Posted on January 29, 2019 by Wesley Surber

The Awesomeness of Studies

Chess has a reputation for being a game of intellgience both on and off the board. In recent years, this has manifested heavily in the realm of information technology development. Chess engines continue to get stronger by the day and programmers of all skills are constantly developing new tools to help players analyze, sort, annotate, and improve their games. One such recent development is a growing feature on the popular website called studies.

The study system on lichess is, at its core, a highly advanced PGN creator and annotator. It allows a user to create a new study that can be public or private. New moves, annotations, and other elements are automatically synced with the lichess server and between all of the users with access to the study. This makes studies an excellent utility for chess teachers and exhibitions since users can see, follow, and even provide collaborative comment on a game or position. To use the study utility, simply select study from the Learn menu on the lichess website. A list of available public studies will appear for you to choose from.

If these public studies do not suit your tastes, there are options on the side of the page to create your own studies. This is where I found the study function to be most useful for me.

Using the study tool, I am able to create a private study where I can create an individual chapter for each part of a video series I am following or game I am studying. This way I am able to make annotations, draw arrows or circles, and then share those studies with a highly limited audience if I want. Additionally, the study tool provides the user with an option to download each chapter as an individual PGN file in the format of an annotated game. Or, you can download the entire study as a PGN database to be opened in most chess database programs.

For me, the best part of this system is the collaborative elements. It opens up a world of possibilities for digital interaction between teachers, students, and general chess enthusiasts in an intuitive and easy-to-use way. If you have not tried it out, visit and check it out.

Posted on January 15, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Time for New Annotations?

This month’s edition of Chess Life has an interesting article advocating for changes to the way that we annotate chess games. The author, GM Andy Soltis, presents his argument on the basis that engines have changed the way games are analyzed in such a way that statements like White has a slight advantage are no longer relevant. I think that he raises some interesting points, but I am not sure that the changes to evaluations brought on by engine analysis warrant such a complete and drastic overhaul.

Humanity’s Slight Advantage

One of the key points in the discussion is the idea that in many situations, X color has a slight advantage can hinge on whether the player does not blunder. Therefore, the annotation is more realistic as X color has a slight advantage as long as they play perfectly according to this analysis. GM Soltis believes that the precision of chess engines allows us more accurately present lines as White wins with X move or Black wins in 37 moves with X.

This precision is compounded with the growing prevalence of tablebases. Recently, has started offering an incredible seven (7) piece tablebase. Technological advancement only promises a future where we could surpass a ten (10) piece tablebase. That accuracy lends some credence to GM Soltis’s argument.

Despite these advances and despite my passion for technology, I believe that there are artistic and strategic elements in chess that computers might never understand or utilize. Stockfish can analyze millions of combinations in hindsight and state unequivocally that white can win in 37 moves without a blunder, but humans are not capable of that kind of analysis. With humanity, there is always a chance of blunder, mistake, or other factor that can affect a game’s outcome.

Room to Grow

GM Soltis makes some excellent suggestions with regards to these engine analysis comments, however. Specifically, using ~ versus !? because it more accurately reflects the nearly infinite possibilities presented in post-game analysis by a strong chess engine. Such a change might take some time to catch on, but it would make reading an in-depth analysis easier for newer generations that have grown up in the age of the hashtag, markdown format, and other digital mediums.

As a medical professional who spends his time pouring over spreadsheets and other electronic data, it would be nice to see more of the standard notations from large data sets and relational databases make their way into chess annotation because, curiously, it’s more in line with what is increasingly becoming a common language in the digital age.

Posted on October 19, 2017 by Wesley Surber

TCEC Season 10 Underway

The Top Chess Engine Championship (TCEC) Season 10 started on October 14 to determine which engine has the skill to claim bragging rights for being the best out there. According to Chessdom, Season 10’s participants are among the highest rated engines to ever participate in the event.

List of Participants

  • Andscacs
  • Arasan
  • Bobcat
  • Booot
  • Chiron
  • Fire
  • Fizbo
  • Fruit
  • Gaviota
  • Ginkgo
  • Gull
  • Hakkapeliitta
  • Hannibal
  • Houdini
  • Jonny
  • Komodo
  • Laser
  • Nemorino
  • Nirvana
  • Rybka
  • Stockfish
  • Texel
  • Vajolet2
  • Wasp

Click here for more information about the Season 10 Tournament.

