Chess.com

Site: chess.com

Type: Board Game, Entertainment

There are a myriad of chess sites, among them Chess.com is one of the biggest and most feature-rich. According to their own metrics, they have more than 8 million members worldwide, from beginners to renowned masters. The site features pretty much every conceivable chess activity one could hope for and offers players of any strength evenly matched opponents and a host of chess resources.

Besides the all-encompassing website, there are also apps for Android, Apple devices and Facebook.

Premium Memberships

Premium memberships offer access to a lot of training possibilities and some comfort functions, but the site is for the most part also perfectly usable for free if you just want to play chess. When you join the site, you will be given a time limited premium trial shortly thereafter. I suggest to check out every nook and cranny of the premium features during that time and see if you need or at least want them.

If you really want to improve your chess rating and are willing to part with some cash, then Chess.com's premium features are worth the money, at least the yearly memberships, paying monthly is a lot more costly in the long run.

The highest tier, the diamond membership, runs at $99 per year and grants unlimited access to all site features. If you compare that to what training lessons with a real coach, various chess programs and equipment goodies cost, that's a fair price for the offered functionality. The two lower tiers, platinum and gold, can be good compromises if you don't want to pay that much and are content with their limitations. If you just want the basic suite of comfort additions, like auto timeout protection, personal performance stats, and access to your complete game archive, then the gold membership is a valid choice.

Membership tiers can also be up- or downgraded later on and there is a 30-day money back guarantee.

Playing

The core part of Chess.com is of course playing chess. Due to the high number of members and the site's international popularity, players can usually find a good match pretty quickly at any time.

Live Chess

PLAY ➤ Live Chess

Live chess is the next best online equivalent to over-the-board (OTB) games in chess. Games can last minutes or hours and have strict time controls. Depending on the settings, this type of chess can get a little hectic and often forces players to cut their strategic considerations short under the timer's pressure.

Time controls can either have a fixed time per player, or additional time can be granted for every move made. Games with 15 to 60 minutes per player are called rapid chess, 3 to 15 minute controls are blitz games and matches with even shorter controls are bullet games.

The interface is relatively easy to understand and it's uncomplicated to find equal players who want to play with specific time settings. Likewise browsing active games by others and looking up scheduled games is straightforward. For players who just want to observe there is likely always an interesting match in progress. There is also a chat area where spectators can comment on the games being played.

Chess.com's live chess has been realized with HTML/JavaScript and is very responsive, which is quite important for short time controls.

Online Chess

PLAY ➤ Online Chess

This is Chess.com's term for correspondence chess. Games have time controls between 24 hours and 14 days per player, without time extension per move. If you like to play it slow and think about each move thoroughly, this is the way to do it.

Online games can be started from the home view by simply picking a rating range for your opponent and the number of days per move. There are some more advanced options available though through “Start New Game” in the box in the upper right. Here it's possible to invite specific players to a game or to restrict opponents to those that fulfill certain criteria, like number of games already played, percentage of timeouts and average move speed. If you don't want to risk being faced with a player who flunks out regularly, I recommend to make use of these options. I usually just set the maximum time out percentage to 5% to avoid unreliable players. Additionally Chess960 games can only be started through the advanced setup options.

If there is already an open game seek that matches your choices for another player, your game starts immediately. Otherwise it will be added to the seek list until someone accepts your challenge. In my experience it usually takes less than a minute until someone accepts, but if your rating is either very high or very low, it might take longer, because the player base follows a normal distribution.

Besides the usual move list and material overview, the online chess page also has a lot of other helpful things for each game. There is a box for notes that are only visible to yourself, if you want to write down some ideas or evaluations, this is the right place. A chat box allows friendly banter with your opponent, but the chat can also be disabled if you prefer to make your moves in virtual silence. “Explore” leads to the game database, where you can see how the current position has played out for others. Free accounts are restricted to the first couple of move in the database, this is enough though to figure out the foundation for solid openings.

Then there is the analysis board that opens is a separate window. It allows to toy freely with a game, to play through possible move combinations and get a better grasp of the situation on the board. The analysis optionally also allows to make illegal moves, this can be helpful to skip into possible variations.

After a game has been finished it can also be submitted for a computer analysis. It details evaluations for every move made by both sides, marks questionable moves and blunders, notes percentages of good and bad moves, and shows alternative lines that could have been played in various positions. This kind of computer generated analysis is quite dry and probably not very helpful for beginners, but advanced players might gain some important insights from it at the click of a button, whereas a manual postmortem analysis requires time and patience.

