sábado, 12 de novembro de 2011

Players Chess News (1986) - A History of Chess Computers (parte 3)

Todos os créditos desta matéria pertencem a Players Chess News (1986) com atualização de Source: 11-1986, International Players Chess News: A History (Recap) of Chess Computers.
(Slightly edited by Hein Veldhuis.)

1982 saw Fidelity take the lead in sales of chess microcomputers to tournament players. Novag was busy working on improving their programs. Applied Concepts introduced an opening module (the Gruenfeld, priced at $100) and an endgame module (Capablanca, $160) which only managed to take the strength of the entire system, priced as $600 to a low Class B rating of 1600. SciSys updated the Chess Champion Mark V to their (Philidor) Chess Champion MK VI program, which proved not to be significantly better than their original. Prices dropped to an all-time low as rating strength stabilized.
It should be noted here that all rating estimates are based on tournament time controls of 40 moves in 2 hours. This distinction will become more important as we discuss later the newest machines whose. ‘blitz’ ratings may exceed their tournament rating by as much as 200 points. Fidelity’s 1982 introduction of the Chess Challenger 9 was designed to “blow away the market” at an introductory list price of $165. Later the list increased to $195 as the coat of electronica in all areas increased. Prices have continued to increase with each new generation of strong machines.
Even so, the Chess Challenger 9 was a strong and affordable machine, with the same brains as the Champion Sensory Chess Challenger but as half the price. It was 1982’s best buy based on dollar to performance ratio. The Chess Challenger 9, however, did not have either a wooden frame or a build-in clock.

Fidelity Champion Sensory Chess Challenger

Fidelity did finally decide to add the modularity (not to be confused with the Modular Game Systems) concept to the Chess Challenger 9. The MGS was designed to accept program updates (brains), while Fidelity’s could only be defined as modular, accepting raw information (opening cartridges, etc.) but not updatable. This means that to significantly improve playing strength the whole machine had to be sent to the factory for the guts to be replaced. Now it was possible to purchase a strong program (about 1600) at a low price or pay up to the list price of $600 for the Applied Concepts system, rated at 1600+. (g/n)
The Conchess line of computers made an appearance with three inexpensive models, all with the same program. rated at approximately 1600. There were three levels of size (Escorter/Ambassador/Monarch) and craftsmanship, ranging in price from $250 to $400. Early in 1982, Fidelity also came our with the Elite Sensory Champion, a machine for those who wanted the best available program. The machine was basically an advanced version of the Champion Sensory Chess Challenger program, running at 3.6 Mhz. The stronger Elite Sensory Champion program and faster clock speed put the playing strength at high Class B (almost 200 points stronger than the Chess Challenger 9).

The limited edition of 500 pieces has long since sold out at a list price of $1000. Later in 1982 Fidelity produced the Prestige Challenger, the same basic program but in a much nicer housing (similar to the Auto Response Board previously discussed), with an internal chess clock and a price rag of $1295. So, 1982 offered the tournament chess player three good choices: Chess Challenger 9, a low priced machine with decent strength; Conchess, with a nice casing and decent strength, and Prestige Challenger, a top-of-the-line machine combining beauty and brains. (g/n)

The very original first Prestige Challenger with flat display! First owner: Dutch chess
computer pioneer Jan Louwman, and second owner Rob van Son (Photo by Rob van Son)

nota: este modelo do Prestige não tenho nos meus catálagos, já que o display indica os lances. Portanto não sei qual versão do programa seria. As versões conhecidas do Elite que indicam  os os lances iniciaram a partir do Elite Avant Garde - Versão 2.

In early 1983, the main choices remained Chess Challenger 9 and Prestige Challenger. But for spice, the German firm Mephisto came on the American scene, offering a machine which fell somewhere between the Chess Challenger 9 and Prestige Challenger in both price and strength. The Mephisto II, a hand-held model, list for $350 and had a solid B rating of 1700.

A beautiful cabinet for the machine, with out additional “brains”, sold separatly for $550. Other manufacturers appeared to be doing nothing. Is was becoming obvious that updatability did not have much meaning, with regard to the strength of any individual machine. It had more to do with the future of the particular company, their programmers and their updating ambitions than any real potential of the machine. Suddenly in the Fall of 1983, after a long quiet period, Novag unveiled their new Constellation (2 Mhz), and also announced plans for their Super Constellation (first 3,6 MHz and later 4 MHz), which would make its appearance in 1984.

