Since Chess is going to be a subject here on State of Play, it’s best if I admit up front that I am a terrible Chess player. I’m fascinated by the game, enjoy playing it, and love reading about it and watching replays of classic games. Most of the time, I can tell a good game from a bad game. I can judge when someone makes a good move. I’m just no good at it in practice. I don’t have the kind of disciplined mind it takes to play a truly competitive game of chess.
With the caveat out of the way, let’s turn to Chess on the iPhone/iTouch, and see what’s available. Since Chess is heavily represented in the App Store, it can be hard to tell which version is best? Several contenders crowd the top of the list. Deep Green Chess, Fritz Chess, Shredder Chess, Caissa Chess, Glaurung Chess, and Chess Genius all have their pros and cons, and their passionate advocates.
But if I had to pick one well-rounded, feature-rich Chess package with a powerful engine and plenty of learning tools, we’d have to go with Tom Kerrigan’s tChess Pro.
It’s not the best looking app (Deep Green claims that honor), but its visuals and interface get the job done. Input is simple touch controls, with easy move takebacks for those times when you grab the wrong piece.
More impressive is what’s under the hood. The game comes in two versions. tChess Lite ($1) and tChess Pro ($8), and anyone serious about chess will want to skip straight to Pro. The basic engine is the same for both versions, with excellent teaching features and opening books. The Pro version adds an analysis mode, PGN support, a database of classic games, and other power user tools common to far more expensive chess software. PGN support is always a key feature for me, since I like to have a huge database of classic games to play back and study.
tChess lacks only online support for head-to-head gaming. That can be remedied by downloading Chess.com, a free app from one of the leading chess websites. Since chess engines are a matter of fierce debate, it’s worth noting that several of these versions (including Fritz, Shredder, and Glaurung) come in Lite or even free versions, so you can try them all out. Since the apps are frequently updated, check back to see if some are adding new features, since most apps come with free updates. Fritz in particular is shaping up to be a real competitor for tChess.