Pity the Poor Chess Computer Buyer

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Dieser Artikel wurde 2001 in der "chess computer newsgroup" von Peter Perkins geposted.

Pity the Poor Chess Computer Buyer

If there was ever a blind item in the history of selling, the chess computer is it! When the commercial chess computer was introduced to the public some 8 years ago, the uninformed public was divided into two schools of thought: either the computer must be so strong that no one could ever beat it, or it must be so weak as to be useless as a chess opponent. Unfortunately, the latter conjecture turned out to be far and away the more correct one as proven by those unlucky soles who ventured their hard earned money on Chess Challenger 1, JS&A's Computer Chess, CompuChess, and Boris. Here were "chess playing opponents" (all three terms used VERY loosely) that seemed disinterested in winning but did a tremendous job of leaving pieces en prise, giving no thought to positional values, and, worst of all, taking inordinate amounts of time to reach obvious conclusions. These electronic "wood pushers" probably created a world's record for dissatisfied customers. And to add insult to injury, quality control was not all that evident in the "ingenious" little gadgets, and department stores and mail-order houses had their return policies tested to the limit from customers with complaints ranging from, "It takes too long to move!" to "It makes illegal moves!" to "It doesn't work at all!" to "It just made a king sacrifice; in fact, it ALWAYS seems to sacrifice its king!" Those who chose to endure these earlier computers quickly lost interest because of their weaknesses and either put them away in the closet or used them for very expensive Frisbees.

Both the computer chess customer and the computer chess market moved aimlessly forward for some years with Boris (a product of Applied Concepts Inc.) competing with Chess Challenger "10" (from Fidelity Electronics Ltd.) for customers who were willing to spend $250 to $300 for a computerized chess opponent that looked impressive but actually played 1100 chess. However, it wasn't until Fidelity Electronics introduced the Chess Challenger "7" that the market exploded. For the very first time the "strongest" chess computer on the market (albeit 1150) was under $120, and tests proved that it was somewhat stronger than both the "10" and Boris. Ads appeared in papers and magazines all over the country, and over a quarter million people made the decision to purchase Chess Challenger "7". Fidelity Electronics, then located in Chicago, began bursting at the seams as did their bank account, and the decision was made to build a huge, beautiful factory in Miami, Florida, where their supply could better keep up with the incredible demand. The timing of the move was unfortunate, for it interfered with Christmas sales because the interruption caused by the move served to constrict the supply lines to retailers, and rumors have it that quality control died a quick death that 1979 Christmas season.

It was at just about this time that capitalism showed its greedy little head; at least five different companies were watching Fidelity's upward flight with ideas and visions of new chess computers dancing in their heads. To stave off the competition, Fidelity, seemingly without the ability to make stronger programs, went the route of gimmickry with voice simulation in their Voice Challenger while Applied Concepts Inc., with the help of Chafitz Inc., were planning the first real breakthrough in computer chess programming... the hiring of Kathe and Dan Spracklen. Sargon 2.5, Kathe and Dan's newest program, was incorporated into two impressive computer chess machines: the Modular Game System and the Auto Response Board, both playing 1500 chess (300-400 points stronger than all previous stand alone chess playing microprocessors). Each of these units offered a new (and what is now considered to be a highly controversial) feature... that of modular upgrading. Theoretically, the consumer could purchase either unit, and for life could simply obtain updated programs by purchasing inexpensive modules, NOT a new machine.

The concept was beautiful; the implementation was highly questionable, for Applied Concepts Inc. and Chafitz Inc. had a myriad of misunderstandings and shortly parted ways, and the Spracklens were off on their own, no longer under contract to continue producing programs for the Modular Game System, Great Game Machine, or Auto Response Board. Those anxiously anticipated, impressive future modules would not be programmed by the Spracklens any longer so other programmers had to step in and devise a 3.0 Module which came to be known as Morphy on the Modular Game System (which was renamed the Great Game Machine). It is rumored that both Larry Atkin and David Slate, two well respected programmers, took part (and are still taking part) in the creation of chess programs for Applied Concepts. In spite of the fact that Applied had managed to latch onto some excellent programmers, it was from this point on that modularity began to get a bad name, for the customer was asked to now supplement his $100 Morphy with a $100 Gruenfeld Opening Book and a $150 Capablanca End Game. Then came Steinitz to upgrade all three and out went another $160. And for those who hadn't thrown up their hands already, Mega 4 Mainframe was announced but to this date not introduced to update the rest of the unit... good-by another $160. Consequently, the inexpensive'upgrading would hypothetically cost $1230.00 and the final results would more than likely not surpass the current state-of-the-art under $200 chess computer. Of course, such a policy was not really what Applied Concepts had in mind in the beginning, but it was obvious that the public was willing to bear the quarterly introduction of new modules, and since the competition was getting I rather fierce, the company "was between a rock and a hard place." They were forced to put out new programs to keep up with their competitors, but the public was asked to reach into their pockets each and every time if they wanted to maintain the "state of the art". Not unlike the field of education, the motto became "publish or perish!" As it turns out, in the chess computer business, marketing decisions are often made on a day-to-day basis, but if a lesson may be learned here, it is that a chess computer should be purchased on the basis of what it does NOW, not what it may do in the future.