At a list price of $199.95 and solid “B” strength, the Constellation put the Fidelity Chess Challenger 9 and the Mephisto out of contention. Also, Kittinger had spent all his time working on developing program modifications which allow the machine to play an especially strong game on its first level with up to a five second response time. Another especially welcome improvement was Novag’s sensor board, which is far more sensitive than the competitor’s pressure sensitive boards. Entering moves on the Constellation, thus, falls somewhere in between the hard press of the sensory games and the ease of the Auto-Response.

Additionally, by eliminating the response lights on each square which are typical of pressuresensitive boards and replacing them with prompt-lights on the proper coordinates, Novag succeeded in eliminating one of the more distracting features of its predecessors.
Concurrently, in late 1983, Fidelity brought the cost of the larger wooden sets down with the Elite A/S (Elite Auto-Sensory); similar to the Prestige Challenger in operation and playing strength at one-third the price - $450. This was the lowest price ever on full size sets. So, at the end of 1983 the two top programs offered at good prices were; in the inexpensive version, the Novag Constellation, rated around 1700 and listed for $200, and in the expensive range, the Fidelity Elite A/S, approaching 1800 and priced at $450. (g/n)

Early in 1984, Fidelity discontinued the 1983 Elite A/S model and put their Budapest program into the Elite A/S casing, calling it the Elite A/S World Champion. This was a well-deserved title, since Fidelity had just won the 2nd World Micro-Computer Chess Championship in Budapest, Hungary, a few months earlier (late ’83). The Budapest program brought the machine solidly over 1800. Customers with older Prestige Challenger machines or the Elite A/S could send the machines to the factory for $150 up-date, and first time buyers paid $600 list. Immediately after the Elite World Champion came out at Class A strength in mid-1984, Novag stepped up their Constallation program to run twice as fast (from 2,0 to 3,6 Mhz), bringing its strength up to Class A also.

For an additional $50.00, everyone opted for the Novag Constellation 3.6 (‘Connie 3.6’ $250) and the slower verson is now discontinued Programmer Kittinger’s emphasis has always been on speed, and now not only were the heuristics designed to play exceptionally well at fast speeds but the chip speed was running faster. The speed chess level was almost 2000 strength (based on human opponent spending as much time, moving as quickly as the
machine), while the tournament level strength was low Class A (1800+).

All these statistics were taken at the time the machines appeared and continued to hold up in tournament competition throughout the world, against humans and against other chess micros. Of course the manufacturers still get a litlle excited about their own products. For instance, both the Constallation 3.6 and Fidelity Elite A/S (Budapest) claim to be rated over 2000 by their manifacturers. Well, perhaps the Constallation 3.6 is close at speed chess, but at 40/2 both had just entered Class A. Even so it seems now that rating claims are overstated much less to than years before.

Late - 1984

At the end of the first half of ‘84 the 3.6 was heralded as being the best priced machine for the
playing strength, just as the Chess Challenger 9 was in ‘82. The Elite A/S (Budapest) was 

the other tournament player’s choice for those opting for a more beautiful casing. It was 
becoming clear that Novag and Fidelity were the two to watch. Fidelity produced two 
attempts to compete with Novag.
1) The Chess Challenger 12, and Elite A/S downgraded both in strength (close to 1800) and cosmetic appeal (half size with imitation metallic look and wooden border rather than full wood surface). The price was brought down to the Novag Constallation 3.6’s $250. However, the Constallation 3.6 stil remained king in that price range.
2) The Fidelity Elegance, also in the 12’s size, but much more handsome, retaining the Elite’s full-wood look, was quite an improvement both in appearance and play. The pieces, however, lacked a touch of class, It’s program was an Elite A/S update, running at the same speed (3.6 Mhz) but with better programming. The Elegance program just tied for first in the

Fourth Micro Chess Championships in Glascow, Scotland, August ‘84 and appears to be close to 1900 strength.

Fidelity Elegance (foto: Tom Luif)

Just as the Elegance was coming out, Novag relased their long-awaited Super Constellation. The list price was expected to be $600.00, but Novag surprised us with in incredible low list price of $399.95 ($600.00 with printer and clock). The other surprise which Novag had kept well secret was the fact that the machine is now user programmable. The biggest surprise, however, came late November when the USCF officially acclaimed the Super to be expert strength. After 40 games of humans (average rating 1982) playing against 10 production offthe-shelf models, the computer garnished 22 points. This 55% score under tournament conditions netted in official rating of 2018.

