Huo Chess Java at GitHub

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Huo Chess is the world’s smallest open source chess program that is ideal for educational purposes.

The Java edition of Huo Chess has been released at GitHub.

This brings the total number of repositories at GitHub to four: HuoChessDV (C# .Net Core), huo-chess (C# .Net Framework), HuoChessQB64 (Quick Basic 64 bit) and the latest Huo-Chess-Java (Java).

You can find it at…

https://github.com/skakos/Huo-Chess-Java-Edition

The edition currently has no graphics, only command prompt interface.

This edition will be the basis for new chess programming tutorials that will soon be released from the new portal chess-programming.com.

Stay tuned…

CHESS PROGRAMMING: Evaluating Material – Episode 1: Bishop vs. Knight

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Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Small chess programming lesson summary

Overview: This is a short chess programming lesson, part of the ‘How to develop a chess program’ tutorials series in Harmonia Philosophica for total beginners. The goal of this lesson is to discuss the very basics of position evaluation.

Tutorials on how to develop a chess program in Harmonia Philosophica include:

Supporting material: Please use the Huo Chess source code to support you in your reading. Huo Chess is one of the most known micro-chess open source programs for educational purposes. Start by the major page of Huo Chess here to view the code.

Evaluating Material – Episode 1: Bishop vs. Knight

One of the most important tasks in chess programming is to properly and cleverly evaluate the positions the computer thinks of. This evaluation consists of two aspects: Material and Positional/ Strategic aspects.

In this article we will show the most basic ideas for evaluating the position from a material aspect.

First thing is to assign values to pieces. The standard values look something like…

  • Queen: 9 points
  • Rook: 5 points
  • Bishop: 3 points
  • Knight: 3 points
  • Pawn: 1 point

Calculating the total score of a position based only on material is pretty straightforward: You have a loop that iterates through all squares of the chessboard and simply adds the value of each piece to the total score of the position. The evaluation is the number you come up with after you have added the values of all the pieces on the board (the terms ‘evaluation’ and ‘score’ and sometimes used interchangeably to refer to that total sum of the values of all pieces).

Another important thing to keep in mind is that the values of black pieces have the same values but with a negative sign. In that way, if the total score of a position is positive then white is winning material, while if the total value of the position is negative then black is winning. So by simply checking the sign of the total position evaluation your program can know if the position is winning for the colour of the computer – that could come in handy in chess programming.

View the CountScore function of Huo Chess to see a simple way to do that. Note though that the Huo Chess also utilizes some other criteria as well to evaluate the position – which we will discussed in next episodes.

Even though such a simple calculation of the position’s score will give you an idea of the material aspect of the board, even that is not so straightforward as it seems. The material is indeed easy to calculate, but the truth is it can never be viewed completely independently from the positional aspect.

For example, a bishop could have the same value as a knight, however when the position has locked pawn structures as below, then the knights become invaluable while the bishops useless…

Knights being better than bishops…

Another last thing to keep in mind for now is that tweaking the values of the pieces in your evaluation function could alter the playing style of the chess program you build. For example, if you increase the value of the queens, let’s say from 9 to 9.5, then your program will more aggressively hunt down the queen of the human opponent and will also more harshly defend its own queen from attacks.

Experimenting with these values is a nice way to gain a first hand understanding on how your program behaves. If you have not yet built your own program, simply use Huo Chess code to change the CountScore function.

Remember: Coding is all about experiments!

(after you have a good backup of your working code…)

Until next time…

Keep coding!

Programming a chess application in QBasic (QB64)

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News

  • 2022-05-06: Huo Chess v0.7 in QBasic with graphics is released. The version addresses Out of Memory issues with the logs of the application.
  • 2021-11-14: Created a GitHub repository of the Huo Chess Quick Basic edition.
  • 2021-03-14: Updated thinking in levels 4 and 5; now extra analysis at these levels only happens if the move entails the capturing of a piece. Updated CountScore to include positional elements in the evaluation. Introduced the notions of mate and stalemate in the thinking process.
  • 2020-12-16: Fixed issue with en passant move.

This is an article on how one can develop a chess program in QBasic.

It is based on Huo Chess that was developed by me and is available as open source in multiple programming languages (C#, Java, older versions in C++ and Visual Basic).

Parts of the article have been posted as separate tutorials (check here). They are all gathered here in a unique article that can provide an overall understanding of the chess programming complexity.

The tutorial is at the point at a very simple/ high level but it will be enriched as time passes by. The initial goal was to have at least a starting point for someone who needs to delve into the chess programming cosmos and this I believe I have managed to achieve.

Why in QBasic?

Well, BASIC is simple and fun!

Do you need more reasons?

Well…

Here is another one:

10 PRINT "Why not?!"
20 GOTO 10

That’s what happens when you mess with BASIC. Seriously now, at the end, the goal here is to present the algorithm. The specific language of the implementation does not play a particular role. When you are at a level to develop the next Stockfish be sure to remember that it was here from where you started your journey…

The tutorial should be read in conjunction with the source code of Huo Chess offered here. The code itself is written in a simple and structured way and it is heavily commented so that even without any prior knowledge one can easily understand how thw algorithm works.

Let’s not waste any more time!

Happy coding!

I. Beginning

Let us begin from the… beginning. And one step at a time, try to see how we can develop our chess program.

Important Notes

  • Refer to QB64 site for questions regarding how QBasic commands work. Essentially they are simple, but in case your are stuck with an error you cannot resolve, this is the place where you will find your answers.
  • Always have the source code open in a separate window. Although the tutorial only goes throug portions of the code to explain how it works, it is always beneficial to have the whole source code of the working program in front of you.
  • A note about the source code versions: Chapter I to IV refer to the version 0.3 of the code. Chapter V refers to the version 0.6 of the code.
  • The Huo Chess Quick Basic edition is available for download either from here or from the relevant Huo Chess QB64 GitHub repository.

And don’t forget: Coding is about experimenting!

Do not wait everything from this tutorial or from any other tutorial! Just open the QBasic editor and write code! Change things! See what they do! At the end it is YOU who is learning, not me teaching you!

Programming is fun.

Want to learn? Why not start now?

And what better way there is than to develop an advanced program that makes the computer “think” how to play chess?! Forget about those silly beginners’ example programs which print “Hello world”. Who in his right mind ever spends time to write a program which prints “Hello world” on the screen?

BASIC is fun.

A very easy language for kids to start learning programming. So we will use it here. (Not in the mood for BASIC? Search for the Java and C# relevant tutorials in Harmonia Philosophica!)

And in one day, you will have learnt the basic of how to program a chess program in BASIC! The actual implementation could take a bit longer but in general in some days you will have the knowledge of how the program works, thus being in a position to improve it or write your own!

