Can anyone advise on chess software?


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Can anyone advise on chess software?

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juny 20, 2011, 9:36pm

I've been trying to figure this out for some weeks now. I was taken with the Bobby Fischer HBO documentary, and then read Frank Brady's Endgame. A lot of moving reminiscences there about things that once fired my imagination. The upshot is that it rekindled my interest in chess, which has lain dormant for 30+ years. I was a decent player on my high school team, with roughly a 1600 rating at the time.

Now that I've been thinking about playing the game again, I have reflected back on my preparation during my playing days. Frankly, I am dumfounded. Yes, I read some books. Yes I played a lot. But today I have a level of organization and planning when I undertake something that was developed only to a much more rudimentary extent in the distant past. I recall being lucky to get out of the opening against a schooled player for lack of adequate study of the openings. For example.

I won my share of games, but now I feel that if I am to play, I want to be prepared. I am looking for some good chess software to help me lift my game. I want something I can play against and that will provide game analysis. Ideally, I would like something that would be a particular aid to familiarizing myself with a variety of openings. Tutorials might be helpful.

Maybe someone here is knowledgeable about these matters. I'm not even sure if I can articulate what kind of software I want. But the above is a good description of where I am. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Editat: juny 21, 2011, 10:32am

I would recommend you don't pigeon-hole yourself to software. Check out the following site:

There is a section, Chess Software and DVDs, but it's mostly just chess engines, online magazines, and videos (for either a computer or DVD player) pertaining to Openings.

Openings should be the last thing you study. I highly recommend you also click on the "Chess Books" link in the left menu (NOT "Chess Opening Books"), and within there, depending upon your level, would look at the "Tactics", "Instructional", "Endgames Studies & Problems", and "Game Collections" sections.

From the sounds of what you put in your message, I would probably guess that for the first 2, you might want to look in the "Intermediate" section of each.

Also, look at the reviews on both (actually read the reviews, some of the bad reviews are because they thought the quality of the paper was bad, or the book had a bad smell, or something stupid like that), and on

Only after you've gone thru middlegame and endgame strategies, and a bunch of master games, would I start studying openings.

juny 22, 2011, 3:29am

I would recommend you download the free GUI Arena chess software with free engines. As good as any corporate bundle and all for free.

juny 22, 2011, 2:58pm

Thank you both. ThrillerFan, could you elaborate on why the study of openings should come only after the things you recommended?

juny 22, 2011, 5:56pm

stellarexplorer, there are multiple reasons why Openings should come last:

1) One way to think of it is, if you don't know what to do with 5 pieces on the board, you'll never know what to do with 32.

2) Opening theory changes. It constantly involves keeping up to date with the latest and greatest. Tomorrow, maybe an improvement for Black is found in the Sicilian Dragon at move 29.

Endgames don't change. King in front of the pawn with opposition, or King in front of the pawn with the King on the 6th rank, in a K and P vs K ending, has always been a win for the player with the pawn, still is a win, and always will be a win.

3) The reason to study middlegames before openings is to understand positional play and tactics is more important than memorizing a bunch of moves. Take the Stonewall Dutch. 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.Nf3 d5 5.c4 c6 6.O-O Bd6 7.b3 Qe7 8.Ne5. This is supposed to be the latest try for White. The line that gives Black the biggest scare in the Stonewall Dutch. Why? One must understand basic middlegame concepts in order to understand this.

a) Black has a backwards pawn on e6, and a hole on e5 (if you don't know the terminology "Backwards Pawn" or "Hole", then already, this is proof enough as to why you should study middlegames before openings).
b) His Bishop on d6 is his "good" bishop, his Bishop on c8 is his "bad" bishop. White clearly wants to trade off the good bishop, not the bad bishop. Many players play 7.Nc3 instead of 7.b3. Once the Knight has moved to c3, there is no "threat" of Ba3 to trade off Black's best minor piece, the Bishop on d6. With a White pawn stuck on d4, White would be more than glad to rid himself of his dark squared bishop. This also explains Black's 7...Qe7 move, in an attempt to prevent Ba3. White will get it in eventually, but he will have spent so much time on it that Black's fine after the trade on a3 later on.

