawn two spaces forward). The main reason that 1.e4 was less effective than 1.d4 was the Sicilian Defence (1.e4 c5), which gave White only a 52.3% score in 145,996 games.

Statistician Jeff Sonas, in examining data from 266,000 games played between 1994 and 2001, concluded that White scored 54.1767% plus 0.001164 times White's Elo rating advantage, treating White's rating advantage as +390 if it is better than +390, or −460 if it is worse than −460. He found that White's advantage is equivalent to 35 rating points, i.e. if White has a rating 35 points below Black's, each player will have an expected score of 50%. Sonas also found that White's advantage is smaller (53%) in rapid games than in games at a slower ("classical") time control. In the 462 games played at the 2009 World Blitz Chess Championship, White scored only 52.16% (W38.96 D26.41 L34.63).

Other writers conclude that there is a positive correlation between the players' ratings and White's score. According to GM Evgeny Sveshnikov, statistics show that White has no advantage over Black in games between beginners, but "if the players are stronger, White has the lead". An analysis of the results of games in ChessBase's Mega 2003 database between players with similar Elo ratings, commissioned by GM András Adorján, showed that as the players' ratings went up, the percentage of draws increased, the proportion of decisive games that White won increased, and White's overall winning percentage increased. For example, taking the highest and lowest of Adorján's rating categories of 1669 games played by the highest-rated players (Elo ratings 2700 and above), White scored 55.7% overall (W26.5 D58.4 L15.2), whereas of 34,924 games played by the lowest-rated players (Elo ratings below 2100), White scored 53.1% overall (W37.0 D32.1 L30.8). Adorján also analyzed the results of games played at the very highest level: World Championship matches. Of 755 games played in 34 matches between 1886 and 1990, White won 234 (31.0%), drew 397 (52.6%), and lost 124 (16.4%), for a total white winning percentage of 57.3%. In the last five matches in Adorjan's survey, all between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov, White won 31 (25.8%), drew 80 (66.7%), and lost 9 (7.5%), for a total white winning percentage of 59.2%.

Chess Engines Grand Tournament (CEGT) tests computer chess engines by playing them against each other, with time controls of 40 moves in 120 minutes per player (40/120), and also 40/20 and 40/4, and uses the results of those games to compile a rating list for each time control. At the slowest time control (40/120), White has scored 55.4% (W34.7 D41.3 L24.0) in games played among 38 of the strongest chess engines (as of May 27, 2009). At 40/20, White has scored 55.1% (W35.6 D39.1 L25.3) in games played among 1568 engines (as of April 22, 2018). At the fastest time control (40/4), White has scored 54.8% (W39.6 D30.5 L30.0), in games played among 128 programs (as of May 28, 2009).

In 2017 AlphaZero, playing 100 games against Stockfish, won 25 and drew 25 as White, but won 3 and drew 47 as Black.

Joseph Bertin wrote in his 1735 textbook The Noble Game of Chess, "He that plays first, is understood to have the attack." This is consistent with the traditional view that White, by virtue of the first move, begins with the initiative and should try to extend it into the middlegame, while Black should strive to neutralize White's initiative and attain equality. Because White begins with the initiative, a minor mistake by White generally leads only to loss of the initiative, while a similar mistake by Black may have more serious consequences. Thus, Sveshnikov wrote in 1994, "Black players cannot afford to make even the slightest mistake ... from a theoretical point of view, the tasks of White and Black in chess are different: White has to strive for a win, Black—for a draw!"

Chess theorists have long debated how enduring White's initiative is and whether, if both sides play perfectly, the game should end in a win for White or a draw. George Walker wrote in 1846 that, "The first move is an advantage, ... but if properly answered, the first move is of little worth". Steinitz, the first World Champion, who is widely considered the father of modern chess, wrote in 1889, "It is now conceded by all experts that by proper play on both sides the legitimate issue of a game ought to be a draw." Lasker and Capablanca, the second and third World Champions, agreed. Reuben Fine, one of the world's leading players from 1936 to 1951, wrote that White's opening advantage is too intangible to be sufficient for a win without an error by Black.