Click here to view the TCEC live games interface with analysis.

Posted on June 15, 2017 by Wesley Surber

20 Years Later, Garry Kasparov Loves the Machine

Just over 20 years ago last month, former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov played a dramatic six-game match against an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue, the second of two matches the grandmaster played against the technological behemoth. Up until that point, computers were very strong in their chess abilities but had yet to beat some of the game’s greatest players. Kasparov was determined to prove that machines lacked the beauty of truly deep chess thinking and simply could not beat him. Kasparov’s subsequent crushing defeat was merely a harbinger of things to come. The rise of the machines (chess and others) would come much swifter than almost anyone could have predicted.


(Credit: FOX)

Recently, Kasparov gave an incredible TED talk about the rise of intelligent machines and the need for humanity to embrace, not fear them. Obviously, he took the time to assure the audience that his defeat by Deep Blue overshadows the fact that he won the first match. Kasparov’s talk is deeply inspiring for those who can appreciate the beauty of chess and technology; its definitely worth watching if you are a fan of TED talks in general, technology, chess, or just curious how one of the world’s greatest minds sees the future under the influence of intelligent machines.

As technology leaps forward, the world’s greatest game has regularly been there to help it shine. If you need proof, then check out the recent fiasco with the iOS app in which the 32-bit version stopped working because the site’s 2.1 billion games exceeded the necessary math. Chess has always been a key component of technological evolution (and revolution) and Kasparov obviously sees that there is no reason to fear the rise of the machines.

Comprehensive coverage and review of the TED talk is available on Chessbase.

Posted on January 5, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Never Say Die: A Tournament Experience

May 24 will mark the second anniversary of my dedicated attempts to improve at chess, but I noticed over the holiday season that I have yet to participate in a time-honored tradition enjoyed by countless chess enthusiasts around the world: a tournament. I have passed on several opportunities to play in local tournaments with the San Antonio Chess Club and playing with that group is the closest I have come to developing a 2016 New Year’s Resolution. Earlier this week I was about to play a 15-minute slow game on when I noticed that a tournament for the same time control was starting within 10 minutes. I joined the tournament and spent the next 2 and 1/2 hours playing in my first chess tournament! I was skeptical of the online tournament format but was pleasantly surprised by the energy of the players and the fierceness of the competition. I finished 2nd overall with a 4/5 score. The loss was disappointing but it strengthened my resolve to play through.

I was thrilled to see that many of the games played in this little tournament were exceptional. Games where White or Black was winning with an enormous amount of material and excellent positional play were turned upside down with smart tactics and devastating blunders. It was during the first round as I watched a game in progress where Black was steamrolling his opponent until the chess gods intervened…

Suffice to say that all of the kibitzers in the room were excited about this game and I felt a little nervous knowing that a player like tg-13 was in the mix and able to turn the tables on a dime. I copied down the ID number for the game and stored it in a text file called Never Say Die so that I could come back post-tournament and write this entry. Unfortunately the psychological effect of that game caused more harm than good as I faced tg-13 in the second round and was lured into an early trap, lost my Queen, and the game soon afterwards. The next exceptional game came in the second round.

Black was in control of the game but missing a simple tactic cost him bigtime. It was fun to watch magab001 in his other games because he played some very complicated and nailbiting positions. I had planned not to annotate any of my own games from the tournament but the next game was too good to pass up.

I chose to annotate that game mostly because of 26.Nb6 because it was a high-stakes gamble that paid off in dividends. This was in the third round immediately following my earlier defeat so it helped to boost my confidence and carry me on to the end. The final game I want to show was played near the end of the tournament around the time that my eyelids were growing heavy and the fight for the top three positions had come down to the wire. It features magab001 from the one of the earlier annotated games.

So, what’s the verdict on this tournament and the whole of chess tournaments on the site? I found the tournament experience to be much more pleasant than I had expected. The kibitzing with other participants was a lot of fun and it took a lot of the emphasis away from ELOs and put all emphasis on individual performance. A 900 ELO player could defeat a 1200 ELO player and vice versa, so tournaments on are an excellent way to wade into the world of competitive chess. Besides, it is free to enter these tournaments and there are even some cool trophies to display on your profile page.

