Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 9 / SEPTEMBER 1984 / PAGE 90

Cyberchess. (evaluation) C.A. Johnson.


Learn Chess from the Masters

I would hate to guess how long ago it was that I played my first game of chess. I do remember that the game ended in a draw, because neither my opponent nor I knew how to administer a checkmate. We moved pieces on the board until we got tired of it and called the game off.

Ever since, I have continued to try to improve my game. When chess playing computer programs became available for my TRS-80, I bought them and played them. Some, I found too easy; others took too much time to complete a game, although I enjoyed getting beat by them.

When I encountered Cyberchess, I took more than a casual interest in it. Here, I though, was an excellent answer to self instruction in the art of chess. Well, I was only partially correct.

The basic concept of Cyberchess is outstanding. The technique has exceptional potential.

Cyberchess takes some of the winning games of the greatest chess players and lets you play their pieces. It uses a multiple choice format in which the Grand Master's move at each stage of play is included as one of six options. Each of the moves has a point value associated with it. When you select the correct move, you are credited with one point. When you select any of the other moves, you may lose as few as O points (if the analyst considers that move equal to the Grand Master's) to as many as six points. Some moves are considered so bad that recovery is impossible, and you lose immediately.

There is an instructional mode, in which there is no time limit imposed on your play and some notation is available for each of the wrong alternatives. There are also two modes of tournament-timed play and two variations of speed play available. For learning, the instructional mode is the one to use.

Cyberchess requires that you use a chessboard and a set of chessmen. To start, the first few moves are given, since they are standard openings. At this point, the board is displayed so that you can check the position of your pieces on your board. After each tenth move, the board is displayed again.

You make the moves for one set (designated by Cyberchess) and the opponent's response is given to you immediately. Before you go on to the next move, you may select any of the alternatives for the analysis or comment.

Of course, there is value in the analyses provided by Cyberchess. Careful study of the position at each move can provide valuable insights into the game, if all levels of difficulty are explored. I firmly believe that the benefits to be gained by using Cyberchess are realized by studying the moves the Grand Masters do not make and checking the program's analysis of those moves. If you can learn to understand why a given move in a sequence is bad, you will improve your chess by reducing the number of bad moves you make.

If you do not know anything at all about chess, Cyberchess will be of little or no value to you. It will not teach you how each of the pieces moves or any of the principles of good position play or long range strategy. Cyberchess assumes that you already know how to play.

At the beginning of each game, it presents a statement that is supposed to help to guide you through the moves. In fact, it tells you something of what happens in the game, but it does not (and probably cannot) tell you what the early rationale of the master was which determined the line of play he chose.

Good chess players generally confine their moves to traditional lines, paying attention to maintaining good position, until they find (or think they find) a weakness in their opponent's position. They then put pressure on the weak spot until a major weakness develops.

In the Cyberchess games I played, the real reason for deviation from the traditional (proven) sequences is not known. Each move is made and evaluated in terms of short term goals. The objectives of the masters are displayed solely on the basis of results. For my style of play, this is not enough. I need to know why!

Once you have learned some of the fundamentals of good play, Cyberchess can help to develop some positive insights into the game. However, it does that through repetitive play through all levels of difficulty and requires a thorough exploration of the reasons for not selecting the bad moves.

I suppose that everyone will find some disagreement with the expert who provided the comments and evaluations of the various moves. However, I found that the approach used in Cyberchess kept my concentration level up and forced me to study the score to a greater degree than I-would have in just reviewing the game on my own with the cryptic notation generally supplied as comments by most chess analysts and editors.

Basically, I like Cyberchess and plan to use it frequently. It does reduce the tendency toward haphazard play.

My present exposure to it was limited to the system package, which consists of the Cyberchess system program and four games. Two of the games were amateur class and two were professional class. All used different openings.

The list of additional game packs to be used with the program (four games to the pack) groups the games according to difficulty (amateur or professional). However, the list did not include any pricing information.

Table: Chess master's analysis of all available moves.

Products: Cyberchess (computer program)