With Kasparov and Karpov battling it out in the World Chess Championships the oldest wargame is in the news.
There are several excellent chess programs around and the latest from The Edge is a marvellous and complex affair, suitable for beginners and experts alike. It certainly makes a Karpov-like opponent.
Psi Chess makes no attempt to explain the rules of the game (there are plenty of books which do just that) but the program understands such features as the 50 move rule, underpromotions and castling, as well as having a number of difficulty levels.
Initially what appeals is the way it looks. It's beautiful. You can choose to play in 2D or 3D (there are no attribute problems), orientate the board to look at it from all four sides, and best of all, choose whether to play with the traditional Staunton set or the more ornate isle of Lewis set. The Staunton pieces are easier to see, but both are well depicted. The Edge even has plans to put other chess sets on tape, which can be loaded into the game.
The instructions are long, but easy to understand, and as a rank beginner I found it surprisingly easy to start playing. You're given a choice of how to enter your moves too - from the keyboard or joystick. I found the joystick easier, using the arrow cursor to pinpoint first the piece I wanted to move and then the square it's to jump to. If you prefer you can enter your moves in the conventional manner by typing in abbreviated instructions. For instance, 'pawn to Bishop four' would be expressed as C2-C4.
So the battle begins. In fact, I was no match for the computer even on the beginner's level, much as I enjoyed myself, so armed with a book I switched to A3 (a higher difficulty level where the computer makes use of its stored knowledge of strategies) and tried the opening moves of the Sicilian and French Defences. For the first time I was in a winning position, with the computer making its moves according to the book. Then it decided to change things and within a short time it was Checkmate again.
You can learn from the game too, something I found particularly appealing. If you're a beginner and you try to make a move that would put you into check, the computer throws up 'illegal move' and won't let you make it. that encourages you to study the board to see what would have happened had you made the move.
There is also a facility to check over the last moves you've made by using one of the key modes. (There are three main modes which, with a combination of keys, allow you to use and alter the game's many features. You can then scroll forwards and backwards through you last moves either on the board or in chess notation. If also builds up the game in this algebraic form so you can review all the moves. It would have been useful if your and your opponent's moves were recorded down the side of the screen while play's in progress, that way. you could see at a glance just what your opponent's last moves were. Still, you can always refer back.
A two-player game - rather than one against the computer - is possible and the facility to change the orientation of the board comes in useful at this point... You can also choose whether to play black or white and can even handicap an opponent by allowing him/her less time to make their moves.
There are many other features. You can save games, change Border, ink and Paper colours, and set games up with the pieces in various positions to work out strategies.
Psi Chess will offer a challenging game to club and tournament level players too, and though it may take longer to make its moves, bound by the clock setting, it makes full use of it's preprogrammed knowledge of openings and strategies.
Of course, the game is only as good as its programmer, but Steven Watson is a keen chess player.
I thoroughly enjoyed Psi Chess. Once you've got the hang of which combinations of keys do what, you'll have no problems finding your way round the program. An excellent game.
Label: The Edge
Joystick: Kempston, Sinclair, cursor
Reviewer: Clare Edgeley
A cracking good game of chess with wonderful graphics. Suitable for beginners and experts alike.