Posted on October 12, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

lichess.org on iOS Is Mobile Chess At It’s Finest

Editor’s Note: This review focuses exclusively on the iOS (iPhone/iPad) version of lichess, but the Google Play version contains all of the same features as it’s Apple counterpart. Performance and compatibility will vary depending on the device used.

Not long ago you could find me singing praises of the Chess.com app on iOS. The app received a major update a few months before the site’s V3 design went live. But this entry is not about Chess.com or it’s mobile app. This is about an app that has emerged as a serious competitor to the largest chess website on the internet: lichess.org.

lichess.org is a 100% free and open source chess platform that offers many of the same features you would find on major competitors, but with some noteworthy differences.

  • Zero advertising! In an age where the internet seems more saturated with advertisements than meaningful content, lichess strips away the advertising model and relies on user donations to fund its operations. There are no premium or exclusive memberships although certain donation levels can get you a special identifier showing that you sup port the site.
  • Unlimited free access! In keeping with the earlier line about advertising, all of lichess’s puzzles and training aids are free to all users. This is definitely an attractive feature for players not wanting to pay for tactics and puzzles.

These are great features, but lichess really shines in its mobile offering, especially on iOS. The lichess iOS app is one of the most polished and useable chess apps out there!

The home screen displays a random Puzzle of the Day along with quick options to start a new game. Simply click the board to access the lichess puzzle repository and begin your training with access to thousands of free tactics.

Clicking the Create a Game button brings up a mobile version of the lichess game creation screen. Users can then link up with thousands of other lichess members and try their skills against more than a dozen different chess variations.

Bullet and Blitz seem to be very popular with many of lichess’ higher-rated players. Personally, I enjoy the 15+15 classical (rapid) time control because it has a nice balance of requiring chess experience while allowing for some time to conduct a deeper positional analysis. Regardless of your personal preference, the lichess app has nearly endless options for setting up the chess game of your dreams.

The lichess app also comes with an analysis board and local engine analysis for reviewing your games. I have also found this helpful for playing the game on the app with a person sitting next to me. Additionally, the Openings Explorer is a feature you will find on most chess websites, but I love how lichess’ version is almost seamlessly integrated into the analysis board. This way a user can easily switch back and forth between local Stockfish engine analysis and the Openings Explorer. This is an invaluable tool when conducting post-mortem game evaluations.

Final Verdict

These days it seems like the world of internet chess is growing faster and faster. New services crop up regularly and existing ones continue updating and refining their products. lichess is not new, but it is one of the more recent services to make a splash in the digital chess world. In my opinion, lichess is set apart from others in that it is a labor of love for its developer and those who maintain it.

Combine these small differences with the depth of features and the price (free), lichess’ mobile app is easily the gold standard for playing the royal game on the go.

Campfire Rating: ♟♟♟♟♟

Download the lichess mobile app from the App Store or Google Play.

Posted on April 07, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Product Review – Kindle Voyage

Note: As of the date of this post, Amazon.com is offering a temporary discount for Amazon Prime customers on the entire line of Kindle e-readers. $30 off Kindle makes it $49.99, $30 off Kindle Paperwhite makes it $89.99, and $50 off Kindle Voyage makes it $149.99

Chess is a double-edged sword for book lovers. There are countless chess fanatics out there whose personal book collections rival some of the greatest libraries around the world and that assessment often does not include the assessment and inventory of digital materials storage on hard drives, USB flash drives, SD cards, and cloud servers. My personal collections straddles the line somewhere between print and digital with most of my collection belonging to the Kindle family of e-readers and Chessbase. As kind of a present to myself for completing my Masters Degree in March, I decided to finally retire my Kindle Paperwhite that has served me faithfully for many years and replace it with a Kindle Voyage, which is the most recent edition of Amazon’s e-reader.

The King of Electronic Books

It is hard to argue that Apple is the undisputed king of technology, Netflix is the king of streaming media, and Amazon.com is the king of digital books. The original Kindle device was high-priced, low memory, and low on production count. It sold out in record time and remained unavaialable due to inventory problems for months! Fast forward from 2007 to 2016 and the current edition of Amazon’s high-end Kindle is called the Kindle Voyage and it is much more than anyone could ever have expected in a digital book experience.

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Kindle Voyage showing a Capablanca game (Credit: Campfire Chess)

Kindle vs. Kindle Voyage: How Far We Have Come

The original Kindle sold on Amazon.com for $400 and came with a whopping 250MB of onboard storage capacity, but that capacity could be upgraded using an expandable SD-card slot. On a sidenote, László Polgár’s epic Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations, and Games clocks in at a whopping 292MB in its Kindle edition, which would eat up around 97% of the storage capacity on the first edition.