The view that a game of chess should end in a draw given best play prevails. Even if it cannot be proved, this assumption is considered "safe" by Rowson and "logical" by Adorján. Watson agrees that "the proper result of a perfectly played chess game ... is a draw. ... Of course, I can't prove this, but I doubt that you can find a single strong player who would disagree. ... I remember Kasparov, after a last-round draw, explaining to the waiting reporters: 'Well, chess is a draw.'" World Champion Bobby Fischer thought that "it's almost definite that the game is a draw theoretically". Similarly, British grandmaster Nigel Short wrote that "... with perfect play, God versus God ... chess is a draw".

Lasker and Capablanca both worried that chess would suffer a "draw death" as top-level players drew more and more of their games. More recently, Fischer agreed, saying that the game has become played out. All three advocated changing the rules of chess to minimize the number of drawn games. Lasker suggested scoring less than half a point for a draw, and more than half a point for stalemating the opponent's king. Capablanca in the 1920s proposed Capablanca Chess, a chess variant played on a larger 8×10 board and with additional pieces (the chancellor and archbishop, moving as rook–knight and bishop–knight combinations respectively in the same way the queen could be said to be a rook–bishop combination). Fischer advocated Fischerandom Chess, another chess variant, in which the initial position of the pieces is determined at random and identical for both players, subject to the constraints that the bishops be on opposite colours and that the king stand between the rooks.

Today some of the sharpest opening variations have been analyzed so deeply that they are often used as drawing weapons. For example, at the highest levels, Black often uses the Marshall Attack in the Ruy Lopez. In this line Black sacrifices a pawn for strong attacking chances, to obtain an endgame where Black is still a pawn down but is able to draw with correct play.

In 2007, GMs Kiril Georgiev and Atanas Kolev asserted that much the same was true of the so-called Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Najdorf Sicilian, which arises after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6!? This has long been considered one of the sharpest and most problematic, or even foolhardy, opening lines. The game usually continues 8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qa3. Georgiev and Kolev stated that 6.Bg5 is seldom seen at the highest level because the main line of this variation leads, with best play, to a draw by perpetual check. They wrote that the following game "will probably remain the last word of theory":

Georgiev and Kolev's pessimistic assessment of 6.Bg5 has since been called into question, however, as White succeeded with 10.e5 (another critical line) in several later high-level games. GM Zaven Andriasyan wrote in 2013 that after 10.f5, "a forced draw results", but that after 10.e5, "we reach a very sharp position, with mutual chances."

Although it is very much a minority view, three prominent twentieth-century masters claimed that White's advantage should or may be decisive with best play.

Weaver Adams, then one of the leading American masters, was the best-known proponent of this view, which he introduced in his 1939 book White to Play and Win, and continued to expound in later books and articles until shortly before his death in 1963. Adams opined that 1.e4 was White's strongest move, and that if both sides played the best moves thereafter, "White ought to win." Adams' claim was widely ridiculed, and he did not succeed in demonstrating the validity of his theory in tournament and match practice. The year after his book was published, at the finals of the 1940 U.S. Open tournament, he scored only one draw in his four games as White, but won all four of his games as Black. Adams also lost a match to IM I.A. Horowitz, who took the black pieces in every game.

According to Sveshnikov, Vsevolod Rauzer, a leading Soviet player and theoretician during the 1930s, likewise "claimed in the : '1.e4—and White wins!' and he managed to prove it quite often".

More recently, IM Hans Berliner, a former World Champion of Correspondence Chess, claimed in his 1999 book The System that 1.d4 gives White a large, and possibly decisive, advantage. Berliner asserted that with best play White wins against the Grünfeld Defense, the Modern Benoni, the Benko Gambit and other (unnamed) "major defences", and achieves at least a large advantage in many lines of the Queen's Gambit Declined. He allowed, however, that "It is possible that the rules of chess are such that only some number of plausible-appearing defences to 1.d4 can be refuted." Berliner wrote that Adams' "theories, though looked upon with scorn by most top chess players, made an immediate and lasting impression on me. Weaver W. Adams was the first person I met who actually had theories about how chess should be played."

