|Dinos to the Slav: Silman on Apple Apps|
|By IM Jeremy Silman|
|July 23, 2013|
I adore my Apple products (sorry Android fans, this article isn’t for you). They’re beautiful, elegant, powerful, and work flawlessly. I have the latest ultra thin 3 Terabyte fusion iMac (27” screen), the retin0a (64 gig) iPad 3, the 64 gig iPad Mini, and the iPhone 4S. And though I make use of all these devices on a regular basis, I have to admit that the iPad Mini has become my true love.
I also have 1,600 apps (Help! Call a psychiatrist!), all my magazine subscriptions are now digital, and I have many full-length movies in digital format. This means that my iPhone and iPad allows me to carry all my magazines, music, movies, games, and countless other things with me when I travel, which makes trips to Asia and Europe far more pleasant than they used to be.
Nowadays, apps can be more than 1 gigabyte in size, some magazines (which do things a paper magazine could never do) can tip the scale at 500 MB, a big music collection can easily fill up a whole iPad, and movies also eat up space with their 1 to 2 gigabyte weight. That’s why I implore people to get the maximum space on their devices – 64 gigs can be filled up in the blink of an eye (thank god for the 128 gig iPad, which I’ll upgrade to in the near future).
This article is for people that own iPads, iPhones, and/or the iPod Touch. And it’s for people that want chess on those devices! Since the iTunes store is packed with chess apps, I’ll only discuss apps that I deem tops in their category.
Okay, children’s chess isn’t my forte and I don’t really know what will (or won’t) rock a child’s imagination and make him/her fall in love with the game. Nor do I fully understand what kind of presentation will succeed in teaching kids how to play. A glitzy façade might prove entertaining, but will it actually hold a child’s attention? Two children’s chess apps that (to me) seemed quite interesting are Dinosaur Chess and Judit Polgar's Playground.
The idea here is to have cartoon dinosaurs teach children how to play while also entertaining them with cute animations. The main “teacher,” a green dinosaur in a kilt with (naturally) a Scottish accent, takes the student through all the basics, starting with the board (white and black squares, making sure you place the board in the right position, etc.), then showing the board with all the pieces in the beginning position (explaining various things, like the player with the white pieces always starts the game), and then exploring each individual piece, where they start, and what they can do.
Once you get the basics down, you can choose a dinosaur and play a game. These games don’t start in the normal beginning position (they call them, “mini-games”). Instead, they have limited pieces and pawns, enabling children to get used to a less cluttered (and overwhelming) board.
Stats: There is an HD iPad only version (27.2 MB) and an iPhone version (which always works on the iPod Touch and iPad – 37.9 MB).
Price: The HD version is $2.99 and the iPhone version is $1.99.
Pros: *Does a good job of teaching basics. *Cute animations. *Teaches you the real names of the dinosaurs (an extra educational plus!). *Teaches kids from 3 years old to 8 years old how to play chess.
Summing Up: This is a charming app, but it’s for very young children and only teaches the bare basics (however, it does a very good job at teaching those basics). I like this lessons’ phase, but am bothered by the fact that you can’t leap past parts that you might have fully mastered to other areas that you want to explore more deeply. Instead, (in Lessons) you’re forced to start from the beginning each time. The developers should fix this. The 20 mini-games and puzzles are instructive and fun.
Judit Polgar’s Playground
The advertisement says, “Over 100 educational and entertaining exercises in a nine-episode cartoon series!”
The app mixes detailed, often quirky cartoon videos with some very original puzzles. For example, a board is missing some key pieces and it’s up to the child to take the loose ones in a box and place them on their proper squares. Another puzzle shows a file and a rank and asks you to drag the black squares (which are waiting in a box at the bottom of the screen) to their proper places. One puzzle, trying to teach you notation, asks you to drag the candy to the g-file.
After dealing with some basics, the app gets into the individual pieces. The first video of the Rook announces the “mighty Rook” and the animation turns this label into a reality by showing us a Rook flexing its body builder muscles (demonstrating how powerful a piece this is!).
The app doesn’t allow you to move ahead until you finish the initial lessons. Then it’s on to the next, and the next, always building on what you’ve previously learned. Once you do go over a puzzle or video, you can go back and forth anytime you wish.
Stats: iPad only, it comes in at a heavy 448 MB.
Pros: *Tons of original content for a small price. *Creative animations. *Very original logic puzzles that will make your child think. *The chess pieces themselves are given personalities (as with the muscle flexing Rook, or the Queen fanning herself).