Tournaments

PLAY ➤ Tournaments

Tournaments are available for live games and online chess alike. Official Chess.com tournaments are conducted all the time with separate brackets for players of different strength. The range for official tournaments is 200 points, e.g. 1201-1400, and an unlimited number of players can participate in these.

Tournaments can also be initiated by players with premium memberships with a number of possible options, the total number of players in unofficial tournaments is limited to 100 though. Players with free accounts can join any tournament, as along as they fulfill the requirements of the individual tournament and the following preconditions: you must have played at least 5 rated games already, you must have won at least 10% of all your games and have a maximum of 10% timeouts. Free accounts can join an unlimited number of official tournaments, but only one member tournament at any time.

The format for tournaments is either Round-Robin or Round-Robin knock-out, depending on the total number of participants. In the former each player plays two games against every other and the winner is determined by the final score. With a large number of players this would consume a lot of time and the knock-out style is used. Here the field of participants is divided into smaller groups and each group then plays Round-Robin. The winners of all groups are then put into new groups and so on, until the tournament winner has been determined.

If two players in a group have the same score, the tournament rules can be set so that either both advance into the next round or tie break points can be used to select the winner. To calculate tie break points Chess.com uses the Sonneborn-Berger score also known as Neustadtl score: for every win the opponent's conventional score is added to the tie break score, draws add half the opponent's score. For example if you win against a player with 4 points and draw against a player with 3 points, you have 4 + 1.5 = 5.5 tie break points.

The format of a tournament is usually displayed in a short notation in the form G(C)→A[+], where G is the number of players in a group, C is the number of concurrent games being played against each opponent in the group, and A is the number of players being selected to advance from every group. An appended plus sign means that tie breaks will not be used and players with equal scores both advance.

There is always a huge number of open tournaments to join, with any combination of the following settings:

Set Position (board icon): These thematic games start in a fixed position a couple of moves into the game. This can be a very interesting challenge, since it forces development into certain directions. In some positions one side might be in a slight disadvantage, but since every game is played as white and black, it doesn't affect the outcome of the tournament.

No Vacation (hourglass icon): In normal online games it's possible to activate vacation time to stop the time controls for a period. For games belonging to no vacation tournaments this is not possible. This can really speed up the whole process, because in large tournaments there is otherwise always someone taking vacation and thus delaying the whole event.

Chess960 (960 icon): Chess960 in tournament format. Note that a single starting position will be generated randomly for the tournament and every game of that tournament will start with that position. In other words: not every game will start with a new position.

Premium Only (star icon) and Invite Only (speech bubble icon): Does what it says on the tin. Invitational tournaments can be used to play with friends or favorite opponents.

Chess960

Online chess and tournaments are also available in the Chess960 variant, also known as Fischer Random Chess.

The strength of a player in classic chess depends to a certain degree on his ability to memorize and execute optimal opening lines. This makes the initial stage of chess games relatively predictable and often the only surprise is when a player delves into a particularly disadvantageous opening. Chess960 sidesteps the issue of stale openings by randomizing the starting position of the pieces behind the pawns, while keeping all the standard chess rules intact.

Three rules apply to the randomization: The two bishops must be placed on squares of opposite colors. The king must be placed between the rooks. The black pieces must be a mirror image of the white. Considering these rules, there are exactly 960 legal positions, hence the name.

Castling can be a little counterintuitive in Chess960. It's important to remember that all chess rules still apply. That means whatever the initial positions of the king and the rook involved in the castling are, after the castling move both end up on the squares they would occupy in a standard chess game. Kingside castling is called a-side castling in Chess960 and queenside castling is h-side. They are denoted as 0-0-0 and 0-0 respectively.

To start a Chess960 game go to the advanced game setup options and change the game type. There are also a number of Chess.com groups dedicated to this variant. Since the number of players is a lot lower than for standard chess, it might be worth to join them to find like-minded players.

Vote Chess

PLAY ➤ Vote Chess

Here you join a team which votes on each move to be made, the move with the majority vote is then executed. The comments section serves as a way to discuss the options and gets a little heated sometimes. Compared to the other playing possibilities on Chess.com, this sections seems to be relatively unpopular. Chess is not really a team sport after all.

