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   Author  Topic: Interesting article about chess computers  (Read 1303 times)
Mike Watters
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Re:Interesting article about chess computers
« on: March 10, 2006, 02:22PM »
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Hi Terry

Do your News Sheets/Selective Search's go back to the beginning? I have from No. 8 onwards. Eric H was not keen on copying the early ones for people, so not many have them.

Back in the autumn I finally got around to doing a Timeline. Only a diagram/table of manufacturers and models in chronological order. Includes about 430 models (largely excluding clones), just those models for which I could find reliable date info. Another 200 or 300 could be added if I had a release date. It took me 2 weeks to do.

The Wiki Encyclopaedia is gradually building up a Timeline linking to the information on each model :-

http://www.schach-computer.info/wiki/index.php/Timeline

Hein Veldhuis in the Netherlands is constructing a comprehensive database of every chess computer, module etc ever made. The database has all the information about processor, program, date released  etc etc. He has got to 1040+ models and has estimated that there are around 1300 if you also count every combination of board + module and every clone. Unfortunately he intends to go on until he has completed the task before he publishes. Some of us will be dead by then.

As for the Fidelity Elite A/S A, B and C I could only reach the conclusion that the A is the 3.2 MHz Budapest and the C is the 4 MHz Glasgow. The exact nature of the B is a bit of a mystery, perhaps the 3.6MHz Budapest upgrade, which may have suffered poor results putting if below the A? I get the impression that they were only known as A, B and C in the UK, but I don't know for sure. I have an Elite A/S, bought as an A and upgraded to a C, that I have had since 1984.

All the best
Mike

« Last Edit: March 17, 2006, 02:35PM by Mike Watters » Report to moderator Logged
TerryG
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Re:Interesting article about chess computers
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2006, 10:32AM »
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Mike,
            Yes I too have been looking at my old Selective Search's from Eric Hallsworth and also thought a Timeline would be an excell(ance !!!)ent idea. This would show just how good some of the early programmes were considering the program size and hardware available. Just look at the Prestige which was top program for some time (and top price!!). I have noted the first date that they appeared on Eric's list (1985 -1999). Also I have been thinking of grouping all the different ratings together and averaging them up. There seems a problem with one or two e.g. Fidelity Elite A showing stronger than the B on Eric's list but the other way round on others. Some may be known as other names also.
       
                Terry
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TerryG
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Re:Interesting article about chess computers
« Reply #2 on: March 10, 2006, 08:15AM »
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I read it again today and it's still fun



Quote from: Ismenio on February 15, 2005, 07:17PM   

This was posted on the chess computer newsgroup back in Jan 2001 by Peter Perkins and I'm reposting it here for our viewing pleasure. It's long but worth reading! Enjoy!

Ismenio

--------------------------------------------------
"Pity the Poor Chess Computer Buyer"

  If there was ever a blind item in the history of selling, the chess
computer is it! When the commercial chess computer was introduced to the
public some 8 years ago, the uninformed public was divided into two schools
of thought: either the computer must be so strong that no one could ever
beat it, or it must be so weak as to be useless as a chess opponent.
Unfortunately, the latter conjecture turned out to be far and away the more
correct one as proven by those unlucky soles who ventured their hard earned
money on Chess Challenger 1, JS&A's Computer Chess, CompuChess, and Boris.
Here were "chess playing opponents" (all three terms used VERY loosely) that
seemed disinterested in winning but did a tremendous job of leaving pieces
en prise, giving no thought to positional values, and, worst of all, taking
inordinate amounts of time to reach obvious conclusions. These electronic
"wood pushers" probably created a world's record for dissatisfied customers.
And to add insult to injury, quality control was not all that evident in the
"ingenious" little gadgets, and department stores and mail-order houses had
their return policies tested to the limit from customers with complaints
ranging from, "It takes too long to move!" to "It makes illegal moves!" to
"It doesn't work at all!" to "It just made a king sacrifice; in fact, it
ALWAYS seems to sacrifice its king!" Those who chose to endure these earlier
computers quickly lost interest because of their weaknesses and either put
them away in the closet or used them for very expensive Frisbees.

  Both the computer chess customer and the computer chess market moved
aimlessly forward for some years with Boris (a product of Applied Concepts
Inc.) competing with Chess Challenger "10" (from Fidelity Electronics Ltd.)
for customers who were willing to spend $250 to $300 for a computerized
chess opponent that looked impressive but actually played 1100 chess.
However, it wasn't until Fidelity Electronics introduced the Chess
Challenger "7" that the market exploded. For the very first time the
"strongest" chess computer on the market (albeit 1150) was under $120, and
tests proved that it was somewhat stronger than both the "10" and Boris. Ads
appeared in papers and magazines all over the country, and over a quarter
million people made the decision to purchase Chess Challenger "7". Fidelity
Electronics, then located in Chicago, began bursting at the seams as did
their bank account, and the decision was made to build a huge, beautiful
factory in Miami, Florida, where their supply could better keep up with the
incredible demand. The timing of the move was unfortunate, for it interfered
with Christmas sales because the interruption caused by the move served to
constrict the supply lines to retailers, and rumors have it that quality
control died a quick death that 1979 Christmas season.

  It was at just about this time that capitalism showed its greedy little
head; at least five different companies were watching Fidelity's upward
flight with ideas and visions of new chess computers dancing in their heads.
To stave off the competition, Fidelity, seemingly without the ability to
make stronger programs, went the route of gimmickry with voice simulation in
their Voice Challenger while Applied Concepts Inc., with the help of Chafitz
Inc., were planning the first real breakthrough in computer chess
programming... the hiring of Kathe and Dan Spracklen. Sargon 2.5, Kathe and
Dan's newest program, was incorporated into two impressive computer chess
machines: the Modular Game System and the Auto Response Board, both playing
1500 chess (300-400 points stronger than all previous stand alone chess
playing microprocessors). Each of these units offered a new (and what is now
considered to be a highly controversial) feature... that of modular
upgrading. Theoretically, the consumer could purchase either unit, and for
life could simply obtain updated programs by purchasing inexpensive modules,
NOT a new machine.

  The concept was beautiful; the implementation was highly questionable,
for Applied Concepts Inc. and Chafitz Inc. had a myriad of misunderstandings
and shortly parted ways, and the Spracklens were off on their own, no longer
under contract to continue producing programs for the Modular Game System,
Great Game Machine, or Auto Response Board. Those anxiously anticipated,
impressive future modules would not be programmed by the Spracklens any
longer so other programmers had to step in and devise a 3.0 Module which
came to be known as Morphy on the Modular Game System (which was renamed the
Great Game Machine). It is rumored that both Larry Atkin and David Slate,
two well respected programmers, took part (and are still taking part) in the
creation of chess programs for Applied Concepts. In spite of the fact that
Applied had managed to latch onto some excellent programmers, it was from
this point on that modularity began to get a bad name, for the customer was
asked to now supplement his $100 Morphy with a $100 Gruenfeld Opening Book
and a $150 Capablanca End Game. Then came Steinitz to upgrade all three and
out went another $160. And for those who hadn't thrown up their hands
already, Mega 4 Mainframe was announced but to this date not introduced to
update the rest of the unit... good-by another $160.
Consequently, the ''inexpensive'upgrading would hypothetically cost $1230.00
and the final results would more than likely not surpass the current
state-of-the-art under $200 chess computer. Of course, such a policy was not
really what Applied Concepts had in mind in the beginning, but it was
obvious that the public was willing to bear the quarterly introduction of
new modules, and since the competition was getting I rather fierce, the
company "was between a rock and a hard place." They were forced to put out
new programs to keep up with their competitors, but the public was asked to
reach into their pockets each and every time if they wanted to maintain the
"state of the art". Not unlike the field of education, the motto became
"publish or perish!" As it turns out, in the chess computer business,
marketing decisions are often made on a day-to-day basis, but if a lesson
may be learned here, it is that a chess computer should be purchased on the
basis of what it does NOW, not what it may do in the future.