Also, with the best intentions, AVE Microsystems, the manufacturer of the Auto Response Board, updated (albeit halfheartedly) to a 3.0 Module with the promise, but no delivery, of future programs- thus, the customer's original $800 investment plus $140 for the 3.0 module, purchased with the under standing that "state-of-the-art" would be maintained, resulted, realistically, in the ownership of a beautiful chess computer that played no better than the $130 Prodigy. Unfortunately, the sophisticated chess player who purchased the ARB had no option but to religate his beautiful computer to the closet, or take up a collection of them in order to parquet his living room floor. SciSys contributed somewhat to the debacle with the' Philidor upgrade to the Mark V, an upgrade that didn't really upgrade, and the Mark V printer attachment which was promised but never made it to the marketplace. Novag upgraded Savant I to Savant II but mostly for the sake of correcting malfunctions in the I, and the $1500 updateable Robot Adversary (the modernistic polished aluminum chess player with the robotic arm) was such a problem mechanically that the U.S. distributor threw in the towel. However, even though the Robot Adversary will probably never compete, skillswise, with other top-of-the-line chess computers, it can always be a readily available armwrestling opponent. Conchess, also, became an instant member of the AntiModularity Hall of Fame with its three computer entrants: Escorter, Ambassador, and Monarch. All were advertised as, "The one and only system truly upgradeable without limit." Not only was the program upgradeable but so was the microprocessor- "Now for the first time," the customer thought, "I can make the program stronger AND faster!" Guess what? Since Milton Bradley took over distribution of the Conchess units in mid stream, plans for updating were thrown out the proverbial window, at least, until Milton Bradley's contract runs out in early 1984. And we have now received information that Waltham Electronics, the manufacturer, has filed for bankruptcy.

And let us not forget Fidelity Electronics, which announced 5 modules (over and above the two opening book modules) for use with the Prestige, Elite A/S, and Sensory "9", and as of this writing has produced none. Of course, the customer who spent $1000 on his Prestige is now being asked to not only spend $200 for an upgrade to the new Budapest program, but also to send his unit to the factory for the privilege. The slot in the side of chess computers designed for the purpose of upgrading might just as well be cemented shut for all the good it has been in the history of upgradeability. Last but not least, we do not mean to leave Mephisto out of the upgrading fiasco; their short stint of selling units in the U.S. has already allowed for considerable errant behavior including failure to develop the promised T.V. interface for the Mephisto, and. more importantly, the introduction of the Mephisto III upgrade module which can more accurately be defined as a DOWN grade. It boggles the mind to attempt to picture the state of computer chess today if ALL updated programs were worse than their predecessors.

Despite all of the above, human nature is such that the concept of modularity (as a dangling carrot) was immediately accepted by the chess playing public and Applied Concepts Inc. enjoyed an excellent year of sales in 1979/1980. Every time a new module was introduced, more customers lined up to puchase, but customer enthusiasm for the Modular Game System/Great Game Machine began to wane with the introduction of the Capablanca module and the announced results of the 1981 World Microcomputer Championships in which the Chess Champion Mark V (by SciSys) won the commercial division and the Elite won the experimental division.

Since paranoia is a prerequisite for computer chess manufacturers, the tournament was deluged by claims of cheating by practically everyone involved, and Applied Concepts, after a few unexpected losses, withdrew claiming a defective Capablanca module. Since the Elite was an experimental program at the time, SciSys had the top end market all to itself with its winning Mark V machine, and Christmas season 1981 was fast approaching. Unfortunately for the public, the Mark V, which was so readily available for the tournament, could not be made available to the American public because of one manufacturing problem after another. Wholesale excuses were handed to retailers almost daily, and customers were getting extremely impatient after having waited, in some cases, over three months for delivery.

