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Chess: Atari vs. Fairchild



This is going to be a lot less interesting than one might hope, sorry to say.


The "fun" part was figuring out how to set this up on my TV so that I could take cool simultaneous screen shots. See, I've got a wide screen and it lets me view two channels at the same time. That way I could take side by side pictures of both boards. I nearly had a solution that would have only required purchasing an RF to coax adaptor when I realized that, of course, my wife had the camera in Florida with her and the kids this week. :( This led me to the solution I used, which was far less elegant, but didn't involve having to leave my house and purchase anything. Basically, I used one RF switch box hooked up to a VCR hooked up to a monitor. The consoles hooked to the RF switch by going through a multi-channel switcher that I had stopped using once I had gotten a decent S-Video switch box. Unfortunately the multi-channel was only good if there was only one system on at a time. The two systems generated a lot of interference for each other that caused both boards to look like a good, old-fashioned RF interference moiré-lined mess. I couldn't look at it very long; made me feel a little sick, this partially contributed to not putting both of the systems through all of their paces.


Okay, on with the vs.


As far as I can tell, the Fairchild chess program Schach only has one skill level. The trouble here is that even if someone had put the instructions online, they'd be in German, wouldn't they? Anyway, I've never found them online so the point is moot. I did discover another feature of the Fairchild; if you're in the middle of a move that you're not sure what to do, you can have it make "the best move" for you. Just thought that was cool.


The Fairchild program doesn't seem to have an option for playing either side. You play White. Period. Atari has the option of switching the board up so that it plays white. So that's what I did. Consequently, Atari always gets the first move.


On Fairchild's only skill level it can beat Atari at its lowest skill level: the beginner game on game 8. It isn't a very exciting game and Fairchild doesn't win because it makes great moves, but only because Atari seems to play "safe" as one would expect from a beginner mode.


Fairchild "stalemates" with Atari on its game 1. In fact, both players beat each other down to a King, Rook, opposite Bishops and five blocked pawns each before getting caught in the stalemate.


Now when I say "stalemates" I mean a situation sets up where both programs make the same set of 6 or so moves, over and over and over again. It's like a feedback loop that neither one of them can break out of. If either one of them were programmed to be creative at this point it wouldn't have been so bad, but both wouldn't budge from their attempts to convert the board based on the one plan each of them had. It was very frustrating and dull to watch. After three iterations of it I finally had to go in and kick Atari's ass with some unconventional "human" moves. (I drew it out of its pattern by aggressively moving my king around, killing pawns and talking smack; something Fairchild wasn't programmed to do)


Anyway, after that little experiment I was left with no energy or enthusiasm to continue the experiment. It's just not that fun to be the lackey that sits there, switching between programs and duplicating each machine's move. It's like playing chess by myself but having no say in what moves are made. Dull, dull, dull.


The machines are still set up for play. I may do one more game between Atari game 2 and Fairchild's one and only. I foresee a victory for Atari.


Next entry we're going to try comparing Atari's Basic Programming with Odyssey^2's Computer Intro.


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Now when I say "stalemates" I mean a situation sets up where both programs make the same set of 6 or so moves, over and over and over again.


A draw by repetition, in other words. There's no way the 2600 could consistently detect, much less avoid, a draw-by-repetition scenario since it would require keeping track of all previous board positions since the last capture, pawn move, or castling operation. Not likely in 128 bytes. According to official chess rules, in addition to the draw-by-repetion rule, there is also a rule that declares drawn any game in which fifty consecutive moves have been made (by both sides) without either side making a capture, castling, or moving a pawn. This could theoretically be detected by the 2600 but I'm not sure it would be worth bothering.


Remember the 2600 is designed to play a human. If the person playing the 2600 knows a game is a draw, it doesn't really matter if the 2600 knows it. Unlike real chess where a person must either have his opponent agree that a draw has occurred or else summon the Tournament Director, the 2600's chess cartridge imposes no such requirement. Just reset the game when desired.

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When you lose against the 2600... do you have to knock your joystick over? :) :)

Hmm, I was using a Genesis controller, which doesn't really "tip" and a Fairchild controller, which doesn't really stand! :)


When I lose to a computer I usually say, "Go back to sleep HAL" and I always imagine it responding with an anxious "Will I dream?" just before I cut the power.


A draw by repetition, in other words.

That's the term I couldn't come up with, thanks! Good points about who the Atari was designed to play.

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I recall playing Sargon vs MicroChess ][ on a pair of Apple ][s back in junior high. I don't recall who won though. Should be possible to duplicate the matchup with emulators.

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I too think this was an interesting article. :-) Still, I'd like to know how Atari game 2 would fare against the Fairchild.


supercat, interesting info there.


When you lose against the 2600... do you have to knock your joystick over? :) :lust:



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sorry for rewarming this but i just have to say .... aaaaawsome!...did someone found a scan of the Schach game on fairchild?

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On 7/7/2014 at 1:47 PM, OldMCWeb said:

sorry for rewarming this but i just have to say .... aaaaawsome!...did someone found a scan of the Schach game on fairchild?

I don't know if it was ever scanned! Obviously, I was using a copy of the Schach game for this entry. I think Schach has some extra electronics in it, not to mention a little red light, that might have made its emulation less straight-forward than the other games for the Fairchild. Maybe it was never dumped?

Edited by Mezrabad
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