Super Constellation vs Constellation 3.6
Some of the main differences between Novag’s Constellation 3.6 and Super Constellation are:
1) 16 levels for the Super (7 lower levels so one can win occasion), while only 8 for the 3.6 (and no training levels). Tournament players like this feature since they can teach wife/husband or kids to play the game and, after not to long, they will start winning and be encouraged to move up the latter. The Constellation 3.6. for instance, would start off on its lowest, instant response level by beating even intermediate players a hundred games in a row.
After such a string of losses, the average person becomes disenchanted and feels like he’ll never be able to play the game competently. We suggest that if you get such a machine, plan
on losing - against is every time, use it as a tutor. Then trounce your human opponents. The advantige of the Super, of course, is that you start monitoring your progres by seeing a ratio of wins as you go up the “easy” levels. Also if you set a goal of, say reaching expert strenght, you can progress in smaller increments and have the machine stil keep you interested even when you reach your goal. And you’ll always have the lowest levels to beat up om if you even find yourself disenchanted with progress. For anyone rated below 1600 the choice between the 3.6 and the Super would be easier if the Super were presently priced at $600.00. However,
with the current cost being so closc the two main factors appear to be

a) Can one handle losing every time against the 3.6 with no out, until improvment finally shows through and b) is your goal to have a good, strong partner (if you don’t mind losing) or a tutor that can help you set your goal at expert/master class rather than class ‘B’.

2) The Super is compatible with the Novag printer, while the 3.6 is not. If you find that you have played a particularly brilliant or instructive game, you may print out the game in crisp figurine notation with diagrams at instructive points. The printer may also be used to verify positions in the computer’s brain or keep track of which opening variations one has programmed in.

3) The Super accepts a clock for a more even match. Masters may spot time odds of five minutes to three for an even struggle (the machine has been nick-named “blitz monster” after winning games against IMs in blitz matches). Weaker players may give themselves the time advantage. The clock may also be used singly for tournament chess, or to play speed chess with friends.

4) The rating difference between the two machines is close to 200 points. Opening play is much more varied with over 21,000 moves versus 3000. This should result in a better middlegame starting point. The program has been written in a 56K format as opposed to 16K. This allowed the programmer much room for advanced strategie heuristics. Now its positional insight is more equal to its proverbial tactics. It will even sacrifice on positional grounds. The endgame play is also much more enhanced. It will force a mate with bishop and knight versus king, a feat no other computer can perform and many experts find difficult!

5) The internal clock speed is only 0,4 megahertz faster (3.6 Mhz versus 4.0 Mhz). This is much less significant than the drastic program advancements as it very rarely allows it to see even an extra ply (½ move) further. The fact that the machine plays a strong expert, close to master speed-chess game has more to do with the promming.

6) The Super can be unplugged and the game still continued three months later, due to its long-term CMOS memory. Thus, if you wind up in a losing position and “accidentally” knock all the pieces over or trip over the cord ... well, the machine is still ready and willing to continue.

7) If asked, the Super will display its depth of search at that moment. It also automatically announces up to mate-in-four. If you are plaving along when unexpectedly on comes the mate-in-four signal, you know already that it is time to hit the “take-back” key (followed. perhaps, by the “hint” key).

Novag Constellation 3.6
8) Both solve mates and problems with amazing swiftness. Often, the Super will solve the problem in seconds, faster than some Grandmasters!

9) With the Super, one can in effect aid the programmer by adding opening lines that you, specifically, have a more difficult time against and need practice playing, either as White or Black. You can also program in how often you would like to see each line appear. Now if you find that you need to get a few fast wins in against the computer, just put in a couple. You could have it open 1. g4 every time and after your 1 ... e5, have it play 2. f3 50% of the time and 2. f4 the rest of the time. After mating it a number of times on h4 and proving it is not invinceable, you can erase those moves from memory and do some serious programming. The moves do not just stay in memory for a limited time. Rather, they become an integral part of the machine’s permanent opening memory repertoire (although, of course, you can erase and reprogram this repertoire).

Entering the moves into the computer’s bram is easy. It does not involve laborious keying-in. Just play the garne naturally and each move you play is automatically ingrained into its brain, as long as you are in programming mode. You can create your own monster - the variations you dread playing will keep coming back in future games to haunt you. You may find after drilling yourself through many games that certain variations you used to have a difficult time
playing against you now find easy to play. At that time you may steer the machine much deeper down the line to a fork where you feel that the branch the machine usually opts for poses fewer problems than one it plays less frequently (or perhaps the friend you’re trying to beat plays the less frequent line). At that fork you can change the ratio of response - have it play the move it usually opts for only 1 in 10 times, and the other move, 9 out of 10 times. If you ever find that you master the line altogether then you may delete that line leaving space for others. The deletion flexibility is especially important if you are close to the programmable moves, which is 2400 half moves. This programmable feature is only of
optimum use to stronger players who are objective enough to recognize their own weaknesses. Weaker players who purchase the Super and hope to get to master strength can utilize this feature more fully as they go up the ladder.