Also, with the best intentions, AVE Microsystems, the manufacturer of the
Auto Response Board, updated (albeit halfheartedly) to a 3.0 Module with the
promise, but no delivery, of future programs- thus, the customer's original
$800 investment plus $140 for the 3.0 module, purchased with the under
standing that "state-of-the-art" would be maintained, resulted,
realistically, in the ownership of a beautiful chess computer that played no
better than the $130 Prodigy. Unfortunately, the sophisticated chess player
who purchased the ARB had no option but to religate his beautiful computer
to the closet, or take up a collection of them in order to parquet his
living room floor. SciSys contributed somewhat to the debacle with the'
Philidor upgrade to the Mark V, an upgrade that didn't really upgrade, and
the Mark V printer attachment which was promised but never made it to the
marketplace. Novag upgraded Savant I to Savant II but mostly for the sake of
correcting malfunctions in the I, and the $1500 updateable Robot Adversary
(the modernistic polished aluminum chess player with the robotic arm) was
such a problem mechanically that the U.S. distributor threw in the towel.
However, even though the Robot Adversary will probably never compete,
skillswise, with other top-of-the-line chess computers, it can always be a
readily available armwrestling opponent. Conchess, also, became an instant
member of the AntiModularity Hall of Fame with its three computer entrants:
Escorter, Ambassador, and Monarch. All were advertised as, "The one and only
system truly upgradeable without limit." Not only was the program
upgradeable but so was the microprocessor- "Now for the first time," the
customer thought, "I can make the program stronger AND faster!" Guess what?
Since Milton Bradley took over distribution of the Conchess units in mid
stream, plans for updating were thrown out the proverbial window, at least,
until Milton Bradley's contract runs out in early 1984. And we have now
received information that Waltham Electronics, the manufacturer, has filed
for bankruptcy.

  And let us not forget Fidelity Electronics, which announced 5 modules
(over and above the two opening book modules) for use with the Prestige,
Elite A/S, and Sensory "9", and as of this writing has produced none. Of
course, the customer who spent $1000 on his Prestige is now being asked to
not only spend $200 for an upgrade to the new Budapest program, but also to
send his unit to the factory for the privilege. The slot in the side of
chess computers designed for the purpose of upgrading might just as well be
cemented shut for all the good it has been in the history of upgradeability.
Last but not least, we do not mean to leave Mephisto out of the upgrading
fiasco; their short stint of selling units in the U.S. has already allowed
for considerable errant behavior including failure to develop the promised
T.V. interface for the Mephisto, and. more importantly, the introduction of
the Mephisto III upgrade module which can more accurately be defined as a
DOWN grade. It boggles the mind to attempt to picture the state of computer
chess today if ALL updated programs were worse than their predecessors.

    Despite all of the above, human nature is such that the concept of
modularity (as a dangling carrot) was immediately accepted by the chess
playing public and Applied Concepts Inc. enjoyed an excellent year of sales
in 1979/1980. Every time a new module was introduced, more customers lined
up to puchase, but customer enthusiasm for the Modular Game System/Great
Game Machine began to wane with the introduction of the Capablanca module
and the announced results of the 1981 World Microcomputer Championships in
which the Chess Champion Mark V (by SciSys) won the commercial division and
the Elite won the experimental division.

  Since paranoia is a prerequisite for computer chess manufacturers, the
tournament was deluged by claims of cheating by practically everyone
involved, and Applied Concepts, after a few unexpected losses, withdrew
claiming a defective Capablanca module. Since the Elite was an experimental
program at the time, SciSys had the top end market all to itself with its
winning Mark V machine, and Christmas season 1981 was fast approaching.
Unfortunately for the public, the Mark V, which was so readily available for
the tournament, could not be made available to the American public because
of one manufacturing problem after another. Wholesale excuses were handed to
retailers almost daily, and customers were getting extremely impatient after
having waited, in some cases, over three months for delivery.

  To SciSys' extreme chagrin, Fidelity (taking advantage of marketing
decisons made on 24 hour notice - the industry norm) managed to rush the
Elite program into production so quickly that Elites (the Experimental World
Champion program in the body of Champion Sensory Challengers) beat Mark V's
on to the market by two months and to the surprise of everyone (including
Fidelity) sold out all 500 units at $1000 list each. By the time Mark V
became established as available in the U.S., Fidelity had already geared up
its huge resources to publicize the Champion Sensory Challenger and its
"established rating" of 1771 ( a rating which, interestingly enough, also
showed up on the box of the Sensory Challenger "9" which has a different
program running at a different speed - more about this later). The Mark V, a
machine which showed so much potential, was laid to rest- not by the
public - but by its own maker's inefficiency.

  Taking liberties with advertising is an art in which chess computer
manufacturers are well versed: a prime example is the Voice Sensory
Challenger (rated at approximately 1150-1200) ad which proclaimed, "The same
engineers who helped win the `First World Microcomputer Chess
Championship'... are proud to announce Fidelity's newest chess product..."
It's truthful, of course, but since the Voice Sensory Challenger in no
manner, shape, or form resembled the Champion program, is it correct to tie
the two programs together? Mark V advertising literature to this day insists
that the unit plays 1900; of course, any such estimate can be defended, but
so can 1670 which we believe is considerably more accurate. Novag
unabashedly proclaims on its Constellation literature, "Rated at 2000 ELO!
with "Rated by Novag based on tournament and test results." In tiny letters
on the bottom of the sheet. Luckily for Novag, the manufacturer is not
forced to rate the Elite A/S or Prestige on that same "Novag scale"! I think
all will agree that asterisks ought to be banned from all advertising; they
always appear to be admitting to some sort of wrongdoing. Mephisto never
hesitates to claim that it has the strongest program in the world. In fact,
Hegener and Glaser (Mephisto's manufacturer) distributes the following
statement in its selling catalog: "Champion Sensory Challenger... proven in
tournaments against man and machine. The same program as in the CC9 (sic)."
Apparently, the fact that the program AND clock speed are different has no
bearing on anything; but it is our guess that actually entering the
computers in well supervised tournaments with adequate checks and balances
to avoid questionable results would be infinitely more valuable to the
computer chess enthusiast who is considering spending a considerable amount
of money. The irony here is that the 1771 given to the "9" by the
Federation, solely based upon the manufacturer's word, is quite close to
reality but ONLY by coincidence.

  On occasions, even the nomenclature used in naming units is somewhat
amusing. Milton Bradley has chosen "Grandmaster" as the name for its new
chess computer which appears to play in the 1500's not bad, but not 2400
either. And what about Boris, Morphy, Gruenfeld, Capablanca, and Steinitz?
There is more than likely a great deal of grave rolling each time a new
chess computer is released. Why, would you imagine, haven't we seen a Bobby
Module? Better than that... why can't we have a module that PLAYS like
Bobby???

  It is commonplace when speaking with a given manufacture to hear how
difficult it is to manufacture and how easy it is to retail. When you speak
with a retailer, they will not hesitate to say how simple life would be if
they could manufacture instead of retail. Well, some manufacturers
occasionally attempt to have the best of both worlds. Prompted by avarice,
no doubt, and with no regard to the retailers that carry their product, at
least two manufacturers have attempted to sell directly to the public,
usually in a surreptitious manner by forming a separate corporation with a
different name. Now, they could sell at competitive prices and make TWICE as
much profit as before. Two of the more notable examples of
manufacturer/retailer behavior were/are Computer Games of Miami, FL., and
Chesset-al of Dallas, TX. Neither company offered any service other than
shipping a unit- untested, of course. Retailer pressure on behalf of both
themselves and their customers has usually resulted in the suspension of
such behavior, at least for a short time. However, nothing (legal or
otherwise) insures that these "instant profit makers" will not continue to
sprout up occasionally.

  Despite objections by some larger retailers, Fidelity Electronics makes
an annual "direct-to-the-public" offering. Last year it was the ill-fated
"Consumer Distributor" appeal. All that one needed to become a distributor
for Fidelity way to purchase X amount of outdated product. Then, whenever he
or his friends wished to purchase a Challenger, "wholesale pricing" was
available to them. Just imagine thousands of Amway-like organizers selling
obsolete Chess Challenger "7's" to each other. What fun!