Summing Up: The animation style is energetic, quirky, and original. Occasionally Judit Polgar’s face appears on an animated screen (it reminds me of the Wizard of Oz) and she’ll say something about the situation at hand. At times she’ll toss out an emotional “Really?” which mixes well with the overall bizarre nature of the videos and also is rather endearing in a strange way. This app is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I think the strange goings on and the interesting puzzles will keep children from 5 to 10 entertained for quite a while.
Lots and lots of teens and adults want to learn how to play chess. However, they want the process to be as painless as possible, interesting, and easy. The two apps I’ll recommend here will start your chess “career” on a very pleasant and effective note. And, when you use both (Maurice Ashley’s first and then the other), you’ll be shocked at how quickly you go from “I don’t know anything” to “I’m wiping out all my friends!”
Learn Chess! with Maurice Ashley
This app is devoted to teaching people of all ages how to play chess. There are three parts:
*Chess Lessons: The Class [20 lessons that will teach you everything you need to know to get started – the board, each individual piece, check, checkmate, stalemate, the center, the opening, the scholar’s mate, material value, trades, after the opening, basic checkmate – Queen and Rook, Basic Checkmate – Queen and King, passed pawns]. Grandmaster Ashley’s voice leads you through all of these.
*Skill builders & Puzzles [3 levels: Easy, Medium, Hard]
*Play a Game [3 levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced]
Stats: 26.8 MB. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad.
Pros: *To the point, no nonsense lessons. *The board (with arrows and other symbols) is easy on the eye, and the pieces move in perfect unison to Mr. Ashley’s voice. *The puzzles are instructive and fun.
Summing Up: The design is pretty basic, but the content rocks. Maurice Ashley is your personal teacher in the first part of the app (Chess Lessons: The Class) and he covers everything with authority and wit. After reading this section you will know how to play chess!
In the second part of the app (Skill builders & Puzzles) we get beginner level puzzles that are very well thought out. For example, if we go to “Medium,” the second choice (of nine) is “Escape.” In each puzzle (Knight, Bishop, Rook, and Queen) White has one piece vs. black’s whole army. The idea is to move your lone piece to a square where it can’t be captured. You make a move to a safe square, Black attacks it with one of his many pieces, you move to another safe square, and on and on it goes. Another example is “Wolf,” where you have one piece that can capture multiple enemy pieces. However, you should only capture the piece that isn’t protected. Basic puzzles like this are extremely useful for the beginner.
A simple, easy to use app that makes learning how to play chess easy and fun.
Chessimo is a mobile version of software that was originally only available as Windows software. This highly polished training tool first asks you to sign on as a user or as a guest. Once you do this (signing on as a guest takes half a second) you’re asked to choose the training duration that interests you: 60 Days (very ambitious), 90 days (ambitious), 120 days (recommended), 150 days (out of practice), 180 days (for beginners). Doing this adjusts the lessons to suit the time you’ve given yourself.
Chessimo starts with very basic lessons (problems) in five categories: Tactics (4150 exercises!), Endgames (1300 exercises), commented Endgames (150 exercises), Strategies (650 exercises), and Openings (69 opening variations with 50 exercises). Graphs show you how you’re doing, and all the exercises are chosen by Brazilian grandmaster Gilberto Milos.
The program offers more than lessons – it also turns your iPad and iPhone into a board with pieces and chess clock! You can play a friend or the computer (Crafty).
You can get quite a bit of stuff for nothing, but if you want all the lesson units and also zero ads, you have to do an in-app purchase.
Chessimo also has an 803 game database (all the games feature strong grandmasters).
Stats: 9.2 MB. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. A high definition version (HD) for the iPad only is also available (9.3 MB).
Price: Chessimo and Chessimo HD are both free, but if you want a full module or if you want an ad-free app, then an in-app purchase is required. Each individual module is $2.99 (all endgame units are $3.99), but if you buy all the modules (for only $7.99) you get huge savings.
Pros: * Extremely well crafted. * Elegant design. *Intuitive interface. *At just $7.99 for everything, this is a true bargain.
Summing Up: What’s not to like? Lots of content, stunning interface, useful graphs that keep you informed about your progress, a free chess engine to play, and a chessboard and clock so you can enjoy face to face games vs. humans (or the family pet).
I said this in the intro, but I’ll repeat it again: I strongly feel that a total beginner should start with Maurice Ashley’s app. Once he finishes that, he’ll be ready to get to the next level with Chessimo. Combined, they will turn a person who can’t move the pieces into a solid player.
