I consider atomic chess history to be divided into distinct eras, with their own related stories. The second such era would obviously be the silver age of atomic chess, going by the traditional methodology of naming eras within history. I date this period from between late 2000 throughout the end of 2003. This period of time is again, about four years long. There were several developments that occurred during this time that led to the explosion (pun intended) of growth with Atomic Chess. The Golden Age was an era of limited opportunities to play atomic chess but after the Silver Age, atomic chess really hit the popular consciousness. People were at least aware of Atomic Chess and its popularity began to surge. In fact, the entire Silver Age would probably be the most popular time for Atomic Chess.
Milestones of this era:
- 01 March 2000 – Start of planning of the US Chess Live! (USCL) server
- 15 July 2000 – “Sneak Peek” of USCL server opens to USCF members
- 08 August 2000 – USCL officially opens for business
- 01 October 2000 – Estimated date that ICC added their version of atomic chess to their server known as “wild 27” (Shatranj was added 18 June 2001)
- 01 January 2001 – Fixation is officially updated to become the first Mac interface to have atomic capability
- 01 April 2002 – Estimated date that ICChess.net opened
- 01 June 2002 – Estimated date that chess-square.com opened
- 01 August 2002 – Estimated date that DNCS (Deep Net Chess Server) opened
- 22 August 2002 – Addition of atomic chess to USCL server
- 16 February 2003 – Estimated date that atomic chess was added to FICS server
An Explosion of Popularity
While MEWIS-2 continued to be up until about late 2002, people simply stopped visiting the server. Unfortunately, apart from small servers such as DICS and GICS, there wasn’t another place to play true atomic apart from at MEWIS-2. ICC added atomic in late 2000 but their version is not true atomic. GICS and DICS continued to carry the burden of the atomic community, which at this point was rather small, although the community at ICC had begun to grow, obviously. But at this point, the atomic playing community was rather small and we were getting a vocal majority onto the USCL server, which finally implemented plans to add atomic chess as a variant to be played on USCL. Atomic was added to USCL at the same time that they added Loser’s chess, in a direct way of competing with ICC – USCL was the upstart kid on the block, trying to gather new members and grab a larger share of the “ICS Market”. Adding ICC’s most popular variant along with atomic chess was a direct asset as Loser’s could only be played at ICC at the time. Now, it’s rather widespread but before 2003 – ICC was where you had to go to play Loser’s chess.
The Emergence of Smaller Servers
When the lasker and gics server projects on Sourceforge grew in popularity, the source code for implementing atomic chess on your own chess server became widely available and this prompted several players to take action and begin their own chess servers when MEWIS-2 became deleted by Darlanio and lost its space at the Swedish university that was hosting it after lukka graduated and moved away. I’ve tried for several years to see if anybody still had the code for MEWIS-2 but Oren, Helenep, and ChSte all didn’t have copies. I doubt that lukka would have one but I haven’t seen him online in years. (If you’re interested in the history of the sourceforge projects, they all became integrated into the ChessD project) And thus ICChess.net, chess-square.com, and Deep Net opened their doors, but with poor management and youthful kids running the helm without a plan, they all soon folded and went under. ZICS-2 came into being and definitely went under due to abusive administrators. Their website is still available but the server itself has been down for years. ZICS had atomic chess available as well, but there wasn’t really a single server that atomic chess players could converge onto. The small servers mostly served as dueling grounds for players from ICC and true-atomic players from MEWIS-2 and elsewhere. I can recall Conquerer, MoltenThinker, FireDragg, DukeNukem, EdgeCrusher, ComboKid, and a couple of others, including myself fighting it out on those servers to see who was the dominant player at the time.
US Chess Live! (2002) and then Global Chess Server (2003)
When atomic chess finally showed up on USCL on 22 August 2002, the explosion in popularity for atomic chess was easy to see. People began hearing about it in popular circles and trying atomic chess out for the first time on the USCL server. The few players that had played atomic chess before began cleaning up online and the ICC transplants that came over to the USCL server for Friday Night Blitz tournaments (an online series of blitz tournaments that paid out cash) stayed around for a few hours afterwards just to play atomic chess, since there were so many people playing it at any point in time at USCL. USCL also had Chernobyl, an atomic chess computer that was available for anybody to play at anytime. Needless to say, the pool of atomic chess expanded to quite a large number, thanks to USCL. 100 players playing an obscure chess variant is a large number of players, especially for something not commonly known and that hadn’t been played for several years OTB somewhere. And it was during this period of time that the first version of my atomic chess pages encouraged players to learn about the game and to continue playing and to improve their games. The quality of atomic games easily improved rather quickly, especially with the volume of the atomic chess games you could find at any time on USCL. USCL was truly what kickstarted atomic chess. And this carried over when USCL rebranded itself the GCS and ceased being the “official” USCF chess server. But the few months that USCL had “exclusive” popular ICS rights on true atomic chess was enough to convince FICS to add atomic chess to its stable of chess variants, as a “keeping up with the Joneses” move.
FICS, the last frontier (2003)
When FICS finally added atomic chess (and losers chess as well), it was the last of the major servers to do so and lagged behind the other servers by years and months. Even the small one-year wonder servers were running circles around FICS about atomic chess. On 16 February 2003, it finally became possible for players to play atomic chess on FICS without having to do it via awkward board examining mode and kibitzed moves. USCL had already well established an atomic community by this time and was hitting on all gears while FICS was sputtering out of the gate. There wasn’t very much promotion being done on FICS for atomic chess, since when atomic and losers’ chess were added, FICS also added the “ratings-line-hidden” feature that most of us take for granted now. ICC had that feature for years but FICS had always shown every single rating line when fingers were done. Now with the variant lines hidden from view and only accessible if a player had played a game in that variant or used the “finger name a” command, there was no way for the average Joe Blow to know about atomic chess on FICS. Needless to say, this retarded the growth of atomic chess on FICS. It took several years to grow a small community of atomic chess players about a quarter of the size of the USCL atomic-playing community, even though USCL had built its community in a matter of a few months.
By the end of 2003, FICS still didn’t have a very large atomic-playing community but at least it was growing and adding new members. Exposure of the game began to get more widespread throughout the western chess playing community. People would later get pulled in by being told about “this cool chess variant” by an OTB chess friend. tipau was in fact, introduced to the game of atomic chess using this very method as detailed on his site. Atomic Chess had passed the tipping point of any new chess variant – gathering enough players to truly continue its growth into the future. Now the future of atomic chess lies within the game itself.
And thus the silver age of atomic chess came to a close at the end of 2003. There’s a healthy enthusiasm for the game and it continues to grow across all servers.