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Zaurus Software Reviews: Knights
By Steve Emms

Knights is billed as a fully fledged, extensible chess game. This is quite a statement, but there's certainly a lot to this program.

Knights comes with the Phalanx XXII chess engine. Although this engine is not as strong as crafty, it still plays a mean game on a powerful processor. On a PIII-733 it has a 2000+ rating, but how does it fare running on a SL-5500? As you will no doubt know, the Zaurus has a StrongARM 206 MHz processor. Phalanx has its own internal benchmark program. Running 'phalanx bench' at a shell, runs on 10 test positions and gives 30 seconds of cpu time to do a benchmark. The StrongARM processor managed a score of 16507 nodes per second. This is about the equivalent number that a P100 would get. It's obvious then that this game is never going to be a challenge for a master, however only a small minority of chess players ever reach that level. If you don't like Phalanx, there's an ipk available for GNUchess, a chess game that has been developed for many years.

From the Setttings menu you can choose 5 different skill levels: Very easy, Easy, Moderate, Hard and Very Hard. Even though I'm a weak chess player the first two skill levels presented no problems. I found a good game playing at the Moderate level. Wanting to see how the game played against some stronger opposition, I tried Knights out against a couple of ICC players (manually keying in the moves). They made mincemeat of the game at the Moderate and Hard levels, although in one game a 2000+ ICC player did lose on time. Phalanx played a very close game against a crafty computer running on an Athlon XP1800+, which demonstrates that Knights can play at a suitable level for the vast majority of chess lovers.

The software comes with 2 piece themes (XBoard, Xboard 3D), and the Knights website has 4 additional sets that you can download for free including Modern and Staunton pieces. Additionally, their website has other board themes if you don't like the two that are supplied with the game. The default theme is shown in the first screenshot. I didn't find this particularly easy to play with, mostly because black pieces on dark brown are not clear enough. Fortunately, the Winter theme is awesome. This is shown in Screenshot 2, and is easily my favorite board theme. In my opinion, the XBoard pieces are the best ones offered for Knights.

One of the best features of Knights is the ability to save and load PGN games. Here's the output from my first game with Knights.

[Event "Knights Computer Chess Game"]
[Site "localhost"]
[Date "2002.09.20"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Player"]
[Black "Phalanx"]
[Result "1-0"]
[BlackType "program"]
[Time "19:27:35"]
[Termination "Normal"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Be7 5. Nf3 dxc4 6. e3 Na6 7. Bxc4 O-O
8. Ne5 Bd7 9. Qf3 Rb8 10. Qg3 c5 11. Bh6 Nh5 12. Qg4 Nf6 13. Qxg7# 1-0

I was able to view this PGN file on any PGN viewer program, such as winboard. Next I tried a PGN file taken from the ICC server; a game between Kasparov v Kramnik played in the Brain Games World Championship Match. Knights coped with this fine and all the others I tried. Fortunately, PGN files are generally less than 1K, so even the Zaurus can store loads of games.

Other features that make Knights a pleasure to use include the ability to play against another human (not over the net), to watch a computer v computer game, multiple game boards available at the same time, save game, automatic promotion, and autoflag. About the only thing that's unprofessional in the software is the text in the bottom left hand corner doesn't always fit in the tiny space provided. This is nit-picking though.

There are a few things I'd really like to see in Knights. First, the program would benefit from having different time controls. It would be great to be able to play untimed games and games with no increment. Currently the retract move functionality has been removed from the software, although the author informs me that this will be in the next release. Knights would be a killer app if it could act as a client for one of the Internet Chess Servers. Then we could play against human opponents over the net. I've always found it much more satisfying outwitting a human opponent.

Product Details:

Name: Knights
Price: $10
Pros: Polished chess interface with choice of chess engines, PGN viewer, Good set of features
Cons: Lack of time controls, no ICS client
Rating: 8/10

Back to Zaurus Software Reviews

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