The BASIC programming language is one of the simplest ones. Especially designed for simplicity, it uses simple commands to perform operations. The commands are easy to learn and use, since they are utilizing English language words which are easily recognizable. Want to print something on the screen? Use the command PRINT! Want to determine what will happen if something else happens? Use the command IF! See what I mean?

IF YOU_UNDERSTAND = "Yes" THEN PRINT "Yes I understand!"

Did you understand the above command? Great!

The only thing that might trouble you if you are new to programming is the notion of variables. A variable is an element which holds values. This element is used in various places of the program. The values could be of different types – the ones we will use are integers (1, 4, 10…) and strings/ characters (e.g. “white pawn”).

Variables could be stored also in arrays. An array is a collection of variables in one or more dimensions. It is also known as a “table”. And yes, you guessed right: we will use an array (table) to store the chessboard. Could you guess the dimensions of that table? Spot on again.

DIM SHARED chessboard$(8, 8)

The command DIM defines a variable. We do all the variable declarations in the beginning of the program. The above command declares an 8×8 array which holds the… you guessed it right: The chessboard!

By the way, we are using QBasic64, a version of Quick Basic that is available for free and pretty popular as well. Check https://www.qb64.org/portal/ to get it. The site also contains excellent tutorials and training material. You will have it as a reference throughout the whole process, so make sure you create a bookmark out of it.

After you download QBasic64 from the site, just click on the QB64.exe file and execute it. You will be presented with the IDE (programming interface) of QBasic where you will write your program. I do not need to explain the “Create new”, “Save” or “Save as” functions…

Just start writing the commands and then press “Save as”. Executing the program is easy as well. Just select Run > Start.

As said above, what is the first thing to do? (Besides the “Create new program” part and saving it in a folder of your choosing with a name of your choosing as well)

Some of the first things to do we already mentioned.

First, declare the variables. BASIC is really simple in the sense that it is not so strict in requiring you to declare all the variables before using them, in contrast to other high level languages like C#. However this is also a downside of the language. Leaving the programmer with some slack makes the programmer careless.

So we will declare all the variables we use…

DEFINT A-Z
OPTION BASE 1 'Make tables dimensions start from 1
DIM SHARED chessboard$(8, 8)
COMMON SHARED startingRank, startingColumn
COMMON SHARED finishingRank, finishingColumn
COMMON SHARED startingRankText$, startingColumnText$
COMMON SHARED finishingRankText$, finishingColumnText$
COMMON SHARED Move$
COMMON SHARED MovingPiece$
COMMON SHARED debugMode

There you go. (Read the QB64 Wiki for what DEFINT A-Z and OPTION BASE 1 commands do – Remember, learning entails the process of… learning)

What is next?

What else?

Ask the user for input!

And what else to ask than his first move! For simplicity purposes we will present the main command which tells the user to put his move. The drawing of the board on the screen will be done by the drawBoard() function. A function is an independent set of code that you can call to perform an action. In our case we call the drawBoard function (with the command… CALL DRAWBOARD – I told you it was simple). For the time being forget how the function works. (Even though reading through it and trying to understand how it works would be a lesson on its own…)

So how would you ask for the user input?

Simple by the command… INPUT!

There you go:

INPUT "Enter your move: ", Move$

This command tells the computer to wait for the user to enter something and press Enter. When this happens, the text entered by the user is saved in the Move$ variable. The dollar sign ($) indicates that the variable is a string (text) and not a number.

Let’s stay there.

For now you have learnt how to…

  • Create a new program.
  • Declare the variables you will use (including the chessboard).
  • Ask from the user to enter his first move.

You have also been acquainted with the notions of variables and functions and with some basic BASIC (get the joke?) commands, like IF… THEN or INPUT and PRINT. Don’t worry if you don’t get everything yet. You will as you program more and more every day.

Next lessons will include the next logical steps:

  • Validate that the user move is valid and legal.
  • Redraw the chessboard with the move of the user.
  • Make the computer think of an answer.

You would be surprised how the last part (the thinking of the computer) is a rather simple one. In essence the computer thinks of all possible moves, validates them (in the same way we will validate the move entered by the user) and then for the valid ones it will calculate a score of the position. The move with the best score will be the move of the computer.

II. Check legality of a move

In the previous chapter we managed to create our program in BASIC (QB64) and write the first lines of code to ask for input from the user for his move.

Now we will perform the next and one of the most important steps in a chess program: Checking the legality and validity of a move!

Remember that we asked from the user his move by the command…

INPUT "Enter your move: ", Move$

With this command the computer asks for input by the user and then stores what the user entered (after he presses Enter) into the Move$ variable. As we said in the previous lesson, the $ sign in a variable name denotes that the variable stores a string (text) value and not a number.

Now that we have the move into a single text variable, we should first of all “break it down” into four specific elements:

  • Starting column
  • Starting rank
  • Finishing column
  • Finishing rank

In that way we will have the starting and finishing coordinates of the user’s move, which we will use for the checking of the legality of the move later on.

How do we “break up” the text? By using the MID$ built-in function of BASIC which returns a specific character from a text. So if the user entered the move “g2g4” (which is Grob opening by the way, one of my favorites), then the command…

MID$(Move$, 2, 1)

will return the character “2”, since it will start from character 2 of the Move$ variable and will get 1 character.

Without further delay, here is the code which breaks up the move the user entered into the four numbers we are looking for.

INPUT "Enter your move: ", Move$
startingColumnText$ = MID$(Move$, 1, 1)
startingRankText$ = MID$(Move$, 2, 1)
finishingColumnText$ = MID$(Move$, 3, 1)
finishingRankText$ = MID$(Move$, 4, 1)
SELECT CASE startingRankText$
CASE "1"
startingRank = 1
CASE "2"
startingRank = 2
CASE "3"
startingRank = 3
CASE "4"
startingRank = 4
CASE "5"
startingRank = 5
CASE "6"
startingRank = 6
CASE "7"
startingRank = 7
CASE "8"
startingRank = 8
END SELECT
SELECT CASE finishingRankText$
CASE "1"
finishingRank = 1
CASE "2"
finishingRank = 2
CASE "3"
finishingRank = 3
CASE "4"
finishingRank = 4
CASE "5"
finishingRank = 5
CASE "6"
finishingRank = 6
CASE "7"
finishingRank = 7
CASE "8"
finishingRank = 8
END SELECT
SELECT CASE startingColumnText$
CASE "A", "a"
startingColumn = 1
CASE "B", "b"
startingColumn = 2
CASE "C", "c"
startingColumn = 3
CASE "D", "d"
startingColumn = 4
CASE "E", "e"
startingColumn = 5
CASE "F", "f"
startingColumn = 6
CASE "G", "g"
startingColumn = 7
CASE "H", "h"
startingColumn = 8
END SELECT
SELECT CASE finishingColumnText$
CASE "A", "a"
finishingColumn = 1
CASE "B", "b"
finishingColumn = 2
CASE "C", "c"
finishingColumn = 3
CASE "D", "d"
finishingColumn = 4
CASE "E", "e"
finishingColumn = 5
CASE "F", "f"
finishingColumn = 6
CASE "G", "g"
finishingColumn = 7
CASE "H", "h"
finishingColumn = 8
END SELECT

The above code breaks up the Move$ into the above-mentioned four numbers and you would have noticed that the break up has two steps which we didn’t quite mention before: First we break up the text and then we ‘translate’ the four text values into numbers. This is done with the SELECT CASE commands, which essentially select different numeric value for each possible value of the columns and ranks. And yes, the text “8” needs to be translated to the number 8. As far as the computer is concerned they are completely different monsters altogether.