Final Tournament Standings

Rank Player Rating Record Tie
1 TheChessierGuy (16) 1014 5/5 8.5
2 AmishHacker (5) 1151 4/5 7
3 AestheticFit (6) 1134 3/5 4
4 yanakap (17) 965 3/5 3.5
5 magab001 (3) 1126 2/5 1.5
6 ChronoTheCode (10) 1069 1.5/5 0.25
  • View these games on
    • Game #1: tg-13 (1182) vs. JakeBoz98 (1075)
    • Game #2: AestheticFit (1144) vs. magab001 (1139)
    • Game #3: AmishHacker (1135) vs. yanakap (905)
    • Game #4: magab001 (1146) vs. ChronoTheCode (1088)(1088)
Posted on March 15, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Fawning Over The App

Several months ago I wrote an article where I examined some of the best that iOS has to offer in the way of chess apps. One of those was the official app for, where I spend much of my time reading and learning as much as I can about chess. At the time of that article, the Android app had spent quite a long time ahead of its iOS counterpart. Now, Apple users can rejoice because after months of beta testing, the official app has been updated to reflect changes that have been in the works for for the past year.

The User Interface

First and foremost, the app’s user interface has been updated to take advantage of Apple’s gorgeous retina displays and includes some beautifully crisp themes to spice things up. The individual themes and the ability for the user to mix and match elements of each theme has been a major selling point for the V3 project since it was announced over a year ago. Standards these days for presentation are quite high on mobile devices and it is apparent that has taken this into account when implementing the user interface. When a user installs the new update, the default theme is used which is the traditional gray background and green/tan or brown/tan chessboard. I am partial to the default colors, so the opportunity to change the themes seems like something that I would rarely use.

In the previous app version, there were only a few navigation options available whether you were a free or a premium member of the site. These options were essentially limited to live chess, correspondence (online) chess, and video lessons. In this update, most of the functions available on the main website are now available to mobile users. This is a huge benefit for iOS users since the limitations of the app effectively eliminated many of the site’s premium features. Now, the app is set up to feature the same feature and navigation elements of the homecoming site redesign.

The navigation setup is very straightforward and makes accessing the massive database of features on much more intuitive. All of the app features are stored on the left navigation bar. After selecting the desired function, the user is directed to a new screen where additional functions are available depending on the user’s subscription level and the function of the feature. Overall, the revamped user interface makes the official app the most comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing chess apps on the App Store.

The Content

Content is one of the features that has made once of the best and most popular chess sites on the web. Sure, the site boasts a census of eleven million members, but while many of those accounts are most likely zombie or abandoned accounts, something other than a place to play chess has to draw in the crowd. With the new app, these content elements are all made accessible to native iOS users. Video lessons by some of the world’s top Grandmasters are regularly posted as well as written lessons and weekly articles. The articles and puzzles are free while the video lessons are benefits of site membership.

When users first open the app they are greeted with a home screen that enables them to complete the daily puzzle and to engage in training lessons that represent their skill range. With a few short clicks, the user can access live or correspondence (online) chess. As games are completed, the site maintains an exceptional record of those games that can be converted into detailed statistical analysis reports for premium members.

The Chess

The chess interface on the new app is its most beautiful and fulfilling feature. AfteAfter all, playing chess is the whole reason that the app (and this blog) exists. In the redesigned app, the live chess board takes on the visual and auditory characteristics of whatever theme the user has selected in settings. For screenshot examples on this review, I decided to include shots of the default dark theme and the beautiful nature theme.

Chess can be played against the site’s online engine or live against players from all around the world. I prefer playing against human opponents since it is better practice for tournament play and also because the online engine has made some incredibly unrealistic moves and seems rather worthless at times. The app algorithm will select an opponent of comparable strength based on variables the can be customized by the user. Once a match is made, the user is taken to the main chess screen and the game begins. This is another area that excels in general over other chess sites. The average time to obtain a suitable match for a game is extremely short compared to other chess websites. On sites like Playchess I have had to wait up to 2-3 minutes for the server to obtain an appropriate opponent, but rarely do I wait more than a few sections for one on either using the web-based interface or the app itself.