To SciSys' extreme chagrin, Fidelity (taking advantage of marketing decisons made on 24 hour notice - the industry norm) managed to rush the Elite program into production so quickly that Elites (the Experimental World Champion program in the body of Champion Sensory Challengers) beat Mark V's on to the market by two months and to the surprise of everyone (including Fidelity) sold out all 500 units at $1000 list each. By the time Mark V became established as available in the U.S., Fidelity had already geared up its huge resources to publicize the Champion Sensory Challenger and its "established rating" of 1771 ( a rating which, interestingly enough, also showed up on the box of the Sensory Challenger "9" which has a different program running at a different speed - more about this later). The Mark V, a machine which showed so much potential, was laid to rest- not by the public - but by its own maker's inefficiency.

Taking liberties with advertising is an art in which chess computer manufacturers are well versed: a prime example is the Voice Sensory Challenger (rated at approximately 1150-1200) ad which proclaimed, "The same engineers who helped win the `First World Microcomputer Chess Championship'... are proud to announce Fidelity's newest chess product..." It's truthful, of course, but since the Voice Sensory Challenger in no manner, shape, or form resembled the Champion program, is it correct to tie the two programs together? Mark V advertising literature to this day insists that the unit plays 1900; of course, any such estimate can be defended, but so can 1670 which we believe is considerably more accurate. Novag unabashedly proclaims on its Constellation literature, "Rated at 2000 ELO! with "Rated by Novag based on tournament and test results." In tiny letters on the bottom of the sheet. Luckily for Novag, the manufacturer is not forced to rate the Elite A/S or Prestige on that same "Novag scale"! I think all will agree that asterisks ought to be banned from all advertising; they always appear to be admitting to some sort of wrongdoing. Mephisto never hesitates to claim that it has the strongest program in the world. In fact, Hegener and Glaser (Mephisto's manufacturer) distributes the following statement in its selling catalog: "Champion Sensory Challenger... proven in tournaments against man and machine. The same program as in the CC9 (sic)." Apparently, the fact that the program AND clock speed are different has no bearing on anything; but it is our guess that actually entering the computers in well supervised tournaments with adequate checks and balances to avoid questionable results would be infinitely more valuable to the computer chess enthusiast who is considering spending a considerable amount of money. The irony here is that the 1771 given to the "9" by the Federation, solely based upon the manufacturer's word, is quite close to reality but ONLY by coincidence.

On occasions, even the nomenclature used in naming units is somewhat amusing. Milton Bradley has chosen "Grandmaster" as the name for its new chess computer which appears to play in the 1500's not bad, but not 2400 either. And what about Boris, Morphy, Gruenfeld, Capablanca, and Steinitz? There is more than likely a great deal of grave rolling each time a new chess computer is released. Why, would you imagine, haven't we seen a Bobby Module? Better than that... why can't we have a module that PLAYS like Bobby???

It is commonplace when speaking with a given manufacture to hear how difficult it is to manufacture and how easy it is to retail. When you speak with a retailer, they will not hesitate to say how simple life would be if they could manufacture instead of retail. Well, some manufacturers occasionally attempt to have the best of both worlds. Prompted by avarice, no doubt, and with no regard to the retailers that carry their product, at least two manufacturers have attempted to sell directly to the public, usually in a surreptitious manner by forming a separate corporation with a different name. Now, they could sell at competitive prices and make TWICE as much profit as before. Two of the more notable examples of manufacturer/retailer behavior were/are Computer Games of Miami, FL., and Chesset-al of Dallas, TX. Neither company offered any service other than shipping a unit- untested, of course. Retailer pressure on behalf of both themselves and their customers has usually resulted in the suspension of such behavior, at least for a short time. However, nothing (legal or otherwise) insures that these "instant profit makers" will not continue to sprout up occasionally.

Despite objections by some larger retailers, Fidelity Electronics makes an annual "direct-to-the-public" offering. Last year it was the ill-fated "Consumer Distributor" appeal. All that one needed to become a distributor for Fidelity way to purchase X amount of outdated product. Then, whenever he or his friends wished to purchase a Challenger, "wholesale pricing" was available to them. Just imagine thousands of Amway-like organizers selling obsolete Chess Challenger "7's" to each other. What fun!