So now we have what we need. The starting column and rank and the finishing ones. How do we check the legality and validity of the move? Well, there is no “magic” way. We just have to write code to do that.

For clarity purposes we will gather all the code performing the check of the legality in one function (= set of code) which we will call ElegxosNomimotitas (= Check of Legality, in Greek). We will define the call parameters of the function (i.e. what parameters we need to pass over the function for it to do its job) and then write the code inside it.

What would be the input parameters?

The starting and end column and ranks of course. And we will also send the Moving Piece in a separate variable because this is a crucial part of the function. Different pieces move in a different way, right?

The function declaration would be something like…

DECLARE SUB ElegxosNomimotitas(ENSkakiera() AS STRING, startColumn AS INTEGER, startRank AS INTEGER, finishColumn AS INTEGER, finishRank AS INTEGER, MovingPieceEN AS STRING)

The ENSkakiera (=Elegxos Nomimotitas Skakiera = Check Legality Chessboard in Greek) is the array of the chessboard (= Skakiera in Greek) we will need to pass. The function will check the legality of a move not in general, but in the context of a specific chessboard of course. Then beyond the chessboard we pass over the start and end columns and ranks and the Moving piece as mentioned above.

Now we are in the function which checks the legality of the move. We will show how to do this for one piece, the rook. Then the logic is similar (not exactly, but you will get the meaning) for the other pieces.

Without further delay, here is the code…

IF (MovingPieceEN$ = "wrook" OR MovingPieceEN$ = "brook") THEN

    IF debugMode = 1 THEN PRINT "Nomimotita = " + STR$(NomimotitaEN)

    'Check correctness of move (Rook only moves in lines)

    IF ((startColumn <> finishColumn) AND (startRank <> finishRank)) THEN NomimotitaEN = 0

    IF debugMode = 1 AND NomimotitaEN = 0 THEN PRINT "Checkpoint ROOK-0"

    'Check if the Rook moves beyond the limits of the chessboard

    IF ((finishColumn < 1) OR (finishRank < 1)) THEN NomimotitaEN = 0
    IF ((finishColumn > 8) OR (finishRank > 8)) THEN NomimotitaEN = 0


    'Check if another piece is between the current and the target square

    'Horizontal movement

    IF (startColumn > finishColumn) AND (startRank = finishRank) THEN
        FOR J = startColumn TO finishColumn STEP -1
            IF (J <> startColumn) AND (J <> finishColumn) AND ENSkakiera(J, startRank) <> "" THEN NomimotitaEN = 0
        NEXT J
    END IF

    IF (startColumn < finishColumn) AND (startRank = finishRank) THEN
        FOR J = startColumn TO finishColumn
            IF (J <> startColumn) AND (J <> finishColumn) AND ENSkakiera(J, startRank) <> "" THEN NomimotitaEN = 0
        NEXT J
    END IF

    'Vertical movement

    IF (startColumn = finishColumn) AND (startRank > finishRank) THEN
        FOR J = startRank TO finishRank STEP -1
            IF (J <> startRank) AND (J <> finishRank) AND ENSkakiera(startColumn, J) <> "" THEN NomimotitaEN = 0
        NEXT J
    END IF

    IF (startColumn = finishColumn) AND (startRank < finishRank) THEN
        FOR J = startRank TO finishRank
            IF (J <> startRank) AND (J <> finishRank) AND ENSkakiera(startColumn, J) <> "" THEN NomimotitaEN = 0
        NEXT J
    END IF

    'If the start square is the same as the destination...
    IF startColumn = finishColumn AND startRank = finishRank THEN NomimotitaEN = 0

    'Check if a piece of the same colour is at the destination square
    IF MID$(ENSkakiera$(finishColumn, finishRank), 1, 1) = MID$(ENSkakiera$(startColumn, startRank), 1, 1) THEN NomimotitaEN = 0

    IF debugMode = 1 AND NomimotitaEN = 0 THEN PRINT "Checkpoint ROOK-5": 'INPUT a$

END IF

This code checks for many things:

  • If the rook moves in rows or columns
  • If the rook moved beyond the limits of the chessboard
  • If the rook is blocked by another piece before he reaches the destination square
  • If there is a piece of the same colour at the destination square.

If any of the above validations fail, then the Nomimotita (legality in Greek) variable is set to false (0). If not, the Nomimotita is 1 (= true). Note that we use an integer variable to indicate the Nomimotita (which takes values 0 or 1) instead of a text variable (which would take the values “True” or “False”) to use less memory. But we could anyway use a text variable with the same result.

Note: The “IF debugMode = 1” lines of code are used to print to the screen messages for debugging.

It may look complicated, but at the end it is not. The code is simple and self explanatory, with comments. Take for example the first validation: A rook must move in columns or ranks. How is this translated in the code?

    IF ((startRank = finishRank) AND (startColumn <> finishColumn)) THEN NomimotitaEN = 0
IF ((startColumn = finishColumn) AND (startRank <> finishRank)) THEN NomimotitaEN = 0
IF ((startColumn <> finishColumn) AND (startRank <> finishRank)) THEN NomimotitaEN = 0

Read the code at your own pace.

At the end it is just… English. 🙂

After making sure that the move entered is valid, then all we have to do is… make it and present it to the screen.

'If move is legal, then do the move and present it in the chessbooard
IF Nomimotita = 1 THEN

    IF debugMode = 1 THEN
        PRINT "Now we will redraw the chessboard"
    END IF

    'Do the move
    chessboard$(finishingColumn, finishingRank) = chessboard$(startingColumn, startingRank)
    chessboard$(startingColumn, startingRank) = ""
    CLS
    CALL drawBoard

END IF

Go on and check the program source code (check at the end of the tutorial to find it), which contains all the other move validity checks for all the other pieces. You will find it pretty easy to read and understand. It contains comments within the code to support you in your lesson. Copy and paste the code in your QBasic interpreter/ compiler to see it and compile it.

III. Chess thinking algorithm

In the previous chapter we managed to create the function that checks the legality of a move. With that we managed to check the move entered by the user and present it to the screen.

What is next?

To make the computer think of an answer!

