Friday, October 21, 2005

Top Chess Websites

If you type "chess" in GOOGLE, you are going to get a hundred million (exaggerated, but probably not overly so!) amount of "hits." 99.9% of these will be pure, unadulterated crap. It's amazing how much knowledge one can gain from the internet, but it's also amazing how much trash there is. On that note (and the fact that I am having a slow day at work!), I am going to sum up what I think are the best chess sites around:



1. http://www.freechess.org/ (Free Internet Chess Server (FICS)).

In my humble opinion, this is the best place to play online chess. Why? Several reasons. First, it has a large number of people on it. Have you ever requested a game on other servers and have no one respond? I have had this happen on FICS, BUT I can count how many times in the last three years this has happened on the fingers of my right hand. In short, it rarely occurs. Second, it has incredible features. Right now I have it set up where every game I play is automatically e-mailed to myself. This has been incredible in analyzing and inventorying my games. Other features include an online lecture series and online tournaments. Third, it has an adjudication feature. Tired of people wimping out and logging out on you when you are up two full rooks. Well FICS has an entire system for making sure you get the win, even if your opponent conveniently gets disconnected. Fourth, it is absolutely free!!!! Can't beat that!!!

Caveat: FICS (like most chess servers) has the same peanut gallery clogging up the chat lines. (Generally, conversations can be muted, but, of course, not easily filtered. So muting conversation generally runs the risk of missing something worthwhile or important). Politics, religion, philosophy.... you name it, it is usually debated endlessly on this site. It truly baffles me how people go to chess sites to sit there and not play chess!

2. http://chess.emrald.net/ (Chess Tactics Server)

"Chess is 99% tactics." I am not sure if I 100% agree with that quote, but there is no question tactics are important. As such, every chess player should know about this site. It is an inventory of tens of thousands of tactical puzzles. It includes all themes (i.e., forks, pins, etc.) and has problems for every skill level. What's more incredible is that there is a "quiz" type function that allows a person to test their skill with all the problems. You will be given a problem and given a score based on if you got the problem right and how fast you did so. As your score goes up, the problems get harder, as your score goes down, the problems get easier.... in short the problems reflect your performance. This sounds unextraordinary, but it is not. Because of this, problems rarely ever repeat and you are never thrown problems that are way above your head (or way below it!).

Caveat: This site seems designed for blitz play. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that. However, to advance your score you must often answer problems in 5 seconds or less-- an amazingly short amount of time. This is good for me, since I generally play blitz games and always have "time trouble," however, this fact has drawn many people away from this site.

3. http://www.chessgames.com/ (Chessgames.com)

Without question the best "social" chess site out there. Want to talk about some obscure opening or an even obscurer chess player? There are people on this site who are not only willing to listen, but are willing to actually respond! No chess subject is too remote or too mundane. The site's "Kibitzer Cafe" is a gold mine of chess thought and commentary. The site also features daily puzzles/games that users can discuss. The site also covers in realtime (or close to it) high-level matches and tournaments where again people can comment and discuss them. Feel isolated? Feel like a great big chess dork? On Chesssgames.com you can openly boast your knowledge of Morphy, Steintz, and Pulgar -- and instead of being shunned, you will be idolized!

Caveat: Chessgames.com has the same problems as any other website with chat features -- idiots and morons! People love talking about politics or about how other users suck. Blah, blah, blah. Second, and more disturbingly (since it can easily, or at least I think it can be easily fixed) the site's posting room has only one posting. In short every new posting is perceived to be a comment from the last. So if I post something about Morphy, and somebody responds totally off subject about the King's Gambit, that second post is treated as a comment from the first. Sounds like not a big deal, right? Wrong! With hundreds of people posting it becomes very easily to lose your post in the shuffle. Unanswered posts, an inability to determine who someone is responding to -- these are all horrible problems for this site. Third, the site has features that only paying members can use. This is perfectly fair, but obviously takes away from the site.

4. http://www.chesspositiontrainer.com/ (Chess Position Trainer)

This is not so much a website, but a download. Either way, it is phenomenal! How many chess books do you have on openings? Where are they now? Sitting on a shelf unused in years, collecting dust, right? This site will brings those books back to life! The site allows you to enter a pre-set of opening moves and then quizzes you on them. Thus you can easily memorize all your major openings. By presetting the moves of a chess book, you can then have all the major lines of that book easily memorized. Oh, and once again, it is perfectly free!!!