Berliner's thesis, like Adams', has been sharply criticized.

As explained below, chess theorists in recent decades have continued to debate the size and nature of White's advantage, if any. Apart from Berliner, they have rejected the idea that White has a forced win from the opening position. Many also reject the traditional paradigm that Black's objective should be to neutralize White's initiative and obtain equality.

Starting from 2004, GM Larry Kaufman has expressed a more nuanced view than Adams and Berliner, arguing that the initiative stemming from the first move can always be transformed into some sort of enduring advantage, albeit not necessarily a decisive one. He wrote in 2020, "I don't believe that White has a forced win in chess, but I do believe that if he starts with 1.e4 and makes no mistakes, he can retain at least the preferable position without allowing an obvious draw for 30 to 40 moves or so, beyond the point to which openings can generally be analyzed. He should normally get positions where it is fairly easy to explain why White is better, even if in many cases a grandmaster can expect to hold the draw against a similar opponent. Black should at least be the one who has to be careful to get the draw." Nonetheless, Kaufman considers it necessary for White to make no mistakes to achieve this evaluation. Kaufman writes that "once White makes one or two second-rate moves I start to look for a black advantage."

Starting in 1988, Adorján has argued in a series of books and magazine articles that "Black is OK!" Alone amongst modern writers, Adorján claims that White starts the game with essentially no advantage. He writes, "In my opinion, the only obvious advantage for White is that if he or she plays for a draw, and does so well, then Black can hardly avoid this without taking obvious risks." Adorján goes so far as to claim that, "The tale of White's advantage is a delusion; belief in it is based on mass psychosis." Rowson writes that Adorján's "contention is one of the most important chess ideas of the last two decades ... because it has shaken our assumption that White begins the game with some advantage, and revealed its ideological nature". Rowson rejects Adorján's claim, however, that White has essentially no advantage, reasoning that "'White is better' and 'Black is OK' need not be mutually exclusive claims".

In one of Adorján's books, GM Lajos Portisch opined that "at least two-thirds of all 'tested' openings give White an apparent advantage." According to Portisch, for Black, "The root of the problem is that very few people know which are the openings where Black is really OK. Those who find these lines have nothing to fear, as Black is indeed OK, but only in those variations!" Rowson considers this an important point, noting that "1.d4 players struggle to get anywhere against main-line Slavs and 1.e4 players find the Najdorf and Sveshnikov Sicilians particularly tough."

Modern writers often think of Black's role in more dynamic terms than merely trying to equalize. Rowson writes that "the idea of Black trying to 'equalize' is questionable. I think it has limited application to a few openings, rather than being an opening prescription for Black in general." Evans wrote that after one of his games against Fischer, "Fischer confided his 'secret' to me: unlike other masters, he sought to win with the Black pieces from the start. The revelation that Black has dynamic chances and need not be satisfied with mere equality was the turning point in his career, he said." Likewise, Watson surmised that Kasparov, when playing Black, bypasses the question of whether White has an opening advantage "by thinking in terms of the concrete nature of the dynamic imbalance on the board, and seeking to seize the initiative whenever possible". Watson observes that "energetic opening play by Black may ... lead to a position so complex and unclear that to speak of equality is meaningless. Sometimes we say 'dynamically balanced' instead of 'equal' to express the view that either player is as likely as the other to emerge from complications with an advantage. This style of opening play has become prevalent in modern chess, with World Champions Fischer and Kasparov as its most visible practitioners."