4) Do you truly understand how to evaluate a piece? Or do you say "9 for a queen, 5 for a rook, 3 for a Bishop and a Knight, 1 for a pawn"? The piece values are their value at the start of a game. As the game progresses, understanding the concepts when Knights are better than Bishops, when Bishops are better than Knights, how to win with the Bishop Pair, and other items of that nature.

For example, having the Bishop Pair is a long term asset, not short, like a tactic. In most cases, the player with the bishop pair wants a "somewhat" closed position. If you achieved the bishop pair early, it likely took you extra moves to do it, like if 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4, Black will make you waste time with a3 before taking the Knight. Usually, the player relinquishing the Bishop Pair early on will have a lead in development. Therefore, shut down the position to get time to reposition your own pieces, then bust open the position later on. Also, in the late middlegame, if you have the 2 bishops, and your opponent has bishop and knight, don't think about what your Bishops "can" do, think about what his knight "can't" do. You may have to block your own bishop for the time being, but if you keep his knight out of the game, your position will be so much stronger.

An EXCELLENT book that I must recommend if you haven't read it already is "Bishop v Knight: The Verdict" (Available at

Save opening theory for later. At your level, if you are 1600, you will almost never reach move 29 of Dragon Theory. Your opponent will deviate well before that!

juny 23, 2011, 5:09am

I would recommend that you spend some time opening theory and much more time on tactics training.
At your level tactics (combinations etc) win around 90% of games.
Opening theory: I would recommend you learn two openings up until the point where you understand what the position means - stop when you get to that point. Learning up to 30 half moves in some obscure line of The Marshall is not worth the effort, other than for the aesthetic qualities.

Example as White:
Kings Gambit - Learn how to open the f-file and concentrate your attack on f7. These themes are easy to learn, yet powerful weapons.
Kings Indian Attack - You can almost play this against anything black throws at you. Learn the KIA position with the supported e pawn with d3 and the king's Indian bishop. Fast development and almost impossible to get beaten by sharp tactics in the opening.

Example as Black:
Learn the opening hybrid positions of the black pawn on d6 with the king's indian bishop developed - Modern/Pirc/King's Indian Defence. Again you develop rapidly and understand the positions easily enough. Again you can use this system against anything with very good results.

juny 23, 2011, 10:46am

I disagree with what LesMiserables is saying.

He should not be trying to learn Modern/Pirc/King's Indian theory.

In the beginning, the only thing dealing with openings that he should be learning is opening concepts. Control of the center. Attack and Defense of pawns. Tactical concepts in the opening, like after 1.e4 e5 (take your share of the center) 2.Nf3 (Attack the Black pawn) 2...Nc6 (Defend the Black pawn) 3.Bb5 (Attack the piece that defends the pawn) 3...a6 (Attack the attacker that is attacking your defender) 4.Ba4 This is where tactics in the opening play a part - 4.Bxc6, while ok, does not win a pawn because after 4...dxc6 5.Nxe5, Black has 5...Qd4, and he will get the pawn back as White has to worry about the Knight.

Players at his level, when you talk openings, should be playing classic openings, like the Ruy Lopez, Queen's Gambit Declined, etc, not highly theoretical openings like the Pirc, King's Indian Defense, Sicilian Defense, etc.

Also, it's not just about combinations. He also needs to understand good development and positional play. The future of his pieces. Things like that. Take your King's Gambit example. Why should the White Bishop go to c4 and not d3? The Queen's Gambit, what are the consequences of playing e3 before moving the Bishop out to f4 or g5? What are the consequences of playing e3 after moving it out to f4 or g5?

Do you understand what to attack? Many players think it's all about attacking the King. It's not! You've got Kingside Attacks, Queenside Attacks, Attacks on a specific color complex, like you might have a firm grip of the dark squares whereas your opponent has a firm grip the light squares.

