I can’t seem to get away from playing chess. But I’m not a great chess player. I just love the feeling of beating my opponent–in a mental challenge. Perhaps, that’s the reason I like playing against a cold, insensitive chess playing machine. I can beat them anytime I want to and not hear them complain. Finishing a game and losing though is not hard to take as getting beat by a smart alec kid in your neighborhood. Playing chess is a great way to while away the time when you’re stuck in a place waiting for something or someone. Does thirty minutes on a stationary bike seem too long for you? No sweat, play chess while exercising and without realizing it, you are close to an hour and perspiring profusely. The great thing about it is, you hit two birds with one stone–exercising your body and mind at the same time. And that is made possible by the iPhone–a chess adversary you can easily carry with you anywhere, anytime.
Before the iPhone, I had a hard time finding a good chess application for my cell phone. Worst, the graphics is bad enough for a tiny screen. Moving the chess pieces meant pushing keys several times. When I got my first generation iPhone, it took some time before a chess app became available for it; and unfortunately, it was a Web app, which means you need to be connected to the Internet to be able to play with the chess engine on a remote server. Now, almost two years since, a plethora of native iPhone chess apps can either be bought or downloaded for free from the App Store.
Ever since my last Chess App for the iPhone review was posted, I have managed to download a few more selected apps. And out of those, I decided to keep 5 of the best. Why do I need five? Nothing. I just want to have the option to play any of the apps according to my mood. In case you don’t know, these chess engines are like humans too, they have their own personalities–the risk taker, the defender, the attacker, the quick thinker, and the prim & proper–best of all, they won’t laugh at you for a silly blunder. Most will be satisfied with just one and if you’re a casual player you can’t go wrong with any of these apps. A serious professional chess player though may still benefit with the most powerful iPhone chess engine reviewed below.
Fritz Chess 1.3 – 27 March 2009
Gammick Entertainment LTD.
18.3 MB; $6.99
The long time favorite of Grandmasters and one of the most powerful chess engines on personal computers, Fritz is one of the late comers to the iPhone. Now it’s here, it’s probably the strongest chess engine you can buy on the App Store. It has a decent graphic and great user interface design that is easy to use. If you’re used to the graphics of Fritz on the PC, you’ll feel right at home on the iPhone. Fritz Chess comes with 11 different playing levels: from Elo 400 (Novice) to Elo 2320 (Grandmaster). For Beginners, you can choose several In-Game Help options such as Openings, Legal Moves, Threats, Last Move and History. The single downside to this powerful chess engine is that it can take a few minutes for it to think and move at the Grandmaster level. The upside to that is, I supposed, the best possible move and the highest quality of play from your iPhone chess app.
Shredder Chess 1.1 – 11 March 2009
4.1 MB; $9.99
Shredder Chess may have the worst graphics and user interface in this bunch of great chess apps, but it has one of the most powerful engines that can easily compete with Fritz Chess. Like Fritz, Shredder is well known in the PC world and another one of the favorites of Grandmasters for analyzing chess games. Probably the strongest chess engine available for the Mac OS X. Shredder Chess is one of the earliest if not the first chess app that became available for the iPhone, albeit as a Web (online) app. Even today, you can still play Shredder Chess online for free (http://www.shredderchess.com/iphone/play-chess.html). Shredder Chess has a playing strength of 850 Elo (Beginner) all the way to 2400 Elo (Master) and you have the option to automatically adjust its playing strength after every game. It also has the most versatile playing style giving you the option to choose from Normal, Solid, Passive, and Random modes. Like Fritz Chess, it can also show legal moves and an optional Coach to warn you of weak moves and blunders. If you don’t feel like playing with Shredder, you can play the chess Puzzle. The nice thing about Shredder Chess is that it can rate your play by providing you an Elo to measure the strength of your game. One thing that’s lacking though is a chess clock or timer. But even at its highest level of play (2400 Elo), it still moves in a matter of seconds unlike Fritz Chess–probably because of its simple graphics and small program code.
tChess Pro 1.3.0 – 03 November 2008
0.6 MB; $7.99
tChess Pro probably was the strongest chess engine for the iPhone before Shredder Chess and Fritz Chess came along. But don’t get me wrong, tChess Pro can still give both a run for their money. With perhaps the most simple user interface without sacrificing the clarity and detail of its nice graphics, it is no wonder that it has the smallest program code at an amazing 0.6 MB! Like all chess apps reviewed here, you can still select to play white or black. It provides 12 levels of playing strength including the option to play based on fixed time and fixed search depth while also allowing you to disable the computer and play with another human. For such a small program, it can likewise provide sound and animations and computer analysis. Like its more popular competitors above, tChess Pro has a wide chess opening book with over 15,000 opening moves in its database. For those aching for more challenges, a blindfold mode is also provided. tChess Pro has one of the fastest if not the fastest processing time to make a move even at its highest strength level without sacrificing the quality of play. For those who want a simple and no frills interface but with a fast and powerful chess engine with many standard features, you won’t go wrong with Tom Kerrigan’s tChess Pro!
Caissa Chess Pro and Caissa Puzzles 3.0.1 – 27 March 2009
2.0 MB; $7.99
Caissa Chess (previous review) has been my chess app of choice before the three chess apps above came to the App Store. It however remains one of my chess apps in my iPhone especially with the improvements it has made in its latest version. Well for one, it still has one of the most beautifully rendered chess boards and pieces with the most selections. It has a slider for game difficulty from an Elo of 1260 to 2340. Although it may not be the strongest chess engine in the group, it has a decent chess algorithm to play a quality game even for chess masters. A good opening book database helps beginners familiarize themselves with chess openings to help improve their game. You can easily go from Tap-Tap to Drag-n-Drop to move the chess pieces. With this version, Caissa Chess Pro has integrated a chess puzzle derived from games of some of the greatest Grandmasters past and present.
Deep Green Chess 1.1.3 – 01 Jan 2009
4.3 MB; $7.99
Last but certainly not the least is the most beautiful and elegantly designed chess app, Deep Green Chess. The chess board and pieces are well rendered and the nice animation makes it a lot more fun to use. The Deep Green Chess engine is built on “Tiny” version 4.0 by Scott Ludwig. It has a 10 level playing strength, where level 1 thinks for a second and level 10 for thirty seconds. Don’t be fooled by its nice graphics though. You may think Deep Green Chess was just designed to have a pretty face but once you play it at any level, you may be surprised on its strength and you may find yourself tapping the back button a few times. Don’t judge a chess engine by its looks! Aside from playing against the computer, it also allows playing against a human or even play engine vs engine. One nice feature Deep Green Chess has that other more powerful iPhone chess apps do not have is the ability to do a Playback or replay of the game. Nice to do when you just checkmated your opponent–just like replaying over and over the two round demolition of the Hitman by the PacMan!
Click image to enlargeIf there’s an iPhone chess app you think should be in this list, then please send your comments. I would appreciate it very much and maybe add it to my iPhone apps collection. Thanks.