Modern writers also question the idea that White has an enduring advantage. Suba, in his influential 1991 book Dynamic Chess Strategy, rejects the notion that the initiative can always be transformed into an enduring advantage. He contends that sometimes the player with the initiative loses it with no logical explanation, and that, "Sometimes you must lose it, just like that. If you try to cling to it, by forcing the issue, your dynamic potential will become exhausted and you won't be able to face a vigorous counter-attack." Rowson and Watson concur. Watson also observes, "Because of the presumption of White being better, the juncture of the game at which Black frees his game or neutralizes White's plans has often been automatically assumed to give him equality, even though in dynamic openings, the exhaustion of White's initiative very often means that Black has seized it with advantage."

Rowson argues that both White and Black have certain advantages:

According to Rowson, White's first advantage is that, "The advantage of the first move has some similarities with the serve in tennis in that White can score an 'ace' (for instance with a powerful opening novelty), he has more control over the pace and direction of the game, and he has a 'second serve' in that when things go wrong his position is not usually losing." Second, White begins the game with some initiative, although Rowson regards this as a psychological rather than a positional advantage, "and whether it leads to a positional advantage depends on the relative skill of the players." Third, some players are able to use the initiative to "play a kind of powerful 'serve and volley' chess in which Black is flattened with a mixture of deep preparation and attacking prowess." Fourth, "If White wants to draw, it is often not so easy for Black to prevent this. This advantage is particularly acute in cases where there is a possible threefold repetition, because White can begin the repetition without committing to a draw and Black has to decide whether to deviate before he knows whether White is bluffing."

Rowson cites as an example of the last phenomenon the well-regarded Zaitsev Variation of the Ruy Lopez. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d6 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 (initiating the Zaitsev Variation), White can repeat moves once with 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3. This puts Black in an awkward situation, since they must either (a) insist on the Zaitsev with 12...Re8, which allows White to choose whether to draw by threefold repetition with 13.Ng5 Rf8 14.Nf3, or play on with a different move, or (b) play a different (and possibly inferior) variation by playing something other than 12...Re8.

Rowson argues that Black also has several advantages. First, "White's alleged advantage is also a kind of obligation to play for a win, and Black can often use this to his advantage." Second, "White's 'extra move' can be a burden, and sometimes White finds himself in a mild form of zugzwang ('Zugzwang Lite')." Third, although White begins the game with the initiative, if "Black retains a flexible position with good reactive possibilities, this initiative can be absorbed and often passes over to Black." Fourth, "The fact that White moves before Black often gives Black useful information". Suba likewise argues that White's advantage is actually less than a move, since White must tip his hand first, allowing Black to react to White's plans. Suba writes, "In terms of the mathematical games theory, chess is a game of complete information, and Black's information is always greater—by one move!"

Rowson also notes that Black's chances increase markedly by playing good openings, which tend to be those with flexibility and latent potential, "rather than those that give White fixed targets or that try to take the initiative prematurely." He also emphasizes that "White has 'the initiative', not 'the advantage'. Success with Black depends on seeing beyond the initiative and thinking of positions in terms of 'potential'." These ideas are exemplified by the Hedgehog, a dynamic modern system against the English Opening that can arise from various move orders. A typical position arises after 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.0-0 e6 6.Nc3 Be7 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 d6 9.e4 a6. White has a spatial advantage, while Black often maneuvers his pieces on the last two ranks of the board, but White "has to keep a constant eye on the possible liberating pawn thrusts ...b5 and ...d5." Watson remarks, "Black's goal is to remain elastic and flexible, with many options for his pieces, whereas White can become paralyzed at some point by the need to protect against various dynamic pawn breaks." He also observes that, "White tends to be as much tied up by Black's latent activity as Black himself is tied up by White's space advantage." Moreover, attempts by White to overrun Black's position often rebound disastrously. An example of this is the following grandmaster game:

An examination of reversed and symmetrical openings illustrates White's and Black's respective advantages:

In a "reversed opening", White plays an opening typically played by Black, but with colors reversed and thus an extra tempo. Evans writes of such openings, "If a defense is considered good for Black, it must be even better for White with a move in hand." Former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik reportedly expressed the same view. Watson questions this idea, citing Suba's thesis that Black, by moving second, has more complete information than White. He writes, "everyone has such difficulties playing as White against a Sicilian Defence (1.e4 c5), but ... leading masters have no qualms about answering 1.c4 with 1...e5." To explain this paradox, Watson discusses several different reversed Sicilian lines, showing how Black can exploit the disadvantages of various "extra" moves for White. He concludes,