In essence this is easy! (the difficult part is to make the computer think of a really good move, that we will tackle later on)

What we will need besides the SUB which checks the legality of the move (ElegxosNomimotitas) is a SUB which counts the score of any given position in the chessboard. This will allow us to evaluate all the possible moves, so that the computer can select the best one.

This is done by the code below, which simply scans the chessboard for pieces and adds or subtracts the value of each piece it founds from the total score of the chessboard.

SUB countScore

positionScore = 0

FOR I = 1 TO 8
    FOR J = 1 TO 8

        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wpawn" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 1
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wrook" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 5
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wknight" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 3
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wbishop" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 3
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wqueen" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 9
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wking" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 100

        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bpawn" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 1
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "brook" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 5
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bknight" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 3
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bbishop" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 3
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bqueen" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 9
        IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bking" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 100

    NEXT J
NEXT I

END SUB

Easy? Pretty much. All that is needed is a nested FOR loop (read in QB64 here how that works). Nothing more.

Now that we have that, let’s move on to the main course.

The ComputerMove SUB, which – you guessed right – makes the computer perform a move!

In essence, the steps needed are pretty simple:

Scan the chessboard.

If you find a piece of the computer, then…

Scan all possible moves of that piece to all squares of the chessboard.

For every possible move, check the legality of that move.

If the move is legal, then make it!

Check the score of the move.

If the score is best than the current best move (in the beginning there obviously no current best move), then this is the current best move!

After you have examined all the possible moves, do the current best move

Simple isn’t it?

How is the scanning of the chessboard and the checking of all possible moves performed? With four nested FOR loops.

Check the code below. It simple scans all the chessboard with the FOR loops of I and J and then, if it finds a piece which belongs to the computer, it scans all possible destination squares with the FOR loops of ii and jj.

How do we determine is the piece we found is one of the computer’s pieces? We compare the first letter of the piece (which would be ‘w’ or ‘b’ for white and black pieces) with the color of the player. If for example the color of the player is ‘w’ (for white) and we encounter a piece ‘brook’, then this is a piece of the computer since it is black – i.e. opposite than the color of the player.

'Scan the chessboard...
FOR I = 1 TO 8
    FOR J = 1 TO 8

        'If you find a piece of the computer...
        IF ((MID$(chessboard$(I, J), 1, 1) = "w" AND playerColor$ = "b") OR (MID$(chessboard$(I, J), 1, 1) = "b" AND playerColor$ = "w")) THEN

            'Scan all possible destination squares...
            FOR ii = 1 TO 8
                FOR jj = 1 TO 8

                    startingColumn = I
                    startingRank = J
                    finishingColumn = ii
                    finishingRank = jj

                    MovingPiece$ = chessboard$(I, J)
                    ProsorinoKommati$ = chessboard$(ii, jj)

                    'Check legality of the move entered
                    CALL ElegxosNomimotitas(chessboard$(), 0, startingColumn, startingRank, finishingColumn, finishingRank, MovingPiece$)

                    'If move is legal, then do the move and present it in the chessbooard
                    IF Nomimotita = 1 THEN

                        'Do the move
                        chessboard$(finishingColumn, finishingRank) = chessboard$(startingColumn, startingRank)
                        chessboard$(startingColumn, startingRank) = ""

                        'Count the score of the move
                        CALL countScore

                        'If the score is better than the existing best score, then this is the best move now (and the best score)
                        IF ((playerColor$ = "b" AND positionScore >= bestPositionScore) OR (playerColor$ = "w" AND positionScore <= bestPositionScore)) THEN
                            bestStartingRank = startingRank
                            bestStartingColumn = startingColumn
                            bestFinishingRank = finishingRank
                            bestFinishingColumn = finishingColumn
                            bestPositionScore = positionScore
                        END IF

                    END IF

                    'Undo the move
                    chessboard$(startingColumn, startingRank) = MovingPiece$
                    chessboard$(finishingColumn, finishingRank) = ProsorinoKommati$

                NEXT jj
            NEXT ii

        END IF

    NEXT J
NEXT I

If the move analyzed is legal (the ElegxosNomimotitas SUB is called to determine that) then the move is performed. The score of the position resulting after that is counted (the CountScore SUB is called for that). If the score is better than the current ‘best score’ (the initial best score is zero of course) then this move is registered as best move.

After the scanning is complete, we simply perform the best move!

'Do the best move found
chessboard$(bestFinishingColumn, bestFinishingRank) = chessboard$(bestStartingColumn, bestStartingRank)
chessboard$(bestStartingColumn, bestStartingRank) = ""
CLS
CALL drawBoard

Easy? Yes!

IV. Advanced concepts (Part 1)

The last chapters (Advanced concepts Part 1 and 2) will touch-base on some more advanced concepts in chess programming:

  • Thinking for more moves ahead in the game
  • Improving the position evaluation
  • Selecting the best move (miniMax concept introduction)

Up to now the program we have developed (see the previous lessons, where you can download the program) can think in one (1) move depth. This means that it simply (well, not ‘simply’ – we have gone a long way to make this happen) scans all the possible moves and then selects the one with the highest score.

This has just gave us an insight of the way a computer may think for chess, but a very limited one. The basic thing for thinking for chess is thinking in depth. Everybody would agree that thinking in more depth makes someone a better player.

How can we make that happen?

Simple!

We will copy-and-paste (sort of speak) the main computerMove SUB (Move depth 1 – Existing) two times more, so that the computer also thinks two moves more in depth. In essence, there will be two additional ‘thinking SUB-routines’: One which thinks of the potential human moves (Move depth 2) and another that thinks of the reactions of the computer to those moves (Move depth 3).

After that we will have the following structure:

DEPTH 1: computerMove: This routine thinks of the potential moves of the computer at the first level of thinking. If the thinkingDepth is not reached (i.e. if it is not set to 1, but e.g. 3) then the HumanMove1 SUB is called.

IF Move = thinkingDepth THEN
   'If the score is better than the existing best score, then this is the best move now (and the best score)
   IF ((playerColor$ = "b" AND positionScore >= bestPositionScore) OR (playerColor$ = "w" AND positionScore <= bestPositionScore)) THEN
           bestStartingRank = startingRank
           bestStartingColumn = startingColumn
           bestFinishingRank = finishingRank
           bestFinishingColumn = finishingColumn
           bestPositionScore = positionScore
   END IF
END IF

IF Move < thinkingDepth THEN CALL HumanMove1(chessboard$())

DEPTH 2: HumanMove1: This routine is scanning for all the possible answers of the human opponent. For each of those movements, the next thinking depth routine is called.

DEPTH 3: ComputerMove2: The last routine. Searches for possible moves at depth 3 (i.e. 3 half-moves). The move which ends up with the position with the best score at the end, is the one chosen.

