Novag Robot Adversary
Novag Robot Adversary 7 80 x 80

The Novag Robot Adversary is the most iconic of chess computers. There are several reasons. Firstly, for a product of 1982, its startling futuristic appearance. Secondly the robot arm which in terms of robotic character, comparative speed and range of movement is extraordinary for a consumer product. Thirdly the variety of functions - including autoplay, automatic setting up of the pieces for a new game, trace and review, best move, sound, lights, printer support, and not forgetting the tantrums produced by the ‘emotions’ button which involve waving of the arm, flashing lights and noisy sound. These functions all contribute towards a very impressive and entertaining machine, which was outstanding when it was first sold, and has not been bettered since.

Its playing ability is modest as you would expect of a chess computer developed in 1980/81 and released in September 1982. Schachcomputer.info puts its rating at 1462 Elo. The early Fidelity Prestige which was the strongest and best featured wooden board chess computer of late 1982 has a rating of 1661 Elo. David Kittinger produced the chess program which is a version of his well known Mychess program also used in the Novag Savant II, but the Robot Adversary has a larger opening book. The Robot uses a Z80B processor running at 6MHz, the chess program is contained in a 32KB ROM, with a 8KB ROM containing the mechanical routines, and it has 5 KB RAM.

2000 Robot Adversarys were built but the failure rate was high and the vast majority of those sold will have long since developed major faults and been discarded; or stored and forgotten with little hope of repair. Leaving the machine unplayed for extended periods and hence unlubricated is one significant cause of initial failure. The subsequent neglect and botched repairs will have accounted for many. My guesstimate of the number of Robot Adversarys that can still play a game of chess is 1-2%. Those that can complete an autoplay game, including castling and setting up the pieces correctly at the end must be fewer still. How long my Robot will be able to do that is anyone’s guess but Robot owners accept that the Robot Adversary is fragile, they treat them with ‘kid gloves’ and accept that the occasional repair may be required. Happily there are chess computer enthusiasts who are also excellent engineers able to repair Robot Adversarys so hopefully the number of working Robots will grow, rather than shrink, over the next few years.

At the foot of the page are links to further Novag Robot Adversary material, including articles, documents and a film. Below left is a superb video by Christian Mueller showing a Robot Adversary playing a game to Spanish guitar accompaniment. Below that are three of my own videos. The first shows my Robot Adversary playing and printing out a game as it goes along. The second features the Robot setting up the pieces for a new game and lastly there is a brief example of the Robot, with ‘emotions’ switched on, getting excited about checkmate.
 

Novag Robot Adversary 1 20 x 20
Christian Mueller's Video 2
Novag Robot Adversary 4 15 x 15
Novag Robot Adversary 6 10 x 10
Novag Robot Adversary 5 15 x 15
Novag Robot Adversary 2 10 x 10


Connection to a Novag printer requires a special card (below) which is a rare Robot accessory.
 

Novag Robot Adversary 9 10 x 10
Novag Robot Adversary 12 10 x 10
Novag Robot Adversary 13 50 x 50

 


Novag Robots Head-to-Head

 

Novag Robot Head To Head 1 25 x 25


On the left is the Novag 2Robot which was released for sale by Novag in 2008 in an attempt to create a modern Robot Adversary. Chess computer enthusiasts were hoping for a machine which retained most of the Adversary’s outstanding qualities whilst overcoming its faults. Also they hoped for a stronger chess program which satisified the mass market for hobbyists and children with easy levels but also had the flexibilty to test club players.

 Whilst it is a beautifully designed and comparatively sturdy machine the 2Robot disappointed in all other respects. The software is basic with limitations such as an inability to automatically reset the pieces to their starting positions and no evaluations or game information from the LCD display. Crucially there is no autoplay function, which one would have thought an absolute must for a robot. The program is weak for a 2008 chess computer. A stronger more flexible program with the necessary hardware to run it would have cost Novag little more. The 2Robot’s press sensory chessboard also compares unfavourably with Adversary’s auto sensory board which suits that machine so well. But perhaps the most disappointing thing about the 2Robot is the ponderous robot arm. The limbering-up preparatory to reaching for a chess piece, slow movement to get there and back and  parking at the end soon detract from the pleasure of playing a game. The final nail in the 2Robots coffin was the fatal Arm Error which afflicted many, perhaps most, 2Robots. The error appears after some use and I think is due to sensor failure. The robot arm reacts to White’s opening move with an attempt to make its own move but the ‘grabber’ does not descend to pick up Black’s piece.

Despite all of these criticisms the 2Robot is still likeable in terms of its design and the fact that it is a chess robot and so fundamentally an intriguing machine for chess players, if your one works. For me the 2Robot’s limitations only go to emphasise the brilliance of the Robot Adversary in so many respects. However chess strength is not one of them as the games below illustrate. Robot Adversary displays an optimism in which the usual response to a threat is to attack. Bless it !!

 

 


Links to Novag Robot Adversary information


Hein Veldhuis’s informative database entry on the Novag Robot Adversary (pdf - parts in English, German and Dutch)

Schachcomputer.info article (in German)

Repairing a Robot Adversary - Masterclass in pictures by Gerardo Mateo aka “Berger” (in Spanish)

Maurice Ohayon’s webpage

My Patents webpage and the UK and US Patent Applications (click the blueprints).

Manual (in German)

Film ‘Kein Leben ist perfekt (No Life Is Perfect) 1980 which features life in Hong Kong and follows Novag’s MD Peter Auge including sight of an early Robot Adversary prototype (at 14 minutes into the film).

 

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