Against the Computer

PLAY ➤ Vs. Computer

Here you can play against an engine called Little ChessPartner. It's realized as a Java web applet and strong enough to put up some serious opposition. Compared to more advanced engines, running as highly optimized native code, it won't win any prices of course.

Training

Chess.com also has a number of active learning and study tools that strive to teach players of all levels something new.

Tactics Trainer

LEARN ➤ Tactics Trainer

The Tactics Trainer is a good tool to practice tactical assessment of positions. It presents positions, usually from middlegame, and the task is to make the best possible moves while the clock is running. Sometimes only one move is required, sometimes a series of optimal moves is necessary to solve a position.

Chess.com keeps track of a separate Tactics Trainer rating for every player and the positions themselves have assigned ratings too. As players succeed or fail to make the optimal moves, both the player's and the positions rating are adjusted as if it had been a player match. The scoring not only depends on the correct solution, but also on the time taken. It's even possible to receive a negative score for a correct move when too much time has passed. The result is that the presented positions will fit your own strength after a number of tries and will always keep you on your toes.

After solving or failing a position, a chat area is displayed, where members often talk about the solution and their performance. Some statistical data about the position, like average pass rate, average solution time, and its rating, are also displayed. Additionally it's possible to toy with the position and its intricacies on an analysis board and to play it out against a chess engine.

For players who want to improve their game, I recommend to use the Tactics Trainer regularly, because most training positions have some interesting theme going on. The adaptive system also makes sure they don't bore with too much ease or frustrate with too complicated setups, it's always a nice challenge in the sweet spot of just hard enough.

Free accounts are restricted to three positions per day, whereas gold members can do 25 positions per day and the upper premium memberships have unlimited access.

Hint: If you are into this kind of training, but are not keen on getting a premium memberships, check out Chess Tempo. It basically does the same thing and you can train with an unlimited number of positions for free.

Chess Mentor

LEARN ➤ Chess Mentor

Chess Mentor is another good way to boost your chess finesse. It's like an automatic coach that presents you situations and guides you to better understand the tactical key points and how to arrive at optimal solutions. The big difference to the Tactics Trainer is that everything is fully commented. When you pick a wrong move, you get an explanation, for the obviously bad choices that might just be a “try again”, but for the more subtly suboptimal moves there is usually a more in-depth explanation. When you make the right moves, you also get some further information detailing exactly why a particular move is the best choice. The annotations are not computer generated, each lesson was handcrafted chess experts, namely Grandmasters (GM), International Masters (IM), FIDE Masters (FM) and National Masters (NM).

The lessons also involve hints to the solution in the form of further commentary, showing key squares or key pieces. These hints are all optional and a part of the learning process. The goal is of course to get to the solution with as few as possible hints, but they are still very useful, because they can nudge the thinking process into the right direction without spoiling the solution.

The courses are organized in difficulty from beginner to master, have assigned ratings, and are further classified in the following categories: opening, endgame, strategy, tactics, attacks, games and miscellaneous. This makes it very easy to find appropriated courses and to improve specific weaknesses in your play.

Free accounts can basically just preview Chess Mentor, gold and platinum members can do 3 and 5 lessons per day respectively, only diamond members have unlimited access.

That being said, Chess Mentor might be the next best thing to a real mentor I have ever seen. Given the quality of the courses and the insights they are providing, it might well be worth it to get a premium membership for this alone, at least for players who are really serious about improving their game.

Computer Workout

LEARN ➤ Computer Workout

Computer Workout lets you play predefined positions against a chess engine. The idea is to focus on key motifs that repeatedly come up in chess games and train how to handle them. The same thing could of course be done with human opponents, but the engine is tireless and will participate in any number of repetitions without moaning. Not all positions can be won, sometimes the task is rather to force a draw against equal or worse odds.

The starting positions are grouped into rating ranges and thematic categories, like classic middlegame positions, equal and worse endgames, or material conversion. Each also has a short hint that gives some insight into the position's intricacies and what the player should pay attention to. The computer can also be forced to make the best move for the players, for educational purposes of course. Additionally an engine evaluation is shown for the current development. It uses the classic pawn units, where negative numbers mean black has the advantage.

There is also a comments area attached to each position that is hidden by default. Similar to the Tactics Trainer, members often discuss their thoughts on the given situations and if they can even be won.

The whole range of workout positions is only available to premium members, free members can access a selection of 10 positions.

