I had an idea for this article for the state chess magazine, but never quite finished it. It is in no way exhaustive, but rather an overview of the software available online, and how it can be used. There are no links listed, as everything mentioned can be found in my page of chess links.

My chess page · Chess links

A good way to improve your chess is to use your computer and the Internet. Not only can you play against it, using both commerical and freely available software, but there is a wide variety of other software, including databases, available online, as well as sites where you can play against other computers and players from around the world. Also, there are numerous sites with games, news and tips on improving your play.

The only software one really needs to play chess on-line is a web browser or e-mail program. With a web browser, you can play on one of many game sites that offer chess, or against one of the computers that have a web interface. There are several chess clubs that offer e-mail chess, including postal chess organizations that offer e-mail sections. Another option is to download a program called a client, to connect to one of the chess servers, where you can play against other people and computers from around the world. Yahoo is probably the most used web site, while the Internet Chess Server, ICS, and the Free Internet Chess Server, FICS, are the chess servers of choise.

For the times when playing online isn't an option, there are numerous chess programs to play against. Besides the commercial software, there are many free programs, in a range of playing strengths, available for download. Many of them can also be used to analyze your games, sometimes refered to as "Annofritzing" after the very strong and popular commercial program, Fritz. Gnuchess and Crafty are two free programs that run on a variety of platforms. Crafty is written by Robert Hyatt, one of the co-creators of Cray Blitz. Both require an interface such as XBoard or WinBoard.

The most important aspect, in my opinion, in picking a chess program is to find one that has a playing strength equal to, or slightly stronger than yours. A program that is too weak, doesn't provide enough of a challenge, and makes it easy to make mistakes and still win. A program that is too strong may cause you to become frustrated and lose interest in playing, because you can't beat it.

In order to analyze, or annotate, a chess game, it must be saved in a format the chess program can read. The standard is Portable Game Notation, or PGN. There are many programs available which will read and write PGN files. I used Chesspad to annotate the games on my chess page.

Another invaluable tool is a chess database. With it, you can store all of your games in one file and be able to search them on a variety of criteria. All of the major commercial chess databases have websites with trial versions available for download. Also, there are a handful of free chess databases that are just as good as the commercial ones. There are many sites with games in both PGN and the commercial formats.

One of the most effective ways to use a database is to put every game into one file. You can then create files of games based on other criteria, such as openings, tournaments, players, etc, depending on the capabilites of the database program. Most database users will create smaller files based on the openings they play to make it easier to search for positions and variations they encounter during play.

Both PGN readers and databases can produce output suitable for web publishing, but I have yet to find a free program that can print an annotated game with diagrams out of the box. Scid (Shane's Chess Database), written in Tcl can, with LaTex and the LaTex chess package installed. With a bit of work, however, an annotated pgn with diagrams can be created with a word processor. First the file is imported into a word processor. From there, chess fonts can be applied to generate FAN or Figurine Algebraic Notation, if desired, and diagrams added. Diagrams are typically generated as an image, which is then imported.

Also available are programs to keep track of e-mail games and tournament software.

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