    This year the generous factory-direct giveaway included the "Special
Edition 'Septennial' ". A chess computer designed to celebrate Fidelity"s
seven years in the commercial computer chess business. The letter
accompanying the brochure states, "In recognition of your support these past
seven years, we have made a limited Champion edition, called the
"Septennial"... and... "This product will not be available through our
normal retail outlets, and can only be purchased direct from the factory."
No explanation was given as to why "normal" retail outlets would not be
allowed to carry this supposed "famed" computer. Here was a machine that
claimed the following virtues: * "Our famed Prestige program, rated over
1900 playing strength (the Prestige model retails for $1,295.00)." * "3 mghz
processor." * "Built-in CB9 (8160 Book Opening Moves) module ($78.00 retail
value)." * "Housed in the "Champion" hand rubbed walnut housing, with hand
carved magnetized chess pieces." "A Christmas offer of orgasmic quality, no
doubt." Well, not quite.

  "Unbelieveable, Prestige strength for 1/4 the price." Not really. "The
company is giving something away for nothing." Not at all. Let us analyze
the offer and conditions. First, the holiday season offering accomplishes
two goals: taking business away from the retailer who has supported the
manufacturer all year, and presenting "facts" about a product which cannot
be substantiated in time to  stop people from being "taken in". Dr.
Irazoqui's request for a Septennial for testing purposes after being
surprised by its introduction went unheaded. Why? Some of the more respected
retailers were not permitted to carry the unit, despite the fact that if it
were really as good as claimed, it would have sold briskly. Why? Well, even
though the above quotes from Fidelity's Septennial offer are all true, some
of them are not quite as precise as they ought be: * The famed Prestige
program was superb in its generation, but since at least four generations of
programs have evolved since its introduction, receiving a left-over Prestige
program is not quite so incredibly exciting.
* The 3 mghz microprocessor announcement is seemingly quite impressive, but
is there also some obligation to mention that the program is only running at
2.4 mghz - 20% slower? * Now, when one computes the above two factors
together, one might be shocked to realize that this "1900 playing strength"
really factors out to 1800 or perhaps less, weaker than Prestige Budapest,
Prestige, Elite A/S, and the significantly less expensive Constellation and
Sensory "9" Budapest.

  What a bargain!!! It would appear that allowing retailers to test and
sell this limited edition computer would severely curtail Fidelity's ability
to unload them, and, after all, what would the manufacturer be able to do
with 3000 old Champion Sensory Challenger bodies with old Prestige chips?
Perhaps sending them off to Third World countries is a good idea, but they
used that one in trying to sell outdated Champion Sensory Challengers direct
to the public some time back.

  Many "wool-pullers" have attempted to sell computer chess machines, but
they do not last very long. Just recently, an ad appeared in the Wall Street
Journal proclaiming the virtues of the Chess Challenger "7", indicating that
the "7" was the same program as other Fidelity programs but simply was not
sensory and therefore could be sold at an extremely low price. The ad also
made some reference to the "7's" miraculous ability to challenge experts.
Once again both statements are accurate and inaccurate at the same time.
Firstly, the "7" indeed is similar in program to such world-renowned duffers
as the Mini Sensory Challenger and Sensory "8", but is FAR from being in the
same league with Champion, "9", Elite, Prestige, Super "9", and Elite A/S.
As far as "challenging experts"... well, that could be the case assuming the
particular expert were blindfolded, immersed 300 feet under the Artic ice
caps, and preoccupied with a 250 board simultaneous exhibition.
Advertising of computer chess machines, because it is such a blind item,
continues to lead the public astray on occasions. Several retailers and mail
order companies have attempted to push outdated or weak machines as more
than they actually were. In general, these companies have survived for
several months and then, thankfully, disappeared. A recent edition of Chess
Life magazine sort of summarizes the difficulties of uncovering fact from
fiction in this industry. I.C.D. Corporation ran an ad proclaiming Mephisto
III as "Rewriting Computer Chess History!" Certainly, no other program has
EVER performed worse than its preceding one. Fidelity proclaimed its Elite
A/S as world champion with no reference to the fact that Elites did not come
with the same program. They also announced their "9" as the winner in the
commercial division; they did NOT announce that there was only one other
entrant - an East German computer (enough said about the quality of the
competition?). And, finally, a mysterious ad on the back page by a newcomer
in the industry proclaimed that the Novag Constellation, "beat two masters
at the U.S. Open! 't heat Experts and A players, Too! It sacrifices!!!
Rating 1850+ !!! simply the finest chessplaying computer availablestronger
than Elite and Super 9." Other than the proclivity to add exclamation
points,.?here is more NOT said than said. What is NOT said is that the U.S.
Open Constellation was running 50% faster than the unit being sold and may
possibly have had a different program. Also NOT stated is which Elite is
being compared: Elite (from two years ago) or Elite A/S. And what makes a
chess computer "Simply the finest chessplaying computer available?" Does
that ACTUALLY mean that you are rated higher than all the others? What about
Prestige and Elite A/S?

    The most valuable and most vulnerable pawn in the chess game of computer
chess is the consumer. The prospective computer chess customer has always
been confronted with the same difficulty-that of receiving adequate
information and adequate selection. Such an incredibly large number of
people have purchased computer chess machines only to find that the
propanganda which influenced them to buy was far from reality; the lucky
ones were able to get refunds; the unlucky ones will probably never venture
their money on a unit again even though the selection and abilities of
today's computers are so impressive. However, there is another class of
customer that has hesitated to buy a computer chess machine: they are the
people who refuse to spend their money now, "because something stronger and
better is bound to come out shortly!" Anyone who negates this statement is
not being truthful, for we have here a technology that will not cease to
improve after you purchase your chess computer. However, as a reason for not
purchasing, it is very weak. There are several considerations involved:
First, the longer you wait for progress to bring you the "perfect chess
computer", the longer you live without a computer. Second, some people tend
to believe that their computers are outdated if something stronger comes
along even though they have trouble beating their own computer at its first
level, but it should be noted that obsolescence in chess computers is
limited solely to the computer's inability to beat you at reasonable time
levels.

  The third class of computer chess customer might be considered "The
Collector." He will carefully select a new computer in each generation so as
to have a variety of skills and styles to play against, and most collectors
enjoy running the computers against each other to analyze for himself the
relative strengths and weaknesses of the programs.

  It was quite ironic that just as the market was proving that the chess
computer had the potential to be more than just a fad, and just as the chess
computers were beginning to truly play competitive chess (better than the
average member of the United States Chess Federation), and just as chess
computers were incorporating truly interesting features (take-back, hints,
thinking on opponent's time, sensory surfaces, quick responses, etc.), and
just as more and more companies decided to jump into the computer chess
marketplace (Conchess, Milton Bradley, Mephisto, Hanimex, etc.), the
marketplace began to shrink, slowly at first, and then with increasing
speed. The reason was not evident at first, but as time went on, it became
more and more obvious: the more complicated the computers became, the more
trouble people had operating them. Invariably, a customer would purchase a
chess computer at a local department store and find when he/she returned
home that the instructions did not adequately cover the topic of how to
operate the unit. In addition, the industry has seen it share of customers
who believe that instruction manuals are not necessary and, consequently,
all human errors are immediately assumed to be computer errors (you see, the
customer isn't ALWAYS right). Therefore, in the mind of the consumer, the
product was defective, and since the clerk at the store knew nothing of the
product, money was refunded or, worse, the unit was exchanged for a second,
which, of course, was seen, once again as being defective. Result: "Chess
computers are either ALL defective or just too complicated to deal with,"
the customer would be heard muttering as he threw his hands up on disgust.
As these problems multiplied, the department and chain stores, who were so
anxious to carry the product in its heyday, one by one, threw up their own
hands in disgust and deserted what they considered to be a sinking ship.

