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Hi, my name is Daniel Collin and I am a chess computers collector impassioned by machines of the end of the Seventies and beginning of the Eighties (the prehistory of mass market chess computer). I decided to create this site primarily to share this passion. I am interested particularly by machines equipped with a keyboard to enter moves. (OK you guessed, my first language is not English... But I will do the best I can for the translation. Thank you.)
These machines are more positions calculators than truths good computerized adversaries. Indeed, in fact these computers cannot establish strategy; they do nothing but calculate the maximum of possibilities (limited by assigned time and the slowness of their processor...). This method of calculation is known as "brute force" (I will return to that later).
At that time, the appearance of these "erudite Machines" intrigued and fascinated people:
"Lastly, an adversary which is always available and which does not protest if we stops the game at the time when it takes the top!!!" However, we will see it, the chess amateurs will disillusion rather quickly because the potential of these "electronic brains" remains still very limited, their playing level poor and their astronomical price for the time; a Boris was sold 300$ US in 1977 (on a purely comparative basis, in the US at this time, the average teacher’s wages was 257$/week).
On these machines, the moves are entered by a keyboard (and not via a sensitive board). My preferred manufacturer is the Applied Concepts Inc (Chafitz) company; this Texas corporation manufactured famous Boris (and its descendants).
Lower on this page, you will find 3 models manufactured by "Applied Concepts Inc" which bear the name of Boris: the Boris, the Boris Master, the Boris Diplomat, the Boris Diplomat II and a fourth (the Boris Handroide), which is remained a curiosity at the time and which was sold only with very few specimens (I do not have this model).
I also have other chess computers that work with keyboard (not from "Applied Concepts Inc"):
"Boris" (february 1978)
It is one of the first chess computers for general public. The electronic components are contained on the left side in an elegant walnut case, on the right, there is a space where is stored the adapter and the chessmen provided with the machine.
To play, you must enter the moves via a keyboard. It does not have real levels; to select the level of play, you have to program the timer (from 0 to 99 hours, 99 minutes, 99 seconds) which determines time allocated to "Boris" his moves calculation.
The information about the game are provided via a window of 8 high quality red led’s digits (displayed on a single line). For example, this window is necessary to enter the moves, to see the machine responses, to see «Boris» compute his moves (the various moves are flashing in the display), to adjust the internal timer, to setup an arbitrary position (arranged one line at the time) by using specific "Boris" characters and, obviously, to give his commentary on the game…
[processor F8-7826 MOSTEK MK3850N-3 - 1Mhz - 8bit - 2.5 ROM]
for more informations on MOSTEK processors.
"Boris Master" (1979)
This is an alternative to the first "Boris". This model is equipped with the same processor as the preceding "Boris". The special features are as follows:
In the central part of the unit (between the keyboard and the parts compartment) there are built-in rechargeable batteries which allow "Boris Master" to run without being wall connected. "Boris Master" will operate on battery power for up to seven hours of play, or will hold a position in memory for up to five days without having to be recharged, providing batteries are fully recharged at the start.
"Boris Master" has a unique memory feature which allows you to interrupt and resume games at any time. "Boris Master" holds a chess position attained in memory for as long as he is provided with power, either through his battery, or through the adapter. This allows you to move "Boris Master" from place to place during a game, save an interesting position to show friends, or extend battery life. That makes of the Boris Master the first chess computer in the world which can function without being connected to the wall. It is undoubtedly also, the first with being able to keep the current position (the game in progress) in memory.
On the former "Boris" model, if the unit were turned off, it returned to the starting position when you power it up... Consequently, if you wished to continue an already started game, you were obliged to rebuild the position (pieces by pieces) in the "Boris brain".
On the "Boris Master", you can connect the adapter on the unit’s back via a removable connector (onto the preceding "Boris", the adapter wire is welded directly onto the unit inside the compartment). Another characteristic of this model, the programmers changed the comments that "Boris Master" gives on human moves (it would have been preferable to use this intervention in the memory to create a small openings book).
Update - ATTENTION concerning information of the preceding paragraph - I realized that some units of the conventional Boris were marketed (in America as in Europe) with removable connector on the back of the unit as for the Master model. Moreover, these units rather post the Master model starting message on their activation "Boris awaits your move" than the "Boris plays black" of the conventional Boris. Its look like obvious that Applied Concepts used the electronic units of the Master model to produce Boris conventional units...
