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Chess Computers

The following categorized links all deal with how to use computer chess programs to study and improve your game. This is a relatively new section of my links pages and so I am still collecting and organizing these links.

Commercial Chess Database Programs and Engines
The most popular and easy-to-use databases and engines are quite affordable, several starting below $50. The database programs generally start above $100, but they come with and support a number of engines. If you are only going to do very basic things with databases (such as viewing, editing, adding commentary, etc.) then an engine such as Fritz or Shredder will probably give you everything you need. But if you expect to do more advanced things (such as publishing websites or creating opening books) then the main Chessbase program is definitely the way to go. All of these are well-supported, with lots of online help files and information (see below), so they are worth the investment for anyone who wants to spend more time doing chess analysis than fiddling with their software. For those who would rather keep their money and develop their computer expertise, there are a number of free programs with the same basic capabilities (see further down the page).

Chess Programs from Chessbase
The main page of chess programs available from Chessbase, featuring their current offerings.

Chessbase 9 Starter Package
A good place to start if you can afford to pay over $100. The package includes the current Chessbase program, a good database, and Fritz 5 for analysis. You can buy an engine alone

Shredder 9
The current hot program.

Fritz 8
Fritz is still pretty much the standard. See the whole set of Fritz Programs that have grown up around this engine.

Free Database and PGN Programs
You do not need to spend a dime to get the basic equipment you need to generate PGN database files to store and analyze your games. All you need is a little time and basic computer knowledge, and you can make a file annotating your game that can be posted onto the web or used to generate interactive webpages. You should start by getting a Graphical User Interface (GUI) program, which basically presents you with a chessboard and allows you to move pieces in order to create game files or allows you to view existing files. A program like Fritz from Chessbase (see above) gives you a GUI backed by a chess engine to do analysis and some database program features. One way of achieving the same basic abilities offered by Fritz without spending any money is by using Winboard or Scid combined with Crafty or Yace. The combination gives you the same basic functionality (if not the same quality results) as any Chessbase program but at no cost. Of course, with Chessbase programs under $50 and free programs requiring a bit more time commitment to master (and sometimes generating less-than-best analysis), it's a trade-off. But if you have more time than money or if you want to learn more about how these programs work, then the free GUIs and Engines are the way to go. See Aaron Tay's still valid (if slightly dated) article "Chess Engines - Cutting Through the Confusion," which explains how engines are the brains and GUIs are the body and you can mix and match.

A useful and very user-friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI) that is compatable with a wide range of chess engines. There are various download options, some of which come with free engines pre-loaded. This is one of the few free programs where you can simply download it, run the set-up wizard, and just start playing instantly. It also seems to have a broad range of functionality and excellent help files to get you started.

Scid Free Database by Shane Hudson
Probably the easiest free database and Graphical User Interface (GUI) combination program available. More user-friendly than the classic "Winboard" (see below) and more robust than simple programs like "Chesspad" (see below). Check out the site for lots of other interesting stuff or pay for a copy on CD with an excellent million-game database thrown in. Or go direct to the English Version Download Page and get it now (about 20 minutes to download over a slow dial-up modem). And I recommend you read Aaron Tay's guide to configuring SCID with Winboard Engines or the help page on The Analysis Window from Scid (the latter of which also gives you links to other free engines to download).

Xboard and Winboard by Tim Mann, et. al.
The Winboard program is an excellent resource and can serve as your interface to play online (at the Free Internet Chess Server, for example), to create or edit game files, to create diagrams (using an image-editor or a program like Snag-It to get the image from the board), or to play against chess engines. Xboard is for Unix systems and Winboard for Windows. Download the latest version of either via Tim Mann's site. Be aware, though, that some of the help files associated with this program are written for people with good computer knowledge. If you have never used the command line in your computer, for example, then you may find yourself rather limited in what you can do with Winboard. If you enjoy using it, visit the Winboard Forum for advice, links, and ideas (or the old forum).

An excellent little GUI program, ideal for people who just want to generate PGN files or view a small PGN database. Download it for free from the address above. The speedy download comes complete with an installation wizard that makes the whole set-up process very easy. You can use it to create or view PGN files or use it to create diagrams.