This year the generous factory-direct giveaway included the "Special Edition 'Septennial' ". A chess computer designed to celebrate Fidelity"s seven years in the commercial computer chess business. The letter accompanying the brochure states, "In recognition of your support these past seven years, we have made a limited Champion edition, called the "Septennial"... and... "This product will not be available through our normal retail outlets, and can only be purchased direct from the factory." No explanation was given as to why "normal" retail outlets would not be allowed to carry this supposed "famed" computer. Here was a machine that claimed the following virtues: * "Our famed Prestige program, rated over 1900 playing strength (the Prestige model retails for $1,295.00)." * "3 mghz processor." * "Built-in CB9 (8160 Book Opening Moves) module ($78.00 retail value)." * "Housed in the "Champion" hand rubbed walnut housing, with hand carved magnetized chess pieces." "A Christmas offer of orgasmic quality, no doubt." Well, not quite.

"Unbelieveable, Prestige strength for 1/4 the price." Not really. "The company is giving something away for nothing." Not at all. Let us analyze the offer and conditions. First, the holiday season offering accomplishes two goals: taking business away from the retailer who has supported the manufacturer all year, and presenting "facts" about a product which cannot be substantiated in time to stop people from being "taken in". Dr. Irazoqui's request for a Septennial for testing purposes after being surprised by its introduction went unheaded. Why? Some of the more respected retailers were not permitted to carry the unit, despite the fact that if it were really as good as claimed, it would have sold briskly. Why? Well, even though the above quotes from Fidelity's Septennial offer are all true, some of them are not quite as precise as they ought be: * The famed Prestige program was superb in its generation, but since at least four generations of programs have evolved since its introduction, receiving a left-over Prestige program is not quite so incredibly exciting.

  • The 3 mghz microprocessor announcement is seemingly quite impressive, but

is there also some obligation to mention that the program is only running at 2.4 mghz - 20% slower? * Now, when one computes the above two factors together, one might be shocked to realize that this "1900 playing strength" really factors out to 1800 or perhaps less, weaker than Prestige Budapest, Prestige, Elite A/S, and the significantly less expensive Constellation and Sensory "9" Budapest.

What a bargain!!! It would appear that allowing retailers to test and sell this limited edition computer would severely curtail Fidelity's ability to unload them, and, after all, what would the manufacturer be able to do with 3000 old Champion Sensory Challenger bodies with old Prestige chips? Perhaps sending them off to Third World countries is a good idea, but they used that one in trying to sell outdated Champion Sensory Challengers direct to the public some time back.

Many "wool-pullers" have attempted to sell computer chess machines, but they do not last very long. Just recently, an ad appeared in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming the virtues of the Chess Challenger "7", indicating that the "7" was the same program as other Fidelity programs but simply was not sensory and therefore could be sold at an extremely low price. The ad also made some reference to the "7's" miraculous ability to challenge experts. Once again both statements are accurate and inaccurate at the same time. Firstly, the "7" indeed is similar in program to such world-renowned duffers as the Mini Sensory Challenger and Sensory "8", but is FAR from being in the same league with Champion, "9", Elite, Prestige, Super "9", and Elite A/S. As far as "challenging experts"... well, that could be the case assuming the particular expert were blindfolded, immersed 300 feet under the Artic ice caps, and preoccupied with a 250 board simultaneous exhibition. Advertising of computer chess machines, because it is such a blind item, continues to lead the public astray on occasions. Several retailers and mail order companies have attempted to push outdated or weak machines as more than they actually were. In general, these companies have survived for several months and then, thankfully, disappeared. A recent edition of Chess Life magazine sort of summarizes the difficulties of uncovering fact from fiction in this industry. I.C.D. Corporation ran an ad proclaiming Mephisto III as "Rewriting Computer Chess History!" Certainly, no other program has EVER performed worse than its preceding one. Fidelity proclaimed its Elite A/S as world champion with no reference to the fact that Elites did not come with the same program. They also announced their "9" as the winner in the commercial division; they did NOT announce that there was only one other entrant - an East German computer (enough said about the quality of the competition?). And, finally, a mysterious ad on the back page by a newcomer in the industry proclaimed that the Novag Constellation, "beat two masters at the U.S. Open! 't heat Experts and A players, Too! It sacrifices!!! Rating 1850+ !!! simply the finest chessplaying computer availablestronger than Elite and Super 9." Other than the proclivity to add exclamation points,.?here is more NOT said than said. What is NOT said is that the U.S. Open Constellation was running 50% faster than the unit being sold and may possibly have had a different program. Also NOT stated is which Elite is being compared: Elite (from two years ago) or Elite A/S. And what makes a chess computer "Simply the finest chessplaying computer available?" Does that ACTUALLY mean that you are rated higher than all the others? What about Prestige and Elite A/S?