Do you understand which side of the board to attack when the center is closed? Why should White attack Kingside and Black attack Queenside in the French while Black attacks Kingside and White attacks Queenside in the Classical King's Indian?

He should not be studying opening theory. He should be going thru tons of master games with different openings (i.e. Not pigeon-hole himself to one opening for White and one for Black), not even worrying about what happens until the middlegame begins, and then try to get a firm grip on planning and strategy, along with finding the spots where tactics are involved. If you don't understand a move, and no notes are given as to why not another move, don't just brush it off, try to put yourself in the other player's shoes, and see if you can find what move makes the prior move you thought bad. If you can't, run it thru a strong computer, analyzing each move, and eventually, you will see it leads to either a loss of material due to some tactic, or some sort of positional issue, like a fatal backwards pawn that is going to drop. In chess, losing one pawn can mean death.

Also, the lower the rating, the older the games you should be going thru. At 1200, you should be looking at 19th century and older. At 1600, expand up thru about 1950, with players like Alekhine, Capablanca, Nimzovich, etc. Hold off on studying Kasparov's games, or Karpov's games, or other modern phenoms until you are about 1900. Theory theoretical knowledge is too deep for a 1400 player to understand.

Now if you are 1600, that doesn't mean you can't also study games from the 19th century. I went thru Rosenthal - Steinitz, Vienna 1873 on Tuesday night, and I'm over 2000. Backwards is fine.

You should be trying to understand the basic concepts of the game, not residing to some hypermodern structure that you play against anything White throws at you as some shortcut way to study chess. In the long run, you won't get anywhere because you don't truly understand the strategy of the game.

After you've reached 1900 or so, then start moving away from Classical Openings, determine the style of play that best suits you, and proceed with studying opening theory.

When I first played, I learned 2 classical openings, and otherwise read tactics, strategy, and endgame books. Those 2 were the Queen's Gambit Declined and the French Defense, and 1.d4 with 2.c4 as White. All openings that fight for control of the center.

juny 23, 2011, 11:15pm

Perspective appreciated, ThrillerFan. My thinking had been that it would be nice not to enter the middle game having already handed my opponent an advantage due to lack of adequate familiarity with openings. Of course it's little consolation to be demolished in the middle or end games due to insufficient familiarity there either.

As far as studying older games, I do have the advantage that all my chess books are from the pre-1973 period. Except the "Bishop v Knight" book, which I have ordered. On the other hand, my old chess books may not necessarily be the best choices now either.

I hope you both won't think this a big mistake: I just learned that my wife, having noted my renewed interest in chess, ordered Fritz for me for Father's Day.

juny 24, 2011, 3:17am

I'm not sure Thriller fan understands what I have said or either has skim read and missed my message.
By learning this range of positions and ideas you not only understand the fight for the centre in proximity, you also appreciate in a hypermodern sense how to undermine it and attack it when necessary. there is no 'one' way to learn chess. I do however know that in my initial posting I said that you need to spend much more time on tactics than openings. You will rapidly move up in ratings by having great tactical awareness. This will generally not work against computers though as they are tactically flawless more or less. Therefore knowing openings that are much more positional in nature like the hypermodern positions, makes complete sense if you will be playing lots of chess against the silicon variety.

Do not be sucked into the dogma of learning chess through the open games only (ie e4 openings). We have moved on somewhat from 19th century vogues.

juny 24, 2011, 3:45am

I like what you say about there not being one way to learn chess, LesMis. I plan to devote time to this. In an ideal world, it would be nice ultimately to be able to determine where my weaknesses are, what patterns and tendencies prevail when things go wrong, so then I can direct my efforts at improvement efficiently.

juny 24, 2011, 6:31am

You would do well at your level to read this article on rapid Chess Improvement through a regimented tactical training regime. Some traditional chess instructors hate it, like Silman for instance. But that is not the point. The author understands that up to a certain level, winning chess games is all about tactics. Once you get to ELO 1900+ in Over the Board chess, then tactics become less of an issue and other things come to the fore, like endgame mastery etc.