In short, playing chess on the new app is a wonderful experience. The new themes add long overdue customizable options to the program and allow users to take greater control over the aesthetics of their chess experience.

Not All Moonlight and Roses

Unfortunately, not everything about the app on iOS is as elegant and worthwhile as the live chess and articles. As with any software package there are some inherent flaws that make the experience unpleasant and sometimes completely useless. In the case of the new app, the only area that I found to be essentially worthless were the chess video lectures when used on a retina iPad or iPad Mini. Although has updated the app to take advantage of retina display technology, the videos are still rendered in low-resolution and are immensely blurry, which makes them almost impossible to follow during the lectures. Perhaps the designers could have alleviated some of these problems by creating a display page similar to what is used on the main web interface to encapsulate the videos and reduce their size. The full-sized, low-resolution videos are downright horrible and take away significantly from the learning experience.

The bottom line with the new app is that has done an excellent job of finally bringing its iOS mobile software product in line with its Android app and upcoming site redesign. The app itself is free to download and requires a account, which is also free. I am definitely looking forward to more innovation as’s designers design and implement new features in the future.

More screenshots…

Posted on January 18, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Exploring the Master Class – Bobby Fischer

Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen hold much higher ELO ratings and have won more World Championships than he ever did, but Bobby Fischer is still considered one of the greatest chess players in history. This is due in large part to his absolute domination of the chess world and his single-handed defeat of the Soviet chess machine in 1972. Some of us, who grew up hearing the stories of Bobby and watching the world as the Cold War came to an end attribute the fall of the Soviet Union to cultural icons such as Bobby Fischer and Rocky Balboa to winning the war more than politics or diplomacy. Bobby’s victory that year in Iceland was as much a Cold War event as the Cuban Missile Crisis because the honor and intellectual supremacy of each nation. These days, you would be hard-pressed to find a hobby or club-level chess player that has not studied Bobby’s games and game theory. His depth of knowledge on openings and his talent in the endgame remain legendary among the world’s top players. His book My 60 Memorable Games (download games: PGN | ChessBase) is a staple in most chess player’s libraries.

To take things to the next level, ChessBase has a special DVD called Master Class: Bobby Fischer. Featuring five hours of video instruction from world-class chess players such as GM Dorian Rogozenco, GM Mihail Marin, IM Oliver Reeh, and GM Karsten Mueller. The DVD covers almost ever aspect of Fischer’s games including extensive insight on opening preparations, tactics, strategy, and deep analysis of his endgame. As with all ChessBase DVDs, the course is interactive with a responsive chessboard and notation to keep the viewer engrossed in the world of Bobby Fischer’s chess. The tactics on the DVD are presented as interactive puzzles that provide responsive feedback to help sharpen your game and bring Fischer’s games to life.

The Good

There is a lot to love about this DVD. ChessBase has long been a pioneer in developing interactive software and the integration with the ChessBase database software or the reader software is excellent. I use ChessBase 12 for my analysis and DVD play, but the free ChessBase Reader software will allow anyone with a windows computer to use Master Class: Bobby Fischer without having to own the full ChessBase Software.

The instruction on the DVD is first-rate. There is a wealth of information ranging from the cross tables and tournament information to a full biographical history on Bobby Fischer. All of this comes together to bring the user a comprehensive picture of Bobby Fischer as a man and as a chess player. In addition to the training, there is an exclusive database included with the software that holds all of Bobby Fischer’s games along with many additional cross tables and annotations. Perhaps one of my favorite features in the software are the trees. Fischer’s games as black and white have been divided into two book trees that can be reviewed and analyzed using the ChessBase software. This is a valuable resource for someone wanting to explore the themes in Bobby’s games.