Chessbase Light
This is a free version of Chessbase 6 with the most important basic capabilities. As a free utility, it makes a great learning tool and will probably meet the basic needs of most chessplayers. If you enjoy using it, I'd recommend you purchase one or two of the programs below, especially Fritz (or Shredder) and Chessbase 9.0. You must register in order to get to the download page. You can also find several useful links to FAQs or user information (which they call "hints"). See the Support section of the Chessbase website for other tutorials and useful information about the more advanced versions of Chessbase (some of which applies to CB-light and some will just tell you why you might want the current version of the program). CB-Light unfortunately does not work with any free chess engines, so you cannot analyze and annotate at the same time unless you shell out some bucks for the paid version.

Chess Assistant 7 Light
The Convekta database "Chess Assistant" is Chessbase's closest competitor and offers most of the same abilities. Download their free version here to try it out. See their Lessons on Chess Assitant (also available in video format).

ExaChess Light
The database program built specifically for Macintosh computers.

Bookup Light and Free Trial
You can try Bookup free for thirty days. You can also order a free copy of Bookup Light here.

CDB Freeware
Download directly from the author. I have not tried this program myself.

Free Engines
The term "engine" generally refers to a program designed to play chess or generate analysis. Some engines are integrated with a database manager (especially the Chessbase programs) but most free engines require a GUI (see above). See Aaron Tay's still valid (if slightly dated) article "Chess Engines - Cutting Through the Confusion," which explains how engines are the brains and GUIs are the body and you can mix and match. For a sense of their relative rankings, see Lyapko George's ratings list based on mini-tournament results.

Tim Mann's Chess Pages by Tim Mann
One of the best places to find links to free engines and other utilities. See especially his Crafty Links to help you download Crafty.And be sure to read How to Use Crafty with Winboard by Mark Yatras, which is an excellent tutorial and help file for combining the analytic powers of Crafty with the useful interface provided by Winboard (though you need to know something about computers to understand it). Most people who write software for free chess engines test it with Winboard, so you are assured broad compatability.

Aaron's Chess Engines FAQ
A useful set of resources and tutorials, with a forum in case you have more questions.

Download>Engines from Chessbase
Chessbase programs allow you to add free engines to your stable, so the Chessbase site allows you to download a number of the better ones.

Chessville Downloads
A good collection of links to free programs and utilities.

Chess Town, Homepage of Arman
A rather comprehensive if unannotated set of links to software.

Product: Software and Databases
At about.com.

About Computers and Their Limitations
Before you get started analyzing with a computer, you should be aware of some limitations they have. While you can generally trust a computer to solve tactical situations, you should be more wary of trusting them in situations where long-range planning or positional intuition are called for. Here are some links to explore to understand chess computers.

High Performance Analysis with Chess Engines by Steve Lopez
A good introduction to the fact and fiction of chess computers. Most of all, you need to know that computers do not know everything, and they need you more than you need them in order to successfully analyze a position.

How to Beat Chess Computers by Adam Bozon
One of the best ways to learn the limitations of computers is to figure out how to beat them. Bozon covers the basics in the opening, middlegame, and ending.

How to Annotate Your Game
One of the most valuable ways to use a chess computer is to help you analyze and annotate your own games, either to help improve your own understanding of the game or to publish to help others. The following links offer very useful advice on the fine art of annotating with a computer.

Saving / Replacing / Deleting Games by (August 11, 2002) Steve Lopez
Great basic advice on how to create and edit a database -- including one containing only your own game.

The Fine Art of Annotation, Part One (ETN August 18, 2003) by Steve Lopez
Some excellent technical advice on annotating games, including how to insert annotations, how to enter null moves and how to add annotations to the end of a game (to show what would have happened had the game continued).

The Fine Art of Annotation, Part Two (ETN August 25, 2002) by Steve Lopez
Covers how to use the annotation pallet and key shortcuts to insert annotations and symbolic commentary.

The Fine Art of Annotation, Part Three (ETN September 1, 2002) by Steve Lopez
Scroll down through the relatively long plug of the author's 2002 CD on computer chess to find the main article. This article explores some more advanced features for annotators, including how to place arrows on the board or highlight squares in order to indicate important aspects of a position.

The Fine Art of Annotation, Part Four (ETN September 8, 2002) by Steve Lopez
Some good general advice on writing annotations: choosing good games, writing to your reader's level, clear writing, quality over quantity, etc.

Game Analysis Using Chessbase Engines by Steve Lopez
This article at ChessCentral discusses how to set up your engine to do a lot of analysis work for you. My recommendation, though, is to use the engines only as a supplement and an extension of your own work.

