Winner of a bronze medal at the '89 Computer Olympiad
By Dave Butler
Atari checkers takes on a new, competitive edge with this prize-winning version of the classic board game. Written in fast, powerful machine language, this issue's Super Disk Bonus does not require BASIC and runs on all Atari computers with at least 32K memory.
Computer programmers from around the world gathered in London for the first Computer Olympiad, held August 9-15, 1989 at the Park Lane Hotel.
Computer was pitted against computer, program against program, in such diverse mind games as backgammon, awari, bridge, chess, go, reversi, dominos and 8 X 8 draughts -- better known as checkers.
Running on a "mere" 8-bit Atari, David Butler's program, Tournament Checkers, battled some impressive competition to take the bronze medal (third place) in its category. Tournament Checkers actually went undefeated through the round robin competition, suffering only two draws against the first-place and second-place programs.
(First place went to the program Chinook, running on a 32-megabyte SUN 4 workstation, and developed by professor John Schafer of Alberta University in Canada. Second place went to Gil Dodgen's Checkers, running on a MAC II with 8 megabytes. Other competitors used IBM-AT and Commodore computers.)
And now Antic brings you this high-caliber checkers game, to challenge you on your 8-bit at home. Although the tournament-winning version of the program required an Atari 130XE, this special Antic conversion drops a few fancy touches in order to run on any Atari 8-bit computer with at least 32K memory.
There are many variations of checkers played around the world. Using the game as commonly played in the U.S. and England, Antic Tournament Checkers takes the familiar checkerboard of eight-by-eight squares. The rules will be familiar - you move your pieces across the board one diagonal square at a time, or jump diagonally over an opponent's piece to capture it. You must capture a piece if it is possible to do so. Reach the opposite side of the board, and your piece will be "kinged" -- and gain the invaluable ability to move any distance in a diagonal direction. The first player to take all of the other player's pieces wins. With Antic Tournament Checkers, your wily Atari will give you a real challenge, so you can take a break by challenging another human in Two-Player mode.
You'll find Tournament Checkers on the Antic Monthly Disk in the file CHECKERS.OBJ. You can't run this machine language program from the Monthly Disk menu. Instead, go to DOS, and use option C to copy CHECKERS.OBJ onto another disk with DOS 2.0 or 2.5 on it. (If you have only one drive, use DOS option O.) Rename the file CHECKERS.OBJ to AUTORUN.SYS, put the disk in drive 1, turn the computer off and on again, and Tournament Checkers will run automatically.
You will be prompted to "Press trigger moving red." Either press the joystick trigger button, or press [RETURN]. (If you have two joysticks, you can set one to play white and the other to play red in Two-Player mode.) An introductory screen and some brief instructions will follow. When the game board appears on screen, you'll be set for a one-player game at the Beginner level.
You can move your pieces in many ways. With the joystick, you move the cursor over the piece you want to move, press the joystick button to select that piece, then move the cursor to your destination square and press the joystick button again. Similarly, you can move the cursor using the [ARROW KEYS] and [RETURN].
You can also enter the numbers of the starting and ending squares, in "FROM-TO" checker notation (11-15 RETURN). Press [N], and each of the squares will be numbered. Type the number of the square on which your checker rests, a hyphen, then the number for the last square of the move -- even on multiple jumps. Then press [RETURN] to make the move.
Keyboard commands give you several options. Press [H] at any time to view the instruction screens again. To restart (or give up) a game, press [B]. Press [R] to rotate the board (useful in two-player games). [T] lets you take back the last move both you and your opponent made. To watch an "instant replay" of your game, press [B] to restart, and then press [M] to replay, or [S] to step through the moves one at a time. To make the computer stop thinking in Mail Play and take its move, press [ESC].
Key combinations using [CONTROL] let you [S]ave, [L]oad and [P]rint your games. [CONTROL] [D] exits to DOS, and [CONTROL] [I] gives you an index of the files on disk. You'll find a sample game on disk. Just type [CONTROL] [L] to load it, then enter GAME1 and press [RETURN] to load the game. When a new set of checkers appears onscreen, press [B] to go back to the beginning, then press [M] to watch a replay of the game which finishes in a head-to-head draw between two kings.
Levels & Modes
Use the [OPTION] key to change the mode from Level to Setup or Two-Player mode. In the default Level mode, press [SELECT] to change the difficulty Level, from Beginner to Hustler. There are 10 levels of play to choose from. The only real difference between levels is the length of time your Atari gets to think about each move. Past the Junior Champion level (45 seconds per move) the game's strength does not increase substantially, but most players will find it tough enough, as is.
Antic Tournament Checkers plays according to the rules adapted by the American Checkers Federation. At most ACF tournaments, openings are drawn by cards. You and your opponent play both sides of the drawn three move opening. There are 144 different possible openings, providing for a great deal of variety. In Antic Tournament Checkers, pressing [START] in Level mode will cause the computer to make the next move. By pressing [START] three times, you can choose a random three-move opening. In Setup mode you can set the pieces on the board as you like. In this mode, the [SELECT] key changes the piece to deposit. With Clear Piece displayed in Setup mode, [START] clears the board.
As in most good games, winning is not easy. You'll need lots of practice to develop the necessary skills, but while you're practicing, Antic Tournament Checkers can give you many hours of fun.
Serious Gamer Notes
For more information on the American Checkers Federation, write to them at P.O. Box 365, Petal, MS 33465. They can tell you where local groups meet. Membership costs $10 per year and includes a monthly newsletter with news on checkers tournaments and games worldwide.
The First Computer Olympiad was sponsored by the Acer Group, also co-sponsors of the International Computer Go Congress. A grand prize of $1.5 million is available to the computer Go programmer who can beat a human master player without handicap on a 19 X 19 board.
David Butler of LaKe Monhegan, NY is a Class B checker player. He has co-directed eight District II Tournaments and one Northern States Tournament, and in 1987 was the overall District I champion. He has been a serious 8-bit user since 1982. This is his first appearance in Antic.
Your Antic Disk - featuring Antic Tournament Checkers plus the Gold Mine and the Princess as well as every type-in program in this issue - will be shipped to you within 24 hours after receiving your order. Just phone Toll- Free to the Antic Disk Desk at (800) 236-7001. The Antic Disk is only $5.95 plus $2 for shipping and handling) on your Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Or mail a check for $7.95 (includes the shipping and handllng) to Antic Disk Desk, 544 Second Street, San Francisco, CA 96107.