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Kasparov's Gambit

Kasparov's Gambit

Engine Socrates II
Platform(s) DOS
Release date(s)
  • NA November 1993
Genre(s) Chess
Mode(s) Single player

Kasparov's Gambit or simply Gambit is a chess playing computer program created by Heuristic Software and published by Electronic Arts in 1993 based on Socrates II, the only winner of the North American Computer Chess Championship running on a common microcomputer. It was designed for DOS while Garry Kasparov reigned as world champion, whose involvement and support was its key allure.


Julio Kaplan, chessplayer, computer programmer, and owner of the company 'Heuristic Software', first developed Heuristic Alpha in 1990-91. The original version evolved into Socrates with the help of other chess players and programmers including Larry Kaufman and Don Dailey, who, later, were also developers of Kasparov's Gambit.

Improvements to Socrates were reflected in a version called Titan, renamed for competition as Socrates II, the most successful of the series winning the 1993 ACM International Chess Championship. During the course of the championship Socrates II, which was running on a stock 486 PC, defeated opponents with purpose-built hardware and software for playing chess, including HiTech and Cray Blitz.

Electronic Arts purchased Socrates II and hired its creators to build a new product, Kasparov's Gambit, including Kasparov as consultant and brand. It was the company's effort to enter the chess programs market, dominated at the time by Chessmaster 3000 and Blitz. In 1993 it went on sale, but contained a number of bugs, so was patched at the end of that year. The patched version ran at about 75% of the speed of Socrates II which was quite an achievement considering the whole functionality of the software was sharing the same computer resources.

In 1993 it competed in the Harvard Cup (six humans versus six programs) facing grandmasters who had ratings ranging from 2515 to 2625 ELO,. It finished the competition in 12th and last place. Grandmasters took the first five places and another Socrates derivation - Socrates Exp - was the best program finishing in 6th place.

According to team-developer, Eric Schiller, a Windows version was planned by Electronic Arts, but was never finished. Excluding chess-style board games like Archon: The Light and the Dark (1983) or Battle Chess II: Chinese Chess (2002), Kasparov's Gambit remains the sole effort of Electronic Arts to enter the classic chess software market.


It was hailed by Computer Gaming World as "a very good game. It was the best teaching chess program available until Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, and was the first to offer a reasonable way to rate human play versus the computer. It's a shame EA hasn't updated this for Windows 95 with SVGA graphics, because it deserves to be played." It holds the 147th place in its 1996 list of 150 Best Games of All Time.

Regarding Garry Kasparov's successful title defense against Nigel Short in the same year, followed by its triumph at the 1993 International Computer Chess Championship and its user-friendly capabilities, Gambit failed in sales and marked the end of Electronic Arts attempts to produce chess games.


Gambit was intended to have the capabilities of a champion level software and a teaching tool for a wide range of player levels. It was Electronic Arts' first use of windowed video showing digitized images, video and voice of champ Garry Kasparov giving advice and commenting on player moves.

Primary features include:


The human strength rating is calculated using Elo formula with the included personalities and the one of player himself/herself, going from 800 to 2800 points. New players get a customizable 800 ELO, which changes according to the total number of games played, opponents strength and result of game.

Creation of personalities enables five adjustable characteristics in percentage (0-100%) - strength, orthodoxy, creativity, focus and aggresivness - which define, besides its style, its ELO rating. User ELO is calculated according to Gambit's universe of electronic players and user him/herself, thus do not match rankings in real world, instead this feature was designed to provide a useful way to measure player strength and progress against Gambit.

Teaching tools

Besides 125 tutorials, written by renowned chess author and developer Eric Schiller, classified in openings, middle game, endgames (checkmates), tactics and strategy also include a Famous Games database, a list of all-time world champions games commented by Kasparov with a quiz option where user most choose the next move.

Technical information

Was designed for 386SX IBM AT compatible systems. Even when it's capable to read commands from keyboard or mouse, the use of mouse is recommended. During the days it was released, Kasparov's Gambit offered a nice look & feel experience using SVGA mode with 640x480 resolution and 256 colors and voice/video recordings of world champion Garry Kasparov. A lack of soundcards support was reported by users.

It is playable in DOSBox emulator since 0.61 version over GNU/Linux and other Unix-like operating systems, Windows XP and subsequent versions and Mac OS X.


First intention was using Heuristic Alpha as Gambit's base, but unexpected good performance of Socrates II in tournaments made of it the final choice. According to developer and tester Larry Kauffman "first released included important bugs, that Knowledge of bishop mobility appears to be missing, as does some other chess knowledge, and Gambit appears to run only about 50-60% of the speed of the ACM program in positions (without bishops) where the two do play and evaluate identically. There are also bugs in the features and the time controls, and the program is rather difficult to use (perhaps because it has so many features). One good thing I can say is that the 3d graphics are superb... I have tested the patched version, and have confirmed that most or all of the bugs have been corrected. The new version does play identically to the ACM program and runs at 70-75% of the speed, so it should rate just 30 points below the ACM program."

Socrates II engine was fully programmed in assembly language, but rewritten just in C language for Kasparov's Gambit engine. Instead, assembly language was used for sound and video capabilities, as for other functionalities.

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