What a Site: Playing Chess Online - dummies

What a Site: Playing Chess Online

By James Eade

You can find two types of sites for playing chess online: free and pay-to-play. The pay-to-play sites are for serious chess players, so unless you count yourself among them, stick to the free sites. Whether you’re paying to play or playing for free, you need to register and create an online ID.

(Some pay-to-play sites allow you to play as a guest in order to get you to try their software, but you won’t have full functionality until you register.)

  • Free sites: Chess.com has captured the free-play market as well as the pay-for-play market in recent years, but the players there are nearly all veterans. Pogo (just enter “Chess” in the Search bar at the top of the home page where it says “Find A Game”) and the Free Internet Chess Server are also popular.
  • Pay-to-play sites: The most popular playing site is Chess.com. You can play an engine or another human being anytime, day or night. The Internet Chess Club and Playchess are also popular, and there are others. On these sites, you can choose from a wide range of human and computer opponents. Opponents are always available, because the sites’ audiences are worldwide. You can even configure these sites to save your played games automatically on your hard drive so that you can analyze them later — a crucial move if you want to improve.

A variety of time controls — determining how fast you must play — are offered on these sites. Many players play blitz chess, with each game taking only a few minutes, but all sorts of time controls have their adherents. One of the best sites for slower time controls is GAMEKNOT.

If you aren’t ready to play online, you can still watch and learn. Most of these sites allow you to click on a game in progress, so you can then follow the action in real time. The highest-level tournaments are broadcast over the Internet nowadays, and millions of eyeballs are tuned in. However, you normally have to be a registered user at one of the pay-to-play sites in order to join in the fun.

You may want to consider a trial membership on the pay-to-play sites, which is usually available, just to see whether a particular site is for you. Commentary by strong players accompanies many live broadcasts, and some means are usually provided for players of all abilities to ask questions or make their own observations.

Live lessons are also regularly scheduled, and old ones are archived. So you have other reasons to join rather than simply to play. But the play is the best part. Finding regular sparring partners who are roughly your equal in strength is one of the real joys of chess on the Internet. You can make enduring friendships with people whom you would otherwise never meet. Go ahead — log on!