  It should be duly noted that quality control in the computer chess
industry, in general, is a problem. We know of people who had to return 5 or
6 of a given machine to their local store before they were given one which
"worked". And, of course, there are documented cases of customer's who NEVER
received a properly operating unit, but luckily these are the exceptions to
the rule. Two instances have been documented whereby a 100% defect rate was
found to exist. In other words, every single customer who purchased that
model unit had a unit that did not operate properly. Over 50% defect rates
are surprisingly common and there are a myriad of cases in which programs
were released to the public with gliches that included failure to castle or
accept en passant, an opening book so limited as to allow only one response
to king pawn, indicated approximate response times which were underestimated
to the extreme (the unit taking 45 minutes to respond at a three minute per
response level) and instances of the computer capturing its own pieces or
simply blacking out in a lost position. In some of these cases the
manufacturer denied that a problem existed until the evidence was so
overwhelming that further denials were impossible, but in most cases the
individual manufacturers have been extremely anxious to clear up any and all
instances of problems, and it has not been all that uncommon that
manufacturers went well beyond the call of duty to satisfy a given customer.

  The defect rate in the industry as a whole is somewhere in the vicinity
of 15%, but don't ever try to suggest that to the companies, for they will
freely "admit" that they are struggling because of the "much too high" 2%
failure rate. However, the most depressing fact of all is that most of the
defective units arrive at the retailer as defective or break within the
first 20 minutes of operation. The major problem is, more than likely, that
the rush to get new products out onto the market before the competition
dies, is of a higher priority than making sure that the units will stand up
to normal usage. If each manufacturer were to "test drive" every computer as
it came off the production line, even for 5 minutes each, 80% of the
problems would be resolved.

  It can be easily assumed that the manufacturers, in general, would not be
all that delighted with an article such as this, but, quite frankly, despite
some ominous undertones here, this industry is no worse than any other, and,
in fact, in many ways we have been witness to brave attempts to correct
problems at the sake of losing significant sales. We can also say that
retailers often deserve to share a significant portion of the burden, for
they have been known to inflate ratings as well perhaps because it was in
their special interests to "push" one brand of computer over another. Most
local department stores, the ones that still care enough to carry the
product, apparently do not care enough to learn the units as they should so
that the customer might feel at home with the unit. And by far the most
important factor contributing to customer unrest is the quality control
problem; if the manufacturer will not take the steps necessary to insure
reliability, then it is the responsibility of the retailer. As a consumer,
we have been conditioned to believe that "factory-sealed cartons" have some
saintly, virginal quality to them, but in this industry, you must demand
that the unit be THOROUGHLY tested before taking ownership. In that way,
your odds of having a properly operating machine are greatly enhanced. And
as your last defense, check into the company's reputation, accessability,
and return policy. Ask friends or club members about their experiences with
a given company: were they given accurate information prior to the sale; was
their order handled quickly; if there was a problem with their unit, were
they able to contact the company quickly; and was their problem handled
quickly and to their satisfaction. If you are unable to gather such
information, check to see if the company is a member of the Better Business
Bureau and if they participate in arbitration through that organization.
Please remember that just the fact that a given company sells some brands of
computer chess machines does not make them an expert in the field; ask
pointed questions and listen carefully to the answers; in all probability,
you will select the right company.

  What does the future of commercial computer chess hold in store for us?
Perhaps the saying, "They will do it until they get it right!" has some
meaning here. It seems indisputable that as more and more computers are
produced, their quality will improve- both in quality control and
programming. Also evident is the fact that the size of the current market
cannot satisfy the goals of the 10 manufacturers whichxare crowded into it.
There will have to be some casualties: even Fidelity is moving into computer
printers to buffer itself against possible losses in the computer chess
market. Who the casualties will be will be dependent upon the size of the
marketplace and the quality of the programming. It seems certain that a
unified effort on the part of the manufacturers, retailers, and U.S. Chess
Federation to expand the market could go a long way toward promoting chess
and computer chess at the same time. Unfortunately, the prognosis for such
an effort is poor, for the paranoia index continues to run very high. It is
not uncommon to hear one manufacturer or another privately claim that "the
other manufacturer has the Federation in its pocket!" In such an atmosphere,
it is safe to assume that the ongoing dogfight will result in the survival
of, perhaps, three computer chess manufacturers. This could drastically
change with the reincarnation of Bobby Fisher or the emergence of Yasser
Seirawan as a future World Champion, for it is events such as this that
consistently boost the numbers of people that follow chess and, as a result,
purchase computerized chess playing machines.

  Chess programs for home computers, a field which has been mostly ignored
because of the stand-alone manufacturer's grip on the world's better
programmers, will continue to get better but apparently will lag behind the
selfcontained units because of the latter's ability to specialize in chess,
and, more importantly, because there is more money to be made in marketing a
chess computer than a chess computer program. Not everybody can write a
chess program and not everybody wants to. Unfortunately for the personal
computer owner wishing to purchase a program, just about everything
available is in the class of skill of chess computers from four years ago.

  So it is obvious that chess computers will continue to get stronger and,
hopefully, easier to-operate. The movement is toward sensory machines with
the most recent emphasis on magnetic sensory boards, whereby, one need only
move the pieces in a very natural manner. The trend also favors larger
boards although we do not believe the units with 1 " squares or portable
units will disappear. Modularity, although pretty much proven to be
overstated, will continue to be emphasized by companies because it SELLS
machines, and, after all, that is an important factor. Apparently, the
future of computer chess, when it comes to the sheer number of people who
will purchase new units each year, is not nearly as bright as it once
appeared to be, but the people who do purchase are less likely to be the
guinea pigs of the industry as long as they deal with established,
knowledgeable, and reputable dealers who do the research that the customer
could not possibly do. And ironic as it may seem, just this type of dealer
support might help to point the industry in the right direction once again.
For the sake of our common love of these ingenious little computerized chess
players, let us hope so.

  So, there you have a not-so-capsulized history of the commercial chess
field - blemishes and all. The blemishes seem far worse than they really are
for two reasons: one, there are seven years of history wrapped in twelve
pages of reporting, and, two, there are truly fine people in this business
who have a love for both chess and computer chess and their influence is
great in this field. "Let the buyer beware" is an idiom applicable to every
industry, and one cannot pretend that it has no meaning here- the past has
proven that, but, in spite. of it all, computer chess has given millions of
people more enjoyment per dollar than just about any other activity in which
they could engage. Of course, the older one becomes, the truer the above
statement becomes (if you know what I mean!).

Stephen Schwartz
Institutional Computer Development Corporation

Date of article unknown.
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Re:Interesting article about chess computers
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2005, 07:18PM »
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Mike, you're reading my mind!!!
That's one thing that I really want to do! On aspect of this hobby that I enjoy is the research. Details about the machine, the program, tidbits, the companies, dates, facts all  of that fascinates me!

I wish I could build a kind of global catalog with all information one can get from the computer!

I think the timeline would help us see things in a whole new perspective!

Best,

Ismenio
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Re:Interesting article about chess computers
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2005, 01:27AM »
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One day I was going to get around to doing a proper diagrammatic Timeline of chess computer releases so that it will be easier to appreciate the place of each machine in the history of chess computing. I promised this at Christmas Ismenio but did not find the time to get it done.    I have it in rough form 1977-1985.

Also I thought that someone may have done it before me but searching for it has got me nothing better than this Dutch info. That is useful as far as it goes but it is not at all comprehensive,  or as easy to follow as a diagram.

I think once a basic diagram 1977-1985 say is up on your (?) website with all  info I ( or someone else) has gathered then the really knowledgeable people can correct and add the rarer models to it etc. Also it can be extended in stages to today.
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« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2005, 04:26PM »
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Seems strange that they would release such a wimpy computer at this late date in their company's life.

most computer companies will release a wide range of computers to tap into all markets
Fidelity was no exception and always offered low to high end
computers
during this same year they released :
Tiny Chess another botton of the line unit

also in 1989/90  we have the top of the line Elite A/G's versions 2-10
Best
Steve B
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« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2005, 04:06PM »
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Quote from: STEVE B on February 16, 2005, 03:56PM   

There must be something about the Eldorado that isn't attractive to those compiling these lists, because it is never mentioned, at least with any details as to date, strength, processor speed, etc.

well it was a bottom of the line Fidelity
it was released late in 1989
sold for about $50 brand new
rated about 1300 elo with a very small opening book of about 100 moves
i also remember it haD no "takeback "feature
but i could be mistaken about that
you can easily check it of course

Steve B



Thanks, Steve.