IF ((playerColor$ = "b" AND positionScore >= bestPositionScore) OR (playerColor$ = "w" AND positionScore <= bestPositionScore)) THEN
          bestStartingRank = startingRank
          bestStartingColumn = startingColumn
          bestFinishingRank = finishingRank
          bestFinishingColumn = finishingColumn
          bestPositionScore = positionScore
END IF

With these you will have the program think in depth of 3 half-moves (i.e. a move of the computer, a move of the human opponent and a last move by the computer).

We have been slowly progressing.

Yet, there is a lot more way to go…

V. Advanced concepts (Part 2): Improving the computer thinking with MiniMax

The algorithm described above is simple and does make the computer think in depth. When using the code below, you will see an obvious latency in computer’s thinking vis-a-vis the time needed by the previous version which thinks in depth of only 1 move.

When using the code however one can see that it does not make good moves! Simply by checking the score of the positions at the end, does not lead to wise decisions. The computer thinks, but not very well.

Yet.

What is needed for that to happen?

First improvement: Improvement of the position evaluation.

Now we are just counting the material in the final position.

SUB countScore

positionScore = 0

FOR I = 1 TO 8
    FOR J = 1 TO 8

IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wpawn" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 1
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wrook" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 5
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wknight" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 3
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wbishop" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 3
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wqueen" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 9
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "wking" THEN positionScore = positionScore + 100

IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bpawn" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 1
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "brook" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 5
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bknight" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 3
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bbishop" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 3
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bqueen" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 9
IF chessboard$(I, J) = "bking" THEN positionScore = positionScore - 100

    NEXT J
NEXT I

END SUB

But material is not everything.

For example in the initial position all moves seem to result in the same material score, however it is known that in the chess opening the good player always moves hies pieces near the center of the chess board, avoid unnecessary movements of the king and the queen and avoids to move the same piece twice.

EXERCISE: Try to improve the countScore SUB to cater for the above. You might need to also introduce a new variable which will count the number of moves we are in the game, so that the computer knows if we are at the opening, the middle of the final stage of the game.

Second improvement: Apply the MiniMax algorithm

Improving the CountScore SUB does not solve our problems.

The thinking mechanism of the program we have desribed is inefficient. One could say that it is inherently flawed.

The program searches for the best score at the end of 3 half-moves, but does not cater at all for the fact that the human opponent moves (at move depth 2) will not be the ones which maximize the score for the computer, but the ones maximizing the score for the human opponent.

In other words: The variants (set of moves) which include completely stupid human opponent moves end up in high scores in favor of the computer and that is why, those variants will at the end be chosen.

But in real life the human opponent will never play his worst moves, but quite the opposite: He will play his best moves so as to win the computer!

The following example will better illustrate the problem.

Imagine we are at the following position…

Important note: The Huo Chess program was developed with simple text-like ‘graphics’. There is also a graphics-version based on Deep Basic chess program (by Thomas McBurney), which you can also download.

An initial version of Huo Chess which simply thought in terms of the best score at the end of 3-half-moves, would play… Qf7+ in this position.

But this is a bad move! Why does it play that?

Simple.

The computer assumes that at the next move human will play something stupid and then it will be able to capture the king of the opponent. The set of moves “1. Qf7+ [something stupid] 2. Qxe8” results in the best (highest) score for the computer, so this move is selected.

The algorithm did not even think that human after Qf7+ will simply play KxQf7 and take the queen, simply because this move results in low score for the computer.

But how do you take into account the best moves for the human opponent (MAXimize value) and at the same time the worst possible variants for the computer (MINImize value)? In other words, at the end, how can the computer play its best move taking into account the worst scenario, which we will have only if the human opponent plays his best move?

EXERCISE: Try to think of the above on your own, WITHOUT reading online about the MiniMax algorithm. First of all – who knows? – you might think of something better! Secondly, one only masters knowledge when he has tried on his own and failed to acquire it. Having things ready for you simply does not lead to wisdom.

The solution to the above problem is the MinMax algorithm. The current version of Huo Chess utilizes it, so you can read there how it works. However note that you can never learn anything by simply copying the program of someone else. Unless you write the program on your own, make mistakes, spend countless nights and days pondering upon them, you will never truly develop anything.

In the MinMax algorithm, we start from the lower level nodes and go up to the beginning of the tree, like in the schema that follows:

MinMax algorithm [Source: Wikipedia]

Suppose the game being played only has a maximum of two possible moves per player each turn. The algorithm generates the tree shown in the figure above, where the circles represent the moves of the computer AI running the algorithm (maximizing player), and squares represent the moves of the human opponent (minimizing player). For the example’s needs, the tree is limited to a look-ahead of 4 half-moves.

The algorithm evaluates each leaf node using the CountScore evaluation functions, obtaining the values shown. The moves where the maximizing player wins are assigned with positive infinity, while the moves that lead to a win of the minimizing player are assigned with negative infinity (this is again for illustration purposes only – infinity will not happen in the game as it is currently developed). At level 3, the algorithm will choose, for each node, the smallest of the child node values, and assign it to that same node (e.g. the node on the left will choose the minimum between “10” and “+8”, therefore assigning the value “10” to itself). The next step, in level 2, consists of choosing for each node the largest of the child node values. Once again, the values are assigned to each parent node. The algorithm continues evaluating the maximum and minimum values of the child nodes alternately until it reaches the root node, where it chooses the move with the largest value (represented in the figure with a blue arrow). This is the move that the player should make in order to minimize the maximum possible loss. (source)

In simpler words: It is not enough to calculate the best end-score of a node! Because this might be the result of a combination of good computer moves and bad human moves. The human will not make stupid moves (or at least this will have to be our assumption). So in the level that the computer plays, we must maximize the score (the computer makes the best possible move), but in the levels the human opponent plays we must minimize the score of the computer (i.e. the human plays the best move for him, so the worst move for the computer).

In order for the program to calculate the best move, a number of “for loops” are applied so as to make the abovementioned backwards computation possible.

Make sure you check the relevant Huo Chess C# tutorials or the page in Codeproject which refer in more depth to the algorithm (which stays the same regardless of the programming language you use of course).

More updates coming soon!

Download Source Code

This section contains the source code of the Huo Chess QBasic application. Make sure to check here frequently for the latest updates.

Huo Chess source

The Huo Chess source code can be found below. Copy and paste the code in your QBasic interpreter/ compiler to see it and compile it.

One can also download a version with more elaborate graphics for the chessboard, where I have re-used the graphics from the Deep Chess program (by Thomas McBurney). Note that all the code is the same as the Huo Chess above, only the graphics are added – so if you need to study the engine the Huo Chess edition without these more elaborate graphics will perfectly fit your needs.

Important Note: For it to work, copy the PIECES.EGA file you will find in the Deep Chess site to the same folder as your program (this file contains the images of the pieces).

For historical purposes I have added previous versions of the code. You do not have to worry about those. Simply choose the latest one. Make sure you keep on coming to this page for updates of the code.