There is never going to be a winning argument here. We all have our own position on these things. My position is
1) Tactics are paramount up to club player standard.
2) Learn a mix of openings: 'open game' + hypermodern.
3) Use openings that are flexible and never mind about learning niche and vogue lines. Learn the positions and ideas behind those openings.

juny 24, 2011, 10:28am


Your comment says, and I quote:

"I would recommend you learn two openings up until the point where you understand what the position means - stop when you get to that point."

I'm saying that I don't agree with learning any "openings" right now, but rather, opening concepts. Things like:

- Fight for Control of the Center
- Develop your pieces, not moving the same piece multiple times unless absolutely forced to
- Develop minor pieces first, USUALLY (not always) knights before bishops.
- Leave the Queen at home until later. Developing her too soon will allow your opponent to develop his minor pieces with a gain of tempo because you keep on getting your queen hit.

Your other comment:

"Do not be sucked into the dogma of learning chess through the open games only (ie e4 openings). We have moved on somewhat from 19th century vogues."

When people say you should learn e4 e5 first, it's not because you should be studying 25 moves of Ruy Lopez theory. e4 e5 AND d4 d5 both involve openings that follow all the fundamentals of opening play.

When you are below 1800, you shouldn't be saying "I'm playing the Orthodox Queen's Gambit Declined as Black". You should be saying "White opened d4, which controls the central squares c5 and e5. I need to control part of the center, or White is going to roll me. Since d5 isn't covered, I'll occupy d5, and control the central squares c4 and e4. Therefore, I play 1...d5"

Next, after White goes 2.c4, Black should be saying "If I take on c4, I have lost all control of e4, and White can play e4, and completely dominate the center. If I protect d5 with a piece, like 2...Nf6, then after a trade on d5 with a recapture with the Knight, again, nothing stops e4. I could take back with the Queen, but this violates not developing the Queen early, and when White plays Nc3, I have to move her again. Therefore, I need to protect this pawn, so that if he takes me, I can take back with my pawn, keeping a pawn on d5, and controling that e4 square, so that White can't get a big center. Therefore, I play 2...e6."

Next, after White goes 3.Nc3, Black says "Ok, so White has developed a piece. I should probably develop a piece, as otherwise White will be ahead in development. The N on c3 continues to pressure my d5 pawn, so I probably should do something that protects d5 again. I can play 3...c6, but I have no pieces developed. I can play 3...Ne7, but that blocks in my Bishop on f8, and controls f5, a square White isn't even fighting for right now. However, if I play 3...Nf6, I develop a piece, specifically a Knight, usually the first to be developed, before Bishops, and it not only covers d5, but also that important e4 square that I don't want to give White. Therefore, I play 3...Nf6."

I think you get the point. You are 1600. Your opponent is 1600. Your opponent isn't going to be mauling you in the opening if you play openings that follow all the fundamentals of chess.

Hypermodern strategies, like the King's Indian Defense, Modern Defense, Alekhine's Defense, Grunfeld Defense, etc., involve a completely different train of thought that requires advanced chess knowledge to truly understand. Anybody can memorize moves, but understanding it is a different story.

It's not "Let's just play open games with e4", it's "Let's follow all the fundamentals of chess, and if it happens to be a Ruy Lopez or a Two Knights Defense or a Queen's Gambit Declined, I don't care - I'm following the fundamentals of the early stages of a chess game - talk to me about opening names and theory when I'm over 1800."

Lastly, you say it's 90% combinations. Also not true. Many games are not lost due to a missed combination. Many are lost at the lower level due to missed fundamentals of strategy. Yes, tactics and combinations are necessary as well, but so are the fundamentals of strategy, planning, etc. Why do we place rooks on open files? Since everyone says control the center, why not just always put them on e1 and d1?