Probably worth about the $10.56 I paid for it.  :-)

Seems strange that they would release such a wimpy computer at this late date in their company's life.  Even though it was a bottom of the line and very inexpensive, Fidelity still could have used a stronger playing processor without much increase in price.  Perhaps they didn't want one this inexpensive competing with their more expensive line?

Dick Schneiders
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« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2005, 04:03PM »
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MORE INFO ON ELDORADO:
PROCESSOR:80C49
CLOCK SPEED:6Mhz
ROM/RAM:2K/128
i was mistaken on the rating
the 1300 is not Elo..its 1300 USCF which makes it about 1200 ELO

ELDORANGO Regards
Steve B
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« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2005, 03:56PM »
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There must be something about the Eldorado that isn't attractive to those compiling these lists, because it is never mentioned, at least with any details as to date, strength, processor speed, etc.

well it was a bottom of the line Fidelity
it was released late in 1989
sold for about $50 brand new
rated about 1300 elo with a very small opening book of about 100 moves
i also remember it haD no "takeback "feature
but i could be mistaken about that
you can easily check it of course

Steve B
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« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2005, 03:50PM »
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Quote from: STEVE B on February 16, 2005, 03:32PM   

By the way, does anybody have the link for the site where someone was trying to keep track of the dates the machines were released?

why certainly
his name is Hein Veldhuis and he is a Dutch collector
you even get a photo of him in the link
he and Ruud are know each other very well:

http://home.hetnet.nl/~timman/csvnp3.html

Regards From Amsterdam
Steve B



Thanks for this link, Steve. 

Ismenio, the Chesster Challenger, model 6120, is listed on this site as being released in 1990.  That is the machine that is the next model after the Eldorado, 6119, that I just won on eBay and was trying to date.  It really looks to me like this machine is also a 1990 production, as I suspected earlier.

There must be something about the Eldorado that isn't attractive to those compiling these lists, because it is never mentioned, at least with any details as to date, strength, processor speed, etc.

You guys are certainly a bottomless pit of information on this stuff.

Thanks again,

Dick Schneiders
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« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2005, 03:32PM »
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By the way, does anybody have the link for the site where someone was trying to keep track of the dates the machines were released?

why certainly
his name is Hein Veldhuis and he is a Dutch collector
you even get a photo of him in the link
he and Ruud are know each other very well:

http://home.hetnet.nl/~timman/csvnp3.html

Regards From Amsterdam
Steve B
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Re:Interesting article about chess computers
« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2005, 02:48PM »
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By the way, does anybody have the link for the site where someone was trying to keep track of the dates the machines were released? I remember Steve or Mike posted one where the guy even had the month they were released! I thought I had saved that but I can't find it.

Best,

Ismenio
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« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2005, 04:27AM »
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Quote from: Mike Watters on February 16, 2005, 02:18AM   



It looks to have been first published in 1985?

All the best
Mike


Mike,

I would guess a year or two earlier.  The article mentions the MB Grandmaster as a brand new machine, and I think that came out in 1983.  Interesting that no mention is made that this machine is also a robot like the Novag mentioned earlier.  He apparently had not yet been able to actually get his hands on one.

Thanks for posting that article, Ismenio.  As a newbie to this collecting frenzy, I had never seen it before.

Dick Schneiders
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Re:Interesting article about chess computers
« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2005, 02:18AM »
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Hi

Good article Ismenio. I did see it recently somewhere and skimmed through it but I am grateful to you for reproducing it in full. I will print it off.

It gives a good idea of some of the trials and tribulations of the 1980s, which I remember you calling the Golden Age of Chess Computers, and IMO you were right but....

It looks to have been first published in 1985?

All the best
Mike
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« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2005, 08:31PM »
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hi Ismenio
it should be noted that this article was written by Steve Schwartz the sponser of the CCC
Best
Steve
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Interesting article about chess computers
« Reply #15 on: February 15, 2005, 07:17PM »
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This was posted on the chess computer newsgroup back in Jan 2001 by Peter Perkins and I'm reposting it here for our viewing pleasure. It's long but worth reading! Enjoy!

Ismenio

--------------------------------------------------
"Pity the Poor Chess Computer Buyer"

  If there was ever a blind item in the history of selling, the chess
computer is it! When the commercial chess computer was introduced to the
public some 8 years ago, the uninformed public was divided into two schools
of thought: either the computer must be so strong that no one could ever
beat it, or it must be so weak as to be useless as a chess opponent.
Unfortunately, the latter conjecture turned out to be far and away the more
correct one as proven by those unlucky soles who ventured their hard earned
money on Chess Challenger 1, JS&A's Computer Chess, CompuChess, and Boris.
Here were "chess playing opponents" (all three terms used VERY loosely) that
seemed disinterested in winning but did a tremendous job of leaving pieces
en prise, giving no thought to positional values, and, worst of all, taking
inordinate amounts of time to reach obvious conclusions. These electronic
"wood pushers" probably created a world's record for dissatisfied customers.
And to add insult to injury, quality control was not all that evident in the
"ingenious" little gadgets, and department stores and mail-order houses had
their return policies tested to the limit from customers with complaints
ranging from, "It takes too long to move!" to "It makes illegal moves!" to
"It doesn't work at all!" to "It just made a king sacrifice; in fact, it
ALWAYS seems to sacrifice its king!" Those who chose to endure these earlier
computers quickly lost interest because of their weaknesses and either put
them away in the closet or used them for very expensive Frisbees.

  Both the computer chess customer and the computer chess market moved
aimlessly forward for some years with Boris (a product of Applied Concepts
Inc.) competing with Chess Challenger "10" (from Fidelity Electronics Ltd.)
for customers who were willing to spend $250 to $300 for a computerized
chess opponent that looked impressive but actually played 1100 chess.
However, it wasn't until Fidelity Electronics introduced the Chess
Challenger "7" that the market exploded. For the very first time the
"strongest" chess computer on the market (albeit 1150) was under $120, and
tests proved that it was somewhat stronger than both the "10" and Boris. Ads
appeared in papers and magazines all over the country, and over a quarter
million people made the decision to purchase Chess Challenger "7". Fidelity
Electronics, then located in Chicago, began bursting at the seams as did
their bank account, and the decision was made to build a huge, beautiful
factory in Miami, Florida, where their supply could better keep up with the
incredible demand. The timing of the move was unfortunate, for it interfered
with Christmas sales because the interruption caused by the move served to
constrict the supply lines to retailers, and rumors have it that quality
control died a quick death that 1979 Christmas season.

  It was at just about this time that capitalism showed its greedy little
head; at least five different companies were watching Fidelity's upward
flight with ideas and visions of new chess computers dancing in their heads.
To stave off the competition, Fidelity, seemingly without the ability to
make stronger programs, went the route of gimmickry with voice simulation in
their Voice Challenger while Applied Concepts Inc., with the help of Chafitz
Inc., were planning the first real breakthrough in computer chess
programming... the hiring of Kathe and Dan Spracklen. Sargon 2.5, Kathe and
Dan's newest program, was incorporated into two impressive computer chess
machines: the Modular Game System and the Auto Response Board, both playing
1500 chess (300-400 points stronger than all previous stand alone chess
playing microprocessors). Each of these units offered a new (and what is now
considered to be a highly controversial) feature... that of modular
upgrading. Theoretically, the consumer could purchase either unit, and for
life could simply obtain updated programs by purchasing inexpensive modules,
NOT a new machine.