Important Notes

  • The “HUO Chess with graphics v0.6” needs a lot of memory for the logs so in some systems it may throw an Out of Memory exception. In those cases, please use the “Huo Chess v0.7” which has reduced memory needs instead.

Opening Book Editor

The latest versions (v0.6) of the code have an opening book functionality. In order to generate the files of the opening book you can use the Opening Book Editor found below.

Simply run the program, play the moves you want to store in the opening book and they will all be stored in separate txt files. These files must then be places in the same folder as the Huo Chess executable for the latter to utilize them.

As with Huo Chess, make sure you visit this page again to check for any updates or improvements in the code!

Other Huo Chess resources

Other Huo Chess related resources are listed in this section.

Feel free to write for any comments or suggestions for the program.

Until we meet again…

Happy coding!

How to code a chess program in one day. (C# and Java examples)

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Introduction

Coding is easy.

Today there are a lot of people learning how to do it.

Why not you?

And you know what is the most difficult step in learning how to code?

TO START LEARNING.

You know there is an old Buddhist saying claiming that “When the student wants, the teacher appears”. So the question is not whether there are tutorials out there to teach you. There are a lot. Here or elsewhere, you can easily find articles showing how to code.

The question is: Are you willing enough?

(And yes, Harmonia Philosophica is mainly a philosophy portal, so feel free to read about philosophy while trying to debug your first chess program)

For this ultra quick training I will use a Java edition of my Huo Chess program. This edition lacks basic functionalities like deep searching, but it can however play chess according to the rules and choose the best move at the current position based on which move earns the most material.

Places to download Huo Chess (source code and executable)

License: You can reuse the code you see here in any way you want, as long as you mention the author and the place where you read it first!

RELATED TUTORIALS:How to program a chess program for dummies” series will give you a more detailed description of how to create your chess program! Check also the Programming for kids: Developing a chess program in BASIC and the Programming a chess application in QBasic (QB64) tutorials for developing a chess program in BASIC programming language. Check out also the “How to develop an adventure game ultra-fast tutorial” tutorial! You could also find interesting the HUO Writer: A simple AI writer with basic Neural Network capabilities (QB64) article. The How to develop a chess program from scratch (for total beginners) Ep. 1 article will help you develop a chess program even though you are a total beginner! Check also our affiliate chess-programming portal!

千里之行,始於足下

(A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step)

~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Step 1: Get a programming interface

This tutorial will show you how to code a demo chess program in one day, even without any prior knowledge of programming. All you need is a programming interface to write and compile (i.e. make an executable program out of your code) the code that you will write. These are also known as Programming IDEs (Integrated Development Interfaces). This could be the Microsoft Visual Studio (the Express edition of which can be downloaded for free) for C# or any Java compiling studio available out there (like NetBeans for example, which again can be downloaded for free).

The tutorial will not cover the details on how to use these programming interfaces. But this is not something hard to learn anyway. Just go to the web (or the page of the tool itself) and you will gain an understanding on how to write a small console program (this is what we are going to do here) in less than an hour. When I refer to a console program I mean a program which does not have graphics but only displays text. We will start with building such a program since writing code for graphics will surely need an additional effort to learn how to do it. And it will be easy to later on add graphics to your program, once you have the AI logic of the chess engine up and ready, don’t you think?

Open the IDE and select to create a new project…
Select to create a simple application…
Your program is created. All you have to do is add the code…

Tools to use for coding your program

  • Microsoft Visual Studio (free edition)
  • Java NetBeans

After you download the IDE, install it in your computer and go to the option New Project. Select to create a simple C# console application (in Visual Studio) or a simple Java program (in NetBeans). Click Create and there you are. You have the shell in which you will add your chess program code!

Step 2: Design the chess program structure

Let’s go into the chess program now.

But wait!

Don’t we need to learn the programming language first?

The answer is simple: NO!

You will learn them as you go.

This is how I (and many others) learned programming in the first place. I opened my Commodore computer and started typing my first program by copying the code from the manual. After I typed it in and spent time to get it right (even copying can be difficult, especially if you are a rookie) I typed RUN and I had my first game! Forget the long chapters of books trying to teach you – after reading 100 pages – how to just print “Hello world” on a screen. Programming is for people who like experimenting and are not afraid to simply start trying things on their machine.

So just go ahead!

You will read here about the basic structure needed for the program, and then you will see the commands required to code that structure into a C# or Java program. The commands are fairly simple and you will understand what they do as you write the program. Do you really need a programming language manual to understand what an “if” command does anyway?

The main structure of the program is depicted in the following schema.

Fairly simple isn’t it?

The story goes like this…

  1. You get input from the user for his move. [EnterMove function]
  2. You check the legality and the validity of the move entered [ElegxosNomimotitas and ElegxosOrthotitas functions, which also utilize the CheckForWhiteCheck and CheckForBlackCheck functions to check if there is a check in the position]
  3. If the move is legal and valid, then do the move. [call drawPosition function to redraw the chessboard; note that the Java edition of the program only prints the chessboard in text]
    • Exercise for you: Add graphics to the application. (use the C# edition ot get some insight on how you could do that)
  4. Call the function which makes the computer think. [ComputerMove function]
  5. Scan the chessboard to find all the pieces of the computer. In the sample code provided for Java, this means that it scans for all the black pieces since the program is made only for the computer to play with black.
    • Exercise for you: Add the ability for the program to play with white as well)
  6. For each piece of the computer, check all possible moves to all possible squares of the chessboard.
  7. If you find a valid move (by invoking the ElegxosNomimotitas and ElegxosOrthotitas functions) then do the move and count the score of the position. [CountScore function: This is one of the most central functions of the program; changing it makes the computer play differently according to the values you assign to pieces or to elements of the chessboard like empty ranks, concentration of the pieces at the center et cetera]
  8. If the score of the move is better than the so far better score, then store this position as the best one. (Note: The program stores the first position analyzed as ‘best’ anyway, so that there is a starting point for the best score)
    • Exercise for you: Change the values in the CountScore function to improve the playing abilities of the computer)
  9. Do the best move found and redraw the chessboard.
  10. Wait for next user input. [call EnterMove function again]

The Java edition of the program does not think in more depth. It just finds the move which earns the more material and makes it. This is not chess isn’t it? Well actually it is. The basis for a good chess program. All you have to do is improve it.

Look at the C# version of “Huo Chess” (search the web for it, there are many repositories where I have uploaded the code, including MSDN Library, CodePlex and Codeproject) to gain a small insight on how the chess program can search into more depth.

Exercise for you: Make the Java edition of the program to think in more depths, by adding more “ComputerMove”-like functions to analyze the next potential moves for the human and the computer. Be careful how you pass over the chessboard between these functions. (yes, Google will be your best friend)

Related resources for C# Huo Chess edition

Step 3 : Write the code

This last section contains the source code of the chess program in Java.

