How many possible chess games are there?

Most possible chess games are totally random. For example, say in every chess position on average there are 3 good moves, on average there are around 23 possible moves!

We can come up with an estimate by writing a program to compute the average number of legal moves, and the average game length when playing randomly.

So lets do it! I'm going to be using the python-chess library, while writing this in a language like rust would be far more efficent, we really only need to run this once, so python will be good enough.

First we'll need chess and random

import chess
import random

And a function that returns the length of a random game, and the average amount of legal moves.

def play_random_game() -> (int, int):
    b = chess.Board()
    total_legal_moves = 0
    while not b.is_game_over():
        legal_moves = list(b.legal_moves)
        total_legal_moves += len(legal_moves)

    game_length = len(b.move_stack)
    return game_length, total_legal_moves / game_length

Then we can play a few thousand random games (this takes forever, python is slow!)

avg_length = 0
avg_legal  = 0
n_games = 10000
for i in range(n_games):
  length, moves = play_random_game()
  avg_length += length
  avg_legal += moves
  print(f'[{i}] length: {length} moves: {moves}')

avg_length /= n_games
avg_legal /= n_games

print(f'avg_length: {avg_length} avg_legal: {avg_legal}')

For me this gives avg_length: 355.9369 avg_legal: 23.09636004565067 thus, there are approximately 23 ^ 355 possible chess games.

In future I might rewrite this in rust and average a larger amount of games, but for now this should be a decent estimate.