  The concept was beautiful; the implementation was highly questionable,
for Applied Concepts Inc. and Chafitz Inc. had a myriad of misunderstandings
and shortly parted ways, and the Spracklens were off on their own, no longer
under contract to continue producing programs for the Modular Game System,
Great Game Machine, or Auto Response Board. Those anxiously anticipated,
impressive future modules would not be programmed by the Spracklens any
longer so other programmers had to step in and devise a 3.0 Module which
came to be known as Morphy on the Modular Game System (which was renamed the
Great Game Machine). It is rumored that both Larry Atkin and David Slate,
two well respected programmers, took part (and are still taking part) in the
creation of chess programs for Applied Concepts. In spite of the fact that
Applied had managed to latch onto some excellent programmers, it was from
this point on that modularity began to get a bad name, for the customer was
asked to now supplement his $100 Morphy with a $100 Gruenfeld Opening Book
and a $150 Capablanca End Game. Then came Steinitz to upgrade all three and
out went another $160. And for those who hadn't thrown up their hands
already, Mega 4 Mainframe was announced but to this date not introduced to
update the rest of the unit... good-by another $160.
Consequently, the ''inexpensive'upgrading would hypothetically cost $1230.00
and the final results would more than likely not surpass the current
state-of-the-art under $200 chess computer. Of course, such a policy was not
really what Applied Concepts had in mind in the beginning, but it was
obvious that the public was willing to bear the quarterly introduction of
new modules, and since the competition was getting I rather fierce, the
company "was between a rock and a hard place." They were forced to put out
new programs to keep up with their competitors, but the public was asked to
reach into their pockets each and every time if they wanted to maintain the
"state of the art". Not unlike the field of education, the motto became
"publish or perish!" As it turns out, in the chess computer business,
marketing decisions are often made on a day-to-day basis, but if a lesson
may be learned here, it is that a chess computer should be purchased on the
basis of what it does NOW, not what it may do in the future.

Also, with the best intentions, AVE Microsystems, the manufacturer of the
Auto Response Board, updated (albeit halfheartedly) to a 3.0 Module with the
promise, but no delivery, of future programs- thus, the customer's original
$800 investment plus $140 for the 3.0 module, purchased with the under
standing that "state-of-the-art" would be maintained, resulted,
realistically, in the ownership of a beautiful chess computer that played no
better than the $130 Prodigy. Unfortunately, the sophisticated chess player
who purchased the ARB had no option but to religate his beautiful computer
to the closet, or take up a collection of them in order to parquet his
living room floor. SciSys contributed somewhat to the debacle with the'
Philidor upgrade to the Mark V, an upgrade that didn't really upgrade, and
the Mark V printer attachment which was promised but never made it to the
marketplace. Novag upgraded Savant I to Savant II but mostly for the sake of
correcting malfunctions in the I, and the $1500 updateable Robot Adversary
(the modernistic polished aluminum chess player with the robotic arm) was
such a problem mechanically that the U.S. distributor threw in the towel.
However, even though the Robot Adversary will probably never compete,
skillswise, with other top-of-the-line chess computers, it can always be a
readily available armwrestling opponent. Conchess, also, became an instant
member of the AntiModularity Hall of Fame with its three computer entrants:
Escorter, Ambassador, and Monarch. All were advertised as, "The one and only
system truly upgradeable without limit." Not only was the program
upgradeable but so was the microprocessor- "Now for the first time," the
customer thought, "I can make the program stronger AND faster!" Guess what?
Since Milton Bradley took over distribution of the Conchess units in mid
stream, plans for updating were thrown out the proverbial window, at least,
until Milton Bradley's contract runs out in early 1984. And we have now
received information that Waltham Electronics, the manufacturer, has filed
for bankruptcy.

  And let us not forget Fidelity Electronics, which announced 5 modules
(over and above the two opening book modules) for use with the Prestige,
Elite A/S, and Sensory "9", and as of this writing has produced none. Of
course, the customer who spent $1000 on his Prestige is now being asked to
not only spend $200 for an upgrade to the new Budapest program, but also to
send his unit to the factory for the privilege. The slot in the side of
chess computers designed for the purpose of upgrading might just as well be
cemented shut for all the good it has been in the history of upgradeability.
Last but not least, we do not mean to leave Mephisto out of the upgrading
fiasco; their short stint of selling units in the U.S. has already allowed
for considerable errant behavior including failure to develop the promised
T.V. interface for the Mephisto, and. more importantly, the introduction of
the Mephisto III upgrade module which can more accurately be defined as a
DOWN grade. It boggles the mind to attempt to picture the state of computer
chess today if ALL updated programs were worse than their predecessors.

    Despite all of the above, human nature is such that the concept of
modularity (as a dangling carrot) was immediately accepted by the chess
playing public and Applied Concepts Inc. enjoyed an excellent year of sales
in 1979/1980. Every time a new module was introduced, more customers lined
up to puchase, but customer enthusiasm for the Modular Game System/Great
Game Machine began to wane with the introduction of the Capablanca module
and the announced results of the 1981 World Microcomputer Championships in
which the Chess Champion Mark V (by SciSys) won the commercial division and
the Elite won the experimental division.

  Since paranoia is a prerequisite for computer chess manufacturers, the
tournament was deluged by claims of cheating by practically everyone
involved, and Applied Concepts, after a few unexpected losses, withdrew
claiming a defective Capablanca module. Since the Elite was an experimental
program at the time, SciSys had the top end market all to itself with its
winning Mark V machine, and Christmas season 1981 was fast approaching.
Unfortunately for the public, the Mark V, which was so readily available for
the tournament, could not be made available to the American public because
of one manufacturing problem after another. Wholesale excuses were handed to
retailers almost daily, and customers were getting extremely impatient after
having waited, in some cases, over three months for delivery.

  To SciSys' extreme chagrin, Fidelity (taking advantage of marketing
decisons made on 24 hour notice - the industry norm) managed to rush the
Elite program into production so quickly that Elites (the Experimental World
Champion program in the body of Champion Sensory Challengers) beat Mark V's
on to the market by two months and to the surprise of everyone (including
Fidelity) sold out all 500 units at $1000 list each. By the time Mark V
became established as available in the U.S., Fidelity had already geared up
its huge resources to publicize the Champion Sensory Challenger and its
"established rating" of 1771 ( a rating which, interestingly enough, also
showed up on the box of the Sensory Challenger "9" which has a different
program running at a different speed - more about this later). The Mark V, a
machine which showed so much potential, was laid to rest- not by the
public - but by its own maker's inefficiency.

  Taking liberties with advertising is an art in which chess computer
manufacturers are well versed: a prime example is the Voice Sensory
Challenger (rated at approximately 1150-1200) ad which proclaimed, "The same
engineers who helped win the `First World Microcomputer Chess
Championship'... are proud to announce Fidelity's newest chess product..."
It's truthful, of course, but since the Voice Sensory Challenger in no
manner, shape, or form resembled the Champion program, is it correct to tie
the two programs together? Mark V advertising literature to this day insists
that the unit plays 1900; of course, any such estimate can be defended, but
so can 1670 which we believe is considerably more accurate. Novag
unabashedly proclaims on its Constellation literature, "Rated at 2000 ELO!
with "Rated by Novag based on tournament and test results." In tiny letters
on the bottom of the sheet. Luckily for Novag, the manufacturer is not
forced to rate the Elite A/S or Prestige on that same "Novag scale"! I think
all will agree that asterisks ought to be banned from all advertising; they
always appear to be admitting to some sort of wrongdoing. Mephisto never
hesitates to claim that it has the strongest program in the world. In fact,
Hegener and Glaser (Mephisto's manufacturer) distributes the following
statement in its selling catalog: "Champion Sensory Challenger... proven in
tournaments against man and machine. The same program as in the CC9 (sic)."
Apparently, the fact that the program AND clock speed are different has no
bearing on anything; but it is our guess that actually entering the
computers in well supervised tournaments with adequate checks and balances
to avoid questionable results would be infinitely more valuable to the
computer chess enthusiast who is considering spending a considerable amount
of money. The irony here is that the 1771 given to the "9" by the
Federation, solely based upon the manufacturer's word, is quite close to
reality but ONLY by coincidence.

