Why a Wooden Chess Computer


I wanted a chess computer that created as closely a possible the experience of playing chess against another person. To me that means sitting at a full size wooden chess board and moving the pieces.

Chess programs have their place, but I do not find sitting in front of a screen very relaxing. There are many chess computers, but most of them are plastic. Better than a screen but not the real thing.

There are a few wooden chess board computers, but they are either not quite right or too expensive.

I have looked at the Novag Citrine, but the board is jut a bit too small and the pieces a bit cheap looking for my taste. It also costs around £300, not too bad. I nearly bought one, but the look of it put me off.

There used to be a chess computer called the Mephisto Executive Senator which was full size, apparently beautifully made chess computer. It was very expensive and has been discontinued.

An alternative is the DGT board, that is also expensive and you need to attach it to a computer. It isI think intended mainly as a tournament board or for experts to use to analyse positions, so it does not contain a method for signaling opponent moves.

While I was mulling this over and nearly buying a Novag Citrine I came across a couple of sites that explained how to build a USB chess board. Basicaly a chessboard shaped keyboard you could plug into a computer and play programs like Fritz or Arena. That set me off. I built one, and in doing so, saw thhere was a way of building my own fully fledged high quality chess computer for less than £100. Six months later and its done!

I now own a full size wooden chess computer that I can play games with. This blog / Site tells you more and with a bit more research shows how you could build one too.

If you are interested please post a comment and I will add more detail.

10 Responses to Why a Wooden Chess Computer

  1. Kutahya says:

    r u share project details? i am interesting this..

  2. irawan says:

    i’m interested too. any more detail info on this project?

  3. Ron says:

    Hello, I realize that this if from a while back, However I want to build one of these as a present in the next two months and am very pressed for time… I would love it if you could perhaps help me in a little more depth than you shared here, although I am very familiar with arduino and c / c++, I am new to raspberry pi and would extremely appreciate it if you could share your arduino sketches and help me. email me at ronissim@gmail.com please!
    thank you!

    • Max says:

      I have shared on the site the basic Python program for running the chess engine, this should enable you to build your own Python program that does what you want. As I said in reply to an earlier post:
      I do not provide source code for my complete programs, but I am glad to help. Most of the code has been patched together from links already provided on the site.
      For example the board code is basically the code for scanning the reed switch and detecting the square plus the code for lighting the LEDS plus the code for communicating serially with the PI. There are links to all of that.

      For the RPI Python program, the site has a listing of a demonstration Python program that plays chess, which is 80% done. You just need to adapt it for your purposes.

      I hope this helps. If you get stuck let me know. I suggest you start by building a USB connected chess board first.

  4. david, s says:

    Easier to buy a mephisto exclusive second hand at ebay.de, price varies but would save all the trouble of making one, there is plenty of them around on the german site, if not mephisto then ddr radiophon chessmaster, slightly cheaper but similar, i.e. full size wooden also dgt board works well also wooden and full size works well with fritz ! you can then play opponents thru ‘Playchess.com’

    • Max says:

      David, you are right it would be easier. I have a mephisto exclusive and its a nice wooden machine, but there is no substitute for building your own.However the Mephisto is a little small for my taste. The DGT board are great especially the piece recognition capability, but last time I looked they retail for around £600. Or if you want a really neat machine that moves the pieces have a look at Square-Off on Kickstarter. That’s so easy you don’t even have to move the pieces, you can just watch.

  5. MiPo says:

    Hello Brian

    nice web site and great to see real wooden chess boards working as chess computers! Good source to share ideas.
    Have a look as well on the Mysticum project which we are developing on a
    constant base:


    • Brian says:

      Hi MiPo

      I registered on your site, another great chess project, and I can see there is a lot of activity.
      I will be interested to see this develop.

      fyi, this is Max’s website, I just contributed a very small amount.

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