Chess Champion 2175 logo Amiga Computing Supreme Award

Our own pawn star Alastair Scott checks out the new Pretender.

IN October last year I called Chessmaster 2000 "the best Amiga chess program", despite a few niggles - yet CP Software proved they listen to criticism by making the best even better, cand calling it Chess Champion 2175.

After 10 years of micro chess programs, somebody has at last found the simplest and best way to move the pieces. "Fast Moves" and "Intuitive" are the phrases to note. The first means that if you click a square attacked by one piece, the piece will immediately move to that square. The second results in the most likely piece being chose to move to a square attacked by two ore more pieces - this can easily be overridden.

The upshot is that you almost always need just one or two clicks on the same square to move a piece - no more clicking, dragging, wondering where the piece has gone and so on.

The pieces can also be forced to jump directly to the square chose, eliminating that graceful but oh-so-slow sliding motion. If you are determined or stubborn, moves can now be entered straight from the keyboard.

OPENINGS were Chess Player 2150's weakest point, and Chess Champion 2175 remedies this in the most decisive manner. The opening library has been extended threefold to over 300,000 bytes.

Individual openings can be selected according to strength, popularity and name, and you can interrupt the computer's thoughts, forcing it to play the line you want. In addition, the computer "learns" any lines it has not previously encountered, storing them in a file, and you can type ay openings you want it to know into another file.

This is done sensibly. There are no mysterious codes or dodgy text editors, the "user book" being a plain Ascii file in the format "e2e4 b7b6...", which can be edited with any PD text editor. This is the only opening library you can alter. In all cases the lines, as you would expect, are much deeper - I have seen several up to 25(!) moves long.

These are the main changes. There are a host of minor ones, the most noticeable being that the main screen is green instead of blue - the graphics are exactly the same as those in Chess Player 2150 - and that the last few moves are displayed on the 2D board.

The menus are improved, with a less crowded layout and a few hot keys - for example, Amiga-I instead of the spacebar to bring up the information screen - making them look like Amiga menus. The right mouse button now brings the title bar up immediately, without the mouse pointer freezing then jerking all over the screen.

The Load Game option uses the latest ARP file requester and seems bombproof; Chess Player 2150 games are compatible but the opening libraries it has "learned" are not. Copies of the master disc now work properly, and I (fingers crossed) have yet to meet the Guru. There is now a hard disk installation option.

The most significant minor change is that a Preferences file can now be saved which contains the settings, position and size of the board, players' names, colours and so on - no more fiddling around with the menus before you start playing.

You don't get something for nothing, and something has been removed, namely the dreaded digitised speech - hardly a crippling loss! In fact, the only improvement I can think of that was not implemented was proper algebraic notation - the program still uses a four-character format as mentioned above. It's a pity the password protection scheme is still there because it's the only reason for hanging on to the manual, the program is easy enough to use without it.

YOU may think that these are cosmetic changes, and, with the exception of the opening library, you could well be right. However, CP has improved the playing strength, not by leaps and bounds, but by enough to make its presence felt.

The program is slower in the opening, probably due to all the searching for opening library files, but is considerably faster in the middle and endgames. The instructions say that the depth of search and playing strength are improved even more if you have a megabyte of memory fitted, and I found that, on average, the program searched about one ply (half a move), deeper with the expansion memory available than with it switched of. As looking half a move further ahead could make or break a combination, this is not the trifling improvement it may seem

If you already have Chess Player 2150, examine your wallet and your conscience carefully before upgrading to Chess Champion 2175 - unless you are a very good player. Chess Player 2150 will keep you entertained for years to come. Otherwise, look no further for the best Amiga chess program.



Chess Champion 2175 logo

OXFORD SOFTWORKS £29.95 * Mouse

Put an Ottoman Emperor and a Russian (or Georgian or Lithuanian) peasant in the same room and they wouldn't know how to communicate. Then introduce a chessboard and - bingo! - they will be on the same wavelength as long as you let them play. That's one of the beauties of chess. In this country, the game has had a 'snob intellectual' value attached to it; this is slowly being broken down and one of the prime movers in this noble war of attrition is the home computer chess game.

