Overtom's weblog

AN EAST-GERMAN OLDIE  (3 october 2006)

If you looked inside a modern chess computer, you would probably be somewhat disappointed that all the intelligence is contained in just one chip.

single chip of of 'Turbo Advanced Trainer'

The computer shown above is, in fact, not so very modern. It dates from 1992. But in spite of its single chip, it will defeat nineteen out of every twenty chess players.

A computer that is somewhat older, say twenty-five years old, may not sound very old, but it is a dinosaur among chess computers. One such almost prehistoric machine is the SC2, a computer that was built in the former German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany.


At first sight, the outside doesn't look very spectacular. But as soon as we try to pick it up, we notice a difference: unlike many modern light-weight machines, this computer weighs more than three kilos.

And if we open it up, we'll behold a pleasure-ground for electronics engineers:

circuit board of SC2

This computer sports no fewer than twenty-eight chips. But I can imagine that you'd would like to know a bit more about the playing strength of this computer.

As you could read in my previous weblog, you can get some idea about the playing strength of a chess computer by pitting it against Fritz set at one ply. So I organized a mini-match.

First I set SC2 at level 2 (8 seconds per move), but this was clearly not enough; it didn't stand a ghost of a chance against Fritz.

So I raised the the level to 3, which boils down to an average of 40 seconds per move. Let's have a look at a game played at that level:

White: Fritz-1-ply

Black: SC2, level 3 (average 40 sec./move)

Black's 13th move looks strange, but is probably caused by the 'horizon effect': as long as the damage doesn't show up in in the computer's calculations, the damage does not exist. So the computer just throws in moves that cause less damage to postpone the major damage.

In the fourth game SC2 did not perform much better:

White: SC2, level 3 (average 40 sec./move)

Black: Fritz-1-ply

Well, to sum up the result: all four games were lost by SC2 - which goes to show that an impressive appearance does not guarantee a good performance.

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