This category is very important to me since I’ve always loved chess books (this explains why my site, www.jeremysilman.com, reviews them). In fact, I’m crazy about chess books! The one problem with chess book addiction is that they take up endless space and weigh a ton. I’ve seen chess book collections take over a whole house, and I’ve seen apartments bursting at the seams with chess book infestation.
Chess book collectors suffer due to these considerations, but even normal chess players have book “problems.” For example, you want to take a book or two on a trip so you can catch up on your opening theory, but find that the 400-page tome on the Najdorf Sicilian is a real pain to carry around (the need for a chess set and board compounds the problem). What can chess book aficionados do?
E-books are prized by some, but you still need a board and pieces. To me, the real solution is the chess book app, which allows you to literally carry around a chess library in your shirt pocket! There are a few apps that try to offer this, but only two stand out:
The leaders of chess publishing are (the order here is completely random) Gambit, New in Chess, Everyman Chess, and Quality Chess. These companies more or less rule the chess publishing landscape. On a somewhat smaller scale we have Russell Enterprises, which does itself proud with quite a few impressive titles. Other chess publishers also offer some truly amazing work (McFarland and Chess Stars are two examples of this).
It’s no surprise that publishers are desperately trying to get their books out in all possible formats. Everyman Chess was a bit ahead of the curve by coming out with Chess Viewer before most other companies jumped on the tech bandwagon. They offer a huge, high quality selection of Everyman titles (over 100).
Stats: 1.7 MB. Works with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Price: The App is free, and it comes with some free samples. But in-app purchases are necessary if you intend to make full use of it. The prices are more or less the same as the paper versions. For example, The Colle Move by Move by Cyrus Lakadawala ($24.99), Fire on Board – Shirov’s Best Games ($19.99), Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors Part 1 ($24.99), and John Watson’s wildly popular, Play the French 4th Edition ($24.99).
Pros: * Free app and free samples. *Great authors. *Deep reservoir of impressive titles. *High quality work. *The app itself features a very large board.
Summing up: The books are excellent, and if you’re looking for a utilitarian PGN reader that gets the job done then you’ll be happy with Chess Viewer. Moreover, if you love Everyman books (I certainly do), this is the only way to get them on your Apple device.
Reading a book in Portrait Mode is a bad idea since it relegates the prose to a small area at the bottom of the screen… you can scroll down and read it or ditch the board and get a full screen of moves and prose, but I find all this to be extremely distracting. It’s far better in Landscape (sideways) Mode, where the text moves to the right side of the board.
Two other gripes that owners of Chess Viewer have shared with me: 1) Navigation is pretty bad. 2) No bookmarks. This last one is very annoying for obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, the overall feel of Chess Viewer is that of a database more than a book. Chess Viewer does what it promises to do, but if you’re looking for a true book experience and/or some degree of elegance, you probably won’t be fully satisfied.
As an author, I was looking for a way to turn my books into beautiful apps. However, I couldn’t find an interface that I liked (no PGN for me!). Fortunately, I was contacted by E+Chess Books, discussed their app in detail, hopped on a flight to New Zealand to see what they offered, and was extremely impressed.
Their vision is to give fans of chess books a true book experience made possible by completely original tech, thus creating something elegant and intuitive.
Stats: 6.3 MB. Works with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Price: The App is free, and it comes with a free copy of Capablanca’s famous book, Chess Fundamentals. More books can be purchased in-app, but if you choose not to buy any, you still have a lovely version of Capablanca’s classic. In-app titles come from multiple publishers (like New in Chess and Russell Enterprises). Some examples: Invisible Chess Moves by Neiman & Afek ($14.95), Tragicomedy in the Endgame by Dvoretsky ($17.99), Silman’s Complete Endgame Course by Silman (the full book with an additional 87 audio clips - $17.99), Chess Strategy for Club Players by Grooten ($16.99).
Pros: *The table of contents is what you’d find in a real book, and it instantly takes you wherever you wish to go. *A high definition cover makes you think “book” and not “program.” *Beautiful photos adorn the pages of many of the books. *With the prose on the left and board on the right, the reader can follow both without distraction. *As moves occur on the board, the prose/pages automatically scroll down. *The last move played is highlighted so you always know where you are. *The board can be flipped by using a rotation gesture. *Text can be highlighted for ease of study (similar to using a yellow marker in a paper book to highlight instructive text). *Dictionary lookup is a tap away. *Notes can be added to the text. *The program remembers where you were and instantly takes you there when you return to the book.
