"It just isn't conceivable that you can design a program strong enough to beat players like me."

May 6, 2014

Commodore-64 Revisited: A retro-chess experiment

Here's another project to refresh our childhood memories.

Once there was no internet, no free engines, no daily updates, no multi cores but just chess programs we were searching all around to find a copy on tape!

That was the 80's when C64 was awesome as first computer experience. Having a chess partner always ready to play as many times as you want, whenever you want, was something so extraodinary for the young and willing amateur chess enthousiasts we were, some 30 years ago.

Each new program release added to our libraries used to taste like bitter chocolate during months. It's not shocking to see today's hyper threaded engine freaks hardly imagine this.

Therefore, i wanted to repeat a C64 experiment done before by other C64 freaks, but in a different manner. I can't deny the enourmous efforts made during these old tournaments managed by crazy people. But there may be an added value to reflect back and forth, after thousands of games and many rating measurements i've been generating on a single smartphone.

Does discovering America once again make sense? Maybe not. Maybe yes. I just wanna see the outcome.

It would be also interesting to test how these programs which can only analyze 3 or 4 plies deep would stand against today's weak UCI engines rated 1200 to 1700. Kind of "Old Tigers vs New Kitties" tournament ???

At the bottom of the post lies the list of 22 available C64 chess programs, my old friends i've been calling back on duty since a while and their elo ratings based on previous tournaments. These elo ratings are not mine and can be easily found on sites like this fave of mine: www.spacious-mind.com

Now it's time to go for a rating competition, measurement, test, whatever you may call it and verify if a new approach will change the rankings.

In fact, it's not a round robin tournament at all. Briefly, games like 1600 elo vs 1000 elo seem like wasting time to me. Besides, this kind of large gap pairings distort the average of the opponents, resulting to a shrinking rating list with some amount of error. If all above facts are true, using previous elo ratings (be they accurate or not...) to directly focus on probably well balanced pairings should be the quickest way to hit the target.

So, here are the conditions:
* Time control: 30 sec/move setting that German colleagues call Activschach sounds suitable. There was no blitz clocks at the time the progs were written, so the alternatives, where applicable, may be 60m/30' or game in 30 mins.
* Ponder: This is the major change i will adopt. Pondering will not be enabled. When there's no option to dissable, the emulator can be paused to prevent deep thinking. It's a workaround which works unless you are in warp (turbo) mode.
* Device: I have no C64 anymore but VICE is a perfect emulator. Model setting must be NTSC and not PAL because due to VIC timing cycles, the clocks slow down by 20% in PAL mode, though the moves played are the same. Weird... This is an issue i could not understand in detail but after all, the NTSC mode is safe for accurate clock displays.
* PGN recorder: Winboard portable set to tiny board is excellent. Takes very little space on the screen.
* Speed: No WARP mode on emulator but 200% max. I've verified it's quick enough to follow and record the moves fluently.
* Pairing: It's not a tournament and the objective is to achieve quickly an accurate elo ranking. Thus, an alteration of swiss method suits well. This is done by allowing repeated pairings when there's no new opponent in 400 elo range while trying to maximize the number of opponents played. Each pair always plays at least twice with different colors.
* Duration: The number of rounds can be unlimited until elo changes stabilize in a narrow margin.

Games and results to follow soon. Long live retro freaking!!!

## Program          elo*
-- ---------------- ----
01 Colossus 4.0     1676
02 Mychess II       1648
03 Chessmaster 2100 1621
04 Sargon III       1569
05 Chessmaster 2000 1552
06 Cyrus II         1525
07 Chess 7.5        1489
08 Chess 7.0        1426
09 Falken Schach    1419
10 Colossus 2.0     1401
11 Grandmaster      1341
12 Kaissa 5.2       1278
13 Hypra            1285
14 Battle Chess     1272
15 Sargon II        1170
16 Kempelen         1156
17 Petchess         1148
18 Super Schak      1133
19 Grobi            1126
20 Microchess       1118
21 Cesar            1086
22 Master Chess      919
* elo ratings are collected on internet as reference indicators

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