5 Best Electronic Chess Games of 2020

Updated on March 20, 2020
ProjectResolute profile image

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

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
DGT Pi chess computer/clock combinationManually installed picochess
DGT Pi chess computer/clock combination
DGT Pi chess computer/clock combination
Manually installed picochess
Manually installed picochess

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

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!

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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

(click column header to sort results)
Name  
Elo*  
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
* common rating system in chess (the higher the better) **Opening book positions in its memory

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

(click column header to sort results)
Name  
ELO*  
Open Book**  
Speed  
Year  
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

(click column header to sort results)
Name  
ELO*  
Open Book**  
Speed  
Year  
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

(click column header to sort results)
Name  
ELO*  
Open Book**  
Speed  
Year  
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

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    • profile image

      Colin1655 

      2 days ago

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

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