Summing Up: The creation of this original tech platform allows the reader to feel like he owns a real book (which he does!). The addition (in some books) of audio clips and photos add even more to the overall experience. As you can see, I’m high on this app.
If I was given a dime for every time someone said, “Chess in 99% tactics!” I’d be rich. Though I don’t buy into that cliché, it is indeed true that if basic tactics aren’t your friend, you’ll get bombed off the board by them. Countless chess books and websites offer a glimpse into these tactical devices (how they work and their names, like back rank mate, pin, fork, etc.), but there’s no better way to burn them into your brain than practice. And the simplest form of tactical practice is solving puzzles – thousands of puzzles.
This used to be a clunky process when one had to use a real board and pieces. But now it’s a piece of cake thanks to chess programs and chess apps. Though you can get this kind of thing in the Book Apps I’ve mentioned earlier and in detailed learning apps like Chessimo, I’m going to recommend a few very inexpensive apps that will get the job done in an effective, fun, and simple manner.
Memphis Chess Club: A History of Problems
Chess Problems by World Champions: Memphis Chess Club
Mate in 1 Puzzles
Mate in 2 Puzzles
Mate in 3 Puzzles
Mate in 4+ Puzzles
Stats: All of these apps are under 10 MB and work on the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Price: All these apps are just 99 cents!
Pros: *All these apps are interactive. *All have timers so you can see how long it took you to solve the puzzle. *The timers store the amount of time you used so you can repeat and try to do better.
Summing Up: The Memphis Chess Club: A History of Problems app offers 500 interactive puzzles ranging from mate in 2 to mate in 26. The games were all played at the Memphis Chess Club, usually by low rated players. However, if the tactic is correct and instructive, it doesn’t matter if a grandmaster or a beginner played it. I went through it and enjoyed them all.
Chess Problems by World Champions: Memphis Chess Club offers 645 interactive puzzles ranging from mate in 2 to mate in 17 moves. And, as the name suggests, each puzzle features a World Champion.
Mate in 1 Puzzles has over 180 puzzles.
Mate in 2 Puzzles has over 1,200 problems.
Mate in 3 Puzzles has over 1,200 problems.
Mate in 4+ Puzzles has over 1,000 problems.
Nowadays chess engines are insanely strong. And – let’s be honest here – any of them will crush you like a bug if you play them at maximum strength. This means your choice will come down to factors other than raw strength: How the interface looks, price, extras (like added databases), and how its playing style changes if you demand it plays at a low level.
This engine comes in two versions: one for all three devices (iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch) and one that’s only for iPad (HD). Some people claim that it’s the strongest engine on iTunes, while others give Stockfish the edge. Both will tear most humans limb from limb without any mercy whatsoever, so the argument about which one’s a tad stronger seems moot to me.
Stats: Hiarcs Chess for iPad – 16.9 MB. Hiarcs Chess for all devices – 10.7 MB.
Price: $9.99 for both versions.
Pros: *Offers many handicap levels. *Various playing modes. *You can email your games directly from Hiarcs. *Lots of chess display functions. *Normal blitz settings, increments, and long time controls. *Set up position for analysis. *Large opening book (235,000 variations). *It gives you an ELO rating after one game and updates your rating after every game you play. *Has databases of all the games between Fischer and Spassky and also all the games between Kasparov and Karpov. *You can transfer PGN databases to and from Hiarcs.
Summing Up: Exceptionally strong, and is said to play a “human-like” game, though I have yet to notice that when I play it. When you enter the “engine room” you get the option to set it at its highest level (2775) or anything below that. But let’s be honest here, though these engines ARE very strong, they are not nearly as good as they are when working on a computer desktop (the lack of computing power makes this a given). This means that the 2775 rating is over-generous and is more PR than reality.
Though Hiarcs has plenty of options and the board is large and crisp, its interface is drab. If you’re looking for visible bells and whistles or elegance, you won’t find it here. There is one interesting feature that’s easy to use: when you’re playing a game, you can tap on a piece and all of its available squares light up with a small colored dot or a small colored square. The colors tell you the general value of moving the piece to that square. Thus, a red dot is “bad move,” a orange dot is “weak move,” a yellow dot is “okay move,” a green dot is “good move,” a little orange square is “book move,” a green square is “good book,” and a little yellow square is “okay book.” Some will find this useful and others won’t.