The most valuable and most vulnerable pawn in the chess game of computer chess is the consumer. The prospective computer chess customer has always been confronted with the same difficulty-that of receiving adequate information and adequate selection. Such an incredibly large number of people have purchased computer chess machines only to find that the propanganda which influenced them to buy was far from reality; the lucky ones were able to get refunds; the unlucky ones will probably never venture their money on a unit again even though the selection and abilities of today's computers are so impressive. However, there is another class of customer that has hesitated to buy a computer chess machine: they are the people who refuse to spend their money now, "because something stronger and better is bound to come out shortly!" Anyone who negates this statement is not being truthful, for we have here a technology that will not cease to improve after you purchase your chess computer. However, as a reason for not purchasing, it is very weak. There are several considerations involved: First, the longer you wait for progress to bring you the "perfect chess computer", the longer you live without a computer. Second, some people tend to believe that their computers are outdated if something stronger comes along even though they have trouble beating their own computer at its first level, but it should be noted that obsolescence in chess computers is limited solely to the computer's inability to beat you at reasonable time levels.

The third class of computer chess customer might be considered "The Collector." He will carefully select a new computer in each generation so as to have a variety of skills and styles to play against, and most collectors enjoy running the computers against each other to analyze for himself the relative strengths and weaknesses of the programs.

It was quite ironic that just as the market was proving that the chess computer had the potential to be more than just a fad, and just as the chess computers were beginning to truly play competitive chess (better than the average member of the United States Chess Federation), and just as chess computers were incorporating truly interesting features (take-back, hints, thinking on opponent's time, sensory surfaces, quick responses, etc.), and just as more and more companies decided to jump into the computer chess marketplace (Conchess, Milton Bradley, Mephisto, Hanimex, etc.), the marketplace began to shrink, slowly at first, and then with increasing speed. The reason was not evident at first, but as time went on, it became more and more obvious: the more complicated the computers became, the more trouble people had operating them. Invariably, a customer would purchase a chess computer at a local department store and find when he/she returned home that the instructions did not adequately cover the topic of how to operate the unit. In addition, the industry has seen it share of customers who believe that instruction manuals are not necessary and, consequently, all human errors are immediately assumed to be computer errors (you see, the customer isn't ALWAYS right). Therefore, in the mind of the consumer, the product was defective, and since the clerk at the store knew nothing of the product, money was refunded or, worse, the unit was exchanged for a second, which, of course, was seen, once again as being defective. Result: "Chess computers are either ALL defective or just too complicated to deal with," the customer would be heard muttering as he threw his hands up on disgust. As these problems multiplied, the department and chain stores, who were so anxious to carry the product in its heyday, one by one, threw up their own hands in disgust and deserted what they considered to be a sinking ship.

It should be duly noted that quality control in the computer chess industry, in general, is a problem. We know of people who had to return 5 or 6 of a given machine to their local store before they were given one which "worked". And, of course, there are documented cases of customer's who NEVER received a properly operating unit, but luckily these are the exceptions to the rule. Two instances have been documented whereby a 100% defect rate was found to exist. In other words, every single customer who purchased that model unit had a unit that did not operate properly. Over 50% defect rates are surprisingly common and there are a myriad of cases in which programs were released to the public with gliches that included failure to castle or accept en passant, an opening book so limited as to allow only one response to king pawn, indicated approximate response times which were underestimated to the extreme (the unit taking 45 minutes to respond at a three minute per response level) and instances of the computer capturing its own pieces or simply blacking out in a lost position. In some of these cases the manufacturer denied that a problem existed until the evidence was so overwhelming that further denials were impossible, but in most cases the individual manufacturers have been extremely anxious to clear up any and all instances of problems, and it has not been all that uncommon that manufacturers went well beyond the call of duty to satisfy a given customer.

The defect rate in the industry as a whole is somewhere in the vicinity of 15%, but don't ever try to suggest that to the companies, for they will freely "admit" that they are struggling because of the "much too high" 2% failure rate. However, the most depressing fact of all is that most of the defective units arrive at the retailer as defective or break within the first 20 minutes of operation. The major problem is, more than likely, that the rush to get new products out onto the market before the competition dies, is of a higher priority than making sure that the units will stand up to normal usage. If each manufacturer were to "test drive" every computer as it came off the production line, even for 5 minutes each, 80% of the problems would be resolved.

