Video Chess (Atari 8-bit)

Video Chess Atari 8-bit Initially loaded screen


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This is an early home chess game. The standard U. S. chess rules are used in this game. To move a piece, place the X on the board onto the piece to be moved then press the red button. Next, move the X to where you want the piece to go and press the button again. If the move is illegal, the 2600 will give a warning sound and not make the move.

To castle your king, the king and rook must not have been moved. You move your king two squares in the direction of the rook to castle with. The 2600 will then automatically move your rook around your king, completing the move. You cannot castle out of check and you cannot castle to the king's side if any squares between the king and rook are threatened.

Another maneuver is called en passant. This move is used to counteract the enemy pawn's initial double move on a adjacent square. To carry out the en passant, you must advance your pawn to the fifth rank. Your opponent then has the option of moving his or her pawn one square (where it would be under attack) or two squares. If you opponent elects to move two squares, the en passant move allows you to take that pawn by diagonally moving your pawn to the square that was skipped over.

Skill levels
These determine how long the computer will think on its move. These times are approximate and may vary slightly, depending on what move you did.
Level 1=15 seconds
Level 2=30 seconds
Level 3=45 seconds
Level 4=2 minutes, 45 seconds
Level 5=3 minutes, 15 seconds
Level 6=12 minutes
Level 7=10 hours
Level 8=10 seconds

Level 8 is a beginner level.


Video Chess Atari 8-bit Checkmate. I lose.
Video Chess Atari 8-bit Game started
Video Chess Atari 8-bit Initially loaded screen
Video Chess Atari 8-bit I am in check.

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Alternate Titles

  • "Computer Chess" -- Atari 8-bit Title/Atari 2600 prototype Title
  • "Chess" -- Atari 8-bit UK Title

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Video Chess is the game that inspired Atari to create bank-switching ROMs for the Atari 2600, which allowed games to use more that 4k of memory. Ironically, Video Chess did not use bank-switching ROMs, itself.


Bug: Game doesn't recognize checkmate

Levels 8 & 1

Black Bishop has King in check.

(1) White Bishop blocks

(2) Black Bishop takes white Bishop

Computer doesn't register check mate.

Bx - Black Wx - White

xR - Rook xN - Knight xB - Bishop xQ - Queen xK - King xP - Pawn

WK is in check by BB +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | |BQ|BK| | |BR| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | | | |BP|BP|BP| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |WQ| |BP|BP| | | | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |BN| | | | |WP| |BB| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | |WB|BN| | | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | | | | |BB|WP| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |WP| |WP| | | | | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | |WN| | |WK|WB|WN|WQ| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+

White moves WB to block BB check +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | |BQ|BK| | |BR| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | | | |BP|BP|BP| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |WQ| |BP|BP| | | | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |BN| | | | |WP| |BB| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | | |BN| | | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | | | | |BB|WP| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |WP| |WP| | |WB| | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | |WN| | |WK|WB|WN|WQ| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+

Black moves BB and takes WB, Checkmate but game doesn't indicate this +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | |BQ|BK| | |BR| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | | | |BP|BP|BP| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |WQ| |BP|BP| | | | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |BN| | | | |WP| |BB| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | | |BN| | | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | | | | | | | |WP| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ |WP| |WP| | |BB| | | +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+ | |WN| | |WK|WB|WN|WQ| +--+--+--+--+--+--+--+--+


Atari's Chess game was a remarkable technical achievement, since Atari's own programmers had deemed chess as an impossibility on the 2600 from the start. The 2600 could only display three sprites in a row, or six using smart programming tricks (as displayed in the equally groundbreaking Space Invaders). A chess set has up to eight pieces in a row, and to overcome the six-sprite limitation, Bob Whitehead came up a technique known as "Venetian blinds". By changing the sprite positions on each scan line, the illusion of eight, or even more sprites could be attained. Since each sprite was only drawn on every second scan line, all chess pieces were striped, but at least the VCS could display eight pieces which it otherwise was not able to.

Source: Design case history: the Atari Video Computer System


Originally, Atari was not going to make a chess game for the 2600 but the original Video Computer System box showed a chess piece and Atari ended up being sued by someone in Florida for false advertising because of the lack of a chess game.

Information also contributed by Игги Друге and John Hamill
LepricahnsGold (128145) added Video Chess (Atari 8-bit) on Sep 09, 2007
Other platforms contributed by LepricahnsGold (128145)