My nearly-eight-year-old son has taken a renewed interest in playing
chess, and is also getting his father somewhat inspired as well. A few
years ago when he was first interested, I had an old Mac that I ran
MacChess on. It was perfect for a five-year-old because you could set it
to make completely random moves. Sure it would just happen to take a
piece once in a while, but it gave my son lots of confidence that he
could play the game and win. Plus I could set it weak enough that I was
likely to beat it too if I got tired of getting creamed. Plus my son had
fun toying with all the different board and piece designs.

That old Mac is history, now it's FreeBSD and Linux or nothin'. So I've
built two chess engines -- gnuchess and crafty -- and two GUIs for them
-- xboard and knights. This is all well and good if you happen to be a
good chess player. Which neither my son nor I are. I've scoured the
Internet the best I know how to find something akin to that ol' MacChess
program, but I can't find anything. Do any of you have any suggestions?

1. A chess engine that is actually beatable. A truly random move setting
would be cool. No matter how weak I make gnuchess and crafty, I get
creamed. (OK, I'm really bad. Or I haven't learned how to properly
hobble the engines.) Imagine how frustrating it is for an eight-year-old
just trying to learn the game. We have to take away the opponent's rooks
-- and sometimes the queen, too -- to give him a fighting chance. That's
no fun.

2. Alternate GUIs. Personally, I like the look of xboard, but my son
gets a kick out of selecting piece sets. Are there any other chess GUIs
beyond xboard? Or other piece sets for xboard that folks have built?

3. I can't get knights to work. It doesn't appear to have been updated
in over a year. It doesn't work with versions of gnuchess past version 4
(it's been well into version 5 for some time). It doesn't work with the
latest version of crafty. There doesn't appear to be any way to just
play a game that doesn't involve a game clock. It does, however, have
lots of fun board and piece designs, which is why I got it in the first
place.

Thanks,
Damon

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