5 Best Electronic Chess Games of 2020 - HobbyLark - Games and Hobbies
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5 Best Electronic Chess Games of 2020

ProjectResolute has been a chess fan since he was a kid. He now enjoys playing on chess (dot) com and various computer chess programs.

electronic-chess-computer

Why Buy an Electronic Chess Computer?

Not too long ago, electronic chess computers seemed like a thing of the past. Big-name manufacturers like Novag, Excalibur, and Saitek have been put out of business. With hundreds of chess engines available to everyone and sites offering online play, it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to see why. Gradually, dedicated chess games became more of collectors' items than actual tools for practicing against.

In recent years, however, the chess-playing community has seen a resurgence of dedicated chess computers into the market. There is little wonder why—because playing online on a digital screen lacks the physical element of an actual chessboard and pieces. Also, most chess trainers tell us that it is better to study with a physical chessboard.

The reason for this is that if a player has been conditioned to seeing their pieces on a two-dimensional chessboard, when playing at an over-the-board tournament, they will struggle to play at maximum strength. It will be difficult to spot common tactical motifs and chess patterns because they don’t look the same as on a two-dimensional board.

It is reasonable to expect this to be the case for actually playing chess. Whether you are playing for pure enjoyment or preparing your opening repertoire for your next big chess tournament, the benefits of playing an electronic chess game with an actual chessboard and pieces you can feel and move with your hands should not be neglected.

So, what dedicated chess computers are currently available for budding enthusiasts and professionals alike? There are five main models that I will include in this article. It is worth noting that these are not just puny toys! They are powerful enough to challenge any 2000+ chess master. That said, they are also suitable for a beginner since they can easily be set to a lower level of play, but enough talking—let’s continue with the first of five chess computers.

1. DGT PI (aka Picochess)

  • ELO - 3300+
  • Opening Books - 15

Picochess/DGT Pi might seem like a weird name for an electronic chess game, but once you know what it is, it’ll make sense. Essentially, it is a programmable microcomputer called a raspberry pi coupled with a chess clock and a digital smart board. This microcomputer is used for a great many DIY projects, from Gameboy emulators (piboy) to mobile weather monitors (Airpi). A lot of these projects have the word “pi” in them, including picochess, which is short for raspberry pi computer chess.

Before 2015, when the project first came into existence, people had to buy the clock, smart board, and Pi separately, install the program to the sd card, and plug it into an external power supply to be able to use it. Eventually though, in agreement with the developer of picochess, the company that makes the clock and smart board began installing the Pi into the clock with the program already inside (DGT Pi). The whole system is powered by the AA batteries inside the clock. The only additional thing to buy is the DGT smart board.

The DGT smart board that is used with the dedicated chess computer can sense which pieces are where on the chess board. No more do you have to push down the start and end square to signify a move, just move like normal and the computer will “see” it like any human being would.

Picochess has many different options. It has 15 different opening books, 8 different engines, 5 different playing modes, and 3 different time control styles. The 3 time control styles are time per move, time per game, and Fischer. Each time control style has 8 different options. For example, the game time control ranges from 1 minute to 90 minutes.

Most of the engines have their own set of levels. Stockfish has 20 levels, with level 0 playing at about 1100 elo, level 10 being about 1750, and level 20 at maxium strength. Rodent 3, included with the latest update, has 69 different levels which the engine developers call personalities. Here are some of the personalities’ names…

  • Helpless
  • Novice
  • Nora
  • Sloth
  • Constrictor
  • Nimzowitsch

There many more personalities, each with a unique playing style and strength. It is easily my favorite chess engine to play against. The only thing I don’t like about this engine is the personalities aren’t sorted by playing strength.

As you can see, it is outside the scope of this article to cover all the options available in picochess/DGT Pi.Suffice to say that the DGT Pi is my favorite of all the chess computers I own.

DGT Pi in Action

The DGT Centaur is known for its ease of use.

The DGT Centaur is known for its ease of use.

2. DGT Centaur

  • ELO - 3300+
  • Real time strength adaptation

Unlike the DGT Pi, the DGT Centaur chess computer is designed to be as simple as possible. It has only three levels of difficulty, and the level of play isn’t set in stone. According to DGT, this computer is programmed to play at your level. The more mistakes you make, the less accurately the computer will play.

This real-time fluctuation of strength throughout a chess game is both its strength and weakness. While it does let a person play a fun game of chess that’s never to easy nor too hard, it’ll be impossible to gauge whether the person is actually improving his/her gameplay. The Centaur computer doesn’t supply any milestones to set as a goal. Therefore, winning a game doesn’t necessarily mean the player is improving, it probably just means the computer made the last mistake of the game.