  On occasions, even the nomenclature used in naming units is somewhat
amusing. Milton Bradley has chosen "Grandmaster" as the name for its new
chess computer which appears to play in the 1500's not bad, but not 2400
either. And what about Boris, Morphy, Gruenfeld, Capablanca, and Steinitz?
There is more than likely a great deal of grave rolling each time a new
chess computer is released. Why, would you imagine, haven't we seen a Bobby
Module? Better than that... why can't we have a module that PLAYS like
Bobby???

  It is commonplace when speaking with a given manufacture to hear how
difficult it is to manufacture and how easy it is to retail. When you speak
with a retailer, they will not hesitate to say how simple life would be if
they could manufacture instead of retail. Well, some manufacturers
occasionally attempt to have the best of both worlds. Prompted by avarice,
no doubt, and with no regard to the retailers that carry their product, at
least two manufacturers have attempted to sell directly to the public,
usually in a surreptitious manner by forming a separate corporation with a
different name. Now, they could sell at competitive prices and make TWICE as
much profit as before. Two of the more notable examples of
manufacturer/retailer behavior were/are Computer Games of Miami, FL., and
Chesset-al of Dallas, TX. Neither company offered any service other than
shipping a unit- untested, of course. Retailer pressure on behalf of both
themselves and their customers has usually resulted in the suspension of
such behavior, at least for a short time. However, nothing (legal or
otherwise) insures that these "instant profit makers" will not continue to
sprout up occasionally.

  Despite objections by some larger retailers, Fidelity Electronics makes
an annual "direct-to-the-public" offering. Last year it was the ill-fated
"Consumer Distributor" appeal. All that one needed to become a distributor
for Fidelity way to purchase X amount of outdated product. Then, whenever he
or his friends wished to purchase a Challenger, "wholesale pricing" was
available to them. Just imagine thousands of Amway-like organizers selling
obsolete Chess Challenger "7's" to each other. What fun!

    This year the generous factory-direct giveaway included the "Special
Edition 'Septennial' ". A chess computer designed to celebrate Fidelity"s
seven years in the commercial computer chess business. The letter
accompanying the brochure states, "In recognition of your support these past
seven years, we have made a limited Champion edition, called the
"Septennial"... and... "This product will not be available through our
normal retail outlets, and can only be purchased direct from the factory."
No explanation was given as to why "normal" retail outlets would not be
allowed to carry this supposed "famed" computer. Here was a machine that
claimed the following virtues: * "Our famed Prestige program, rated over
1900 playing strength (the Prestige model retails for $1,295.00)." * "3 mghz
processor." * "Built-in CB9 (8160 Book Opening Moves) module ($78.00 retail
value)." * "Housed in the "Champion" hand rubbed walnut housing, with hand
carved magnetized chess pieces." "A Christmas offer of orgasmic quality, no
doubt." Well, not quite.

  "Unbelieveable, Prestige strength for 1/4 the price." Not really. "The
company is giving something away for nothing." Not at all. Let us analyze
the offer and conditions. First, the holiday season offering accomplishes
two goals: taking business away from the retailer who has supported the
manufacturer all year, and presenting "facts" about a product which cannot
be substantiated in time to  stop people from being "taken in". Dr.
Irazoqui's request for a Septennial for testing purposes after being
surprised by its introduction went unheaded. Why? Some of the more respected
retailers were not permitted to carry the unit, despite the fact that if it
were really as good as claimed, it would have sold briskly. Why? Well, even
though the above quotes from Fidelity's Septennial offer are all true, some
of them are not quite as precise as they ought be: * The famed Prestige
program was superb in its generation, but since at least four generations of
programs have evolved since its introduction, receiving a left-over Prestige
program is not quite so incredibly exciting.
* The 3 mghz microprocessor announcement is seemingly quite impressive, but
is there also some obligation to mention that the program is only running at
2.4 mghz - 20% slower? * Now, when one computes the above two factors
together, one might be shocked to realize that this "1900 playing strength"
really factors out to 1800 or perhaps less, weaker than Prestige Budapest,
Prestige, Elite A/S, and the significantly less expensive Constellation and
Sensory "9" Budapest.

  What a bargain!!! It would appear that allowing retailers to test and
sell this limited edition computer would severely curtail Fidelity's ability
to unload them, and, after all, what would the manufacturer be able to do
with 3000 old Champion Sensory Challenger bodies with old Prestige chips?
Perhaps sending them off to Third World countries is a good idea, but they
used that one in trying to sell outdated Champion Sensory Challengers direct
to the public some time back.

  Many "wool-pullers" have attempted to sell computer chess machines, but
they do not last very long. Just recently, an ad appeared in the Wall Street
Journal proclaiming the virtues of the Chess Challenger "7", indicating that
the "7" was the same program as other Fidelity programs but simply was not
sensory and therefore could be sold at an extremely low price. The ad also
made some reference to the "7's" miraculous ability to challenge experts.
Once again both statements are accurate and inaccurate at the same time.
Firstly, the "7" indeed is similar in program to such world-renowned duffers
as the Mini Sensory Challenger and Sensory "8", but is FAR from being in the
same league with Champion, "9", Elite, Prestige, Super "9", and Elite A/S.
As far as "challenging experts"... well, that could be the case assuming the
particular expert were blindfolded, immersed 300 feet under the Artic ice
caps, and preoccupied with a 250 board simultaneous exhibition.
Advertising of computer chess machines, because it is such a blind item,
continues to lead the public astray on occasions. Several retailers and mail
order companies have attempted to push outdated or weak machines as more
than they actually were. In general, these companies have survived for
several months and then, thankfully, disappeared. A recent edition of Chess
Life magazine sort of summarizes the difficulties of uncovering fact from
fiction in this industry. I.C.D. Corporation ran an ad proclaiming Mephisto
III as "Rewriting Computer Chess History!" Certainly, no other program has
EVER performed worse than its preceding one. Fidelity proclaimed its Elite
A/S as world champion with no reference to the fact that Elites did not come
with the same program. They also announced their "9" as the winner in the
commercial division; they did NOT announce that there was only one other
entrant - an East German computer (enough said about the quality of the
competition?). And, finally, a mysterious ad on the back page by a newcomer
in the industry proclaimed that the Novag Constellation, "beat two masters
at the U.S. Open! 't heat Experts and A players, Too! It sacrifices!!!
Rating 1850+ !!! simply the finest chessplaying computer availablestronger
than Elite and Super 9." Other than the proclivity to add exclamation
points,.?here is more NOT said than said. What is NOT said is that the U.S.
Open Constellation was running 50% faster than the unit being sold and may
possibly have had a different program. Also NOT stated is which Elite is
being compared: Elite (from two years ago) or Elite A/S. And what makes a
chess computer "Simply the finest chessplaying computer available?" Does
that ACTUALLY mean that you are rated higher than all the others? What about
Prestige and Elite A/S?

    The most valuable and most vulnerable pawn in the chess game of computer
chess is the consumer. The prospective computer chess customer has always
been confronted with the same difficulty-that of receiving adequate
information and adequate selection. Such an incredibly large number of
people have purchased computer chess machines only to find that the
propanganda which influenced them to buy was far from reality; the lucky
ones were able to get refunds; the unlucky ones will probably never venture
their money on a unit again even though the selection and abilities of
today's computers are so impressive. However, there is another class of
customer that has hesitated to buy a computer chess machine: they are the
people who refuse to spend their money now, "because something stronger and
better is bound to come out shortly!" Anyone who negates this statement is
not being truthful, for we have here a technology that will not cease to
improve after you purchase your chess computer. However, as a reason for not
purchasing, it is very weak. There are several considerations involved:
First, the longer you wait for progress to bring you the "perfect chess
computer", the longer you live without a computer. Second, some people tend
to believe that their computers are outdated if something stronger comes
along even though they have trouble beating their own computer at its first
level, but it should be noted that obsolescence in chess computers is
limited solely to the computer's inability to beat you at reasonable time
levels.

  The third class of computer chess customer might be considered "The
Collector." He will carefully select a new computer in each generation so as
to have a variety of skills and styles to play against, and most collectors
enjoy running the computers against each other to analyze for himself the
relative strengths and weaknesses of the programs.