As mentioned above, look for “C# Huo Chess” in the web (See the Recourse listed above) to see the full source code of that Huo Chess edition. This code is also heavily commented to make it easy to read and re-use, while the names of the functions are the same as in the Java edition of the program.

Look also at the “How to program a chess program for dummies” series here in Harmonia Philosophica, to get some more details on the Huo Chess program. (the tools used in those articles are a bit outdated, but yet the logic is still the same)

Paste that code into the main java file in your NetBeans project and compile it.

Execute your program and enjoy your new chess game.

Epilogue

So there it is. Depending on your copy-paste and reading comprehension skills, you now have a working chess program on your hands and some knowledge on how it could be improved. Everything is up to you now.

Happy coding!

And don’t forget: Keep experimenting!

The worst thing that could happen?

To just ruin your computer…

How to Develop a Chess Program for Dummies

This series of tutorials for dummies will show how one can develop a chess playing program in C# from scratch with no prior knowledge of programming. It will guide the reader step-by-step until the final building of a fully-features chess application in Microsoft Visual Studio. The tutorial is based on the open source Huo Chess software developed by me.

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Other Related articles

Huo Chess – The program we will code…

Huo Chess is one of the smallest open source chess applications. It is an application that I have personally developed and distribute as fully open source via many channels in the Internet. One can download it for free from the MSDN Code Gallery, Codeplex Huo Chess site or its Codeproject page. In the series I will analyze how one can program the computer to play chess. The final “deliverable” will be the full Huo Chess program as it can be found in the Internet.

Note: An intermediate/ advanced programmer can go directly to the above links and download the Huo Chess source code so as to study it directly. Please contact me for any questions on the code or the algorithm either via email (skakos@hotmail.com) or via comments in this article (Knol). However, even though the source code of my chess is heavily commented, starting looking directly at the full program source code without first reading the lessons I have posted here at Google Knol is not advised for beginner programmers.

Method of teaching

The method I will use for teaching you how to program is by example. The “try to do something and see what happens” may sound like a bad method, but it is actually the best when it comes to computers programming. As long as you have kept a backup of all your valuable files, you must and should try anything with programming if you really want to learn! That is why I will show practical steps you need to follow and I will guide you through every stage of the programming process, without first giving a 100-page lecture on the theory or the basic principles of programming. You will be taught the theory you need to know as we progress through the steps of building the chess game. That method is the method actually used by programmers in the 1980’s. We used to experiment with new things, try new techniques and learn from our mistakes. There is no better way of learning than experimenting and doing mistakes. You will never learn from something you did right in the first place!

The language of choice is C# and the tool we are going to use the Microsoft Visual Studio. However please note that I have created and distributed versions of the “Huo Chess” also in C++ and in Visual Basic. Feel free to search for the free source code in the Internet (I am now trying to create a Commodore version).

Getting started

The first thing you need, is the tool with which you will program. You can download the Microsoft Visual Studio – Express Edition from the respective Microsoft Visual Studio Express Edition site. The “Express” editions of MS Visual Studio are completely free to download and they include all the programming tools and features a novice, intermediate or even an advanced programmer needs. After you download it, installing it is what is keeping you from programming your first game application!

Installing Visual Studio

After you have downloaded the MS Visual Studio – Express Edition, you will have to install it. Installing the Visual Studio is no more complex than the installation of any other program.

You just double-click the file you downloaded and the installation will automatically begin. Normally, the setup will install the Microsoft .NET Framework if it isn’t already installed in your computer (the .NET Framework is required for the Visual Studio to operate – Huo Chess requires .NET Framework 2.0 or above to work) and the Visual Studio. An icon with the characteristic sign of the Visual Studio will appear in your desktop.

Using Visual Studio

Double-click the icon of the Microsoft Visual Studio to begin programming. The Integrated Development Environment (IDE) of the Visual Studio will appear and you are now ready to make your application.

Create a new project

First you need to create a new project. Go to the menu and click File > New > Project.

From there you must choose the language in which you will develop your program. We will write our chess in C# so we must select Visual C# > Windows > Console Application (later we will show how we can also program the same game in C++ or other languages). To create a chess program with a user interface you would need to choose to create a new Windows Forms application. (that would be easy after you have created the code to play chess)

A console application is an application with no graphics. We will start developing our chess game Artificial Intelligence engine as a console application in the beginning and afterwards, when the computer can think and play chess, we will add graphics (that will be the final step in this programming tutorial series). Name the new project “Huo Chess tutorial” and press OK. Visual Studio will do its work and create all the initial things required for you to start developing.

The project is by default saved in a folder with the name you specified, that resides in the My Documents/Visual Studio folder.

Start developing

After you have created your project, you can start programming. The window will initially look like this.

That is a good point to say some things about programming. Programming in one of the modern languages of today entails using three elements:

  • Variables
  • Functions
  • Classes

All programming uses these three elements and if you master them properly then you can do everything. I will try to explain these elements in summary in the lines below.

Variables

The variables used in a program are the elements which store values, that are used in the program. Variables come in many types depending on the type of data they will be used for. For example you can declare an integer variable to store integer values, or a float variable to store numbers with a decimal segment, or a String variable to store text.

The first variable we will use in our program in the variable which will store the color of the human player in the game. In particular, after the human player starts our game he/she should choose the colour with which he (excuse me ladies for using the “he” instead of the “he/she”, but I am a man so I am used to it) will play.

We will declare our variable in the class program by entering the code public static String m_PlayerColor; as seen in the following figure.

Some clarifications are needed here: Every command in C# must end with semicolon (;). Secondly, we declared the variable as public which in short means that it will be visible from every part of our program (the opposite, private variables can be accessed only inside the function/class we declare them in). The static keyword should not concern you at the time (it actually means that only one instance of the variable can be created as the program executes, but we will have more on that later on the tutorial series).

You can then define the value of that variable by hard-coding it in your program. Try to enter m_PlayerColor = “Black”; in the Main function of your program and then print it to screen with the command Console.WriteLine(m_PlayerColor); as seen in the next figure (in fact I have added a Writeline command more as you can see).

Compile the program

The first thing you must do when programming a change in your program is to save your work. Select File > Save All… to save all the changes you made. After you have saved the program, you may want to execute it in order to see what you have done. Before a program is executed, it must first be compiled. Compiling a program means converting the programming language file you just saved to a form readable by the machine (i.e. machine language, which is comprised of 010101’s). Select Build -> Build solution to do that as illustrated in the following figure. If you have followed the steps above, no errors will exist and the compiler will notify you that the solution was successfully built.

Then select Debug > Start without debugging (or simply press Ctrl + F5) to start/ execute your program. The following will show.

You have just created your first program which includes declaring a variable and printing it to screen.

