Partida no FreeChessWith the emergence of the internet, the battleground for chess has changed forever. Online chess has taken human versus human play to a whole new level. Playing against a computer program can entertain you for a little while, but for true improvement and a sense of fulfilment, a player will want to start challenging other human players.

With a humble computer and internet connection, two players half way around the world can play a game with the click of a mouse. It is almost as if the two players are in the same room, except that there is no physical chess set and they cannot see each other’s faces.

Practising against human players online is great for training all phases of your game (especially openings, tactics and time management), as well as providing you an opportunity to make new friends. The number of practice games that can be played in a short amount of time is innumerable these days, which means in real tournaments, junior players can be more battle-hardened than they seem.

Where to play? If you are looking for an in-browser server, I recommend the Chess Friends Live Board. This is perfect for a quick game on the go.

However, more serious beginners will want a server that has an interface, i.e. one that uses software to connect to the server. Using software increases the capabilities for chess servers significantly. For regular beginner play, I recommend the Free Internet Chess Server (FICS). There are many free options, but this one seems to me to be the best organised, has the most advanced features (while still catering well for beginners) and does not bombard you with advertising. My favourite interface for connecting to FICS is BabasChess.

As a player advances in the ranks, they will want to move onto different servers purely for the purpose of finding stronger opponents. I would say it is appropriate to move to a stronger server than FICS at about 2000 FIDE level. The two heavyweights which have the strongest players are and the Internet Chess Club (ICC). I have played on both servers, but prefer the latter because of its brilliant BlitzIn interface, and its ability to ‘auto-pair’ against opponents, i.e. automatically select an opponent around your level (which makes ratings fairer because you cannot ‘hand-pick’ your opponents). However, both servers have similar advantages and which one a player chooses to stick with is mainly a matter of taste.

Apart from strong competition, these clubs also feature as high quality chess lectures and other attractions. On ICC, I would regard the most valuable feature apart from the quality of opponents is the Chess.FM shows. Likewise, has similar training videos and live broadcasts. While I am not sure about FICS, cheating on ICC and is monitored continuously and people are often dealt with in a surprisingly fast manner. They both use advanced technology to detect cheating, so the amount of cheating on these servers is virtually non-existent.

All in all, online chess has added a whole new dimension to the game. It is an effective and efficient training tool for improving one’s skills.

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