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Dietmar  Lauber: chess computers and I, how we became what we are

Written by Dietmar Lauber

First created | 07/21/2014 | by MMO

Last edited 02/04/2016

Additional Information: MMO

Photos: Chesseval Collection
Reference to cite: Lauber D, Chess computers and I, how we became what we are, ChessEval Journal, 21, July 2015,


Dietmar Lauber and I are friends since many years. We share the same passion of Chess computers.

During all these years, I have appreciated his presence and I have benefited of his knowledge in several occasions. From the first instant, the complicity between us was perfect and we got some precious pieces of collection.

It is my pleasure to present him in the following page.




Chess computers and I, how we became what we are
By Dietmar Lauber, translated from German by Cristina Milesi

Earlier in the eighties, when chess computers started becoming popular, there were no Internet forums and no eBay.


In Berlin we used to get to to know each other in the only chess computer store owned by the husband and wife Ketterling in Tempelhof, near the airport, either doing business with each other or even just by standing side by side while peering through the shop window or watching the Novag Robot while in auto play.

There was one more shopping point: in the games department of the KaDeWe department store, there was a large section just for chess computers. Something like this would be unthinkable today. (I saw something similar only at Harrods in London.) There, people used to admire the new devices in display, and eventually spoke to each other. Thus, gradually a small community formed with a common addiction: the beeping and glowing chess computer. These people came from all the districts of Berlin and met occasionally especially to swap.


For me it has always been a great relief to be able to play chess whenever I had the opportunity.

I never contacted any chess clubs, probably feeling of not being good enough to belong to them.

The chess computer solved this problem: it was ready at all times and I did not have to leave the house to play.


Fidelity Sensory 8 was my first chess computer, and everything that came after it landed on my desk.But I was really electrified by the Prestige model. Through a friend I came in contact with a man who translated the American manual into German, and who also had some Prestige models.

Once I got my first Prestige I was really bitten by the computer chess bug. While on holiday in Sylt, I called up dealer Musch, a name that all German chess lovers are familiar with. When I arrived in Berlin the Prestige was there. Dealer Musch has supported many of us in their new acquisition and equipment and taken part in exchanges. At the time the Prestige cost a lot of money, about 3,000 marks. But it was worth every penny.


Collecting began later.

Thank God, I did it in a way that my budget did not get out of control.

One wonders again and again, where the top collectors, who indeed brought virtually every existing device, could sometimes store these large appliances. Should we perhaps imagine that to reach the kitchen table at their living quarters, they go through a narrow passage between all boxes...?? That they need to re-stack for ten minutes before they can reach their balcony, where also there is room for only a small chair next to all the computers...?
Ask them about it yourself...

But I think that they have the required premises, and I certainly believe that they are keeping safe the most expensive equipment.


If a collector has many devices around, the temptation is great to let these play against each other.

Many could not resist this temptation, and still fill the tables of some websites.

I've never done that, because I understand (I think Ketterling has demonstrated it in detail) that you would have to play hundreds of games in order to get a statement value.

But I knew collectors who have had extensive lists, and who meticulously logged the respective turn times to the exact second.

I am more interested by the playing styles of the different programs and what I can learn from playing with them.


As a Fidelity fan, I also have to recognize my respect for the Amsterdam and his successors, who simply had more human traits and pursued clearer strategies. On the other hand, Fidelity devices conjured more bewildering combinations,... as the saying goes… (Jungle Chess)...


Then I came to know collectors who dared to have their wives bear the beeping of the two devices on the coffee table during the evening TV program. Since just watching TV was too boring, they had to get engaged with something else...

And there were also the collectors who turned to correspondence chess, and stared at the devices for hours, and everyday spent hours filling the twenty or so correspondence chess postcards, with the risk of almost completely loose touch with normal life.

I met collectors who, during quasi manic attacks, would sell their entire collection in the matter of a few days only to be back starting collecting again after a few weeks. They could cope with the void that was created just by refilling their collection. This process would repeat itself several times.


The times when we were all waiting for the new models - often around Christmas, were eventually over once the PC programs started dominating the headlines.

The boom was over, there were no more new chess computer board being placed on the market.

The struggle of the Mephistos against the Fidelitys lost its appeal, the specific processors were determining the pace, and the programs would be replaced almost monthly.


Many collectors, including myself, gradually separated themselves from their devices.

Little did they know, that the chess computer would go through a revival.

Here, the auction platform eBay plays a big role. Such a large scale auction platform did not exist before. Earlier you could also find a few devices being offered in one or two forums, but not to this extent and in this wide selection. Anyone who had the right business sense during the early days of eBay, is likely to have gathered with relatively little money an impressive collection.


Because of two unfortunate events I had to separate myself from my remaining devices.

At some point I was left only with a Sensory 9 and a Forte B.

But I never lost my passion for collecting chess computer, and, most of all, the Fidelity devices are dearest to me.

A number of these favorites is again gathered on or around my desk.

Some devices are now hidden again also under the bed and on top of the cupboard...