Millennium 2000 announced the development of a board for online play last year in an interview with this website. The Munich-based company, that used to focus on chess computers, now wants to tap into two target groups: chess players who want to play their online games on a real board, and organisers of hybrid competitions. Supreme Tournament 55 is the name of their new flagship product, a wooden tournament-size board with automatic piece recognition. The number refers to the 5,5 x 5,5 centimetres size of each square or 55 x 55 cm for the whole board.
The intention was to make a board that can be used in official competitions, and Millennium seems to have succeeded.
The most obvious difference to earlier electronic boards is the addition of LEDs in the corners of all squares. The intention is to enable players to concentrate fully on the board. They don’t have to look back and forth between the board and the monitor in order not to miss an opponent’s move, because the LEDs flash up on the board and signal the opponent’s move as soon as it is made. Neither do moves have to be entered into a computer. The board recognises each move and forwards it through a wireless connection to a smartphone or computer. An app will pass on the move to the online platform chosen for play. All is explained in a video.
Online and hybrid play have been on the mind of the developers from the start. When hybrid chess emerged during the pandemic with the Hybrid Cities Cup in February, further tests in April and the Mitropa Cup and World Cup Qualification in May (the next big hybrid event will be the European Youth Championships in October), Millennium connected with Tornelo, which is establishing itself as the leading platform for official online competitions. The intention was to make a board that can be used in official competitions, and Millennium seems to have succeeded.
Bernhard Riess, a FIDE arbiter from Berlin, tested the Supreme Tournament 55 extensively. He also supervised a test match between his club in Berlin and a team from Ebersberg, who played from the nearby Millennium headquarters. The games passed without any technical difficulties. Afterwards the players and arbiters shared their observations and made suggestions: Could the players’ occasional glances at the clock on a computer or smartphone screen also be eliminated? Yes, if a display is integrated into the electronic board. The Supreme Tournament 55 retails at around €700. Millennium will bring a less expensive, smaller version out in early 2022.
Digital Game Technology (DGT) will start to distribute such a board in October. It’s called Pegasus, comes with an app that connects the board with playing platforms and will be available from €250. The low price is possible because the board doesn’t have the expensive magnetic coils required for full piece recognition. The Pegasus registers only on which squares the pieces stand, but not which pieces. This probably won’t cause real problems for experienced players. The squares measure 4 x 4 centimetres, which will be too small for those who are used to compete on boards with at least 5 x 5 centimetres square size. Some players will probably be okay with it. A test match under hybrid conditions is in the planning.
The Pegasus’ low price is possible because the board recognizes only the squares on which the pieces stand, but not which pieces.
The main application of DGT’s electronic boards used to be the live transmission of games to the internet, and the Dutch company was virtually a monopolist for two decades. Two smaller manufacturers came up with their own electronic boards, the Italian company Certabo and Chess Evolution, owned by Arkadi Naiditsch, who recently moved his company to Greece. Their products have not been developed specifically for online or hybrid play, and no tests are known.
Meanwhile, Bryght Labs keeps working on its ChessUp board, which is due for delivery in December. Another Kickstarter sensation is the aesthetic, wooden Phantom board. Its designer Carlos Lopez Pendas has given it a classic look. From a funding target of only $6,000 the campaign collected $1.9 million before moving to IndieGoGo. A big success factor was the professionally written and designed original campaign on Kickstarter, based on a feature that has been fascinating chess fans for ages: self-drawing pieces.
Large parts of the campaign conceal the board subset that contains the mechanics for the self-drawing figures. This box, which is attached under the board, is a visual snag and is technically the Phantom’s weak spot. Because mechanics wear out and eventually break, boards or chess computers with self-drawing pieces have never caught on.
The only exception so far seems the jerky, clunky, but apparently largely reliable Square Off board. A recently launched discount campaign at Square Off suggests that they fear the competitor will achieve its goal. Now Square Off wants to push sales before the presumably better competitor’s product becomes available. Whether ChessUp, Phantom or Square Off, all three have in common that they are toys for home use that have no place in a chess club or tournament hall, not to speak of a hybrid match.