Like Hiarcs, there is a version that works for all three devices, and an iPad only (HD) version. There is also a Shredder Chess Lite, which is free. However, the free version is a bit weaker (it will still wipe out the vast majority of players!), and also strips away a couple functions that might or might not be useful to you. Nevertheless, if you’re really low on cash the free version is well worth grabbing.
Stats: Shredder Chess for iPad (HD) – 24.2 MB. Shredder Chess for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch – 23.0 MB.
Price: Shredder Light – free. Shredder for all three devices – $7.99. Shredder HD (for iPad) – $7.99.
Pros: *1000 puzzles. *Does analysis of your games. *You choose which playing style (passive or aggressive) you want to face. *Gives you access to 1,200 gigabytes of endgame databases online. *Email your games directly from Shredder. *Shredder automatically adjusts it’s strength to yours so (theoretically) the games will be close, hard contests. *You can set its playing strength to beginner right up to master.
Summing Up: Though the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch version works fine on the iPad, it’s a little hazy on iPad mode (but nice on the iPhone). The HD (iPad) version is crystal clear. This haze is typical of all apps that are actually made for the iPhone but have a “2X” button to blow it up for the iPad.
Though (in my opinion) not quite as strong as Hiarcs and Stockfish, most people won’t notice since, like all the other elite engines, Shredder will gobble you up and spit you out. Personally Shredder HD is my engine app of choice since I like the way Shredder plays and I love its interface.
A great engine, it works perfectly on all three devices and is completely free. One of the best deals on the whole iTunes store.
Stats: 7.4 MB. Works on iPad (crystal clear), iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Price: Free. That’s right, 100% free for a beast of an engine.
Pros: *Adjustable playing strength. *Though its normal style is dynamic to the point of overt aggression, you can set it to embrace a solid approach, a passive approach, or (as they put it on iTunes) a suicidal approach! *Excellent opening book. *Thinks during its opponent’s time, enabling it to wipe you out in brutal fashion. *Emails your games directly from Stockfish.
Summing Up: This is an extremely powerful engine, fully equal to the mighty Hiarcs (perhaps even stronger). I also appreciate the rating honesty – its maximum rating is 2500, compared to the over-the-top 2775 from Hiarcs. The interface isn’t pretty, but the board is large and clear, and the controls easy to navigate.
Unlike Shredder and Hiarcs, tChess Pro is equally nice on all three devices. Thus there’s no need for a special iPad only version. A solid, strong, and highly thought of engine.
Stats: 3.2 MB. Looks great and works perfectly on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Pros: *Offers various time controls including Fischer increments. *You can download and view PGN files (when it comes to PGN, people in the know tell me that it dominates all the other engines). *Reasonable opening library. *Position editor allows you to input and analyze any position. *Integrated “Learn Chess” e-book app! *Offers a 3D board. *Blindfold mode! *The developer, Tom Kerrigan, seems to be hands on and, by all accounts, will give a helping hand if questions or problems arise.
Summing Up: I’ve talked to several owners of tChess Pro and I keep hearing comments like, “A real pleasure to use.” “An elegant, almost simplistic interface.” “By far the most beautiful engine.” In fact, tChess Pro has an enormous fan base. People seem to fall in love with its strength, ease of use, nice features, and overall minimalistic design.
Overall: All four engines are excellent. It’s clear that Hiarcs and Stockfish are the strongest engines, but tChess Pro and Shredder aren’t far behind. TChess Pro’s minimalistic controls are, in my opinion, the simplest and best of any engine. On the other hand, I feel that tChess Pro’s uncluttered look, which many love, comes in second to Shredder HD’s “front page” design (the iPhone version of Shredder is a tad too busy) – it somehow feels warmer and more comfortable. Hiarcs and Stockfish are somewhat “design challenged” but look fine, and make up for it in brute strength!
There are a lot of chess opening apps, but most just take you through the first dozen or so moves of the various openings, which is fine for beginners but also rather useless since it doesn’t really teach you anything (no explanations, no plans, just raw moves). I will also add that the ChessBase app, which I’ll discuss under Chess Databases, does this same thing very well and thus makes inferior copycats obsolete. And, of course, chess books devoted to openings can be found in Everyman’s Chess Viewer and E+Chess Books.
Since nothing else pertaining to chess openings really caught my fancy, I went with Chess Opening Trainer, which is basically an opening repertoire management system, and an advanced new App series from ChessBase – I picked up their Slav Defense app by grandmaster Rustam Kasimdzhanov, which I’ll use as a template. The third offering in the Chess Openings category is Chess U, which has a wealth of content, including lots of opening stuff. Thus I’m offering something for beginners and amateurs (Chess U), something for advanced players (the Slav app), and something for players of all ratings (Chess Opening Trainer).