Chess Champ comes with all the standards which we have come to expect; a 3-D board, 'take back' moves, booked openings and saved game. Unlike its predecessor, Chess Champion 2150, little brother comes with no speech support. The reason for this is that a bigger opening library has been added, the search extended and a 'Chess Engine' - the brains behind the beast - of 100k incorporated.

Once booted up - for some reason the screen shows a 2-D board where the pieces change into toys and animals, but at least it keeps you interested - you have to negotiate the 'what does word 12 in paragraph 23 on page 2' protection. Then you are taken straight to the flat board display with the clocks ticking. Default games have you playing white. Click on the left mouse button, with the pointer off the board, and a series of menu options are shown at the top of the screen.

Before getting into a game, it's an idea to test your grade. This function gives you 24 set-pieces to negotiate. Once you've completed the lot you are given a rough idea of your place in the international pantheon of chess players. Nice idea, but it can be a tad punishing on the ego.

Just because you are defaulted to play white, doesn't mean it has to be that way. As with all computer chess it is a wise idea to suss the machine's ability to play white and - this is normally a good one - see how it reacts to castleing Queen-side. Chess Champ' copes well with both options with some style, an attribute lacking in a number of other games. Attempting to stuff it with a Queen/night check was also handled with great aplomb - that normally nails 'em too.

One impressive point about the game, although it smacked of playing a crusty old pro trying to impress by dropping in chess technicalities - is that names of openings are displayed on screen as soon as the software recognises them. Queen's Gambit slaps on the screen early, but such lovelies as the Nimzo'-Indian Defence take their time - and rightly so. It plays like a crusty old pro' as well: more's the pity for the chess smart-arse or naive beginner.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

We'll get the sound question over with right now. Save for the occasional bleep to signify a move, there's isn't any. A good thing, too, the last thing you want when training to win a £10 bet with 'Arry the chess shark down at the Rook and Ferret, is Adamski-international-Beat'S'Express blaring out to announce a check.

Graphically, it's a little on the ragged side. This is probably because looks are sacrificed to playability, another good point in my mind. Movement comes with a number of options which range from an irritating 'slide' to a zappy 'Fast Move' variation.
You do get a chance to alter the board and piece colours, so why quibble. The real chess afficionado will have a true board to hand anyway - you can't really play chess without some tactile sense. Basically the job is done in an unintrusive manner. Oh, and if anyone ever does make use of the 3-D option, that's fairly mean too.

LASTING INTEREST

It's chess innit? Lasting interest? There's thousands of years of it, bit of a silly question really. As for the software, the options to keep your own booked openings, continually assess your grading and the different levels which are included should make Chess Champion 2175 last until the next version comes along.

The fact that it can be moulded to your tastes and playing ability (though not yet to your style or imagination) gives it a fair edge over challenger in the micro-chip Kasparov stakes. Unless you're Nigel Short or plain irritatingly good then Chess Champion will keep doing no end of good for your game for a long time to come.

JUDGEMENT

Until a computer chess partner comes along which can bring hypnotists, telepaths and rowdy fan club members to reak you out; until the Amiga develops the ability to chuck the pieces across the screen in a fit of pique when it loses and then blame the loss on the weather or FIDE, it'll be nothing to beat human contact.

However, Chess Champion stands up well and provides an excellent game for beginner and experienced amateur alike. It comes with a 300,000 byte library, is obviously well thought out and enthusiastically programmed and all this makes it almost a pleasure to be beaten by it. It's definitely a pleasure to beat it.



Chess Champion 2175 logo

Chess Champion is 'serious' chess, and it plays one of the meanest games that you will come across. If you liked Battle Chess's humour and animation then Chess Champion probably isn't going to find itself in your all-time classic collection. But if you're just looking for a cracking game of chess against your Amiga, you can't do a lot better than this.

The game is compiled onto one disk which saves disk swapping and the loading time is quite quick. It's when you get into the game that things start to slow down. The computer-player's intelligence can take an awfully long time to reach a decision on its next move which can make playing a bit stilted.