Note about the graphics

The graphics of the chessboard will be added at the final stage of the project. Right now we will focus on developing the chess engine algorithm which is the most difficult part. That is why we started by developing a console application (i.e. an application without graphics). We will worry about the graphics after we have created a fully functional chess AI engine.

Let us now say some things more about functions and classes as promised.

Functions

Functions are code segments which require some input to perform a specific action and produce a specific result. For example you can have a function that adds two numbers called Add_numbers. The code for that function will look something like that (you do not have to code anything in your Huo Chess project now, this is just for theory education purposes):

int Add_numbers(int Number1, int Number2)

int Add_numbers(int Number1, int Number2)

{
      int Result;
      Result = Number1 + Number2;
      return Result;
} 

The code is simple and intuitive, isn’t it? The “int” in the beginning declares that this function will return an integer number as the result of the process it implements. The two integer variables in parenthesis declare the input required for the function to work. That is why when you need to call that function you should call it in a way like the one listed below:

int myAddResult;
myAddResult = Add_numbers(5, 6); 

The above code calls the function Add_numbers by giving it the input of number 5 and 6. The result will be the function to return the value of 11 (= 5 + 6) which we have allocated to variable myAddResult.

Object Oriented Programming

Functions and variables can be used in creating objects. These objects are called classes and are the cornerstone of the Object Oriented Programming (OOP) you may have heard many times before.

Classes

But how do you create and use objects? First, you have to declare the class of the object. For example, if you want to create an object called ‘Blue Calculator’, you must first create and declare a class of objects called Calculator. Define the parameters of that class: the variables it will be using (i.e. the color of the calculator, the numbers which the user will enter in the calculator by pressing the buttons + the result that the calculator will print on its screen) and the methods (or functions) that the calculator will utilize in order to reach the result (i.e. functions for adding numbers, subtracting number etc).

The definition of that class will have the following scheme (independent of what the programming language you use may be):

class Calculator

 class Calculator
          {
               // Variables
               Number_type number1;
               Number_type number2;
               Number_type Result;
               Color_Type Calculator_Color;
               // Methods
               Function Add(number1, number2)
               {
                    Print “The result is:”, (number1 + number2);
               }
               Function Sutract(number1, number2)
               {
                    Print “The result is:”, (number1 – number2);
               }
          } // End of class definition 

The two slash (//) text are comments. Whatever you write after these slashes is not taken into account by the compiler. It is considered best practice to write comments in your code.

After you have properly declared your class of objects, you can create as many objects of that class you like and use them in your program. For example you can create a new blue color calculator by writing a command that could look something like that:

Calculator my_calculator = new Calculator(Blue);

You can then use the member-variables and member-functions of the calculator with commands like:

Integer no1 = 2;
Integer no2 = 7;
Print “Result = ”, my_calculator(Add(no1, no2));
// this should print ‘9’ in the screen
my_calculator.number1 = 20;
Print “Result = ”, my_calculator(Add(my_calculator.number1, no2));          // this should print ‘27’ in the screen

The specific commands again depend on the programming language you use, but you get the meaning. It is all too easy: Declare class => Create new object of that class => Manipulate / define parameters of the new object => Use member functions of that object to generate the result they are designed to generate.

It may be difficult for you to grasp, but ALL programming in ANY language (C++, C#, Visual Basic, Java etc) are based on that logic. What is more, the languages themselves have some ready-made classes that you can use to develop your programs! For example, Visual C++ and C# in the Microsoft Visual Studio has a stored class for Buttons. To add a button to your application, you just write:

Button my_button = new Button();
my_button.color = Blue; 

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! That simple (and I think you understand what the second command does, without telling you…)! I keep repeating myself, in order for you to stop fearing the unknown realm of programming and just…start programming! The ready-made classes (or even simple functions) are usually stored in packets called ‘libraries’. Add the library you want in your program and them just use any class/ function it contains.

Classes you already use without knowing it

You may think that all the above have nothing to do with the code you just wrote. But you would be wrong. Your program, even at this initial stage, uses many classes without you knowing it! Actually Microsoft has developed some classes that facilitate programming for Windows and you are using these classes with the “using” statements in the beginning of your code. You do not have to know more details about that now, just be aware that you can program your chess because someone else have already developed and implemented a great number of classes in order to help you do that.

A good example of classes you already use if the Console command you wrote in order to print the player’s color. Remember that the command looked something like that:

Console.WriteLine(m_PlayerColor);

The above code actually uses the class Console and calls one of its member-functions: the WriteLine function (that is why the dot is required: to call members of classes as we said above). That functions requires input: the text that you want to display. That is what we write in the parenthesis!

Intellisense

The Visual Studio has embedded features that help you know which are the members of the various classes and how to use them. So when you write “Console” and then enter a dot, the Intellisense of Visual Studio produces a list with all available member variables and functions of that class. You will find yourself more comfortable with the use of Visual Studio and C# only after you have tried to use many of the functions appearing in that list on your own and see what happens. Remember, experimenting and doing mistakes is the only way to learn!

Get user input

In a similar way to printing something to the screen, you can get user input. You will find that very useful when you want the user to enter his/her move for the chess game. In this point, we will require the user to enter his color of choice by using a function similar to Writeline: the Readline. See the figure below on how that can be accomplished.

The code is simple and straightforward. You print instructions to the screen and then read the input from the user. When the user presses “Enter”, the value he entered is allocated to the m_PlayerColor variable which is then printed on the screen.

Next lesson

In the next lesson we will learn how to instantiate the chess board, build the Artificial Intelligence engine of the program and the program’s user interface structure. Until then, try to enter the following code in the program:

 if (m_PlayerColor == “Black”)
               Console.WriteLine(“My first move is: e2 -> e4”);
          else
               Console.WriteLine(“Please enter your first move!”);

Save, compile and run the program. You will see that if the player enters “Black” the program “plays” a first move! Well, actually this is not the way we will use to develop our AI (using “if” statements is not the way to make the machine think), but what I want to note and emphasize here is the simplicity of programming in general. All you need is will to learn!!!

What we have accomplished

In this first lesson, we have accomplished many things which are listed below:

  • Created our first project in MS Visual Studio.
  • Learned how to save, compile and execute the project via Visual Studio.
  • Learned how to print text on the screen.
  • Learned how to use variables and read user input from the user.
  • Gave a look at our first code structure command (“if” command).
  • Learned about functions and classes.
  • Understood the basics of Object Oriented Programming.

Until the next time, happy coding and experimenting!

How to Develop a Chess Series updates

  • Update 2009-06-04: Due to other obligations the next lesson is not going to be published as soon as I expected to. However I am in the process of writting it and it WILL be published as soon as I can.
  • Update 2009-07-30: The new lesson of the series is now published
  • Update 2011-09-29: The third lesson with the chess algorithm analysis is now published!
  • Update 2018-12-02: Refreshed the article. Fixed minor mistakes.
  • Update 2020-03-21: Minor updates and fixes.
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