Watson also observes, "Similarly, the Dutch Defence looks particularly sterile when White achieves the reversed positions a tempo up (it turns out that he has nothing useful to do!); and indeed, many standard Black openings are not very inspiring when one gets them as White, tempo in hand." GM Alex Yermolinsky likewise notes that GM Vladimir Malaniuk, a successful exponent of the Leningrad Dutch (1.d4 f5 2.g3 g6) at the highest levels, "once made a deep impression on me by casually dismissing someone's suggestion that he should try 1.f4 as White. He smiled and said, 'That extra move's gonna hurt me.'"

Yermolinsky also agrees with Alekhine's criticism of 1.g3 e5 2.Nf3, a reversed Alekhine's Defense, in Réti–Alekhine, Baden-Baden 1925, writing that Alekhine "understood the difference in opening philosophies for White and Black, and realized they just can't be the same! White is supposed to try for more than just obtaining a comfortable game in reversed colour opening set-ups, and, as the statistics show—surprisingly for a lot of people, but not for me—White doesn't even score as well as Black does in the same positions with his extra tempo and all." Howard Staunton, generally considered to have been the strongest player in the world from 1843 to 1851, made a similar point over 160 years ago, writing that Owen's Defense (1.e4 b6) is playable for Black, but that 1.b3 is inferior to "the more customary moves, from its being essentially defensive". The current view is that Owen's Defense is slightly better for White, while 1.b3 is playable but less likely to yield an opening advantage than 1.e4 or 1.d4.

Watson concludes that

Rowson writes that "in general one would assume that whatever advantage White has would be revealed most clearly in symmetrical positions." Accordingly, Watson, Suba, Evans, and the eminent player and theorist Aron Nimzowitsch (1886–1935) have all argued that it is in Black's interest to avoid symmetry. Nonetheless, even symmetrical opening lines sometimes illustrate the tenuous nature of White's advantage, in several respects.

It is often difficult for White to prove an advantage in symmetrical opening lines. As GM Bent Larsen wrote, annotating a game that began 1.c4 c5 2.b3 b6, "In symmetrical openings, White has a theoretical advantage, but in many of them it is only theoretical." GM Andrew Soltis wrote in 2008 that he hates playing against the symmetrical Petroff's Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6), and accordingly varies with 2.Nc3, the Vienna Game. However, there too he has been unable to find a way to an advantage after the symmetrical 2...Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7, or after 3.Nf3 Nf6 (transposing to the Four Knights Game) 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.0-0 0-0 6.d3 d6 7.Bg5 Bg4 8.Nd5 Nd4 9.Nxb4 Nxb5, or 7.Ne2 Ne7 8.c3 Ba5 9.Ng3 c6 10.Ba4 Ng6 11.d4 d5, when 12.exd5?! e4! may even favor Black.

Moreover, symmetrical positions may be disadvantageous to White in that he has to commit himself first. Watson notes that it is even difficult for White to play noncommittally in a symmetrical position, since almost every move has certain drawbacks. Fischer once went so far as to claim that after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.0-0 0-0 5.d3 d6 (Reinhard–Fischer, Western Open 1963), "'Believe it or not,' Black stands better! Now, whatever White does, Black will vary it and get an asymmetrical position and have the superior position due to his better pawn structure!" However, GM Paul Keres responded in CHESS magazine, "We just don't believe it!" In symmetrical positions, as the Hodgson–Arkell and Portisch–Tal games discussed below illustrate, Black can continue to imitate White as long as he finds it feasible and desirable to do so, and deviate when that ceases to be the case.