In contrast, the Kindle Voyage comes with 4GB of onboard storage, which allows for László’s work to sit comfortably on the device without limiting the amount of other material that can be carried along with it. For chess players whose libraries grow almost daily, this is excellent because the increased storage space means more room for chess more chess books! Personally, I liked the almost nondescript design of the Kindle Paperwhite, which is one of the reasons that it stuck with me as a personal reading device for so long. However, the Kindle Voyage takes the engineering advancements of the Paperwhite to create a near-perfect reading experience.

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Crisp, high-definition e-ink display. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

As you can see from the screenshot above, the text is incredibly crisp and has a much clearer contrast than the Paperwhite. In addition to the traditional touchscreen controls introduced in the Kindle Touch, the device comes with buttons on each side of the screen for turning the page. Before the device arrived and I was able to start using it, these were one of the design features that made me nervous. However, these controls are something that have to be used to be appreciated. Although they are not buttons in the traditional sense, pressing on them creates a brief vibration in the device before turning the page. This haptic feedback sensation is unusual at first, but became comfortable very quickly and I think it is an excellent feat of engineering because it helps to reduce fingerprint buildup on the screen over time and also gives the user a real sense of control of the content as the book progresses.

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I hope she’s reading Campfire Chess… (Credit: Amazon.com)

Although I highly recommend it, the Kindle Voyage is more of a luxury device tailored to avid readers or people who need a larger amount of storage space on their Kindle. For chess readers, it is a perfect device because the crisp display, long battery life, and large storage space combine to create a space to build an extensive portable chess library without having to lug a laptop around or depend on the limited battery life of an iPad, iPhone, or other tablet device. The Kindle Voyage currently runs for $199 on Amazon.com, although recent discounts and promotions seem to indicate that the Kindle line is mere days away from being refreshed.

Additional Reading:

  • Fans to Amazon: Leave Perfect Kindle Alone! (link)
  • Kindle Voyage vs. Kindle Paperwhite: Which Amazon e-reader should you buy? (link)
Posted on March 22, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Unimpressed with Apple’s Loop-In Event

So, you might be wondering what an article about Apple is doing on a chess website (or you may not). In addition to chess, a long time passion of mine has been technology and Apple products in particular. Growing up in the 80s led to great exposure for me and my classmates to Apple IIe computers and eventually to the Macintosh desktop. Since then, almost everything that I do, including the writing, design, and administration of Campfire Chess is accomplished using a Mac. That being said, I typically look forward to their keynotes to announce new products because there is always a chance that something new will catch my eye, but yesterdayís event was one of the worst presentations I have ever seen.

Chess.com app on iPhone 5 in 2014. (Image Credit: Campfire Chess)

$ize Does Matter

The old adage that size does not matter is a blatant lie, whether it speaks to cell phones or genitals. In this keynote, Apple introduced a series of new products that essentially downsized products that already existed in their inventory. A 4″ iPhone called the iPhone SE, which has a somewhat creepy Windows ME feel to it. After playing and watching chess on my beloved iPhone 6, I cannot image ever wanting to reduce the size of my phoneís screen.

The next entry was a series of bands for the Apple Watch. Yes, I own one of those as well, but I doubt that I will be in a hurry to run out and purchase one of the spiffy new woven nylon bands released during the keynote. It might just be me, but I cannot remember ever wearing my watch and thinking: I need something that absorbs the sweat on my wrist better than this plastic composite band.

Yuck. (Image Credit: Cult of Mac)

The final release of consequence was a smaller version of 2015’s 12″ iPad Pro. The smaller device, also dubbed iPad Pro, is a reduction in physical size, boost in specs, and addition of a feature called True Tone Display in which the color of the display changes based on the light temperature in the room.

Chess Connection?

As I stated earlier, I love Apple products but I gave up using an iPad as my primary work device several months ago in favor of a Microsoft Surface. Obviously, Chessbase runs exclusively on Windows, but Windows offers a much more efficient file management system on tablets than iPad. This makes managing large chess collections and improves my personal productivity.

I hope to finish a review of the Surface 3 in the coming months to show how I have used it both as a productivity tool and as a portable chess machine. Unfortuately, Apple continues to keep me at bay from returning to iOS for pure work productivity. The addition of the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard to the 10″ iPad is a nice start, but there is still a long way to go.