Overtom's weblog


There is a widespread misconception that the amount of pleasure you get is proportional to the amount of money you invest.

This misconception was disproved in an earlier weblog, where you could read about interesting games played by a computer of no more than twenty dollars.

The computer that plays a part in today's weblog cost me 275 dollars. I'm talking about the very first chess computer ever produced (click on the picture below to see more details):

  Chess Challenger 1 (1977)

How would a 275-dollar computer perform? One thing is sure: it would be silly to pit it against the mega turbo power of a modern program like Fritz. Needless to say it would be crushed in a most pitiful way.

A more suitable candidate is probably Chess Champion 2, a computer that was produced sixteen months later by Novag(successor to the utterly stupid Chess Challenger Mk 1).

 Chess Challenger Mk. 2

Still unconscious of what was awaiting me, I bravely started to play a game between these two computers.

Chess Challenger 1 is a unique computer .... and not only because it was the very first. It uses a rather peculiar system of move notation.

As you will know, pushing the king pawn two squares forward is normally written as E2-E4. Chess Challenger, however, uses its own system. The files and ranks have been exchanged, so the move E2-E4 is displayed as 5B-5D.

  files and ranks on the CC1

This may sound rather simple. Well ... it probably is about as simple as writing the word NUT as OVU (just shift each letter one position in the alphabet). But be honest: could you write a complete story in this way - without even one spelling mistake?

Well, it took quite some conjuring with co-ordinates to play games in this way, all the more since the two computers use different systems of notation. You won't be surprised to hear that the first six games all ended when at a certain moment the position in the memory of one computer differed from that of the other.

But with the seventh game I had acquired so much experience that I could even carry out castling without one mistake. By the way, castling on this Chess Challenger requires no less than eleven key presses:

   [double move]

   [5] [A] [7] [A] [enter]

   [8] [A] [6] [A] [enter]

The game was not exactly pretty to see. Chess Challenger 1 can play only one level of difficulty, for which it takes about three seconds per move. So it would be fair to give Chess Champion 2 the same thinking time.

But under these circumstances, the Champion did not exactly live up to the reputation suggested by its name. It kept sacrificing pieces. After blundering through 43 moves it allowed black to promote a pawn. I was happy to see Chess Challenger knew about promotion. Challenger's check light (top left display) flashed on to show that the pawn had been changed into a queen:

Black promotes a pawn

Being a queen, two rooks, a bishop and a handful of pawns down, you would expect white to be mated in a few moves, wouldn't you?

But lo and behold ...

White: Novag Chess Champion 2

Black: Fidelity Chess Challenger 1

(± 3 seconds per move)

And the game is drawn because of threefold repetition (!)

But Fidelity were a friendly bunch. A few months after buyers had bought their Chess Challenger 1, they could hand in their computer (and 75 dollars) to be exchanged for one that was less stupid. After seeing this game, you won't be surprised to hear most people brought it back.

So now you'll understand why there are so few specimens of this Chess Challenger 1 left.

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