Chess Opening Trainer
As far as I can see, this is the only app of its kind and thus deserves a mention since some people will find it to be the answer to their dreams, while others will have no interest in it at all. In some ways this reminds me of the old “Book Up” program, which an old friend (now deceased… he actually died while playing an online game!) absolutely loved. He would have loved Chess Opening Trainer even more.
The idea is simple enough: it allows you to input your opening repertoire (put it into the program move by move, or via FEN positions), or individual positions for tactics’ study and positional study. But mainly it’s designed to help you learn your opening repertoire on a deep level.
Stats: 30.6 MB. iPad only!
Pros: *Toss the index cards out the window! *Carry every detail of your repertoire, and your opening discoveries and theoretical novelties, with you in your iPad to all corners of the globe (you’ll never be without them). *Make sure the opening moves you intend to play are checked by the program’s built in chess engine. *Various videos that teach you how to use this app can be found on YouTube (youtube.com/chess2028 ), while more information can be found on Facebook (https://facebook.com/chessopeningtrainer). *Free sample training books for Chess Opening Trainer are available based on printed books like Beating Unusual Defences 1.e4 by Andrew Greet, Play the Caro-Kann by Jovanka Houska, Play 1…Nc6 by Christoph Wisnewski, and many more. *A PGN conversion utility for Chess Opening Trainer is available.
Summing Up: Before buying Chess Opening Trainer, make sure you’re willing to do the work necessary to input all your opening information! If you don’t do that, it’s useless. Thus look carefully at the seller’s write-up, check out the videos, and go to Facebook and see what it’s all about. Chess Opening Trainer has a dizzying palette of icons which is both cool and daunting. The learning curve for the program might prove a tad steep for some people. However, if you make the effort to learn how it works and then input your opening repertoire (for me it’s fun), you might (as some reviewers have stated) find yourself becoming addicted to the program.
60M-Beat The Slav
Grandmaster Rustam Kasimdzhanov goes into great detail about how White should deal with the position after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5. Advanced players only!
Stats: 138 MB. For iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Pros: *An extremely strong player shares his considerable experience about a dangerous White system vs. a key black opening (from white’s point of view). *Doesn’t only give a bunch of moves, but also tells you where White should place his pieces and discusses both side’s plans and ideas. *Goes over many grandmaster games which highlights the recommended variations.
Summing Up: Nine lectures (7 detailed discussions on the opening, an intro, and a wrap up) by Mr. Kasimdzhanov on how to meet the Slav Defense turns a once feared opening into something White can’t wait to face!
At the moment ChessBase is only offering three opening apps: The Slav, 60M – Bg5 in the Samisch by IM Andrew Marin, and 2.g3 gegen Hollandisch (a lecture on how to tackle the Dutch in German) by IM Martin Breutigam. Let’s hope they’re successful and many more hit the iTunes store.
Chess U is the creation of IM Mark Ginsburg. Though the app is free, in-app purchases allow you access to various courses that range from complete basics (checkmates 101, opening traps 101, Learn Chess, Legall’s Sacrifice 101, etc.) to game collections (21 Century Miniatures, Aeroflot 2012, Early Carlsen 201, Emanuel Lasker Best Games, Smyslov’s Best Games, Rubinstein’s Best Games, etc.) to more advanced fare like a study of the Accelerated Dragon by GM Perelshteyn (only 99 cents – there’s not a ton of content, but what’s there is instructive, exciting, and important. In my view it’s for players 1400 to 1900), Essential Endgames 201 (99 cents, by Ginsburg), Kill the Sicilian: 2.c3 Alapin (99 cents, by Levon Altounian), and much, much more.
Stats: 35.7 MB. For iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Price: The App is free, but in-app purchases range from 99 cents to $1.99.
Pros: *Various opening courses for 99 cents will appeal to a wide range of players from Class A and down.
Summing Up: Chess U offers affordable courses on just about all areas of chess. The App itself is far from elegant and I don’t like the pieces at all. In fact, the whole interface is rather primitive. But that ugly duckling app is filled with interesting and useful content, which is why it got so many 5 star ratings on the iTunes store. In the end, content trumps looks every time. Check it out!
Full blown databases tend to be expensive, but the idea of having a database in your pocket that contains millions of games is one every chess player dreams of.
With more than five million games (constantly updated) at a more than reasonable price, one would think this would be a must buy chess app. However, poor programming and a lack of simple design concepts led to endless problems when the app first appeared. It’s much better now than it was in 2011, but some problems still remain.