Further, a particular extra move is sometimes more of a liability than an asset. For example, Soltis notes that the Exchange French position arising after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 "is pretty equal". The same position, but with Black's knight moved to e4, arises in Petroff's Defense after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5. That position offers White better chances precisely because Black's extra move (...Ne4) allows the advanced knight to become a target for attack.

Finally, symmetrical positions may be difficult for the white player for psychological reasons. Watson writes that anyone who tries the Exchange French, "even if he thinks he is playing for a win, assume a psychological burden. White has already ceded the advantage of the first move, and knows it, whereas Black is challenged to find ways to seize the initiative." Two famous examples of White losses in the Exchange French are M. Gurevich–Short and Tatai–Korchnoi. In M. Gurevich–Short, a game between two of the world's leading players, White needed only a draw to qualify for the Candidates Matches, while Black needed to win. Gurevich played passively and was outplayed by Short, who achieved the necessary win. In Tatai–Korchnoi, the Italian IM fell victim to Korchnoi's whirlwind mating attack, losing in just 14 moves.

Rowson gives the following example of Black outplaying White from the Symmetrical Variation of the English Opening. He remarks, "there is something compelling about Black's strategy. He seems to be saying: 'I will copy all your good moves, and as soon as you make a bad move, I won't copy you any more!'"

The opening of the following game between two world-class players, another Symmetrical English, took a similar course:

Tal himself lost a famous game as White from a symmetrical position in Tal–Beliavsky, USSR Championship 1974.

In chess tournaments and matches, the frequency with which each player receives white and black is an important consideration. In matches, the players' colors in the first game are determined by drawing lots, and alternated thereafter. In round robin tournaments with an odd number of players, each player receives an equal number of whites and blacks; with an even number of players, each receives one extra white or black. Where one or more players withdraws from the tournament, the tournament director may change the assigned colors in some games so that no player receives two more blacks than whites, or vice versa. The double-round robin tournament is considered to give the most reliable final standings, since each player receives the same number of whites and blacks, and plays both White and Black against each opponent.

In Swiss system tournaments, the tournament director tries to ensure that each player receives, as nearly as possible, the same number of games as White and Black, and that the player's color alternates from round to round. After the first round, the director may deviate from the otherwise prescribed pairings in order to give as many players as possible their equalizing or due colors. More substantial deviations are permissible to avoid giving a player two more blacks than whites (for example, three blacks in four games) than vice versa, since extra whites "cause far less player distress" than extra blacks, which impose "a significant handicap" on the affected player. Tournaments with an even number of rounds cause the most problems, since if there is a disparity, it is greater (e.g., a player receiving two whites and four blacks).

The game of chess is not solved, meaning it has not been determined with certainty whether a perfectly played game would end in a win for White, a draw, or even a win for Black. Due to its high level of complexity and the limitations of computer technology it is considered unlikely that it will be solved in the foreseeable future.

In his 1950 paper "Programming a Computer for Playing Chess", information theorist Claude Shannon argued that in principle the game of chess ought to be solvable. In practical terms, however, he argued that it is not feasible for any computer to actually do this. He estimated that a computer would need to calculate 10120 positions from the initial position, which he said would take 1090 years. It is thus theoretically possible to solve chess; however, according to Shannon, the time frame required puts this possibility beyond the limits of any feasible technology.

Hans-Joachim Bremermann, a professor of mathematics and biophysics at the University of California at Berkeley, further argued in a 1965 paper that the "speed, memory, and processing capacity of any possible future computer equipment are limited by certain physical barriers: the light barrier, the quantum barrier, and the thermodynamical barrier. These limitations imply, for example, that no computer, however constructed, will ever be able to examine the entire tree of possible move sequences of the game of chess." Nonetheless, Bremermann did not foreclose the possibility that a computer would someday be able to solve chess. He wrote, "In order to have a computer play a perfect or nearly perfect game it will be necessary either to analyze the game completely ... or to analyze the game in an approximate way and combine this with a limited amount of tree searching. ... A theoretical understanding of such heuristic programming, however, is still very much wanting."