While the strength fluctuation feature is a controversial one, it has other features that are also unique to this chess computer. For example, both the board and the display where the moves are displayed is in e-paper. This type of screen is often used as e-readers like the Kindle and Nook. The advantage of e-paper over most other screen is that it is easy to see in direct sunlight, is easy on the eyes, and has low power consumption.

You’re going to want to see where the pieces go when playing outdoors. Also, in long games, you don’t want your eyes to hurt from staring at the screen. Finally, when thinking long and hard on a difficult chess move, the screen isn’t consuming power, because as long as nothing changes, the screen stays the same, power or no power. As anyone can see, an e-paper screen is a very big plus.

Another big feature of the centaur chess computer is it doesn’t have to be plugged in during use. It can be charged to be used wherever. It lasts multiple games on a single charge, although it depends on how long the computer thinks and how bright the circular LED light.

Speaking of the circular led lights, this is how the electronic chess game indicates its move. On the physical board, the lights will start flashing on the too and from square for the move it wants to make. If you don’t like that move, all you have to do is simply move another piece instead, and the Centaur will sense it via piece recognition and the game continues without interruption.

So while the DGT Pi has many advance options to choose from, the DGT Centaur is a chess computer dedicated to those who want a simple, easy-to-use chess-sparring partner. While it doesn’t have the many bells and whistles of other chess computers, it certainly will give any human player a challenge, since it uses stockfish, a chess engine that is well over 3000 in elo.

DGT Centaur vs. DGT Pi

Chess Genius Exclusive comes in two different parts, the module & chess board.

Chess Genius Exclusive comes in two different parts, the module & chess board.

3. Chess Genius Exclusive

  • ELO - 2300
  • Opening Books - 2
  • CPU - 50-300 Mhz

Millennium’s ChessGenius Exclusive certainly catches the eye when looking for the perfect dedicated chess computer. Rightly so, since it certainly has its share of features, and with a brain like the ChessGenius, which has won multiple computer chess championships in the past, it is definitely a worthy opponent.

Like both the DGT Pi and Centaur, this electronic chess game utilizes a piece sensing system that allows its users to play more naturally. To begin a new game, just set the pieces to the starting position, and just like that, the computer senses this and automatically starts playing a new game. The Centaur and Exclusive also have one more striking similarity, in that they both use LEDs to signify a move.

While the Dgt Centaur’s LEDs shine through the board, Millennium’s chess computer has tiny LEDs at every corner of every square of the electronic chessboard. They flash around the start and destination square when it signifies a move.

As you probably noticed from the video, the actual brain of the Chess Genius Exclusive is not in the board itself, but in a separate module, similar to the aforementioned DGT Pi. This is done on purpose, the reason is to make it multi-compatible with future millennium chess computers.

The Millennium Exclusive also has one other feature that intrigues me. You can literally slow the computer processor down. The feature effectively makes the number of levels unlimited. Want a five-minute game but can’t seem to think fast enough? Simple, slow the computer down! If you have it set to think so many moves ahead but it’s taking too long, speed it back up!

The Millennium exclusive is a very versatile computer, and I’m quite honestly having a hard time thinking of anything negative to say about its functionality. However, nothing’s truly perfect, and this is no exception. Many users expected the chessboard to be solid wood, and it certainly looks like it is. It’s instead made of some fairly lightweight veneer. The website says that it is wooden, just keep in mind it'seems not very heavy.

That said, it’s still a high-quality chess computer that will give you hours of fun.

Chess Genius Exclusive in Action...

The King Element

The King Element

4. Millennium King

Millennium actually has two unique chess computers into their lineup, one being the Chess Genius and the other being the King, each with their own distinct style of play. While ChessGenius is a solid and safe, The King is more of an attacker. If you want both these, you don’t have to get two separate electronic chess boards, because they are cross-compatible.

It should be noted that there are two different King chess computers by Millennium. One is the King Element and the other is the King Performance. The King Performance is a standalone chess computer, board and everything.

The Millenium chess computers are also flexible in another way. With the ChessLink, you can connect the exclusive’s chess board with your PC. With this product, the possibilities are endless. Whether you’d like to analyse a game with Komodo or polish off your opening repertoire, the ChessLink can do it.

Chess Link

Chess Link

electronic-chess-computer

5. Square Off Chess Computer

  • ELO - 3300+
  • Slogan - World’s Smartest Chess Board

World’s smartest chessboard” is a pretty neat slogan, and square off certainly has earned it. Besides a genuine ornate wooden chessboard and pieces, this is essentially the world’s smartest, since its AI is none other than Stockfish, a chess engine that is #1 on the majority of chess engine rating lists.

Perhaps you’re wondering how come this chess engine is used in the majority of dedicated chess computers. This is because it’s open-sourced and free. What open-sourced means is that anybody can contribute to its code and so, nobody really owns it. Because of this, it’s an obvious choice for any AI.

