Chess Computers in 1977

Before we start, I capitalize the name of chess playing computers to clarify who (or what?) is playing White or Black. Now let’s get to the main event.






Chess computers, of course, had been in development for a couple of decades before 1977. But in that year, several notable events brought the chess computer to the public’s attention.


But let’s first mention that the International Computer Chess Association was established, which is important to this article, even if the public was not aware of it.


More worthy for public interest was the first microcomputer chess playing machines, CHESS CHALLENGER and BORIS, were created and sold to the general public. You could now buy a computer to play chess. Even better was the fact they were not too strong and existed more of a novelty than a challenge, making them easy prey to most players. Nevertheless, I heard many people brag how they “beat the computer”, or they were “better than a computer”. What they sometimes forget to mention they played the same opening repeatedly, until they got the result they wanted. Not exactly cheating, but not entirely honest either! (I must pause and smile here, as I the only reason I didn’t do such things was that I couldn’t afford these machines).


Also, in 1977, CHESS 4.6, a stronger machine than either CHESS CHALLENGER or BORIS, became the first chess computer to win a major chess tournament. That occurred at 84th Minnesota Open in February of 1977. It achieved an Expert USCF rating.


In August, SNEAKY PETE played in the U.S. Open. It was the first machine to do so, was promoted and gathered much attention, but its results were not impressive.

The December 1977 issue of Chess Life and Review had this to say;


“Computers were everywhere during the U.S. Open. A major attraction for the entire tournament was SNEAKY PETE. The poor machine had to stick it out on Board 69 for the entire two weeks and was constantly surrounded and scrutinized by Class As and Experts. SNEAKY rated 1209, was so nervous he lost seven games in a row. And every back-rank mate was immortalized in the daily games bulletins.”


In 1977, Michael Stean, who earlier in the year earned the GM title, became the first Grandmaster to lose a computer program.


CHESS 4.6-GM Michael Stean
Blitz Game
London, 1977
1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Nc3 c5 4.dxc5 (This does not seem best. 4.d5!? is probably better.) 4…bxc5 5.Be3 d6 6.Bb5+ Nd7 7.Nf3 e6 8.O-O a6 9.Bxd7+ Qxd7 10.Qd3 Ne7 11.Rad1 Rd8 12.Qc4 Ng6 13.Rfe1 Be7 14.Qb3 Qc6 15.Kh1 O-O 16.Bg5 Ba8 17.Bxe7 Nxe7 18.a4 Rb8 19.Qa2 Rb4 20.b3 f5 21.Ng5 fxe4 22.Ncxe4 Rxf2 23.Rxd6 Qxd6 24.Nxd6 Rxg2 25.Nge4 Rg4 26.c4 Nf5 27.h3 Ng3+ 28.Kh2 Rxe4 29.Qf2 h6 30.Nxe4 Nxe4 31.Qf3 Rb8 32.Rxe4 Rf8 33.Qg4 Bxe4 34.Qxe6+ Kh8 35.Qxe4 Rf6 36.Qe5 Rb6 37.Qxc5 Rxb3 38.Qc8+ Kh7 39.Qxa6 1-0

But this was a blitz game. Chess computers still could not compete against World Champions, either current or past, in blitz games, or under tournament conditions.


Fischer (yes, that one!) play three games against a chess computer. The first one is the most well-known and perhaps his best effort.


Greenblatt was the name of the programmer. I do not know the name of his computer, or if it even had one, so I’ll just use his name.


Here are the three games Fischer was known to have played after his 1972 World Championship win.


Cambridge, 1977
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 d5 4.Bxd5 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Nf3 O-O 7.O-O [Fischer liked to experiment with the Bishop’s Gambit, probably as a result of publishing an article titled, The King’s Gambit is Busted, where he showed how Black should win after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6. Here’s a game from his simul tour of 1964: GM Fischer-Nyman, Simul, Cicero, May 20 1964, 7.O-O Bxc3 8.dxc3 c6 9.Bc4 Qb6+ 10.Kh1 Nxe4 11.Qe1 Re8 12.Bxf4 Nd6 13.Bxd6 Rxe1 14.Raxe1 Bd7 15.Ng5 Na6 16.Rxf7 1-0.] 7…Nxd5 8.Nxd5 Bd6 9.d4 g5 10.Nxg5 Qxg5 11.e5 Bh3 12.Rf2 Bxe5 13.dxe5 c6

14.Bxf4 +- Qg7 15.Nf6+ Kh8 16.Qh5 Rd8 17.Qxh3 Na6 18.Rf3 Qg6 19.Rc1 Kg7 20.Rg3 Rh8 21.Qh6mate 1-0


Cambridge, 1977
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 Bg7 4.Nc3 cxd4 [Black tried the original 4…b6 in GM Božidar Ivanović-Grigic, Vinkovic, 1982 and lost after the spectacular 5.dxc5! bxc5 6.Qd5 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Qa5 8.Qxa8 Qxc3+ 9.Kd1! 1-0.] 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 Ng8 9.f4 f6 10.exf6 Nxf6 11.Bc4 d5 12.Be2 Rb8 13.b3 Ng4 14.Bd4 e5 15.fxe5 O-O 16.Bxg4 Qh4+ 17.g3 Qxg4 18.Qxg4 Bxg4 19.Rf1 Rxf1+ 20.Kxf1 c5 21.Bf2 Bxe5 22.Be1 Rf8+ 23.Kg2 Rf3 24.h3 Rxc3 25.Bxc3 Bxc3 26.Rf1 Bf5 27.Rf2 h5 28.Re2 Kf7 29.Re3 Bd4 30.Rf3 Ke6 31.c3 Be5 32.Re3 d4 33.cxd4 cxd4 34.Re1 d3 35.h4 d2 36.Rd1 Bc3 37.Kf2 Bg4 38.Rh1 Bd4+ 39.Kg2 [Any player would automatically see that promoting the pawn would force White to part with his rook for bishop (winning the exchange and eventually win the game). Fischer, however, wants the rook for free.]
39…Kd5! 40.a3 Ke4 41.Rf1 Kd3 42.Kh2 Ke2 43.Kg2 Bh3+ 44.Kxh3 Kxf1 45.b4 d1=Q 46.Kh2 Qe2+ 47.Kh3 Qg2mate 0-1


Cambridge, 1977
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Be3 O-O 9.Qd3 Be6 10.O-O Nbd7 11.Nd5 Rc8 12.Nxe7+ Qxe7 13.f3 d5 14.Nd2 Qb4 15.Nb3 dxe4 16.Qd1 Nd5 17.Ba7 b6 18.c3 Qe7 19.fxe4 Ne3 20.Qd3 Nxf1 21.Qxa6 Ne3 22.Bxb6 Qg5 23.g3 Ra8 24.Ba7 h5 25.Qb7 h4 26.Kf2 hxg3+ 27.hxg3 f5 28.exf5 Rxf5+ 29.Ke1 Raf8 30.Kd2 Nc4+ 31.Kc2 Qg6 32.Qe4 Nd6 33.Qc6 Rf2+ 34.Kd1 Bg4 35.Bxf2 Qd3+ 36.Kc1 Bxe2 37.Nd2 Rxf2 38.Qxd7 Rf1+ 39.Nxf1 Qd1mate 0-1



It would take another two decades for chess computers to score a win against World Champion.

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