  It was quite ironic that just as the market was proving that the chess
computer had the potential to be more than just a fad, and just as the chess
computers were beginning to truly play competitive chess (better than the
average member of the United States Chess Federation), and just as chess
computers were incorporating truly interesting features (take-back, hints,
thinking on opponent's time, sensory surfaces, quick responses, etc.), and
just as more and more companies decided to jump into the computer chess
marketplace (Conchess, Milton Bradley, Mephisto, Hanimex, etc.), the
marketplace began to shrink, slowly at first, and then with increasing
speed. The reason was not evident at first, but as time went on, it became
more and more obvious: the more complicated the computers became, the more
trouble people had operating them. Invariably, a customer would purchase a
chess computer at a local department store and find when he/she returned
home that the instructions did not adequately cover the topic of how to
operate the unit. In addition, the industry has seen it share of customers
who believe that instruction manuals are not necessary and, consequently,
all human errors are immediately assumed to be computer errors (you see, the
customer isn't ALWAYS right). Therefore, in the mind of the consumer, the
product was defective, and since the clerk at the store knew nothing of the
product, money was refunded or, worse, the unit was exchanged for a second,
which, of course, was seen, once again as being defective. Result: "Chess
computers are either ALL defective or just too complicated to deal with,"
the customer would be heard muttering as he threw his hands up on disgust.
As these problems multiplied, the department and chain stores, who were so
anxious to carry the product in its heyday, one by one, threw up their own
hands in disgust and deserted what they considered to be a sinking ship.

  It should be duly noted that quality control in the computer chess
industry, in general, is a problem. We know of people who had to return 5 or
6 of a given machine to their local store before they were given one which
"worked". And, of course, there are documented cases of customer's who NEVER
received a properly operating unit, but luckily these are the exceptions to
the rule. Two instances have been documented whereby a 100% defect rate was
found to exist. In other words, every single customer who purchased that
model unit had a unit that did not operate properly. Over 50% defect rates
are surprisingly common and there are a myriad of cases in which programs
were released to the public with gliches that included failure to castle or
accept en passant, an opening book so limited as to allow only one response
to king pawn, indicated approximate response times which were underestimated
to the extreme (the unit taking 45 minutes to respond at a three minute per
response level) and instances of the computer capturing its own pieces or
simply blacking out in a lost position. In some of these cases the
manufacturer denied that a problem existed until the evidence was so
overwhelming that further denials were impossible, but in most cases the
individual manufacturers have been extremely anxious to clear up any and all
instances of problems, and it has not been all that uncommon that
manufacturers went well beyond the call of duty to satisfy a given customer.

  The defect rate in the industry as a whole is somewhere in the vicinity
of 15%, but don't ever try to suggest that to the companies, for they will
freely "admit" that they are struggling because of the "much too high" 2%
failure rate. However, the most depressing fact of all is that most of the
defective units arrive at the retailer as defective or break within the
first 20 minutes of operation. The major problem is, more than likely, that
the rush to get new products out onto the market before the competition
dies, is of a higher priority than making sure that the units will stand up
to normal usage. If each manufacturer were to "test drive" every computer as
it came off the production line, even for 5 minutes each, 80% of the
problems would be resolved.

  It can be easily assumed that the manufacturers, in general, would not be
all that delighted with an article such as this, but, quite frankly, despite
some ominous undertones here, this industry is no worse than any other, and,
in fact, in many ways we have been witness to brave attempts to correct
problems at the sake of losing significant sales. We can also say that
retailers often deserve to share a significant portion of the burden, for
they have been known to inflate ratings as well perhaps because it was in
their special interests to "push" one brand of computer over another. Most
local department stores, the ones that still care enough to carry the
product, apparently do not care enough to learn the units as they should so
that the customer might feel at home with the unit. And by far the most
important factor contributing to customer unrest is the quality control
problem; if the manufacturer will not take the steps necessary to insure
reliability, then it is the responsibility of the retailer. As a consumer,
we have been conditioned to believe that "factory-sealed cartons" have some
saintly, virginal quality to them, but in this industry, you must demand
that the unit be THOROUGHLY tested before taking ownership. In that way,
your odds of having a properly operating machine are greatly enhanced. And
as your last defense, check into the company's reputation, accessability,
and return policy. Ask friends or club members about their experiences with
a given company: were they given accurate information prior to the sale; was
their order handled quickly; if there was a problem with their unit, were
they able to contact the company quickly; and was their problem handled
quickly and to their satisfaction. If you are unable to gather such
information, check to see if the company is a member of the Better Business
Bureau and if they participate in arbitration through that organization.
Please remember that just the fact that a given company sells some brands of
computer chess machines does not make them an expert in the field; ask
pointed questions and listen carefully to the answers; in all probability,
you will select the right company.

  What does the future of commercial computer chess hold in store for us?
Perhaps the saying, "They will do it until they get it right!" has some
meaning here. It seems indisputable that as more and more computers are
produced, their quality will improve- both in quality control and
programming. Also evident is the fact that the size of the current market
cannot satisfy the goals of the 10 manufacturers whichxare crowded into it.
There will have to be some casualties: even Fidelity is moving into computer
printers to buffer itself against possible losses in the computer chess
market. Who the casualties will be will be dependent upon the size of the
marketplace and the quality of the programming. It seems certain that a
unified effort on the part of the manufacturers, retailers, and U.S. Chess
Federation to expand the market could go a long way toward promoting chess
and computer chess at the same time. Unfortunately, the prognosis for such
an effort is poor, for the paranoia index continues to run very high. It is
not uncommon to hear one manufacturer or another privately claim that "the
other manufacturer has the Federation in its pocket!" In such an atmosphere,
it is safe to assume that the ongoing dogfight will result in the survival
of, perhaps, three computer chess manufacturers. This could drastically
change with the reincarnation of Bobby Fisher or the emergence of Yasser
Seirawan as a future World Champion, for it is events such as this that
consistently boost the numbers of people that follow chess and, as a result,
purchase computerized chess playing machines.

  Chess programs for home computers, a field which has been mostly ignored
because of the stand-alone manufacturer's grip on the world's better
programmers, will continue to get better but apparently will lag behind the
selfcontained units because of the latter's ability to specialize in chess,
and, more importantly, because there is more money to be made in marketing a
chess computer than a chess computer program. Not everybody can write a
chess program and not everybody wants to. Unfortunately for the personal
computer owner wishing to purchase a program, just about everything
available is in the class of skill of chess computers from four years ago.

  So it is obvious that chess computers will continue to get stronger and,
hopefully, easier to-operate. The movement is toward sensory machines with
the most recent emphasis on magnetic sensory boards, whereby, one need only
move the pieces in a very natural manner. The trend also favors larger
boards although we do not believe the units with 1 " squares or portable
units will disappear. Modularity, although pretty much proven to be
overstated, will continue to be emphasized by companies because it SELLS
machines, and, after all, that is an important factor. Apparently, the
future of computer chess, when it comes to the sheer number of people who
will purchase new units each year, is not nearly as bright as it once
appeared to be, but the people who do purchase are less likely to be the
guinea pigs of the industry as long as they deal with established,
knowledgeable, and reputable dealers who do the research that the customer
could not possibly do. And ironic as it may seem, just this type of dealer
support might help to point the industry in the right direction once again.
For the sake of our common love of these ingenious little computerized chess
players, let us hope so.

  So, there you have a not-so-capsulized history of the commercial chess
field - blemishes and all. The blemishes seem far worse than they really are
for two reasons: one, there are seven years of history wrapped in twelve
pages of reporting, and, two, there are truly fine people in this business
who have a love for both chess and computer chess and their influence is
great in this field. "Let the buyer beware" is an idiom applicable to every
industry, and one cannot pretend that it has no meaning here- the past has
proven that, but, in spite. of it all, computer chess has given millions of
people more enjoyment per dollar than just about any other activity in which
they could engage. Of course, the older one becomes, the truer the above
statement becomes (if you know what I mean!).

Stephen Schwartz
Institutional Computer Development Corporation

Date of article unknown.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2005, 07:29PM by Ismenio » Report to moderator Logged

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