The 3D perspective makes the positions of pieces at the back of the board quite hard to see, but adds a little realism. There's also a 2D mode which is a bit clearer, but like its 3D counterpart, the colours are a bit bland and boring. Moving pieces around is easy - you just drag them to their new positions with the mouse, though the screen update becomes extremely jerky while you do this.

In all, a Spartan chess game. Kochnoi could be proud of, but not for the faint-hearted. Ideal for learners and enthusiasts of chess, but prepare for a few sound beatings.



Chess Champion 2175 logo

The strength of a good computerised chess game is how much you can learn from it. It should be like having a chess club sait in your living room, the members of which can stretch your playing technique and offer advice on how to improve your game.

Chess Champion 2175, the successor to Chess Player 2150 (winner of the 1989 British Open Microcomputer Chess Championship), sets about living up to its 2000+ ELO rating (that's a very high level of chess-playing ability) with an impressive bunch of options.

The game can be viewed from either overhead or in perspective, the angle of which can be shifted around to suit, while any of five sets of playing pieces are available. As with all gimmick sets, however, you'll probably ignore the more esoteric pieces in favour of good old Staunton (the standard piece design which you should all be familiar with.

Beginners are catered for by a series of 10 ape-brained opponents, against whom the game's coarser points can be learned, though progressively more difficult levels of play can be accessed as your confidence grows.

The tutorial functions are numerous, enabling you to replay moves, take pieces back and try again or even swap sides and see how the computer deals with your hopelessly untenable position. There's also a hint mode available at certain levels of play which offers you a suggested move.

The game's mouse-only control is intuitive, its apparent depth - we're talking a huge library of opening moves here - is awesome and the level of tutoring offered is comprehensive. I'm no expert at chess, but after a short time playing I found the urge to learn more - and beat the rather, smug, silent facade of this digital grandmaster - rather strong.

It may be that after playing the latest all-bells-and-whistles platform-'em-up, chess seems like far too stuffy a way to pass the evening. Your mistake - Chess Champ offers a level of brain burn you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, even down at the local chess club.



Chess Champion 2175 logo Zero Hero

Chess. That game played by really odd students out of The Avengers and tatty anoraks. And since Tim Ponting has dreadful taste in pants and a sizeable collection of parkas, we volunteerd him to review a couple of chess games...

Amiga reviewTim: Chess Champion 2175. Hmm, what has the year 2175 got to do with a chess program? Nothing, 'cos 2175 is a score on the international ELO rating system. (See? Not only anoraks and flares but crap Electric Light Orchestra singles too!) This means it's probably better at chess than I am. Ho-hum.

Chess Champion is actually very easy to use. Just about every option you can think of is accessible by means of a pull down menu system. You can choose to view the game from above or in full 3D glory.

The opening library is massive, with the option of adding to it in one or two ways: you can either create your own lines or turn on a 'learning' option. In this mode, the computer adds lines it considers to be hot stuff for its own use later. Smug machine.

Other options available include a 'what if?' feature (allowing you to examine the computer's decision-making process in detail) and an ELO rating system. This is a nifty feature that allows the computer to grade you according to the international scale. It'll even give itself a rating!

Chess Champion 2175 is pretty much state of the art stuff for the dedicated connoisseur. But the range of options makes it equally suitable for a beginner. Erm... better find some criticisms, fast. Oh, yes, that's right: I wish it beeped when it made a move. That's all.

PC reviewTim: Colossus is a bit older than 2175 bu has recently arrived on PC. It shares most of the same features, most notably the 'learning' option that means the opening book is self-expanding.

It runs in CGA and EGA with a range of 3D sets: Standard, Futuristic (very phallic), Medieval and Oriental. They're all awfully pretty and the viewing angle is fully adjustable.

The way in which Colossus thinks is fully adjustable, just like sock suspenders from Selfridges. You choose the type of play from a list of six which includes a problem solving option - useful for the newspaper prize jobbies since you can feed in the details and leave it thinking overnight.