Besides playing against the AI, the Square Off chess computer can also be used to play online on chess.com. By connecting via Bluetooth to your smartphone or tablet, you can play on a real chess board with anybody anywhere in the world. Granted, DGT’s electronic chess board can do the same thing, however, Square Off’s board can do something it can’t do.

Remember when I said that a board that can “see” its own pieces allows you to play chess in a more natural way? Well, Square Off took it one step further. It can actually move its own pieces too! With this feature, you no longer have to worry about moving the computer’s pieces correctly, if the computer makes a bad move, guess whose fault it is?

There are only two other electronic chess games that actually do this, the Novag Chess Robot and the Excalibur Phantom. Both of these computers are hard to find since the companies that made them have been out of business for quite a few years.

I do have one particular gripe about Square Off’s chess computers. They’re not usable without a phone or tablet. In fact, the app you use to connect to the electronic chess board is where stockfish is really located. So in reality, what Square Off has created is just an interface that is used to interact with other players online, through the device of your choosing.

Square Off in Action!

Let's Take a Poll!

The Older Chess Computers

If you are still unsure of the options of electronic chess computers mentioned above or if you are simply looking for an older model, then below are even more options. Please note that these chess computers are no longer being made because the manufacturers have long been out of business. However, if you do want any of these models listed below, then they can often be found on eBay.

Novag (1978-2014)

Novag was a great electronic chess computer manufacturer which closed their doors as recently as 2014. Novag first began in 1978, under the helm of Peter Auge and Erich Winkler. Due to difficulties in coming along with one another, Winkler left to form his own company, SciSys, which would turn out to be a major competitor for Novag.

Novag’s first computer was the Chess Champion MK 1, which has no chessboard. It is quite intriguing how far computers have come in 40+ years! The MK 1 is a collector’s item, and with an elo of around 900, can be easily defeated by humans.

Common Novag Computers

* common rating system in chess (the higher the better)
**Opening book positions in its memory

NameElo*Open Book**Speed (Mhz)Year

2Robot

1800

145

8

2008

Aquamarine

1750

none

8

1996

Carnelian

1900

8500

8

2004

Carnelian II

1900

8500

8

2005

Citrine

2330

24000

20

2006

Obsidian

2320

8900

20

2005

Star Opal

1575

1100

8

1994

Star Opal II

1880

8500

8

1997

Star Sapphire

2383

36000

26.6

1994

Star Sapphire II

2500

123000

32

1997

Star Sapphire II (screen)

2500

123000

25

2003

Star Beryl

1750

0

8

2003

Star Diamond

2383

36000

26.6

1994

Star Ruby

2210

12000

20

1993

Star Ruby (screen)

2330

8000

20

2004

Topaz

1000

1300

8

1990

Topaz II

1000

1300

8

?

Tourmaline

1400

0

8

1990

Tourmaline Plus

1400

0

8

1998

Tourquoise

2294

8900

26.6

1998

Saitek 1979–2007

Saitek really began its roots all the way back in 1979, when SciSys was created. For 7 years afterward, all of the electronic chess games had their main name, SciSys, as the brand. Then, in 1986, they created a subsidiary company, Saitek, to focus solely on the chess computer, and ever since, they used the Saitek brand to market their products.

Both SciSys and Novag sold some of their first computers under their respective names. It wasn’t until 1980 that SciSys sold their own entirely separate model, and the was the Chess Partner 2000. You can see that by now chess computers had their own board to play on, and moves were entered by a sensory board, which is found in almost all the most recent tabletop chess computers.

Saitek is technically still running, but they don't make chess computers anymore. They actually make flight simulators now. However, the last chess computer they've created was the Mephisto Explorer Pro, which was a 2007 model, and probably the most stylish of any Electronic Chess Computer ever made!

For those of you who are wondering what Mephisto is, it's also a chess computer company, one that Saitek bought back in 1994. So, if you see a chess computer model that says "mephisto by saitek" it very likely is a model that came out on or after this year.

Common Saitek Chess Computers

NameELO*Open Book**SpeedYear

Advanced Talking Chess

n/a

16000

8

1996

Advanced Travel Chess

2019

6000

10

2003

Alchemist

994

16

4.2

1998

Alchemist Plus

800

100

4.2

2000

Aragon

n/a

16

4.2

1998

Aria

881

n/a

4

1998

Aurora

n/a

100

4.2

1998

Barracuda

1900

6000

10

1998

Bravo

1900

6000

10

2000

Bullet

1975

100

4

1998

Capella

1897

6000

10

1998

Centurion

2019

6000

10

1998

Chess Challenger

2019

6000

10

2004

Coach Partner

1239

0

1.7

1995

Concord

2050

n/a

4

1995

Cosmos

1980

6000

10

1998

Cougar

2050

6000

16

1998

Expert Travel

1980

6000

10

2004

Express

n/a

0

4

1996

GK2000

1897

2000

10

1897

GK2100

1979

6000

10

1993

Maestro

1750

n/a

?

