Boris - One of the first consumer chess computer

VIDEOMASTER Chess Champion MK1 (september 1978)


The VIDEOMASTER Chess Champion MK1 appears on the market in September 1978. Its original price was roughly 140$ US, which made an "economic" machine for the time comparatively to a Boris who was sold for example 300$ US... This machine curiously looks the same as the NOVAG Chess Champion MK1... In fact, it seems that it is its clone. However, the two instructions booklets do not present the same response times for each of the 6 level of play.


In my opinion, its economic price was its only true attraction. And it is not a chance if this chess computer were sold less expensive than the Boris. Obviously, it does not have the same aristocratic and distinguished presentation and I often tested it, I played several games and I am able to confirm that it has much more limited possibilities.

  • It plays only the blacks (Boris plays the white and the blacks);

  • It accepts illegal moves from its adversary (Boris does not accept that);

  • The levels are badly spread out because levels 1, 2, 3 and 4 answer rather quickly but the last two levels are too slow to play a game continuously (with
    Boris, you can adjusts yourself the computing time. Thus you can decide the game duration);

  • It does not give any information on his calculation;

  • The special moves “en passant”, castling and promotion need to handling of several keys (Boris makes promotion in Queen automatically and to change to
    other pieces, you does have to touch only one key);
  • The keys (button) answer badly and you must often start again the entered moves;
  • His level of play is pitiful.

There is a little to say about its technology... Its internal architecture look the same that of the Boris. It has the same CPU type: the MOSTEK 3850 and its usual assistant; the Static Memory Interfaces MOSTEK 3853 module. Display is ensured by 4 large red digits. In regard to his use, I find it difficult. The buttons answer badly and are noisy (clac clac...). Moreover, the special moves are complicated to enter, look at this extract of the instruction manual.


The first 4 levels answer rather quickly but, they offer a very low level of play even for a strong occasional player. To these levels, the machine often offers pieces without almost any compensation... The last 2 levels are so slow, that they do not make it possible to play a continuously game (level 5 = 2 to 3 hours per move, level 6 = 1 to 2 days per move...). Moreover, the apparatus does not give any information during its calculation such as for example: the move which it considers in its evaluation; time remaining with its calculation. Boris indicates the move which it evaluates, it gives remaining time to his calculation and it show the moving chess pieces during his calculations.


Its level of play is even lower than Boris. I made a lot of tests between MK1 and Boris, if I give only 30 seconds per move to Boris, it manages to easily beat the MK1 on his level 4... It should be remembered that in the test games showed on this site, Boris is not even able to give me opposition with 60 min of calculation per move. That gives you an indication on the playing level of the MK1... It is amusing to note the time which MK1 can take to realize that it is CHECHMATE. Indeed, at the end of a game, when you give him the fatal blow, it can take several minutes before is display show the word "LOSE". Therefore, it takes much time to solve what is a CHECHMATE in 1... Boris always answers instantaneously "Congratulation" when it is CHECHMATED.


In addition, I tried to make him solve problems to compare it to the Boris in my chess problems page. But it never gives me the move which carries out to the CHECHMATE... It should not push its calculation far enough...


The 6 playing levels of the MK1 are based on intervals of time calculation; you never know how long it will take to answer. A made some test where I timed the response time for each one of his move and it quickly answered at the beginning of game (for example in 10 seconds) but when the situation was degraded it started to take 2 or 3 minutes. However, because of its low capacity of calculation, it understands too late that the situation is dangerous and when it decides to search deeper the situation is desperate...



The MK1 seems to have in its program small diagrams to begin a game, can we call that a small opening book? For example, to e2-e4 it almost always answers e7-e5 or g8-f6. Against d2-d4, it always answered me d7-d5. So, it must have small instructions for this purpose in its general program. There are other things which it does better than Boris, I noticed that he quickly deploy his pieces (Bishop and Knight) at the beginning of the game and it do castling on the first occasion. Boris does not do that, it often pushes his pawns in a disordered way and it castling seldom, with for consequence to early put Boris in trouble at the beginning of game.


The apparatus is small and light. That could have made a real portable machine if, the manufacturers had included a small battery compartment...



The MK1 is too weak and too slow to play interesting games, it is not enough strong to make him solve problems and it is difficult to handle. My opinion is that machine was too much expensive for what it could bring to the user.