GNU Chess ’87

I am not much of a chess player. That said one thing that has annoyed me to no end is GNU Chess 1.2. Over on bitsavers is this fun directory:

And despite being a treasure trove of ancient GNU software, I have never been able to get GNU Chess to do much of anything. At best it’ll give the Chess prompt, and then it’ll either crash (good!) or worst case it just exits silently with no reason given.

I have put only minimal effort into debugging it, and really got nowhere. I don’t know why this is such a tough beast to deal with, or why I even care. As I mentioned above, I’m not much of a chess player.

But for some reason this time around I thought I’d try the earliest release quality Visual C++ to build it. I wasn’t expecting much, however for some reason this ancient version seems to run.

I had to enable a few things such as the RANDOM & HASH to make it look like it wants to play. I ended up having to make some changes after a draw or victory as the ‘self playing mode’would keep going. Not sure what’s going on there, and I added a line at the end of the logic loop to always print the board, so at least you can see what is going on if you have it playing itself.

With that said this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen:

  White Black Depth  Nodes  Score    Cpu     Rate
1. e2e4 e7e5      4   5793      0   0.00      1
2. d2d4 b8c6      4      0      0   0.00      0
3. d4e5 c6e5      4  17966      0   0.00      1
4. g1f3 b7b6      4      0      0   0.00      0
5. f3e5 f8c5      4 487931   -325   0.00      1
6. d1d5 c5b4      4 2079943   -425   1.00      2079943
7. e1d1 a7a6      4      0    775   0.00      0
8. d5f7           4 161840   4525   0.00      1
Averages:  4.00 ply, 550695 nodes,  0.20 cpu, 2753473 nodes/sec

Given I don’t have any good rusage emulation going on (I know its in MinGW at some point, and I probably can find it, and get it running on MSVC but I don’t see that as important) an 8 move victory seems pretty… unlikely?

Maybe it’s a good test of other C compilers to see if they produce anything. Or maybe it’s all a red herring? I haven’t tested with much but GCC 1.40 can’t even run it on x86. Watcom 10 can build, but it crashes during a self game.

It’s one of those mysteries, that I’m sure there is some fundamental lesson, but I’m not sure what it is.

Other than it’s a long way down, standing on the shoulders of giants.

I put the source & exe over on github. Not that I expect any takers.

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