HandTalk version 94.01: review

HandTalk is written by Professor Chen Zhixing, of Zhongshau University, Guangzhou, China.

First impressions are disappointing: it is a Dos program, and offers a minimum of facilities. You can choose among three board sizes, set the handicap, choose whether to play Black or White, and assign it a playing strength from 1 to 7. You can also set up positions, and save and re-load games. When playing, you can take back moves. But that is the limit of what you can do. The board is shown using graphics, with red and black stones on a green board; but on my screen there is something slightly odd about the graphics, as the first character of each menu line appears mostly "wrapped round" to the right side of the screen. I assume that graphics hardware that is standard here may be hard to obtain in China.

You can use a mouse to choose where to play your stone, but the mouse handling is strangely jerky, so I find it easier to use the cursor keys. It is pity that its user interface is not better, as its play is quite interesting.

This is the only program which has ever given me the impression that it knows what it is doing when it plays. With other programs, as you get used to them you can learn what patterns they are blindly following, but HandTalk somehow conveys the impression that it has some intelligence. I can beat it with nine stones on a full board, even at its highest strength, but some of its moves seem quite good (I am 2-kyu). In particular, it spots when an opponent's group is killable, and destroys its eye shape in quite a competent manner. It also plays a few moves which are very poor, rather like a human player. Its greatest weakness is that it makes occasional strange moves on the one-line. I suspect that if it were more consistent, it would be considerably better. This inconsistency makes it interesting to play against.

It also plays quite fast - not as fast as Progo at its highest level, but only a few seconds per move, which is much faster than most programs.

review by Nick Wedd, May 1994

Since this review was written, many of the problems I describe have been fixed, and a more recent version has been released.

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