David Shenk on The Infinite Possibilities of Chess (2013)

“It’s so deceptively simple when you’re starting out the game, you can start out by moving a pawn either one square or two squares, each knight can go one of two different places. When you think about it, right from the bat, that’s 20 possible moves for the first player, and 20 possible responses for the second. But right away that is actually 400 board positions. From there, the complexity just grows. The actual number of possible different chess games is 10 to the 120th power – that is, 10x10x10x10, 120 times. That is one with 120 zeros behind it. That number is bigger than there are electrons in the universe. The beauty of that is that chess will never actually be played out, even by a computer. So even somebody as great as Magnus Carlsen can play thousands of chess games and study thousands of other chess games and have a computer analyze millions of possible chess positions, and still there’s nobody who’s going to perfect chess and all the different possibilities. All they can do is come closer and closer and closer to really, like, mastering the game perfectly.”