At first there was only Boris.
A nice walnut box, nothing fancy, but the best chess-playing computer that $300 could buy.
Steve Chafitz sold tons of 'em, literally, and spawned a Boris dynasty: a $400 rechargeable Boris, a $119 traveling Boris and an $895 Boris Grand Master that plays chess better than its grandfather and lets you cheat.
And now -- while the calculator geniuses of Texas Instruments and the toy tycoons of Mattel are starting to sell their own Boris clones -- the little Rockville company that brought you Boris is introducing Aristotle.
Aristotle plays backgammon.
Not only plays backgammon, but plays it with enough class to qualify as one of the high tech toys that Neiman-Marcus will offer its customers next Christmas.
Undeterred by Aristotle's shipping magnate price tag -- $2,500 retail -- merchants from Beverly Hills to Broadway placed orders by the hundreds when Aristotle debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show last month in Las Vegas.
Between Aristotle and Boris, salesmen for Chafitz Inc. of Rockvile wrote more business in 3 1/2 days at the show than we did in the first 3 1/2 years we were in business," said president Steven Chafitz.
Chafitz and his wife, Arleen, went into business in 1971 dealing in used office machines. With the help of Boris and now Aristotle they are carving what be next year will be a $20 million niche in the electronic specialty business.
Though they sell video games and "dumb" electronic playthings at their store on Rockville Pike, the Chafitz specialty is making and selling "smart" electronics, games that have what computer people call "artificial intelligence." Nearly 1,500 retail stores sell Chafitz games.
The brains of Boris and Aristotle are electronic chips, the kind that run calculators, but the two Chafitz machines have learned their games from professionals.
Aristotle's program is the effort of backgammon professional Paul Brill and Carnegie-Mellon University professor Hans Berliner. Boris' latest chess lessons were taught by Dan and Kathe Spracklen, whose $5,000 home computer beat a million doller Amdahl 470 V/6 in the North American Computer Chess Championship.
But it is the marketing skill of Steve and Arleen Chafitz and their product development chief Dan Neumayer that is making Boris and Aristotle Millionaires.
The couple started out buying old office furniture and selling it via the want ads, and loading up station wagons with old typewriters in New York and driving them back to Washington. On one such trip Steve saw his first pocket calculator. It cost $400 and Chafitz bought it on the spot.
The next step was selling calculators at a discount, by mail at first and then from a tiny Rockville store.
The couple learned how to market high ticket electronics and when Steve heard about some Texas computer specialists who had a machine that played chess, he went off to see it. That was Boris; the rest in the history of the chess computer business.
Aristotle is the result of all that Boris taught the Chafitzes. The original Boris had to have its chess moves punched into a little calculator keyboard using the standard, but awkward chess code.
Opponents of !he Boris Grand Master simply move their pieces across his electronic board. Boris flashes little lights to indicate his own moves. Aristotle works the same way, but is all electronic. To move a marker from one point to another the player simply toughes he starting point and the destination and the electonic board flashes the moves and feeds it into the computer. The dice roll aotomatically and electronically.
Aristotle is good enough that beginning players will win only one game in 10 or 20 -- mostly through luck -- and even the best player will lose often enough to stay interested. Boris can be set to play at 10 different skill levels and in the top-of-the-line version has a reset button that allows up to three plays to be replayed. It's not cheating, it's teaching, insists Arleen, who designed Boris and Aristotle's cabinets.
Players can also sharpen their skills -- or turn chess and back-gamon into spectator sports -- by setting the games on automatic and letting the computer play against itself, CAPTION: Picture, Steve and Arleen Chafitz and Aristotle, $2,500 computer backgammon game. By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post