For your information: A "Boris Master" warranty card.
"Boris Diplomat" (1979)
For this Boris, the manufacturer forsook wood for the plastic. That makes the unit lighter and less expensive.
Indeed, the Boris Diplomat was sold betwen 120$ and 140$ US in 1980 (the standard "Boris" was sold 299$ US in 1977). The look is less noble and some find this model straightforwardly dreadful... But that depends of each one taste: my 9 year old boy finds it really cool and, honestly, me too.
It is, in my humble opinion, an interesting attempt to create a really portable model. Indeed, you can distinguish, on the right of the unit, a mini chess-board (not connected electronically to the computer) with small chessmen’s which fit on the surface of play, the whole covered with a transparent plastic lid.
Another characteristic its portable capacity; although the unit can be connected sector like the others, it is also possible to make it run with 6 non rechargeable alkaline batteries. On this machine, you must still enter the moves via a keyboard which is located in front of the unit. It is noticed that, as for the other "Boris", the information of play are still provided via a window of 8 led’s digits (on a single line). But the digits are smaller and the special characters which represent the chessmen are different from those used by the two other models (the Boris Diplomat character's are smaller and less detailed this lend more to confusion). By the way, it should be said that the electronic digits of the Boris and Boris Master are much more complex and allow a much better representation of the electronic chessmen. In my opinion, the digits of the Boris and the Boris Master are a technological exploit for this time.
This window provided the same type of information as on the two preceding models. In addition, Boris Diplomat does not make comments any more as did both others "Boris". But this withdrawal of the memory was not used to add an opening book because Boris Diplomat still does not have any...
There is also a brown color model of the same machine; it is often called the Boris Diplomat brown. According to my research and under all reserves, it seems that it is exactly the same machine put except for the color. I believe that the Brown model was intended for the European market because; all those which have some, say to me that the wall plugs are 220 volts European type.
This model has a different processor but with very similar performances to both former "Boris" (electronic architecture is however different). Curiously, although it was put on the market 2 -3 years later, it succeeds less better in chess problems resolution... Although certain other WEB sites speak about an AMI processor 7839, but in my Boris Diplomat, I see a processor which shows the Motorola logo with various figures. However, in spite of my research, these figures do not seem associated with any Motorola product (I am still in research on the subject...). I will specify as soon as possible.
[processor Motorola ? SC 80265P (7930) - 1Mhz ? - 8bit - 2.5 ROM]
"Boris Diplomat II" 1979
The Boris Diplomat II, except his color, is exactly the same machine as the Boris blue Diplomat presented before. However, I must admit that in its brown presentation it makes better impression. Anyway, in my humble opinion, it takes a nobler form. It is also noticed that in this version, that the small chess-board has a better look because it has the same 2 tone presentation as for the keyboard. That not only give it relief, but it is also much easier to distinguish the co-ordinates on the columns and the lines.
I am particularly proud of this acquisition. Indeed, this machine was marketed for my province market; the Québec. The distributor was localised in Montreal. The box is 50% in French and it is even possible to read comment from the chess Canadian champion of the time, Jean Hébert, an Inhabitant of Quebec! - «...pour tous, indépendamment de l'âge et de la force du joueur...» in english: "... for all ages and all levels of skill...".
Amusing fact, you will notice that the marketing people who were responsible for the box setup were not, obviously, chess players since they laid out, on the box photograph, the white pieces on the top of the chess-board! Another new characteristic of this purchase is the French-speaking instructions booklet offered with the machine (will be available soon on the site). As opposed to what one could think, it is not a handbook intended for France simply put in a box for French-speaking persons of Canada. Indeed, printed in the booklet, it is possible to see the name, the address and the telephone number of the Montréal distributor of the game.
He is amusing and surprising to note that on the cover page of the instruction booklet they even translate the corporative slogan of Boris. Indeed, of "Boris is king", he becomes «Boris est le roi»!
It is interesting to note that to date, I never found on the WEB an instruction manual in French language for the Boris Diplomat (nor for any other Boris models of Applied Concepts). Here also the French-speaking guarantee card intended specifically for the Québec market.
