My First Chess Coach

To talk about my first chess coach I need to start from the very beginning, or at least my chess beginnings.

I think the year was 1982; I was going into 9th grade at the time and hoping to get a remote controlled tank for Christmas from my grandparents.   It never happened.  Instead I received a very interesting chess computer.  They are ubiquitous now but back then not so much.   At the time I was a big games person but not really into chess.  Oh, I had played my dad chess a few times before and a friend once brought a little chess set on a school field trip and I recall playing chess then as well.  "Playing" chess may be an exaggeration because I probably didn't know how to correctly move the pieces.

Anyway the Christmas gift was special for its time.  I remember thinking the board which was partially wooden was fancy and the small wooden pieces cool.  It also talked!    Fidelity Voice Sensory Chess Challenger was its name and when you pressed down on the squares with a piece the squares would light up and it would say the square letter and number and name of the piece moved.   It also had an opening book and a database of 64 famous games.   I remember it blurting out at me when I turned it on "I AM FIDELITY CHESS CHALLENGER YOUR COMPUTER OPPONENT, SELECT YOUR LEVEL!!!!

Ok game on, I wanted to beat this thing.  It was a game to me like Space Invaders, Frogger or even Rolling Thunder  (Rolling Thunder actually hit the arcades 4 years later in 1986).

Fidelity Voice Sensory Chess Challenger!
Fidelity Voice Sensory Chess Challenger!


 I got my first Chess book at this time "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" and I played and played and played this computer thing.  My chess computer never refused a match and was always ready to play.   The goal was simple, to beat it at the top levels.  I recall the box on the game saying it had a chess rating around 1650.  I really didn't know what that meant but I thought the whole idea of a rating was extremely cool.  I wanted a rating as well!

So I played until I won and it took a long, long time, slowly moving up the skill levels.  I learned at the same time.  I learned about developing my pieces, controlling the center, tactics and many other ideas from the computer.  However to beat the computer I didn't copy his primarily tactical style.  I eventually figured out that the computer loved to munch material. Sometimes it would munch material to the detriment of the safety of its King.  For example, I may totally ignore his threat of a pawn or even an out of play piece and ultimately allow the computer to win that material if it allowed me to get a couple extra moves aiming at his King.  In chess terms this would be called focusing on a time and space advantage.

The three main chess advantages being:

1. Material (having captured more valuable material than your opponent).

2. Positional (Having your pieces and pawns placed on better squares than your opponent.  A basic positional disadvantage could be having double or triple stacked pawns).

And finally 3. Time and Space advantage (This typically involves having the initiative, where your opponent has to react to your moves).

Of the three types of advantages I think a time and space advantage may be the toughest one for players to comprehend because it's more abstract than the other two, particularly the time component.  My approach to beat the computer was to use the abstract time and space advantage and to this day this approach has strongly influenced my style.

Nowadays computers can beat any human player so a goal to beat a computer on the highest levels would be impossible.  I think if I was just starting to learn chess today I wouldn't be as interested in trying to play a computer.  Today I also almost never actually play a game with a computer but I do use them in preparation and learning and think they are a fantastic tool to help improve your game for this purpose.

In any case I owe a lot to Fidelity Sensory Chess Challenger my first chess coach, who had a big influence on my style of play.

Here is a link that someone put on YouTube of the exact Fidelity Chess Challenger model I used to own many years ago.  At the end of the clip you can hear it say its powerful challenge:   "I AM FIDELITY CHESS CHALLENGER YOUR COMPUTER OPPONENT, SELECT YOUR LEVEL!!!!"


  • 23 months ago


    So that's why you started beating me in 9th grade!

  • 3 years ago


    akeee2k, a deserted island with electrical current or plenty of batteries, then? :)

  • 3 years ago


    Fun text, would sure like to have one of those on a deserted island!

  • 3 years ago


    I worked at Bell Labs in NJ in 1978-79. One of the engineers had a standalone chess computer like the Chess Challenger but a different brand. The case was made of a nice wood instead of plastic. Can't remember the brand name; does anyone remember these?

    Ken Thompson was there then with an early precursor of Belle, which later became the first NM-rated machine. It ran on a DEC PDP-8 and later a PDP-11. I played one game with it; it was still weak then. It was strickly brute-force, full-width search; there was no pruning of the search tree so it couldn't look very far ahead. I'll show you the game sometime. Friday nights, Ken would shoehorn a TI printing terminal into his car trunk and take it to the Westfield chess club. The terminal would talk to the PDP-11 back in his lab via telephone lines and an acoustic terminal. This is really old stuff.

  • 3 years ago

    NM SHoshall

    Lol, That's funny Scott. I did a little search and some of those old computers u guys have are worth some money as well.  The same model as my 1982 computer just sold for $156 on ebay ( i wouldnt mind getting it back if it ever comes up again).   Chessmaster 102.  I think the short answer is yes you can throw space under positional or at least the category or element "Position".  Ive seen for example the three main elements of chess broken up into Position, Time and Material.  Though when people refer to a "positional weakness" of a game it is almost always a fairly static feature of the pawn structure or key square. For example,  in Heismann's article Principle of Tactical Dominance  he states that GM Kaufmann says the worst positional disadvantage you can have is Double Isolated pawns.   For me time and space are almost always related and more on the dynamic side. Kind of how physics sometimes combines spacetime into a single interwoven continuum.  They can though be separated as different types of advantages and are different elements in a chess game and often described that way.   GM Evans breaks chess up into 4 main elements: Pawn Structure, Material, Time, and Space.  Finally some players don't believe space and time should be considered elements in a chess game at all!  I probably should have broke that up better in the blog but for me as a player and my experience with the computer I do believe that space and time are the areas I was able to exploit and they are more dynamic than static positional considerations and material advantages.

  • 3 years ago


    Nice story, Shawn! Sometime around 1980, give or take, a friend had a Fidelity Chess Challenger. This one didn't talk, and it wasn't very strong. It would always underpromote my pawn to a bishop. Wouldn't give me a queen. I'd put a queen down on the queening square but it wouldn't let me enter any moves for it except diagonally. Later in the 80's, Radio shack sold their own version. They had several in the store windows in a mall. I used to go in and play them blindfold (the pieces were sealed in the box) until I lost track. Lot's of fun!

  • 3 years ago


    Great post Shawn!

  • 3 years ago


    Makes me want to dig up my ancient chess computer and see if I can beat it now. 

  • 3 years ago


    This is a very good memoir. Thanks for posting it. I have had two computer chess boards but never used them to play chess. I still have one in the living room, it sits there with the pieces on it, because sometime my son and I discuss some games.

    We never turn it on. It is Dark and light gray. I don't even know the brand. The pieces have magnets on them.

  • 3 years ago


    Nice read but wouldn't space be a positional advantage ?

  • 3 years ago


    What a great read! You are my first real coach, human or computer. Thanks for all the games you played with me and the brilliant opening ideas and tactics you shared.

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