It can be easily assumed that the manufacturers, in general, would not be all that delighted with an article such as this, but, quite frankly, despite some ominous undertones here, this industry is no worse than any other, and, in fact, in many ways we have been witness to brave attempts to correct problems at the sake of losing significant sales. We can also say that retailers often deserve to share a significant portion of the burden, for they have been known to inflate ratings as well perhaps because it was in their special interests to "push" one brand of computer over another. Most local department stores, the ones that still care enough to carry the product, apparently do not care enough to learn the units as they should so that the customer might feel at home with the unit. And by far the most important factor contributing to customer unrest is the quality control problem; if the manufacturer will not take the steps necessary to insure reliability, then it is the responsibility of the retailer. As a consumer, we have been conditioned to believe that "factory-sealed cartons" have some saintly, virginal quality to them, but in this industry, you must demand that the unit be THOROUGHLY tested before taking ownership. In that way, your odds of having a properly operating machine are greatly enhanced. And as your last defense, check into the company's reputation, accessability, and return policy. Ask friends or club members about their experiences with a given company: were they given accurate information prior to the sale; was their order handled quickly; if there was a problem with their unit, were they able to contact the company quickly; and was their problem handled quickly and to their satisfaction. If you are unable to gather such information, check to see if the company is a member of the Better Business Bureau and if they participate in arbitration through that organization. Please remember that just the fact that a given company sells some brands of computer chess machines does not make them an expert in the field; ask pointed questions and listen carefully to the answers; in all probability, you will select the right company.

What does the future of commercial computer chess hold in store for us? Perhaps the saying, "They will do it until they get it right!" has some meaning here. It seems indisputable that as more and more computers are produced, their quality will improve- both in quality control and programming. Also evident is the fact that the size of the current market cannot satisfy the goals of the 10 manufacturers whichxare crowded into it. There will have to be some casualties: even Fidelity is moving into computer printers to buffer itself against possible losses in the computer chess market. Who the casualties will be will be dependent upon the size of the marketplace and the quality of the programming. It seems certain that a unified effort on the part of the manufacturers, retailers, and U.S. Chess Federation to expand the market could go a long way toward promoting chess and computer chess at the same time. Unfortunately, the prognosis for such an effort is poor, for the paranoia index continues to run very high. It is not uncommon to hear one manufacturer or another privately claim that "the other manufacturer has the Federation in its pocket!" In such an atmosphere, it is safe to assume that the ongoing dogfight will result in the survival of, perhaps, three computer chess manufacturers. This could drastically change with the reincarnation of Bobby Fisher or the emergence of Yasser Seirawan as a future World Champion, for it is events such as this that consistently boost the numbers of people that follow chess and, as a result, purchase computerized chess playing machines.

Chess programs for home computers, a field which has been mostly ignored because of the stand-alone manufacturer's grip on the world's better programmers, will continue to get better but apparently will lag behind the selfcontained units because of the latter's ability to specialize in chess, and, more importantly, because there is more money to be made in marketing a chess computer than a chess computer program. Not everybody can write a chess program and not everybody wants to. Unfortunately for the personal computer owner wishing to purchase a program, just about everything available is in the class of skill of chess computers from four years ago.

So it is obvious that chess computers will continue to get stronger and, hopefully, easier to-operate. The movement is toward sensory machines with the most recent emphasis on magnetic sensory boards, whereby, one need only move the pieces in a very natural manner. The trend also favors larger boards although we do not believe the units with 1 " squares or portable units will disappear. Modularity, although pretty much proven to be overstated, will continue to be emphasized by companies because it SELLS machines, and, after all, that is an important factor. Apparently, the future of computer chess, when it comes to the sheer number of people who will purchase new units each year, is not nearly as bright as it once appeared to be, but the people who do purchase are less likely to be the guinea pigs of the industry as long as they deal with established, knowledgeable, and reputable dealers who do the research that the customer could not possibly do. And ironic as it may seem, just this type of dealer support might help to point the industry in the right direction once again. For the sake of our common love of these ingenious little computerized chess players, let us hope so.

So, there you have a not-so-capsulized history of the commercial chess field - blemishes and all. The blemishes seem far worse than they really are for two reasons: one, there are seven years of history wrapped in twelve pages of reporting, and, two, there are truly fine people in this business who have a love for both chess and computer chess and their influence is great in this field. "Let the buyer beware" is an idiom applicable to every industry, and one cannot pretend that it has no meaning here- the past has proven that, but, in spite. of it all, computer chess has given millions of people more enjoyment per dollar than just about any other activity in which they could engage. Of course, the older one becomes, the truer the above statement becomes (if you know what I mean!).

Stephen Schwartz

Institutional Computer Development Corporation