Printing Games and Diagrams Using Chessbase by Steve Lopez
Basic FAQs on building a book or just printing a diagram.

Opening Study with Computers
Computers are especially good for seeking new ideas in the opening and checking analysis and recent games for problems. The links below offer advice on using computers to hone your opening repertoire.

Electronic Alchemy by Tim McGrew
Discusses the "fine art" of using computer chess programs to discover opening novelties and new ideas.

Creating a Chessbase Opening Key, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three by Steve Lopez
This is probably a larger task than most average players will want to engage with, but many serious players use the Opening Key feature to help them manage the tree of variations they play.

Using Databases: The Basics of Managing PGN Files

Database Basics, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight by Steve Lopez
Basic information on what game databases are and how to use them. These instructions are mostly written for people who want to use programs like Chessbase or Fritz to look at an existing database, not for people who want to create their own databases. But you will find some useful information and advice here, covering all the basics of searching for positions, openings, players, and other information. See especially Part Five on searching for a specific position.

PGN Format in Fritz 6 (ETN May 7, 2000) by Steve Lopez

PGN Format in Chessbase 7 (ETN October 17, 1999) by Steve Lopez

PGN Utilities
An excellent resource page devoted to news on the PGN standard with excellent links (scroll down the page) to PGN utilities to help you manage and edit your files.

A Little Tutorial on PGN by Tim Harding
A useful article from the ChessCafe author describes the Portable Game Notation standard and gives some advice on managing your files.

A User's Guide to Fritz 6 - Saving your games (ETN March 5, 2000) by Steve Lopez

Basic Database Functions I (ETN February 6, 200) by Steve Lopez

Portable Game Notation (PGN) by Mark Weeks of About.com
A good beginner's introduction to the most useful and common form for chess games.

Web Publishing

Web Publishing Links by Michael Goeller
A useful collection of links, which I have not reproduced here.

New Chessbase 7 Web Publishing Tools (ETN April 11, 1999) by Steve Lopez
How to use the Chessbase program to generate java-enabled games.

Inside Output: Publishing with Fritz and Friends by Mig Greengard (ChessBase Cafe)
An excellent article on using Fritz (and other ChessBase software) to create HTML pages.

En Passant
Offers lots of free help and programs to create a chess web site using the excellent Palamede program (free). I especially recommend that you look at the Demo Pages (which show you a wide range of layouts and designs) and that you download the Palmate program (which makes creating playable Java games from PGN files a snap). A fantastic free resource that every chess webmaster needs to know about.

Help Files and Other Resources

Chessbase - Support
An index to support and help files associated with the Chessbase programs.

Electronic T-Notes (1997-2002) by Steve Lopez
A weekly newsletter of Chessbase software tips written by Steve Lopez.

Chess Pages - Free Chess
An inconsistent but sincere effort to help others with computers and chess.

How to Install a Chess CD by Steve Lopez
The basics of how to get your new chess CD up and running, complete with useful screenshots.

Computer Chess Books

Using Chess Software by Kevin Bidner
Reviews "How to Use Computers to Improve Your Chess" and "Chess Software User's Guide."

Chess Computer Books

Links to Links on Computer Chess

Louis Kessler's Chess and Computer Chess Links by Louis Kessler
A good collection of links with useful annotations.

IM Jovan Petronic by Petronic
A useful site that recently began software reviews.

SCCS Computer Chess Portal by Shep
A good collection of resources for those interested in testing their computers.

Jeff Mallett's Computer Chess Page by Jeff Mallett
An interesting set of links, but mostly for those interested in writing computer programs themselves..

Chess Software from Chess Corner
A rather dated looking collection of links to software by category.

Computer Chess and Software from Chessville
A good list of links related to chess computers.

Computer Chess History by Bill Wall
A basic chronology.


Can a Bayesian spam filter play chess? by Laird A. Breyer
A fascinating article that propopses a model by which chess computers might be programmed to learn.

Chess Programming from Game Devby Francois-Dominic Laramee

Chess Programming Theory by Colin Frayn

Computer Chess Programming Blog, designed by Michael Heilemann
An interesting communal blog with lots of content.

Chess programming links
More promising than the one below.

Chess Programming Tutorials from Chessopolis
Lots of broken links.


Updated 07.18.2005 | Contact Michael Goeller