Caveat: On a basic level the download is not particularly user friendly (not atrocious mind you, but not good either). The system needs a lot of work. On a more conceptual level: what is the utility in memorizing openings? Many say you should memorize the themes of openings (i.e., developed pieces, pawn structures, etc.) as opposed to memorizing actual openings. Is this true? You be the judge. It's awesome to have the first 10 moves of all major lines of the Sicilian defense memorized. Am I a better chess player for it? Yes, if my opponent plays one of those 10 lines. But if he plays an 11th line I haven't memorized... guess what -- all my memorization won't mean anything. And as I have learned, there is always an unmemorized “eleventh line.”

5. http://scid.sourceforge.net/ (Shane's Chess Information Database (SCID))

What SCID lacks in name, it makes up for in sheer excellence. This is by far the best database organizer I have seen. It allows you take millions of games and arrange them by player, year, opening, etc. This is all pretty common, but SCID allows other amazing features. It has an ability to search games by piece positions (common) and number of pieces (uncommon). In other words, you can find all games where it is two pawns versus one pawn (regardless of position!). It also allows you to determine what your win/loss ratio is according to what opening is played. For example, this is how I was able to tell I win less than 20% of the time against the king's gambit! The program even has a feature that tells you where your pieces tend to be played during a given game. Thus, for example, after a thousand games I am able to determine that my queen almost never leaves her queen side. Oh, and once again, can you say -- FREE!

Caveat: I can honestly think of none! Still more features would be nice, but I just love this program.

HONORABLE MENTION
1. www.labatechess.com/store

I love chess books! I think part of me more enjoys collecting them than actually reading them! Well, this website is my absolute favorite place to buy chess books. The gentleman in charge is a saint of a man, who is a sincere and generous chess enthusiast. It is not uncommon for him to throw in free score cards in with my orders, and he is excellent at recommending books. A first class merchant, this is the website to go to for all your chess literature needs.

Caveat: Sadly chess books are expensive. I think this is because demand is relatively low (compared to most books) and publishers can't use high-volume sales to make up for publishing costs. www.labatechess.com has some really fantastic prices (far better than most websites!), but on a personal note, I just can't afford very many books. That and there really is a wealth of stuff on the internet that is usually free. I think chess books are generally going the way of the dodo. I could be wrong. But I think chess authors need to rethink their trade and that websites are going to be the future of chess publications. We've seen it happen with music (itunes and similiar services are totally replacing CDs), chess books might go the same route.

2. www.chessbase.com

This is your best, most detailed source for chess-related news. Games, tournaments, players, you name it.... if it is chess news it is here.

Caveat: Some will wonder why I didn't place this in the top chess websites. It is the best at what it does -- provide chess news. But largely, I don't find chess news all that important. Yeah, there is some major chess tournament in Milan. Yes, Fischer's extradition to the United States was unsuccessful. Yes, Susan Polgar is touring the United States with the former Soviet Union Premier Gorbochav. But really... who cares? Many people do! However, I am not one. Ulimitately, like most news sources, the articles here are hit or miss (some are interesting some are not). It all depends on the reader! I personally think www.chessbase.com has more misses than hits, but that's my humble opinion.

5 Comments:

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Siliconpawn said...

FICS and I believe ICC use the same cryptic server commands to navigate the system. The BabasChess interface lessens the learning curve.
Overall a great review of the five sites.
If you want to reduce the spam try using the word verification feature that blogger.com provides.

 
At 2:02 PM, Anonymous prodigywannabe said...

WOW!! You mentioned some GREAT sights I had never seen before! I love chessgames.com, thats my fav. site, that's where I found your blog, but the others are great too! Especially the tactics one, I need to work on my tactics. And they're all *FREE*! :-)

 
At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, not much to say except... is 3...Nf6 4Nc3 ed4 5 Nd4 g6 any good as well as your moves? I think I will give it a try and see if I do well with that Larsens philidor. thanx, anon.

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your unbiased and straight forward opinions on these sites, the positives as well as the negatives. Please can you review my chess website "Chess on the web" http://www.chess-on-the-web.com - I hope you feel that the quality of the site warrants a mention and is a useful addition to chess sites on the web. I would also point to the site on Morphy listed on my "Past Masters" page, as a fan of Morphy this blew my mind, highly reccommended.

 
At 5:19 AM, Anonymous ChessCube said...

Our new free site www.ChessCube.com is worth a look. It has a unique interface and supports live interactive video lectures

 

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