Success on a super grandmaster level in modern chess requires much effort, computer support, a little bit of luck and submitting a proof of this work to other people who would also like to claim for a reward. In other words, it is very much like Bitcoin mining.

Proof-of-work

Simplifying things a little, we can say that the game of chess has three stages: the opening, the middle game, and the endgame. Since the game of chess may end at any time, the opening is the only stage that appears in every game. Each player may play a so called ‘theoretical novelty’: a legal move which is not known to have been played before in the same positions. The first conclusion is the following: playing a theoretical novelty is a proof of work.

Validity

Hashing a transaction block and finding a theoretical novelty have one thing in common: either one is a solution of a given problem. Why do people try to solve the problems? To claim for a reward if the solution were valid.
OK, this is easy with Bitcoin. The majority of the Bitcoin network hashing power has to confirm the validity of a given solution.
And the theoretical novelty is valid if it is rewarding and improves the situation of the player who plays it.

Being The First One

In Bitcoin, everything is clear: with a one solved block there comes a reward. The matter of chess is slightly different. If a good theoretical novelty was found, it might be rewarded but a good move will be known.
Actually, the move might be played again and again. In contrast, Robert Hübner, the German grandmaster, has once come up with the idea of copyrighting the chess moves. The funny argument against it was that chess moves occur on a tournament chessboards and therefore can’t be subject to copyright. But once a theoretical novelty is known to achieve an important goal in a given position, it is not so much rewarding anymore.

Difficulty Change

The Bitcoin protocol includes so called ‘difficulty’ to prevent the blocks being mined too often because this would harm the whole network. How does chess re-target difficulty without any formulae?
Well, the difficulty is changing by itself. First of all, once a new move has been played, it is not a new move anymore. Since the number of possible chess positions and legal moves in a given position are limited, new theoretical novelties are less to be ‘found’.
Theoretically, the difficulty may decrease as well, like with Bitcoin, but for other reasons.

Hashing Power

While the Bitcoin hashing power comes from the machines, the theoretical novelties hashing power comes from the human brain. A strong player with no computer will come up with a theoretical novelty more likely than a weak player with the strongest computer in the world because he has the intuition basing on his chess knowledge and experience. The Bitcoin mining computer must check hash by hash to finally solve the block. Similarly, the chess engine must check move by move and variation by variation to finally show the best move. The chess grandmaster uses intuition to reduce the possibilities to those positions considered worth checking.

Is This All?

In a chess sense, no. Chess knowledge is not limited to the openings. It involves the middle game and the endgame as well. The endgame theory is probably the best known part of the chess theory.
But increasing chess middle game and endgame knowledge does not have much to do with Bitcoin mining.

By Wojciech Pietrzak for CEX.IO