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.


14 thoughts on “Chess Computers Improve Since 90s

  1. I have an old Radio Shack Chess Computer 1450 (, that looks a lot like this. The batteries leaked a couple of years ago, and I’m not sure I can clean up the corrosion. (I’m a lurker here at H.a.D.) The input method on the 1450 is nicer than this one. It used a button underneath the piece. So you just pressed down on the piece, moved it, and pressed down again. It used lights on the axes to indicate the computer’s move.

  2. Is that an eight ball next to the board? Joking aside, this is something I have wanted to do for a while. I wonder how possible it would be to put a button on each square so I don’t have to input my moves and can just play naturally?

  3. All these commenters talking about input methods: the REAL solution is magnets in the pieces, and a hall-effect or reed switch beneath each square. Lifting a piece breaks the connection, setting it somewhere else makes a new one. No pressing needed!

  4. f you put a reed switch in each square and a magnet in each of the pieces, you can follow the pieces.
    Complication: An 8×8 matrix of the reed switches is too easy: Chances are more than one switch will be active at the same time. Several solutions exist.

  5. I hate to be negative but I think it needs to be said to encourage the guy: It’s a poor execution (so far)
    The LED are in clips from the 80’s and just sit next to the piece? Come on now, make nice semi-opaque squares and put the led underneath or something.
    Secondly, all the square are the same color? What? Why?

  6. Look up the Fidelity Electronics Sensory Chess Challenger. I never could get the one I had* to allow me to do an en passant capture, but it would do it to my pawns. It had a cartridge slot underneath that was supposed to be for more advanced stuff but like so many electronic stuff from the 80’s with ports, connectors and slots “for future use” the future never came.

    *It was not one that talked. Black case with beige and green board.

  7. ChessBaron are close to completion on a new auto-sensory chess computer which has 3000 elo (but which can be set down for us mere mortals). It’ll resemble the Citrine to some extent, but much superior. It’s a game changer – if you’ll excuse the pun. I’d say it’s 3 months away.

    1. How exactly is this any better or more innovative than any old Android phone running Droidfish (which, when running the newest Stockfish, has an ELO strength of over 3300)?

      1. I’m not referring to our Aristotle tablet. I’m referring to a new desktop chess computer with distinct wooden pieces. The cabinet will be wooden, and the product will be auto-sensory.

  8. These were early chess computers with old chips to run them. The new ARM chips allow much more functionality and power. My friend Ismenio (fellow service overseer, for anyone in the know) shows a good past one in the Fidelity – but it’s not made any more.

    Ummhh, also the Phantom Force chess computers were truly awful! They were always breaking down and were just cheap plastic. I had the last 100 from Excalibur and had to repair at least 20 of the belts and other problems. I still have a cupboard partly full of parts of the Phantom Force in case I can assist customers with repairs ( I suspect the Phantom Force were a strong contributory to Excalibur going bust. And Man! … the noise of those things.

    1. If you help me fix my Phantom Force computer I would be very happy. I tried took mine apart but got nowhere. Every time I reset the game I can hear the motor trying to move then the screen says WAIT and nothing happens.
      There are many people out there like me who cannot fix their chess computer but there is no information on how to do it. Many thanks if you can help.

    2. Hello bcturner, if you have either the cardboard or styrofoam inserts for the box packing for the phantom force – I could use those. I have other parts needs – for example, the rubber feet for the fidelity 6100 and the logo for the dust cover as well as an original box. Thanks much

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