Chess Programming: Bitboards

Published in Chess / Programming - 2 mins to read

Today the engine work began in earnest, and I’ve already made some decent progress. It can already hold a representation of a chessboard in memory, and tell you the position of the pieces on it - it can “see” the board if you will. It still has no idea about any of the rules of the game but, you know, baby steps.

It works using bitboards, as mentioned in previous entries. Each of these bitboards are 64-bit binary integers, and there are 12 that define the board state - one for each type of piece, for either colour. Each of these can then be iterated over to build up a representation of the board, and for now they are being cast into a multidimensional array to be written to my console for debugging.

So, how do you tell if there is, for example, a white rook on a certain square, just by looking at a 64 bit integer? Take the white rook bitboard for the starting position:


Well, it turns out you can do some neat stuff with bitwise operators (which seems to be a big theme in writing performant chess engines from what I can tell). If we think of each digit in the bitboard as a square on a chessboard, obviously each time the digit is a ‘1’, that means a white rook is on that square. In order to check every square, we can write a for loop that right-shifts each square one at a time, and then checks to see if a one is present by using the logical and operator & to see if the relevant digit is a ‘1’, like so:

for (int i = 0; i < 64; i++)
        if (((wRook >> i) & 1) == 1)
            Console.WriteLine("There's a white rook here!");
        } else
            Console.WriteLine("No white rook to be found...)

The challenge for tomorrow is to teach it how the pieces move - which is going to involve a whole lot more bitboards and bitwise operations. Wish me luck!