The Bad

Because of the diverse nature of the chess world, I try to give as much leeway as possible when reviewing a product. Therefore, many things that others may call annoyances or problems with a piece of software, book, or DVD, can often be attributed to a simple cultural, language, or other variation. In Master Class: Bobby Fischer, the only drawback I could find comes in the form of the opening analysis with GM Dorian Rogozenco. Although that part of the DVD is supposed to be an in-depth look at Bobby Fischer’s openings, GM Rogozenco skips most of the moves and proceeds directly to where the opening transitions more into the middle game. He does comment on the fast moves in these game reviews by stating that these are easy moves and that they have been made hundreds of times, but dismissing many of these opening moves, regardless of how mundane it may seem, does devalue the lesson in some respects. Bobby Fischer was a master of chess openings and I believe that more attention should have been paid to why he chose to play certain openings and opening variations.

Back to Class

Master Class: Bobby Fischer is an excellent product for anyone interested in chess history, the story of Bobby Fischer’s games and his life, or a person looking to expand their knowledge and skill at chess. This five hour DVD includes some invaluable knowledge and insight into Bobby’s thinking that could possibly change the way that you view and play the game of kings.

Posted on January 11, 2015 by Wesley Surber

The Sad State of Chess on Mac

Prior to 2009, I was a die-hard Windows user. Once a year I would order a collection of parts from NewEgg and Tiger Direct to build myself a custom PC or upgrade an older system with new memory or storage space. In addition to my custom desktop machine, I would carry around a Toshiba Windows laptop and I also had an early edition Acer AspireOne 10″ netbook with a keyboard almost too small for my hands. In the Spring of 2009, I began experimenting with Apple products thanks to my new obsession with my iPod Touch. It was not long before every computer in my home sported the i-prefix: an iMac desktop machine, a Macbook, and countless iPods and iPads. It was at that time when my chess studies waned significantly and I refocused myself to studying the Bible and working on my Masters of Divinity. This type of study lent itself well to the Apple ecosystem with Logos Bible Software running with lightning-fast precision on my MacBook Air.

However, my interest in chess took center stage in 2014 when I started and began a serious and regimented focus on my chess studies. I soon realized that the Apple ecosystem, as beautiful as it is, remains a wasteland of broken chess interfaces and is devoid of any true competitor to ChessBase, the king of chess databases. Unfortunately, ChessBase runs only on Windows PCs and I learned the hard way that it is not compatible with Windows emulation software such as CrossOver. I was able to successfully install ChessBase Reader 2013 on my MacBook Air under OS X Mavericks, but the full edition of ChessBase 12 and Deep Fritz 14 simply would not install on the system without resorting to extreme measures. At the end of this post, I will examine two ways that I have learned to use ChessBase in combination with the Apple ecosystem and offer tips on how it is possible to run full-edition ChessBase and all ChessBase products within OS X itself.

OS X Chess

In my opinion, there is very little to say about this program. It is a visual and cognitive disgrace that I am surprised has consistently passed the rigorous quality assurance processes in Cupertino. The Apple computer line has long prided itself as the preference of intellectuals and artists, which are two categories that encompass a significant portion of the chess community. Chess is the most popular mind sport in the world1, it is difficult to imagine why Apple did not dedicate a little more time and effort to refining the appearance and function of this program. Even Winboard and its derivatives are more useful for even the moderately responsible chess player than this program. There are no portable game notation (PGN) options in this program, which is pretty much a necessity when playing to improve. If a simple game of chess with basic functions and below-average playing skill and strength, then let the default chess program in OS X answer your prayers.

Shredder for OS X

Shredder is an immensely strong chess engine that has user interfaces available for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. I used Shredder on iOS to practice my tactics for years before migrating to chess on the desktop. However, the OS X chess user interface and overall implementation of Shredder on the Mac is truly horrific. The program itself is split into multiple windows, which is an old-school way of creating OS X applications. The lack of a unified interface makes it difficult to work with games and in trial runs with OS X Mavericks and Yosemite, there seemed to be a myriad of stability issues that made the entire user experience less than stellar.

A ChessBase-like Database?

Apple’s reputation for creating first-class operating systems and computer hardware does not extend to most of its applications. Utilities available to manage files and hardware in OS X are among the best out there, but Apple’s applications are often lacking key features and dependent on specific hardware configurations to work. This has left the open source community to pick up the pieces that are often lacking in OS X. The curiously titled Shane’s Chess Information Database (SCID) is perhaps as close as a person can get to having a native version of ChessBase running under OS X. The program is incredibly stable, has excellent support from its community contributors over at SourceForge and contains many useful features necessary for serious chess study. SCID also features an interface for using the Free Internet Chess Server. If there was simply no way to access ChessBase resources on a Mac, then SCID or a combination of SCID and HiARCS Chess Explorer would be the way to go.

