Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Animation of Engine Moves

Because it is hard to print all information from the UCI engine on the phone screen, I am toying with a feature where the current move considered by the UCI engine is shown graphically. Below is a short demo of this feature. Let me know what you think!


Monday, August 23, 2010

Chess for Android 2.4

I just released version 2.4 of Chess for Android at the Android Market with the following new feature:
  • basic UCI engine support (ability to replace built-in Java engine with any third party UCI engine compiled "natively" for Android)
Instructions on how to setup an UCI engine are given at UCI for Android. As far as I know currently only BikJump is available as stand-alone UCI engine for Android. Although stronger than the built-in engine, I hope I will be able to add links to much stronger third party UCI engines soon. Please note that support is still rather basic (elaborate setup, only tested on one engine, GUI does not support engine options, time control restricted to time-per-move, position sent as FEN, making the engine more prone to three-fold repetition, no tournaments, etc.). Nevertheless, I hope it is an interesting start.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

UCI Engine on Android

Here is an UCI engine running on a Nexus One in Chess for Android, probing the complete 3- and 4-piece Nalimov endgame tablebases (29.6 MB) from SD card.

Here is a screenshot where the UCI engine already reports a mate (using the tablebases), while the internal Java engine only reports a negative score for white given a search tree of depth 9.

Steps to make this work are shown at UCI for Android.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More UCI Support for Android

The UCI engine output is now presented in a slightly better format, where information is broken up into individual fields. Also, I have compiled BikJump v2.1 natively for Android, which is more elaborate multi-threaded bitboard-based engine that also supports the Nalimov endgame tablebases (with kind permission from Eugene Nalimov and Andrew Kadatch). I copied a few tablebases into the emulator's SD card and started the engine analysis. As can be seen in the screenshot below, the engine together with the probing code run fine on the Android emulator.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

UCI Support for Android

The UCI (Universal Chess Interface) protocol defines an open interface between a chess engine and a graphical chess program, which allows chess programmers to focus on their engine rather than GUI details. Many programs on Windows, Linux, and MacOS support the UCI protocol (e.g. ChessBase, Arena, Sigma Chess, Lucas Chess), but as far as I know, no UCI support exists for Android. Even Chess for Android uses a simplified Java port of my own UCI engine BikJump rather than going through the UCI interface.

Therefore, I am prototyping UCI support in Chess for Android with the idea that, in the long run, this will allow importing third party engines into the GUI. So far, I added a "kibitzer feature". Any UCI engine binary that has been "natively" compiled for Android (using a compiler that ships with the Android NDK) can be imported through a file finder dialog, as shown below for a natively compiled version of BikJumpv1.8 running on the Android emulator.

Once imported, the UCI engine reports its findings of the current position.  For now, I display the engine name, author, and parts of the info line, but eventually these parts will be parsed for more suitable display. It is still a long way to full UCI support where users can actually play the engine, but it is a promising start.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chess for Android 2.3

Version 2.3 of Chess for Android has following changes:
  • replay buttons for full game navigation
  • improved draw detection
  • added two levels (longer thinking time)
  • more efficient game storage in memory
There are now five on-screen buttons. The first one is:
  • ← : undo button, accepted any time to correct mistakes (even when engine is thinking), discarding all subsequent moves when used during navigation
The replay buttons are useful to navigate through a game without discarding any moves. These buttons are only accepted when the engine is not thinking, and work as follows:
  • << : goes to beginning of current game
  • <  : steps back one move
  • >  : steps forward one move
  • >> : goes to end of current game
During navigation, all subsequent moves not played yet are greyed out (see screenshot). Playing any move while navigating (including switching sides) discards all following moves (even if the moves matches the subsequent play; use replay buttons to maintain the current game). As before, long pressing the notation window enables the user to export the game as PGN or FEN. The game will be exported at the position of navigation. Saving a game to file will always store all moves of the current game.

Since there are quite a few changes this time, please let me know if you encounter any issues.


Update: despite lots of testing, a few things fell through the cracks in v2.3; all known issues fixed in v2.3.2 [many thanks to Robert for reporting a Droid control issue]


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fidelity Electronics Chess Challenger

As long as I am making a trip down to memory lane, I remember how happy I was when I got a Chess Challenger for my birthday in 1981. As a starting young chess player, I certainly learned a lot from playing this computer, and I was thrilled when I had beaten the highest level for the first time. It certainly has sparked my interest in chess programming.

After playing for a while, I discovered that if Chess Challenger responsed to e2-e4 with e7-e7 from its random opening book, it could always be beaten at Level 1 through the game shown below. As depicted on the corresponding photo, the Chess Challenger would admit its defeat by flashing all 64 red indicators.
[Date "sometimes in 1981"]
[White "a much younger Aart Bik"]
[Black "Chess Challenger (Level 1)"]
[Result "1-0"]

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Bxc6 dxc6
5. Nxe5 Qd4
6. Qh5 Qxe4+
7. Kd1 Qxg2
8. Qxf7+ Kd8
9. Qxf8# 1-0

Although modern chess software is much more practical, it lacks some of the charm of those early day chess computers.