Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Playing Chess Online

For some of us, the amount of chess club events, weekenders, FIDE Internationals and team events that can be participated in during the year just isn't enough. When your an English chess player living abroad around Christmas/New Year, the thought that back home I'd probably be playing in one of the events at the Hastings festival makes me want to play chess! So what can I do?

Well besides making a bigger effort to join as many clubs, and play as many tournaments as is humanly possible, I can play online. There are 2 forms of chess to be played online: real time chess, and forms of correspondence chess. I would recommend that an improving player tries his hand at both of these. The internet has made both these forms of chess very user friendly.

Real Time Chess

There are dozens of sites to play chess on the internet, some free, some not and it is sometimes difficult to choose which is the right one for you. Signing up for a free site, like FICS carries no obligation and there are literally dozens of these. Some you can play for free, but get more features if you pay for a full membership which seems to have something for everyone. A rapidly growing site is where besides playing there are a heap of educational materials.

If you want to pay, the 2 premium sites online are the Internet Chess Club (ICC) and the Chessbase online site, Playchess. I personally use ICC, but I believe it to be a matter of choice as both have excellent features, including GM analysis, GM/IM simuls, tournaments, live relay of world class events, and of course a huge membership so there is always someone to play. For instance, today I logged in to ICC, set a challenge for some 5 minute games and was lucky enough to play 1 GM, 1 IM and a few other players around my own sort of strength. After playing the games, I had a brief look through them, and its helped me to understand a bit more about the openings I play (which is the main reason I play on these sites).
To play, you usually have to download a browser which enables you to access the site and when a game starts a board just opens up and you start playing, it couldn't be easier.

Slower Chess

Especially if you're new to chess, or if you like more time to think about your moves, there are sites where you can play games that last weeks rather than minutes. Correspondence chess has been around for an awful long time, but to many of us, it is cumbersome, time consuming and quite expensive. Online chess sites have cut out the expense of paying for stamps, and internationally recognised organisations play tournaments online by email. There isn't many sites more active than the Intenational Email Chess Group (IECG), and they even have an archive of their games online. In these games you would have a given length of time (eg 3 days) to send a move to your opponent via email. Then your opponent has the same time to send their move back and so forth. In this sort of chess you can spend more time studying each move, and learn much about certain positions which may arise in your games. A number of top players over the years have played correspondence chess to some extent, including Euwe and Keres in their early days.

Besides ICC I also use a site like this called Gameknot where the majority of games are at the rate of 2 or 3 days per move. You can play a number of games at any one time, and always have something to be thinking about. These sites can be used as an end in themselves, or as I'm doing, they can be used as a tool to help improve your normal rated chess. For instance, I am putting a lot of work into developing and extending my opening repertoire from the games I play on Gameknot. So far I have found it to be both challenging and friendly which has to be a good thing. And like so many other sites, it is free, but there is a premium membership which will open more features.

So try out some of these sites, or even search around for others. There is very little excuse nowadays for not being able to play enough chess, and you can play against people from all over the world, rather than getting stale sitting against the same opponent each week at the chess club.

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