It's got an 'average time' setting (where you can tell the computer to think about each move for an average of, say, 1 minute) and an 'equal time' mode, where it will try to match your own speed. In addition, you can tell it to predict your next move and think about its rely while you're still scratching your head. In other words, it's 'pretty damn clever'. And very similar to Chess Champion.

Anyway, yes, yes, one good chess game is pretty much like another really, we knew that. But which one is smarter? Well, we had a bit of a problem with the PC, because Colossus, erm, crashed during the endgame. But it was moving towards a draw anyway - and when 2175 played the last few moves out against itself, it produced the expected draw.

So there we are. At the end of the day Colossus Chess X and Chess Champion 2175 'sort of drew' in the exclusive ZERO sudden death competition. Stop


THE LOST PIECES OF CHESS

Chess has been around for so long that people are prone to forget that it has had a long and complicated evolution. Along the way a few rules and pieces have been dropped or changed to accommodate changing fashions.

  1. THE COURTIER: Originally placed between the King and the Queen this piece could only move once during the entire game. It was claimed by some strategists that the whole game could be won or lost on the timing of this move. However by the late 15th century most people had realised that this was a pile of crap and the piece was dropped.
  2. THE KEEP: An early casualty in Chess development, the Keep could move one square at a time in any direction. However it could only be captured by the opponent's King, Queen, Bishop and two pawns working in unison. This made for some very boring games before the piece was superceded by the castle.
  3. THE SWIPE: Not a piece but a rather controversial rule, the swipe was very popular in Northern Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries. In order to speed up slow games a player was entitled to attempt to cleave his opponent's head off (at the neck only) at any time during his opponent's move. Attempts to reintroduce this rule in the mid-1920's received a decidedly cool reciption.
HEAD TO HEAD

"Colossus Chess X: the ultimate chess program."
"Chess Champion 2175: the most powerful and versatile chess program yet." Hang on, they both can't be 'the best'. I know, let's feed their moves into each other and see who wins. The contenders: Boris 'Flares' Lopitov (Colossus Chess X) and Dr Herbert Snetterswinkle (Chess Champion 2175). And may the 'hard man' win!

MOVE 1, 2175
Herbert: I'm rated at 2175 on the ELO international scale, so I'm realy rather good at this. Ooh look! Teddy ebars and things! And I thought I was going to have to play chess! Oh, I am. Right. I think I'll move one of my little chappies at the front forward two squares - that'll give the opposition a bit of a headache, eh? Now, let's see if this little dolly is anatomically correct, shall we>

MOVE 1, COLOSSUS
Boris: That big idiot from the famous English University thinks he can beat me, The Colossus! He must have the bigg balls, ya? Right, I will counter with the best line from my chess opening book. Mmm... The Spanish Gambit? No. The Swedish Strategem? No. Ah, here, ya: 'Now is the winter of our discontent'. What an opener! They will never poke the un at me in the Cosmonaut's school again!

MOVE 14-ISH, 2175
Herbert: Oh dearie me, this midgame is getting me down. I've already lost two teddies and now he's taken my dolly! Boo-hoo! Still, that's left his horrid cheesy dolly open to attack from my horsie so I think I'll take it. That'll teach you to come disco dancing on my side of the board, matey! Now, what can I do next? I think I'll take my toy soldiers and sandcastles on a frontal assault!

MOVE 1 8ISH, COLOSSUS
Boris: By the beard of Lenin, he's knocked off my queen! Right, time to, how you say, 'hot up the pace'. You see those photon accelerator things with the rings that look like they've fallen off the abck of a pinball lorry? Yes, they're knights! He'll never remember their wiggly move until it's too late! Ha ha ha! These English professors are not clever like Henry Higgins in the supreme motion picture My Fair Comrade!

LAST MOVE, 2175
Herbert: Yawn. Is that really the time? A lot has happened on the board, I can tell you. That Boris chap was fiddling with his particle accelerator things - I know they were knights in disguise, of course - and blam! Up he went in smoke! Anyway, I decided to play with mys... erm, play all his moves for him. After 67 moves, I still can't beat myself so it's a draw! I'm just too clever by half!