Online Coaching

LEARN ➤ Online Coaching

For players searching a real, human coach, Chess.com also has a section where chess masters and other experienced players offer their time and knowledge to students. The coach list can be filtered by country and strength of accepted students.

Each coach has a page with some details about them, their teaching offer, and means of contact. Most offer their lessons in the form of Skype sessions for a fixed amount of cash per hour.

Resources

Chess.com hosts a lot of information on chess. Some of it has pure entertainment value, but much of it can help astute chess players to learn and improve their game.

Rules and Basics

LEARN ➤ Rules & Basics

This section contains the very foundations of playing chess as a clear overview. The goal of the game, how the pieces move and the chess rules are laid out concisely and with helpful diagrams. Basic strategy and some pointers on how to progress from there are also given. Those who are just starting to discover chess should read this entire section before anything else.

Study Plans

LEARN ➤ Study Plans

Chess.com's study plans are a good way to get some directions on how to improve your game. Two study plans exist: one for beginners with a rating below 1400 and one for intermediate players (1400 to 1799). Both are divided into subsections: opening, tactics, strategy, endgame and a final overview section. Study plans for advanced players have been announced as forthcoming, but are not yet available at the time of this writing.

Each subsection has a number of tasks that point to different parts of the site. Those can be articles with theory and explanations, videos from chess masters, resources like the opening explorer, training tools like the tactics trainer, or pointers to the various playing possibilities on the website. The tasks encourage to understand the key principles of certain aspects of chess in theory first, and then to apply and actively use them in training sessions and real games. Of course they also promote Chess.com's offerings that are more or less restricted for free members, like the Chess Mentor.

The study plans' major draw is that they bring some guidance into the wealth of available resources. Players of any strength will probably often wonder how to improve their game and what to study next. It's often hard to really put your finger on the exact weaknesses that are holding you back, especially in something as complex as chess. By systematically going through a study plan, one or the other weakness might be spotted and in turn fixed.

Videos

LEARN ➤ Video Lessons

The video library contains hundreds of chess videos from an array of chess masters. They can be rather insightful and entertaining at the same time (if you are a chess nut). The videos cover pretty much every theme of chess games and are categorized first by main theme (openings, tactics, positional play, pawns, attack and defense, endgame) and then by a multitude of secondary categories, e.g. pins, zugzwang, evaluating positions, pawn storms and many more.

Each video has a short description of the discussed theme that gives a relatively good idea about what to expect and a discussion area is also included with every video. There is also a video guide that is supposed to have a similar function to the study plans, but it hasn't been updated in quite a while and is almost useless at this point, because it only links to a handful of the older videos.

Note that most video lessons are only available to diamond members.

Articles

LEARN ➤ Articles

The articles area contains chess knowledge and wisdom grouped into a dozen categories, from openings, over tactics and strategy, to the endgame and trivia. Some are written by chess masters, some by enthusiasts without title. It's quite a treasure trove and it's worth to dig through the archives with the search function if you are interested in some chess aspects in particular.

The article topics are pretty all-inclusive as far as chess goes: history bits and pieces about the development of chess, biographical articles about famous players, championship reports, opinion pieces, guides on diverse topics, and general advice on how to improve your game.

There are also game analyses with embedded boards where readers can follow the author's explanations move by move. This kind of article not only presents some very interesting games, it also helps to understand what's important when analyzing games in general.

News

SHARE ➤ Chess News

The news section provides updates on recent events in the world of chess. News items are categorized as follows: events, players, politics, editorials, internal Chess.com news, and miscellaneous. There is a lot going on in the international chess community and new articles are usually posted daily or every other day.

Book Openings

LEARN ➤ Book Openings

This section lists standard openings either by popularity, alphabetical, by ECO code (Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings), by moves or number of comments.

Each opening is presented on a board and also shows statistical data about game outcomes from the game database. For example the stats might show that 40% of games starting with the opening ended with a win for white, 35% with a win for black, and 25% were draws. Possible continuations and their outcome percentages are also shown together with the number of games on record for each. The openings can also be researched in the Game Explorer for further study and the comments area is again the place to discuss each book opening in detail.

Premium members can also play each opening against the computer for training.

Game Explorer

LEARN ➤ Game Explorer

The Game Explorer is the interface to Chess.com's game database that contains millions of games by masters and every member game that has been played on the site.