Yes, there is hypermodern strategies, and openings that violate the principals of chess that are still ok, like the Scandinavian Defense, where 2 of your first 3 moves are a Queen move. However, put those ideas on the back burner until you've mastered the basics of fundamentally sound chess.

Editat: juny 24, 2011, 1:15pm

As already noted, tactics and ideas that guide openings rather than openings themselves (you will give away more material due to blunders than you will ever hope to get from going 20 moves deep into any opening).

I would argue that Dan Heisman's Novice Nook articles are the only thing you need to read until you know why that isn't true. I can list some of my favorite ones if you would like.

Novice Nook Archive

Tactics practice -
Websites: & Chess Tactics Server (
Software - Chess Tactics for Beginners (I forget what it is bundled in and called now but that is what it was called).

Book- Bain's Chess Tactics for Students (you can also find pgn files for this to work through on software)

Opening ideas:

Ok if you dont believe what I said about Heisman, then I would get
Baden's An Introduction to Chess Moves and Tactics Simply Explained
Chernev's Logical Chess: Move By Move: Every Move Explained (again, find the pgn files to work through as you read)

If you have an iPad then Shredder for the ipad is a great, cheap app. If not, then either Shredder or Fritz for a pc will be much more than you need.

juny 25, 2011, 1:23pm

Thank you PeterKein. I have downloaded the Heisman articles -- glad to know about that site, and will check out the others!

jul. 30, 2011, 7:34pm

Lastly, you say it's 90% combinations.

Yes I do and I stick by that. Over many years of playing OTB chess at club level, I have found that most games are won initially by a winning combination: one side goes a pawn or two up, or a better exchange which leads to a winning game. This almost invariably happens from raw beginner all the way up until you are heading for elo 1900+.

I cannot comment on what your experience has been but that has been mine.



Editat: ag. 1, 2011, 10:35am


I can tell you from having played almost 1900 tournament games over the board that there is a lot more to it than combinations.

That "subtle mistake" that allows some glorious winning combination is what happens when I face experts and masters (i.e. over 2000). Sometimes I'm on the winning side of it, sometimes the losing side. Being an expert myself (elo over 2000, but under 2200), that would be expected.

However, at the "raw beginner" level, all the way up thru at least 1800, and even many of those from 1800 to 2000, don't understand the fundamentals of chess. They think of chess as a 1-dimensional game.

What I often see, if I'm playing a 1700 player, and I have Black, is they think that because they are White, it's all attack attack attack, and that defense plays no roll. It doesn't take a combination to beat these people. Just fundamental defense to stop their fake attack, and attacking weak points on the board, netting a pawn or two eventually, and then just trading down to a won endgame, is a very frequent occurance. No "combinations" involved. Just put pressure on the soft spots until it cracks (often because they are so busy attacking with that Knight, having moved it from f3 to g5, that it's not doing anything to cover the weak d4 pawn that I'm about to win). Trade off pieces, and win the 5-on-3 pawn ending.

Take the same scenario, but give me White. Now, those that understand the fundamentals of chess are the ones that are harder to beat. Yeah, they may not know the best move on move 23 of a Najdorf, but putting players like this away is a lot more difficult than what I see many 1700 players do when they have Black, and that's just sit back and try to hold tight, never moving out of their cacoon. They rarely tend to have more than maybe a pawn past the 3rd rank (6th rank if talking algebraic notation). This often leads to an undeserved space advantage for White. Understanding the fundamentals of how to execute a space advantage will often lead to Black suffering from being squeezed and unable to move. Once again, no combination necessary.

Now if you do face someone that understands the fundamentals of chess, and simply is lacking those deep ideas, like move 23 of the Najdorf, then this is where often a combination is necessary to win, and that combination is what makes his or her 23rd move fundamentally wrong.

Tactics and Combinations do often occur, but below the 2000 level, understanding fundamental, positional play will carry you a lot further. You can take the ideas of a space advantage or lead in development with you when you face experts and masters. The fact that you know some cheap combination that 1500s will fall for won't get you past that point. You can't sucker a master into cheap shot combinations.