Stats: 29.6 MB. Works on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Pros: *5 million games of chess! *Updated every week! *Up to the minute additions (I’ve seen top games posted a few hours after they were played). *Searchable by opening position, player, tournament, year. *Import PGN files. *Fast. *Has an engine so you can check the assessment of any position in any game. *Can create new variations in any game. *Can access statistics for all openings.
Summing Up: One of the most maligned apps I’ve ever seen (and much of that negativity is justified), the initial appearance of this app excited a lot of players. But as much as we all wanted to love this app, one couldn’t hide from its flaws. Nevertheless, ChessBase kept tweaking it (which sometimes made it even worse!), and now (though still badly flawed) it has finally reached the “must buy” status that I had expected it to be in the first place.
One problem is that it’s not intuitive, and there isn’t a “how to” anywhere to be seen (at least I can’t find it… such a thing shouldn’t be hidden). But having all those up-to-the-minute games ready to be accessed, an engine ready to assess any position, very useful openings statistics, and different search options is something I’m more than delighted to have. I use it all the time, and there is no other database in its class, warts and all.
Comes in two versions: One for the iPhone/iPod Touch, and one for the iPad (ChessDB HD). This nice database isn’t trying to win the “who has the most games” sweepstakes. Instead it offers a more personal, more human goal.
Stats: ChessDB HD – 5.5 MB. For iPad only. Chess DB – 3.8 MB. Works for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Price: ChessDB HD – $6.99. The iPhone version – $3.99.
Pros: *A database filled with hundreds of thousands of games. *Many annotated games. *You can download your own private databases.
Summing Up: This wonderful database is for people (beginner to 2000, though I enjoy using it too) who don’t care about the latest games. It’s for people who love chess and want their database to add to that love affair. I like the fact that I can easily put my personal database of games in this app. But what makes it so enjoyable is all the mini-databases that the developers created for the chess fan. Databases of annotated immortal games, annotated lessons, 773 mates in one to 4 moves, practical endgames, middlegame lessons, 1000 short games, famous players (Alekhine, Capablanca, Lasker, Chigorin, Fine, Marshall, Anand, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, and on and on it goes), openings (Sicilian Dragon, Caro-Kann, Fried Liver Attack, etc.) and so much more.
I use ChessDB when I just want to relax, and I use the ChessBase app when I want to look up the latest games in whatever opening I’m exploring – one’s for pleasure, the other is for work.
There are several sites that allow you to play live games against opponents all over the globe. Imagine not being able to sleep at 3AM, logging on to your playing site of choice, and waging war against an opponent from Russia, Japan, or Austria? How cool is that!? All of the sites I list here are good, and in the end the decision as to which one you’ll use is a matter of taste.
Chess at ICC
The ICC (Internet Chess Club) has been the leading playing site for many years, and has an enormous amount of International Masters and Grandmasters playing blitz until their eyes glaze over and they fall into a deep, almost comatose sleep. It’s fun to watch these contests, or try to get a game against them yourself.
Stats: The iPhone version – 13.8 MB. The HD iPad only version – 17.3 MB.
Price: Both versions of this app are free, and a 1-month free trial membership allows you to play on the ICC app. Once the month runs out, and if you’ve become addicted to all that the ICC offers, you need to fork over some money. The options for paid memberships are: you purchase an IOS membership only (for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch) – 3 months costs $11.99 and 1 month costs $4.99. OR you can get a regular ICC membership which allows you to access ICC on your PC, IOS devices, or Android devices.
Pros: *Free one-month trial membership. *You get a dedicated bullet (1 or 2 minutes a game) rating, or a different rating for slower games. *You have access to various instructive videos. *You can access your game history, or other peoples’ game histories. *Access to chat rooms where just about everything and anything is discussed.
Summing Up: Signing up for the 1-month free trial membership is quick and easy, and accessing all the different options is also simple. You get 24/7 games, and you’ll be in the company of some of the best players on Earth.
With over 7 million members, www.chess.com is obviously doing something right – lots of great articles, grandmaster videos, tactical training software (like Chess Mentor), and (of course) live games is pulling chess fans in from all over the world. Small wonder that they put together an app that would allow their members, and anyone that loves chess, to enjoy chess.com on their Apple devices. However, Internet content is one thing and a polished app is quite another. Does the chess.com app live up to expectations?