Each position shows possible continuations, the number of games in the database using the continuation, and the win/loss/draw percentages for white and black. For opening positions related openings are also shown.

The database can also be searched using player names, their ratings, the date, the number of moves, the final result and the used opening as possible search parameters.

Free members can only use the Game Explorer up to four half-moves deep into a game, which is barely enough to get a glimpse of the unfolding possibilities of course.

Chess Lexicon

MORE ➤ Chessopedia

The Chessopedia is a small Wiki of chess terms. It contains biographical data on famous chess players, definitions of chess terms, as well as short descriptions of other chess related items. The Chessopedia can of course be searched and sorted alphabetically, by number of reads, or number of comments, but some kind of categorization or a tag system is missing and the entries are not really comprehensive. In most cases you will probably be better off searching Wikipedia.

Downloads

MORE ➤ Downloads

The downloads section contains engines, utilities, databases, user made lessons, and some other items. Most of it is not really useful though and you are probably well-advised to look somewhere else for such things.

Two hints: Scid vs. PC is a good and free chess database tool and the free Stockfish engine is one of the most powerful chess engines available, currently only bested by the commercial Houdini engine.

Community

Forums

The forums are naturally the social hub of the site. There are more than 20 subforums for every need, most are for different aspects of chess, some are specifically about Chess.com's features and activity. If you want to discuss anything related to chess, there's certainly the right subforum for it.

Some discussions get pretty heated and people occasionally overstep the boundaries of civilized manners, but overall Chess.com's forums are a good place to talk about the game. The staff is also active on the forums and if you have questions about the site or technical problems, they or other members are quick to help. Always be sure to look for the right subforum first though, especially troubleshooting requests should go into the support sections.

Groups and Teams

SHARE ➤ Groups & Teams

Groups and teams (there is no real distinction) are a way for members of Chess.com to gather with like-minded players, just to discuss, to play against them or to play as a team in team matches. There are groups for players of certain strength levels, (inter)national groups, groups for players who follow specific schools of chess, and many more or less nonsensical fan groups. Note that some groups are restricted, e.g. to players of certain strength.

Team vs. team games are also another nice way for some additional competitive practice and there are team match leaderboards as well as vote chess leaderboards.

Each group has its own forum and chat room. If you would like to play and discuss with more people from your own country, I suggest to join one of the regional groups.

Blogs

SHARE ➤ Blogs

HOME ➤ Blog (for your own blogging)

Every member can have a blog and express their thoughts to the community at large. Thankfully you don't have to read all of it and can search through the blogs to find what you are looking for. There are also highlighted top bloggers at the top, usually chess masters. That being said, some of the blogs by non-titled players contain one or the other gold nugget and it's worth to dig through the blog section when you are on the lookout for something different.

Cheaters

Just like any other competitive activity, chess attracts people who cheat. Chess.com is not immune to cheaters of course, but they have banned many discovered cheaters in the past and pledge to do their best to uncover them. Suspicious players can be reported to the staff and they supposedly also employ undisclosed forms of cheat detection behind the scenes.

While no system is perfect and there are no guarantees that your opponent is in fact not cheating, I personally recommend not to worry about it at all. The percentage of cheaters is likely very small to begin with, so it's a waste of time and energy to question your opponent's every move, and even in the unlikely event that you were facing a cheater, you still get a challenging game out of it.

The high number of members on Chess.com also means that you don't have to face the same opponents repeatedly, unless you want to. Furthermore cheaters naturally gravitate towards the higher ratings, if you are not a top player, chances are that you will never face a cheater.

Getting the Most out of Chess.com

Chess.com tries to be everything chess and for the most part it even succeeds. It has a large user base, every kind of chess competition (and Chess960), solid training tools, and a host of additional resources. The matchmaking possibilities and the tournaments are pretty much all you need if you simply want to play with one of the largest chess communities on the net.

The Tactics Trainer and Chess Mentor are good ways to learn, but one of the best ways to improve your game is still to get the theory right first, by reading a lot, and of course to play continuously. The articles, study plans and other items posted on the site offer a lot of in-depth knowledge, but I would still recommend getting one or the other complementary book. As far as playing itself goes, you can't go wrong with the site, unless you want to play over-the-board of course. Don't forget to have fun, in the end it's still just a game.

If you are looking for a chess program with engine assisted training, have a look at Lucas Chess.

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