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A TOY THAT PLAYS CHESS  (18 february 2007)

A chess computer programs that most people will know is Fritz, programmed by Dutchman Frans Morsch. Although it is rather inexpensive software, the latest versions will beat almost every chess player on earth.

Another very strong chess computer program is Chessmaster. The version I possess usually beats the aforementioned Fritz -- although the CDROM did not exhaust my financial means either.

In September 2006, there was a discussion on Ismenio's Chess Computer Forum about Chessmaster . . . for the Gameboy . It became clear that nobody really knew the ELO rating of this combination.

A few weeks ago, I spotted a Gameboy with Chessmaster on Internet auction site eBay. Needless to say I made a bid. And a week ago the computer with the Chessmaster cartridge arrived here.

Gameboy-Chessmaster  is the only chess computer I know which can play white from from the left and the right.

playing white from the left

It speaks with a voice that sounds a bit like former USA Secretary of State James Baker. But I can't guarantee Mr Baker was indeed hired to do the job.

Test 1: Fritz-one-ply

Of course, I was eager to know how it would play. So I started with the usual test: a game against Fritz-one-ply:

White: Fritz-one-ply

Black: Chessmaster on Gameboy (± 10 seconds / move)

The two computers played four games and it was clear that Gameboy/Chessmaster was far too strong for Fritz-one-ply. I had to find another adversary for this 'toy'.

Test 2: Sphinx Legend

A rather strong but inexpensive computer which dates back to 1992 is the Sphinx Legend. Its ELO rating is about 1800. Let's see how the Nintendo-cum-Chessmaster performs against this oldie.

White: CXG Sphinx Legend (30 seconds / move)

Black: Chessmaster on Gameboy (30 seconds / move)

Black should have played 18. .. Qxc3. As the game went, the black queen could not escape and had to be exchanged for a rook. Chessmaster-on-Gameboy is clearly weaker than 1800 Elo points.

Test 3: Sphinx Titan

I searched through the lists of computers of less than 1800 ELO and found another CXG computer, the Titan . I happened to receive a Titan a few weeks ago and was curious to see how well it would perform.

The computers played four games: two were won by Titan and two were drawn. I'll show you one draw:

White: CXG Sphinx Titan (30 sec. / move)

Black: Chessmaster on Gameboy (60 moves / 30 minutes)

As you can see, there wasn't much difference in strength. At one moment I even thought black's passed king pawn would win this game for him.

Titan's rating is about 1563. We may safely assume Chessmaster on Gameboy cannot be much lower than that.

Test 4: Sphinx Crown

I went looking for a slightly weaker machine and, once again, I hit upon a CXG computer.

CXG Crown is supposed to have a rating of about 1550. The computers played five games, four of which were won by the Gameboy combination, and one was drawn. Here is the last game of the match. Crown is clearly outplayed and mated on the 41st move:

White: Chessmaster on Gameboy (60 moves / 10 minutes)

Black: CXG Crown (10 seconds / move)

It was clear that the Gameboy combination should be rated between 1550 and 1563. So finally it should be possible to find a good match.

Final test: Mephisto Mirage

This time, it was no Sphinx computer that I came up with, but the Mephisto Mirage, a computer that dates back to 1984, but was considered quite strong at the time: ELO 1556.

So far, the two computers have played four games. Three of them were won by Gameboy and one by Mirage.

The two computers displayed completely different styles of playing, which made for an exciting kind of chess. The fourth game is a fine example. Up to the 46th move things did not look too bad for white. But then white played Qxc7+, which allows black to queen a pawn. White discovered this too late and sacrificed his queen, but to no avail.

White: Chessmaster on Gameboy (60 moves / 10 minutes)

Black: CXG Crown (10 seconds / move)


It may be thought Gameboy is a children's toy, but with the Chessmaster it has an Elo rating of about 1558 . This combination will teach children much better chess than the slick Chinese computers you can buy for a few dollars these days and which may give children (or adults, for that matter) the illusion they can play chess, but wil in fact teach inferior chess playing habits.

      Chinese toys

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