Stats: 16.8 MB. Works for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Price: The app is free and the ability to play live opponents from all over the world (postal, blitz, or slow games) is also 100% free! However, if you want to take advantage of the tactics trainer (which has more than 50,000 puzzles) and the video lessons (which are fantastic and cover every aspect of the game) you’ll have to get a membership (otherwise you’re only allowed a few puzzles a day). There are different membership levels (which you can get online or in-app) ranging from one month ($4.99), to a full year (as low as $28.99).
Pros: *Play chess games live and at whatever time control that strikes your fancy (this is always free). *Great videos. *Tons of puzzles. *Play a computer. *Turns your iPad/iPhone into a real digital chess clock. *Easy to use interface.
Summing Up: Though I write a column on chess.com, I have to admit that I pretty much ignored their app (I don’t play people online). However, I gave it an honest look when I decided to write this article and I must admit that I’m impressed. The interface is very simple (I’m a big fan of ease of use), and it works smoothly. The puzzles are fun to solve. The videos are very interesting with material for beginners and masters alike. Playing is a breeze (I played their computer).
The Internet Chess Club (ICC) is the favorite playground for chess professionals who want to stay up all night bashing each other. I go there to watch those battles (I’ve mined a lot of cool combinations, opening novelties, and positional ideas for use in books and articles), though I don’t play.
Chess.com also has quite a few titled players, but they are more community oriented. Non-masters (beginners too!) will feel very comfortable there. It’s a calm, instruction-rich, pleasant place to go for people who want to feel the full chess experience.
An app that does one specific thing, but does it well: It’s for those that want to play very slow games (similar to postal or email games) with strangers and/or friends.
Stats: 37.8 MB. For iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Price: The app costs 99 cents. Playing is free if you want to play from 1 to 5 games at the same time. If you want to play up to 40 games at the same time you will need to purchase (in-app) a premium annual membership for $4.99.
Pros: *Lovely interface. *Intuitive and easy to use. *Inexpensive. *Bios with photos make other members come to life. *An unhurried, pleasant chess environment.
Summing Up: A beautifully designed app that lets you play from 1 to 5 or 1 to 40 games at the same time! Chat with your opponent(s) and browse games. Opponents can be found randomly, by rating, or by username.
Not everyone has a chess clock, and those that do often don’t want to carry it wherever they go. So why not have an app that turns into a chess clock just in case you run into a friend that wants to play blitz or any kind of timed game?
This app is actually far more than a chess clock. It’s literally filled with timers and clocks of all kinds!
Stats: Clock Pro HD (iPad only) – 32.8 MB. Clock Pro HD Free (iPad only) – 33.4 MB. Clock Pro (for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) – 39.3 MB.
Price: Clock Pro HD Free obviously doesn’t cost anything. Clock Pro for iPhone and iPod Touch is 99 cents. Clock Pro HD is $2.99.
Pros: *Sleep timer. *World clock. *Egg timer. *Stop watch. *Alarm clock. *Chess Clock. *Metronome. *Nature times (sunrise, mid day, sunset, latitude, longitude, low tide, high tide), and more.
Summing Up: The Clock Pro app gives you a lot for the money (if you need that kind of thing), and the chess clock is workable. It lets you set up just about any time situation and it also offers a few different sound effects once someone’s time runs out. However, it doesn’t fill up the whole screen, which I find annoying.
Forget about the live games and videos and puzzles (all that good stuff was discussed earlier). This app has an exceptionally nice chess clock too!
Stats: 16.8 MB. Works for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Pros: *A 100% free digital chess clock. *Multiple settings. *Fills up the whole screen so you feel like it’s a real chess clock (which it is!).
Summing Up: Go into settings and you’ll find “chess clock” at the top. The options are Bronstein Rapid, Fischer Rapid, Fischer Blitz, Delay Bullet, creating a certain amount of time per move (10 seconds a move is a good example), creating a certain amount of time for the whole game (a basic 5 minute game is a good example). When you’re done inputting the time control you want, you press “Start Clock” and the clock fills up the whole screen, turning your iPad or iPhone into a real chess clock.
It’s clear that the chess.com chess clock is superior to the Clock Pro chess clock, but if you have a need for lots of timers and clocks then you might prefer the clock pro. However, both apps are free (at least the Clock Pro HD Free version is), so there’s no reason not to get both. The fact that the chess.com app also allows you to play free AND has a free chess clock to boot makes the chess.com app a must buy.
Find all of Jeremy Silman’s books (in print!) at USCF Sales. Also find out more about Silman and his projects & products on his website, http://www.jeremysilman.com/