Recent advances in computer science have not significantly changed that assessment. The game of checkers was solved in 2007, but it has roughly the square root of the number of positions in chess. Jonathan Schaeffer, the scientist who led the effort, said a breakthrough such as quantum computing would be needed before solving chess could even be attempted, but he does not rule out the possibility, saying that the one thing he learned from his 16-year effort of solving checkers "is to never underestimate the advances in technology".

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The recent protests over racism have rekindled a longstanding discussion about whether chess promotes white privilege with its rule that the first move always goes to the player with the white pieces. In this Q&A, Daaim Shabazz, an international business professor and chess journalist, offers insight into whether there's any merit to the idea that the rule is meant to uphold white privilege.

Who decided that white should always go first?

Johann Löwenthal, a British master, put forth one of the first proposals of record to give white the obligatory first move. At the First American Chess Congress, held in New York in 1857, Löwenthal sent two letters to the secretary of the New York Chess Club, Frederick Perrin.

On page 84 of the congress's proceedings, it refers to one of the letters by citing "the advisableness of always giving the first move, in published games, to the player of the white pieces." This rule was not immediately adopted, and tournament organizers maintained flexibility on the first move. In the Fifth American Chess Congress in 1880, it was written on page 164 of the Code of Chess Laws, "The right of first move must be determined by lot. The player having the first move must always play with the white men."

Wilhelm Steinitz, the first world champion, repeated this idea in his 1889 book, "The Modern Chess Instructor," where he wrote on page XII: "The players draw by lot for move and choice of color. In all international and public Chess matches and tournaments, however, it is the rule for the first player to have the white men."

Thus, there was a growing consensus that white should move first.

Was that decision rooted in racism?

I am not aware of any direct evidence. However, chess players were not only part of the intelligentsia, but also men of their times. On page X in the proceedings of the Sixth American Chess Congress in 1889, Steinitz poetically extolled the virtues of chess as being among the "intellectual pastimes of civilized nations." This is a time when Europeans generally did not regard Africa as a place of civilization. For instance, five years earlier at the Berlin Conference of 1884, Europeans had begun to execute their colonial plan and "aim at instructing the natives and bringing home to them the blessings of civilization."

Further, in the 19th century, there was an awful period of satirizing and dehumanizing Blacks through darkened minstrel caricatures. There existed the perception that white was associated with that which was positive, and black was associated with that which was negative. Recent social science research shows that this perception still holds.

Does the rule give white an advantage?

It is my view that chess players, including grandmasters, overstate white's first-move advantage.

Russian grandmaster Evgeny Sveshnikov stated back in 1994 that a player should win with white and be content to draw with black.

As early as 1939, American master Weaver Adams claimed white is winning after the very first move, at least when that first move was the pawn to the e4 square - that is, the square three spaces in front of white's king. But he ended up losing a match to I.A. Horowitz, who wanted to prove a point by taking black in every game.

Since A.D. 1475, white's overall winning percentage has been approximately 55% in nearly 1 million games. This includes percentage of total wins plus half the percentage of drawn games. Is this result because of the first move itself? Steinitz seemed to suggest otherwise when he stated on page XXXII in his classic book, "Modern Chess Instructor," "by best play on both sides, a draw ought to be the legitimate result."

How would things change if black moved first?

In 2019, Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri - who as of July were the number 1 and number 10 players in the world, respectively - promoted a #MoveforEquality campaign as a way of acknowledging social inequalities. In their game, black moved first and the line was, "We broke a rule in chess today, to change minds tomorrow." It was billed as an anti-racist statement, but some took it as a suggestion to change the rules of chess to black having the first move.

If black moved first, it would take some getting used to for players who are accustomed to white going first. This would be especially true for the opening moves, since the white and black chess armies are positioned slightly differently. For instance, as white, the queen is on the left-hand side. As black, the queen is on the right-hand side.

As it exists now, the lighter color always moves first. Some see this as analogous to racial privileges in society. The late Frances Cress-Welsing, a psychiatrist, made a chess analogy in her "Cress Theory of Color Confrontation," noting that the psychology of white having the first move was as the natural aggressor against black forces.