HiARCS Chess Explorer

In the world of computer chess, there remains a dispute over the title of the reigning chess engine champion. In the not too distance past, Rybka, which boasted that it was the strongest engine ever created, had its World Computer Chess Championship title stripped when it was revealed that some of the code lines were plagiarized from another engine. These days, the HiARCS chess engine is the reigning computer chess World Champion, and its authors have created native user interfaces for both Microsoft Windows and OS X. These interfaces are identical on both operating systems, which makes HiARCS Chess Explorer the best native OS X chess interface out there. This program utilizes the HiARCS chess engine by default, but easily allows for the installation of 3rd-party universal chess interface (UCI) engines such as Stockfish, Shredder, Rybka, and older versions of Fritz. The database options in the program are basic, but highly functional for collecting and analyzing different games. I also found great use of the engine match function where the user can program two chess engines to compete against each other. HiARCS Chess Explorer is a light in the dark chasm of OS X chess, and it is probably the best bang for your buck if the user seeks something strictly native to OS X.

ChessBase Under OS X

The only way to access ChessBase or its myriad of DVDs and resources is to install a program that allows crossover applications from Microsoft Windows to function on OS X. The most popular (and stable) of these options are CrossOver and Oracle VM VirtualBox. However, each of them have some limitations that must be considered when installing and operating ChessBase:

  • CrossOver

    • This application installs on OS X and allows native integration for Windows-based programs with OS X. The major limitation to this program is that it creates virtual bottles where individual operating system settings are stored and virtual drives are created to install Windows-based programs. I made several attempts to install ChessBase 12 and Deep Fritz 14 on OS X using CrossOver, but the installer failed on each attempt. Fortunately, I was successful at installing ChessBase Reader, which is included with every edition of ChessBase Magazine. However, this is the extent to which ChessBase is available as a natively integrated OS X application.
  • Oracle VM VirtualBox

    • By far, this is the most effective way that I have found to install and use Windows-based software on OS X. Using VirtualBox, the end user can create a virtual computer to install a myriad of operating systems including multiple Windows and Unix flavors. The program itself contains multiple control options that allow the user to determine the amount of RAM, hard drive space, and processor resources used to run the software. There are some limitations that must be considered before taking this route:
      • The user must own a legal copy of a compatible Windows operating system.
      • If installing on a MacBook Air, the user should be mindful of hard drive space requirements to install a Windows operating system, ChessBase, and its database extensions. To alleviate this problem, I recommend installing the operating system on the Air’s SSD and using a 128 GB SD card as an external hard drive to install ChessBase databases, DVDs, and ChessBase Magazines.
    • Running Windows on OS X will have a significant impact on a MacBook’s battery life, so close attention should be paid to the amount of power being utilized for analysis and game annotation.

Without a doubt, the best chess experience on an Apple computer comes in the form of the Windows environment. If the user owns a MacBook or MacBook Air and does not want to run Windows in a virtual environment under OS X, then the option to install Windows under BootCamp is available. This allows the user to install Windows on a separate hard drive partition and run the operating system without running OS X. As with the limitations of running Windows in VirtualBox under OS X, the user must own a legal copy of Windows and install it on the BootCamp partition for this to work properly.

Wrapping This Up

The OS X chess experience is less than stellar, which was a huge disappointment for me when I transitioned from Microsoft Windows to exclusively using Mac products. Much of the chess software available on the Mac will perform basic functions, but do not come close to the depth of function and resources that ChessBase and similar applications offer on the Windows platform. Hopefully ChessBase, ChessOK, and other companies will realize the growing OS X audience and offer alternatives to running this programs exclusively on the Microsoft platform. Until then, those of us in the Apple ecosystem will have to step outside of the walled garden to find our slice of heaven on the board.

  1. Raymond Keene, Chess Secrets (The Times Little Books) (London, UK: HarperCollins, 2013), 1.