27 July 2015

'The Chips Are Down!'

In the previous post, Deep Thought/Blue in the Early 1990s, I looked at what was happening 20+ years ago on the research side of computer chess, but what about the commercial side? One set of clues can be found in the USCF's '1995 Official Catalog', a publication apparently dating to early 1995 (*). The front cover of its 32 pages (counting the covers) is shown below.

Five of the 32 pages dealt with computer chess. The following bullets, all quoted directly from the catalog, list the products that were promoted on each of the five pages.

p.03 1995's Newest Chess Computers

  • A. Ultra-portable Topaz II
  • B. Novag Tourmaline
  • C. Kasparov Travel Champion

p.26 Chess Software

  • A. Fritz3 is killer software!
  • B. Boost your rating by studying with these instructive disks! Chessworks Unlimited offers you hundreds of data files...
  • C. Chessbase for Windows
  • D. Turn Fritz into your openings coach with Power Books!
  • E. DejaVu Chess gives you a database of 350.000 games

p.28-29 Chess Computers for Every Budget

  • A. Stiletto II
  • B. USCF Chess Academy
  • C. Excalibur improves a Legend! [Legend II]
  • D. Kasparov Travel Companion
  • E. Excalibur's travel version of Legend II. Sleek Comet goes anywhere...
  • F. Kasparov Turbo Advanced Trainer
  • G. ECO battery re-charger
  • H. Kasparov President

p.32 The Chips are Down! Novag's 2383 Action-rated Diamond and Sapphire are the Year's Best Buys!

You can now have a strong, master training partner without breaking the bank! Novag's Diamond and Sapphire are officially USCF Action-rated 2383. [...] You can be confident of their USCF 2383 rating. It comes from a 48-game USCF Computer Rating Agency event, witnessed by the public, in which human players with high, officially established USCF ratings -- from Expert to Senior Master -- took on Novag, competing for cash prizes.

I'm not sure that the 'The Chips are Down!' is the best title for a page selling computer chess products, but what do I know about marketing? Back to the catalog cover, the raven-haired woman in the near-center photo is holding a Kasparov Travel Champion. Above her to the right is a Novag Tourmaline, while on the bottom right of the page is a Topaz II. Above that ('Action-rated 2383!') is the left side of a Novag Diamond.

The long explanation on p.32 of the 'USCF 2383 rating' indicates the importance of ratings in choosing a chess computer. I'll look at ratings in my next post in this series.


(*) I have three 1995 USCF catalogs: the 'Official Catalog', the 'Summer Catalog', and the 'Holiday Catalog' (subtitled 'Biggest USCF Catalog Ever!'). The 'Official Catalog' lists 'Searching for Bobby Fischer on Video!' (p.02) as 'Available in April!'; the 'Summer Catalog' lists it (p.29) as a 'Best Seller'; the 'Holiday Catalog' lists 'Kasparov vs. Anand: The Inside Story' by GM Wolff (p.07) as 'Available in November!'.

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