Boris - One of the first consumer chess computer

Chess Challenger 7 ( July 1979)

With more than 600 000 units sold in the world, the Fidelity Electronics Chess Challenger 7 (CC7) is the first true commercial success in the history of mass market chess computer. For a little story of Fidelity Electronics company, I invite you to visit the site of another impassioned of chess computer machines:

The CC7 is the only chess computer that I recall to have seen on sale in my youth. I looked it in catalogue but, at the time, it was too much expensive for my means (around 200$ CND I believe). Here is an extract of an American promotional document which presents the CC7.

The one that I have today (bought on e-bay in 2007) is an American model originally bought on October 3, 1979 at the cost of 89.95$ USD. I have the original guarantee card and the packing slip (with the price and the shipping fees).

Comparatively to the Boris in a walnut case, the Chess Challenger 7 is much more a mass market product. Indeed, this machine is made of plastic; it is much lighter, more tenantable and thus less expensive than Boris to product. Its internal architecture is different; two years separate the two machines and this period of technological effervescence is rather long so that the technology of the CC7 profits from it in a rather notable way.

The machine technology (see the techno section) is based on a ZILOG Z-80 processor turning at 4MHz (what is already much faster than the Boris processor; a MOSTEK 3850 that turn around 1 MHz). In term of memory, the CC7 has 4 KB in ROM and 0.5 KB in RAM (for Boris they is respectively 2.5 KB and 0.256 KB) it is about the double of memory size compared to Boris.

Even if I am an unconditional Boris lover…, I must admit that the CC7 has certain essential qualities which are cruelly lacking to Boris. I retain particularly those:

Its openings book.

  • In spite owing to the fact that it is very limited, hardly 100 moves, it is nevertheless sufficient to give place to beginnings chess games more organized and more orthodox than those of Boris. Moreover, the beginning of games develops more quickly because when the moves are in the opening book, the machine answers instantaneously.

Quality of chess program

  • The CC7 chess program seems to be much better construct than the Boris one. Indeed, even if the machine leaves its opening book soon, it tends to follow the elementary principles in the way to start a chess game. Thus, it tends to push its central pawns, to early develop its minor pieces (knights and bishops) and castle as soon as possible.

These qualities contribute has not to put the machine in bad position at the beginning of game and this, even at the lowest levels. And, in a didactic meaning, it gives a much better example in the good way to begin a chess game.

The Chess Challenger has 7 playing levels. Levels 1 (5 sec), 2 (15 sec), 3 (1:20 min) and 7 (3 min) answer rather quickly to have pleasant games. The playing strength of the machine is estimated around 1300 ELO (a strong occasional player). The program does not make stupid faults, to beat it, it is quite simply necessary to develop a better strategy.

Obviously, if you push the game in final phase, you have good chance to get the advantage because, in endgame, even beginners can be generally stronger than this type of machine.

I like

  • A relatively accessible price for the time;
  • A good playing level with pleasant response times;
  • A nice esthetical presentation (plastic wood imitation).

I don’t like

  • The machine does not give any information during its calculation, like for example the considered moves or the passed calculation time. The machine only shows his display blinking.
  • Entering of a special position is harder than with Boris;
  • No battery operation possible... The electronic parts occupy hardly 25% of the interior plastic case, which largely leaves space to place a battery compartment. It is a pity bus in my eyes; this machine would have made an excellent portable apparatus.