Interactive Board Prompts Moves for Checkers and Chess

In terms of equipment, chess and checkers are simple games — just a handful of pieces and a checkered gameboard. The simplicity belies the underlying complexity of the games, though, and goes a long way toward explaining their popularity over the millennia.

Increasing the complexity with an interactive game board for chess and checkers might seem counterintuitive, then. But [Bogdan Berg]’s project aims to not only teach checkers and chess but to make games a little more exciting and engaging. Looking a little like a tabletop version of the interactive dance floors we’ve been seeing a lot of lately, the board is built from laser-cut acrylic with plywood dividers to isolate all 64 squares. Neopixels and Hall-effect sensors are mounted to custom PCBs that stretch the length of a row and are wired to an Arduino Mega with lots of IO. Game pieces are colorful fridge magnets. [Bogdan]’s current program supports checkers and keeps track of where the pieces have been moved relative to their starting position and prompts users with possible legal moves.

[Bogdan]’s board already looks like a lot of fun in the video below, and we like the quality of the build and the unobtrusive nature of the interactivity. When he gets around to implementing chess, though, he might want something fancier than fridge magnets for game pieces.

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Chess AI, Old School

People have been interested in chess-playing computers before there were any chess-playing computers. In a 1950 paper, [Claude Shannon] defined two major chess-playing strategies. Apparently, practical chess programs still use the techniques he outlined. If you’ve ever wondered how to make a computer play chess [FreeCodeCamp] has an interesting post that walks you through building a chess engine step-by-step.

The code is in JavaScript, but the approach struck us as old school. However, it is interesting to watch the evolution of code as you go from random moves, to slightly smarter strategy, to deeper searching. Because it is in JavaScript, you can follow along in your browser and find out when the program gets smart enough to beat you. The final version is even on GitHub.

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Heavy Metal Chess

Chess is a slow game of careful decision-making, looking several moves ahead of the current state of the board. So is machining, and combining the two is an excellent way to level up your machine shop chops. And so we have the current project from [John Creasey] who is machining a chess set out of stainless steel.

This isn’t that new-fangled computer numerical control at work, it’s the time-tested art of manual machining. Like chess, you need to plan several steps ahead to ensure you have a way to mount the part for each progressive machining process. In this first video of the series [John] is milling the knights — four of them, with two which will eventually get a black oxide treatment.

Milling the horse head is fun to watch, but you’ll be delighted when the work gets to the base. [John] is using a pipe fitting as a fixture to hold the already-milled horse-head-end while working the base on his lathe. The process begins by getting rid of the inner threads, then working the pipe fitting very carefully to the diameter of the chess piece for a perfect press fit. Neat!

At the end, [John] mentions it took “quite a few months of weekends to get to this point” of having four pieces made. They look great and we can’t wait to see the next piece in the set come to life. You’ll find the video embedded below, but if you can’t sink this kind of time into your own chess set, you may try three-dimensional laser cut acrylic pieces.

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Digital Opponent In An Analog Package

Unsatisfied with the present options for chess computers and preferring the feel of a real board and pieces, [Max Dobres] decided that his best option would be to build his own.

Light and dark wood veneer on 8mm MDF board created a board that was thin enough for adding LEDs to display moves and for the 10mm x 1mm neodymium magnets in the pieces to trip the reed switches under each space. The LEDs were wired in a matrix and connected to an Arduino Uno by a MAX7219 LED driver, while the reed switches were connected via a Centipede card. [Dobres] notes that you’ll want to test that the reed switches are positioned correctly — otherwise they might not detect the pieces!

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Chess Computers Improve Since 90s

The AlphaGo computer has been in the news recently for beating the top Go player in the world in four out of five games. This evolution in computing is a giant leap from the 90s when computers were still struggling to beat humans at chess. The landscape has indeed changed, as [Folkert] shows us with his chess computer based on a Raspberry Pi 3 and (by his own admission) too many LEDs.

The entire build is housed inside a chess board with real pieces (presumably to aid the human player) and an LED on every square. When the human makes a move, he or she inputs it into the computer via a small touch screen display. After that, the computer makes a move, indicated by lighting up the LEDs on the board and printing the move on the display. The Raspberry Pi is running the embla chess program, which has an Elo strength of about 1600.

While the computer isn’t quite powerful enough to beat Magnus Carlsen, we can only imagine how much better computers will be in the future. After all, this credit-card sized computer is doing what supercomputers did only a few decades ago. With enough Raspberry Pis, you might even be able to beat a grandmaster with your chess computer. Computer power aside, think of the advancements in fabrication technology (and access to it) which would have made this mechanical build a wonder back in the 90s too.

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Computer Learns to Hack Chess

A lot of computers can play chess. [Matthew Lui’s] Giraffe is a chess playing computer, but unlike other common chess programs, Giraffe taught itself to play. It apparently learned pretty well, too, since it is rated as an International Master on the FIDE scale (putting it in the top 2.2% of players. The top chess playing computers clock in at super grandmaster level but they are not self-taught).

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Make your own Ninja Chess Board

You’re going to want to take a look at this fun project [Alistair MacDonald] just finished up. He calls it Ninja Chess.

He’s had the idea to 3D print a complete set of ninjas vs pirates for a chess board, but, let’s be real;  printing thirty-two chess pieces would take a long time. He opted to use a laser cutter instead, and so far, only has the Ninja characters drawn. But it still makes for a pretty awesome chess board.

Ninja Character

He drew the characters in Inkscape and they’re pretty darn cute. He has all the files available over on his Instructable including the .DXF for the laser cut outlines, and the image files for you to print off the decals. But unless you’re good with scissors, we recommend using your hackerspace’s automated paper cutter to help speed things up.

Is it a hack? Not really, but it’d be an excellent addition to anyone’s workshop. And while we sail under the Jolly Wrencher, we too can appreciate the novelty of a Ninja chess board.

For a more detailed build, did you see the 3D laser cut chess pieces we shared a few weeks ago? No that’s not a typo — you can use a laser cutter to do more than just two-dimensional cutting…