2004

Junior Chess

1400

 

 

 

Master

2076

50000

20

2004

Explorer

1880

6000

16

2005

Explorer Pro

2050

6000

16

2007

Prisma

1735

17000

10

1990

Portable Talking Coach

n/a

100

4

1997

Simultano Version C

1806

100000

5

1988

Talking Coach

n/a

n/a

1.7

1998

Talking Chess Trainer

850

16

4.2

1998

Team Mate

1450

5000

8

1988

Excalibur

To understand the beginning and history of Excalibur, I must first tell you about Fidelity. Fidelity, which was founded in 1959, is credited for building the first dedicate chess computer, the Fidelity Chess Challenger 1, in the year 1977. It had many successes since then, however, in the year 1992, Fidelity closed their doors.

That same year Shane Samole, the son of Fidelity's President and owner Sidney Samole, began Excalibur, which went on to become the largest chess computer manufacturer in the world. I am merely speculating, but I do believe the reason they were the largest is that they didn't really focus on creating the smartest chess computers, but merely the most affordable. The reason I believe this is because they've never created a computer with ELO rating above 2000.

Common Excalibur Electronic Chess Computers

NameELO*Open Book**SpeedYear

Alexandra the Great

1653

32

10

2003

Chess Station

1380

Yes

5

2002

Deluxe Electronic Chess

1650

250

?

2005

Deluxe Talking Touch Chess

1611

32

10

2005

E-Chess & Checkers

1355

Yes

?

2003

E-Chess Express

n/a

12

40

2006

Einstein Chess Wizard

n/a

32

?

2008

Einstein E-MC2 Master

1750

250

?

2008

Einstein LCD Chess Master

1750

32

?

2008

Einstein Touch Chess

n/a

32

?

2008

Electronic Glass Chess

1750

20

2

1997

Grandmaster

1845

3000

12

1997

Igor

1845

Yes

12

1997

Ivan The Terrible

1845

Yes

10

1996

Ivan II The Conquerer

1900

Yes

10

2004

Karpov 2294

1940

13000

26.6

1997

King Arthur

1333

?

?

?

King Arthur Deluxe

1299

?

?

?

Kingmaster I

1092

?

?

?

Kingmaster II

1153

?

?

?

Kingmaster III

1365

250

5

2005

LCD Chess

1750

3000

5

2000

LCD Chess Wizard Keychain

1800

3000

5

2010

LCD Kingmaster 375V

1800

3000

5

2005

Legend II

1800

Yes

10

1993

Mentor

1800

8500

8

2000

Merlin

1600

0

?

1995

Mirage

1780

3000

10

1997

New York Times

1380

3000

5

2003

New York Times Deluxe

1500

3000

10

2007

Phantom Force

1650

3000

10

2007

Saber II

1650

0

4

1995

Saber III

1650

0

4

1996

Saber IV

1750

0

6

2006

Squire

1650

Yes

?

1997

Stilletto

1450

Yes

3.58

1993

Stilletto II

1600

Yes

4

1994

Stilletto III

1600

Yes

4

1996

Stilletto Deluxe

1450

Yes

3.58

1993

Stilletto II Deluxe

1500

Yes

4

1994

Talking E-Chess

1700

3000

?

2007

Talking LCD Chess

1800

3000

5

2005

The Excalibur

1650

0

?

1997

Radio Shack/Tandy

Radio Shack is probably the oldest business to ever sell chess computers. They started way back in 1921, and although I won't bore you with the history of the company, I want you to know that Tandy and Radio Shack are essentially the same company.

Long story short, the two companies were run by the same family, (Tandy) and they were merged into one when Charles Tandy saw the potential growth in consumer electronics more favorable than a leather company and decided to move all other operations to Tandy Brands & Tandycrafts, and the Tandy Corporation became an electronics company.

Most collectors don't consider them one of the main brands of chess computer manufacturers. Truly, there are only a few created by Radio Shack that are strong enough to compare with some of the others I've mentioned specifically, but I've decided to mention at least a few models from this brand, the main one is the 2250XL. See below for more details.

Radio Shack/Tandy Electronic Chess Computers

NameELO*Open Book**SpeedYear

Champion 2150 B

1750

100000

3

1988

Champion 2150L

1750

17000

8

1992

Champion 2150XL

2014

20000

20

1996

Master 2200X

 

28000

10

1996

Master Chess Computer

 

6000

16

1998

© 2014 ProjectResolute

Comments

Colin1655 on August 01, 2020:

Nice to see that someone took the trouble record some chess computer history! This was really helpful.