Socially speaking, an ideal solution would be to give both colors a 50% chance to move first. That is the way it was in shatranj, a precursor to modern-day chess. Instead of picking which player gets the favorable color, something like a coin toss would determine which color gets to move first. Of course, this would be "equal opportunity" but result in a totally different approach to playing chess.

What are the psychological effects of white going first?

There are several psychological factors at play. A beginner of chess learns the power of "white first" very quickly. They will see that an opponent will prefer the white pieces if given a choice. They feel a sense of empowerment even when they are playing a stronger opponent. For this reason, players who play white may be more motivated to win. Conversely, we have been conditioned to believe that black should be content with a draw.

This relegation of black to an inferior status has been reinforced in many ways. The early chess books focused on how to exploit the white advantage over black. It was an attempt to show the power of the first-move privilege.

When one looks at chess books, the diagrams are generally positioned to be from the white army's perspective. This is even true for books focusing on strategic systems for black. However, the seminal "Black is OK" series by Hungarian grandmaster András Adorján feature diagrams from the black perspective and provides a theoretical framework for why black has adequate resources.

In many of the chess puzzles, it was common to see each problem presented as white who has the winning sequence. In fact, Theophilus Thompson (1855-1881), the first Black player of note, had authored such a book of chess puzzles.

To a great extent, books are still published in this fashion. I believe that strategic literature for a black response will continue to increase, and the game will move closer to a 50-50 result in the "white first" format. There are a great many systems where black seeks to be the aggressor.

Chess is more of a conversation where both sides engage in a battle of ideas. Someone has to initiate the conversation, but throughout the flow of the game, a unique story unfolds. In my view, it is not about who starts first, but what the essence of the story ends up being.

[2]
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Mary Saks
Medical Case Management
Answer # 3 #

First statistics

White wins 37.35%

Black wins 27.41%

Drawn 35.23%

This is actually answering the question if black wins more often than white. But that is not the question. Draw is a position when neither white nor black can win, but this is really far from white and black being equal. Only if we would analyze draw positions and measure the positions value, we could really add something to this analysis. What I'm saying is that this analysis has to be refined. At least it would have to be done separately over all possible combinations over the first move (2 plies), since black and white have a predefined set of choices. They simply have to move some of these.

Once this is done, you would eliminate those that are giving a strict advantage to the white or black.

Additional analysis would have to say the percentage of games where one player played a blunder. This would eliminate most of the psychological elements of the statistics.

Now you are left with how humans, and this is very important to understand, humans play chess. With the advent of computer chess, you can find that almost all chess players call the moves a computer makes: a surgical and sterile, something that is mathematical correct, but generally devoid of any strict plan or idea.

And here comes the problem:

So if you take that the answer to 2 is very much but not sufficient, since it seems that computer will be able to reach 3500 or maybe even 4000 ELO quite soon, while humans will not go much beyond 3000 ELO any time soon, we probably can play, at best, at about 80% of how chess can be played in order to decide if chess is draw.

All together:

Regarding the way humans play chess, it seems that white might have a decisive advantage because the theory around how black should play in order to win is not developed enough. Since chess is a fractal game, any mistake black makes is then easily more detrimental to the final result than a similar error white would make.

Basically a small disadvantage a black has, because of the initial position AND knowledge we have, is putting him instantly at the edge of the known human logic of playing chess. A player must be more cautious and more inventive and any small mistake white would make requires more effort to turn into a full advantage.

Theory of chess grows, but the total effort of a relatively limited number of players will always be limited by human intelligence. At the moment, if you look at the statistics, you can see that the best lose a little bit more between black and white, Carlsen 10%, the rest about 60-80%. But none of them know how to win with black. In that sense, it is obvious that our current knowledge gives the white a sufficient advantage to get a draw easier. And this is placing black in a disadvantageous position not to make a mistake. And then word "human" comes into play.

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S.S. Welliver
Oncology Nursing