Overtom's weblog

JOYLESS JOYSTICK  (15 january 2008)

Quite a few 'gamers' seem to enjoy playing their games with the help of a contraption with the suggestive name of joystick.

In my search for a picture of such an implement, I became convinced that the joystick must have sexual connotations. I saw joysticks which could hardly be distinguished from certain articles sold at sex shops.

Recently, I was somewhat surprised to see a chess computer at eBay which was equipped with a joystick. I made a bid, and a few weeks later the postman delivered a little parcel. No madam, not like this:

One of the first things I usually do when a new addition to the museum arrives is play a game with the novice. The joystick was no longer than two centimetres. That's less than an inch, for those who prefer archaeic measuring units, but probably too small anyway for purposes as frivolously suggested above. But let's be fair: this was a chess computer, so no reason to complain.

LCD Chess Master with joystick

But how would a two-centimetre-long joystick perform on a chess computer? To be honest its performance can -- to misquote Oliver Hardy -- be described in five words: a-bo-mi-na-ble!

When using it, the mini-trucheon continuously felt as if it could break any moment. But worse than the sensation of fragility was the fact that the joystick was mainly used to direct the cursor on the LCD screen, not exactly an activity to excite the seasoned gamer, especially if it happens in short and often rather erratic steps.

I played a few games in which the stick had to make too many moves just for simple things like moving a pawn one step forward. At the same time I had to be very cautious not to break or dislocate the feeble joint. After playing four games, the joint of the computer was still intact, but my arm joints felt on the verge of dislocation as a result of the strain. 

But I can imagine you are interested to see a few games. Let's have a look at the way it played against Fritz-one-ply, the standard opponent used at the Overtom Chess Computer Museum:

White: Fritz 8 (1 ply)

Black: LCD Chess Master (± 10 seconds / move)

1.e4 c6 2.c4 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Bd3 Bg4 5.f3 Be6 6.Ne2 b5 7.cxb5 Nbd7 8.bxc6 Nb8 9.d5 Bxd5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Bxh7 Qa5+ 12.Bd2 Qc5 13.b4 Qb6 14.Be4 Ne3 15.Bxe3 Qxb4+ 16.Nbc3 Na6 17.Rb1 Qc4 18.Rb7 O-O-O 19.Nd5 Qxa2 20.Rxa7 Qa5+ 21.Bd2 Qb5 22.Bc3 e5 23.Ra8+ Nb8 24.Bf5+ Rd7 25.Bxd7+ Kd8 26.c7+ Kxd7 27.cxb8=Q Qxb8 28.Rxb8 e4 29.Qa4+ Ke6 30.Qxe4+ Kd7 31.Qe8#

An animation of the game can be seen if you have Java installed.

Our bejoystick'd friend managed to get itself checkmated in some thrirty moves, but we should be honest: Fritz-one-ply may not look ahead further than one ply, but it makes use of a vast knowledge of the game of chess.

It might be a better idea to pit this Chess Master against another small machine, the Lexibook Travel Chess Explorer.

 Lexibook Travel Chess Explorer

This Lexibook computer uses old-fashioned chessmen on pegs that are stuck into holes in the board.

The computers played two games, in both of which the Lexibook computer got a clear advantage.

Unfortunately, in both games the Lexibook computer threw away its chances by not noticing it made threefold repetition -- which its bejoystick'd opponent did not see either  Both computers would have continued endlessly repeating the same moves if I had not called it a day.

Here is the shortest of these two drawn games:

White: LCD Chess Master (± 10 seconds / move)

Black: Lexibook Travel Chess Explorer (± 10 seconds / move)

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. d4 Qh4+ 4. Ke2 Nf6 5. Qd3 d5 6. exd5 Qg4+ 7. Nf3 Nxd5 8. h3 Qg6 9. Qxg6 hxg6 10. c4 Nb6 11. Bxf4 Nxc4 12. b3 Bd6 13. g3 Bxf4 14. gxf4 Nd6 15. Rg1 Bxh3 16. Bxh3 Rxh3 17. Ng5 Rh2+ 18. Kd3 Nc6 19. Re1+ Kd7 20. d5 Nb4+ 21. Kc3 Nxd5+ 22. Kd4 Nxf4 23. a4 Nf5+ 24. Kc4 Nd6+ 25. Kd4 Ne2+ 26. Kd3 Nf4+ 27. Kd4=

An animation of the game can be seen if you have Java installed.

My conclusion is that if you're looking for an inexpensive travel game, this joystick computer is not the best choice. The joystick may be a nice gimmick, or even a conversation piece. But if we consider ease of use and playing stength, an old-fashioned peg game like the Lexibook Travel Chess Explorer is by far to be preferred.

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