In Chess, Variability in Play Is Not Dumb Luck

March 14, 2015 3:05 PM

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In Chess, Variability in Play Is Not Dumb Luck

In a tense game in last year’s world chess-championship match, Magnus Carlsen made a huge mistake—an error so obvious to grandmasters that as soon as his hand left the piece, he saw it himself and paused nervously before writing down his move. Incredibly, his opponent, Viswanathan Anand, failed to make the winning reply, allowing Mr. Carlsen to escape. It was a rare “double blunder” among the chess elite—but was luck involved?

Games are often categorized as being ruled primarily by skill or by chance. In some children’s favorites, like War or Chutes and Ladders, every move is dictated by the roll of dice or the shuffle of cards, so luck alone determines who wins. In poker, Monopoly and most modern tabletop and computer ga...

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