A Library of Chess Moves?

From about the 16th century, chess players started keeping fastidious records of all the games they played. They would write down every move they made and every move their opponents name. Not a single move our counter move our counter-counter-counter moved would be left out of their game notes.

By the 1950s, the Moscow Central Chess Club had amassed a literal library of chess moves!

The library was a huge musty room, full shelves on which sat little boxes. Each of these boxes contained little index cards documenting all the moves that been used in a particular game of chess sometime in the past. 

From Twitter –  In case you were in doubt, the Moscow Central Chess Club is proof that chess is a fancy game for fancy people.

Masters of chess and memorization

Back in the 1950s, only 3 or 4 Russian chess masters had access to this library.

Before a match, they would go to the library and pull from the shelf the box containing the cards detailing every move of every game that their upcoming opponent had ever played. These chess masters would then proceed to memorize all of their moves – thousands and thousands of them.

In doing so, these chess masters would learn exactly how their opponents played and, in theory at least, exactly how to beat them.

Russian chess master Mikhail Botvinnik, one of the few in the world who had access to the chess library, pictured here attempting to move his pieces through telekinesis. 

The chess library goes public

Sometime in the 1980s, however, the Chess Federation of Russia was convinced to put all this information into a publicly available online database. What’s more, they designed it so that people people all over the world could add their own games to it.

When they did this, this database (affectionally nicknamed “Fritzy”), exploded in size. The effect it’s had on the world of chess cannot be understated.

Nowadays, when chess masters sit down to play, the don’t have memorized just thousands of their opponent’s moves. Rather, they have tens if not hundreds of thousands of moves from this database memorized.

Computers and online databases were apparently a thing in the 1980s – who knew!?

Fritzy and the amazing mathematics of chess

One of the nerdy and awesome things you can do with Fritzy is enter any move into it, and it will tell you how many times that move has been used in the entire recorded history of chess.

And here’s how a typical game of chess goes:

  • A typical opening chess will have been played somewhere in the ballpark of about 2 million times before.
  • The second move will have been played about 500,000 times.
  • The third move will have been played around 300,000 times.
  • By the sixth move that number is down to 90,000.
  • By the seventh move it’s already down to about 2,500.

And down and down that number creeps, until somewhere between the 15th and the 20th move the pieces on the chess board will be in a position that is completely unique. That is to say, the chess board will have never been arranged like that before in THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.


That’s because, according to mathematicians, there are more ways to play a game of chess than there are atoms in the universe. 10 to the 102nd power, if that means anything to you.

Sit down, atoms, you’ve got nothing on chess!

Navigating New Frontiers

In other words, from the 15th chess move or so in a game of chess onward, you are left completely to your own devices. Having memorized specific moves and counter moves and counter-counter-counter moves won’t help you one bit!

Whether or not you will win the game is no longer a question of how well you’ve memorized past chess moves. Rather, it become a matter of how much all that study and memorizing and learning you’ve done has formed you and molded you such that you are able to respond competently, skillfully, masterfully to this totally new frontier you are on. A frontier “where no man has gone before.”

Little did you know that chess had such strong Star Trek vibes.

More Than a Rule Book

And that’s why the Bible has to be more than a rule book.

Jesus never had to navigate the ethics of capitalism.
He never had to worry about the deleterious effects of social media.
He never had to worry about school shootings or climate change.

The Bible doesn’t have any records showing us how he dealt with with any of that stuff. We are on a completely new frontier!

So it’s not enough just to read the Bible for rules and regulations that we can apply to our lives in some sort of legalistic way. Rather, our goal in reading the Bible’s stories – its stories about Jesus, its stories about the unconditional grace and love of God – should be so that they become part of us. It should be so they can form us and mold us such that when we encounter entirely novel situations, like some sort of spiritul chess masters, we’ll be able to respond to them competently, skillfully, masterfully, just like Jesus did in his own time.

And hopefully, like Jesus, we’ll win the game by always turning the tables in a more loving, forgiving, grace-filled direction.