In term of technological architecture, the Boris Diplomat II is identical to the Boris Diplomat blue. Only certain parts numbers differ. For the Boris Diplomat II I have, the Motorola logo does not appear on the processor (it appeared on the processor of my Boris Diplomat blue).
Although these machines (the Boris) mark a first important step in the "democratization" of the computerized chess, they were not free from important gaps. Indeed:
No openings book These machines did not have openings book, thus, as of the first move, the machine must calculate its answer. That increases too much the duration of the game and that results in any kind of game beginning which does not respect the openings theory. That also results to quickly place the "Boris" in precarious positions at the very beginning of the game. In my opinion, the memory (already tiny) would have been used much better if the programmers had stored there some alternatives of basic openings of 5, 6, or 7 moves (ex: to open with e4 and to answer with e5) rather than to put a lot of comments, completely useless, which do not bring anything to the computer’s playing level. Finally, a little bug; if you places the cursor on the Blacks side, Boris will open the game with the Blacks (e7-e5)!!!
No openings book
These machines did not have openings book, thus, as of the first move, the machine must calculate its answer.
That increases too much the duration of the game and that results in any kind of game beginning which does not respect the openings theory. That also results to quickly place the "Boris" in precarious positions at the very beginning of the game.
In my opinion, the memory (already tiny) would have been used much better if the programmers had stored there some alternatives of basic openings of 5, 6, or 7 moves (ex: to open with e4 and to answer with e5) rather than to put a lot of comments, completely useless, which do not bring anything to the computer’s playing level. Finally, a little bug; if you places the cursor on the Blacks side, Boris will open the game with the Blacks (e7-e5)!!!
No predetermined levels of play
No predetermined levels of play
They did not have predetermined levels of play, as I higher mentioned it, to adjust the depth of their research (- time = weaker level, + time = stronger level) you must enter the number of minutes that you give to the machine to make is calculation. The problem is that even for obvious moves, as in an pieces exchange, the machine will take all the time allocated to give its answer (unless it does not identify a CHECHMATE). As you can imagine, that much increases the game duration...
Finally, I noticed that the internal counter of the Boris do not calculate real seconds and minutes, they are rather units of time which approaches the seconds... Thus, I could validate that on all the Boris I have, no clock turns at the same speed. On this subject, it is mentioned in the Boris Diplomat's instruction manual: "Note that BORIS Diplomat’s timer is not designed as an accurate timepiece, but will chronicle standardized time units for comparative play".
Weak moves selection method and slow processor
As I mentioned it higher, Boris use the brute force method to select their moves. However, so that this method can give average results, it would have been necessary that the Boris can count on a much faster processor. Taking into account the extraordinary number of possible moves combinations. If you hope that this method gives good results, it is necessary that the computer can calculate extraordinarily quickly. Unfortunately for them, the Boris could count only on a 1 Mhz MOSTEK 3850 processor (F8-7826 MK3850N-3). Without this high computing speed, the machine cannot reach sufficient depth levels analyse. The Boris are thus very quickly confronted with the horizon effect.
The things changed well since...
Today, the electronic chess game and chess programmes for PC can count on several innovations, like for example:
These elements make that even the medium range chess computers and chess programs are able to beat the vast majority of the chess players. And the strong programs are able to beat 99% of the chess players. Now that these machines became practically unbeatable adversaries, it is necessary for us to use them as flexible trainers always willing to improve our own level of play...
The Boris are not strong chess player
The Boris's playing level is frankly low (evaluated around 1167 Elo SSDF 2005 rating). Myself, which am only a strong "occasional player", I do not have any sorrow to beat them even if I give them up to one hour for each move (see these test games). I badly think to play chess with an adversary which must «think» for hours before to play each move, even the most obvious...
"Boris HANDroid" (1980)
It’s in September 1980 that Applied Concepts Inc show, via its German subsidiary company Sandy, the very world’s first robot chess computer; the Boris HANDroid. This machine is able to record the moves of its human adversary using magnetized parts and sensors placed under the board. But what impresses much more, it is that the machine answers by moving itself these chessmens using a robotized arm! Here the extract of an New York Times article of April 9, 1981.
This machine lays out of the famous Sargon 2.5 MGS on 7 levels program of Kathe and Dan Spracklen. I believe that in the facts, there were only very few units produced and of sold. Here is a color picture of the Boris HANDroide.
References – Credits : http://www.schachcomputer.at/handroid.htm