Category Archives: Product Reviews

Reviews of chess products excluding books.

Thoughts on Lichess and Others

A pleasant surprise

Lichess logo

Lichess seems to be taking over, and deservedly so.

Nearly a year ago, I said that I still preferred to play on the paid Internet Chess Club (ICC) because of the consistent good level of professional competition. I knew that GMs, IMs, and other strong players used Lichess, but I wondered if the site was merely had some really strong players, and a bunch of weak opponents for players like me in the 2000-2200 range.

I was also concerned about opponents on free sites not always … shall we say … playing fairly.

Well, I have now regularly used Lichess for the past few months, and must admit to being converted. In fact, I rarely log into ICC any longer.

There are many features I have not felt a need to try yet, but I can recommend playing and solving puzzles on the site. I haven’t yet had the thought that my opponents are dishonest, and the puzzles are typically quite good.

I also recommend it as a platform for (virtual) classroom tournaments. In my opinion it is far superior to ChessKid.

Conclusion

Internet Chess Club

Official tournaments: a new lease on life for ICC?

I’m ready to proclaim something I never thought I would: after all these years, I don’t think I will renew my Internet Chess Club membership when it next runs out, and I’ll stick to Lichess.

One thing ICC does still have going for it: official online tournaments. They do them very well! There’s a reason the recent NYS Girls was held on iCC, the City Champs will be held there, and the Continental Chess Association has been holding online events there for several months.

ChessKid is a wonderful concept, but needs a lot of improvement before it reaches the level of ICC, Lichess, or even its parent chess.com. Their issues for me are mainly about ease of use for children in getting a game, and flexibility for coaches in setting up and adjusting tournaments.

I hope its developers continues to work, because it has promise. The more good chess sites, the better for the long-term growth and health of chess.

American Chess Equipment

I’m pleased to announce a new collaboration with American Chess Equipment of Gardena, CA.

I have purchasing chess equipment from them for several years, and have known owner Shelby Lohrman for nearly 15 years.

Shelby told me about some new products he has, and others in development. He plans to send me some items to test and I’ll review the results on the blog.

To support Chess Essentials, consider purchasing your chess equipment from ACE using the link on the right sidebar!

Tournament Chess Board Options

Choosing the right tournament chess board is a topic I’ve thought about over the years, trivial as it might seem. After last Friday’s post, I decided to share my thoughts and get your opinions as well. Let’s go through different options — what is your ideal tournament surface?

I’m also assuming we’re playing in tournaments where we have to bring our own equipment. I won’t discuss square size because there aren’t a range of options here.  FIDE regulations state that the side of a square should measure 5 to 6 cm (roughly 2.0 to 2.4 in).

Here we go:

Fold-Up, Roll-Up, or Neither

By “neither,” I mean a hard, one-piece tournament chess board like the one I discussed last week. These tend to be the most aesthetically-pleasing boards, but they’re obviously not the most convenient. Choose this route only if you’re driving to a tournament, and a nice playing surface is an important part of your enjoyment of the game.

Personally, I would consider this option if I drove to a tournament and stayed in a hotel for a few days or longer. However, I rarely see players use these kinds of boards in competition.

Another seldom-chosen option is the fold-up board. I imagine the “crease” in the middle of the board is distracting, even though these boards can be very attractive otherwise.

By far the most popular choice is the roll-up board, and with good reason: these boards are cheap, compact, and easier to clean than other types.

Color

Apparently black-and-white is not good for the eyes over a long period of time. Most players opt for a green-and-white surface, but other choices are popular as well. Next time, I might choose brown-and-white — just to be different. I’m tired of green and I’ve never been a fan of blue or burgundy.

Of course, roll-up boards are so cheap you can buy more than one and choose a color that fits your mood…

Material

Assuming you go with a roll-up board, you still have to consider the material of your playing surface.

A vinyl roll up board.

When I first began playing chess in the 1990s, vinyl was the material of choice. I suspect it is still the most popular type of board purchased: it’s easy to clean, easy to roll or fold, and provides a decently-thick playing surface.

 

A mousepad board, in purple.

Recently, rubberized surfaces akin to a computer mousepad have become an option. They lay very flat, don’t move easily during play, and don’t develop creases like vinyl boards sometimes do.

The main issue with mousepad boards is they stain easily and can’t be wiped off as easily as other boards. I primarily don’t like them because of their texture.

 

Tournament Chess Board

A silicone roll-up board.

Another alternative is silicone boards. They can be twisted or mashed into any shape, and wipe off easily, like vinyl. It seems to me that silicone boards grip the playing surface they’re laying on better than vinyl boards do, but not as well as mousepad material.

I haven’t converted to silicone because I don’t like the thinness of the surface, and I’m not a fan of the texture. Still, I do think they will only grow in popularity in the coming years.

A tournament chess board is a very personal thing! You’re going to be spending a lot of hours with it, and I think it’s important to use a product you like. What do you like to play on during a tournament game? Is there anything I have left out? Please comment!

Maple and Mahogany Wooden Tournament Chess Board

In 2017 I purchased a wooden tournament chess board from USCF Sales. I wanted a hard, flat, regulation-sized surface to study chess while in bed, and a vinyl roll-up board just wouldn’t do.

At the same time, I knew I wasn’t going to use it much, and I’m not a wealthy guy, so I had to choose carefully.

I think I made a good choice.

Maple and Mahogany Wooden Tournament Chess Board

Maple and Mahogany Wooden Tournament Chess Board. Options: 2.25″ squares, with coordinates, and without a logo. Photo: USCF Sales

In my humble opinion, this is a really nice board for only $39.50 (on clearance; regular price $79.00)! You can also choose between two different bags for the board, but at an additional cost of $39.95 or $59.95, I decided to pass.

When I got it in person, it was just what I expected and I am very happy with it. The only problem is that I don’t use it nearly enough…

Warning: It’s not a DGT board, so don’t buy it expecting to use it for game broadcasts.

It will fit any standard chess set. A test to determine if a chess board and pieces are appropriately-sized for each other: four pawns should fit within one square.

If you’ve got a small chess club or run invitational tournaments, I would highly recommend this wooden tournament chess board. From a price-to-value perspective, this is one of the best chess purchases I have made in at least several years.

The DGT 3000 Chess Clock

What about other options?

Let’s discuss what I see as the two main competitors to the DGT 3000:

When I reviewed the Chronos, I noted that a big factor in its favor early on was its large display in comparison to other digital timers. Not only can other chess clocks now claim this as well, new Chronos clocks are more compact and therefore have a smaller display. I wouldn’t buy one for 110 USD today, but that’s just me.

The DGT 3000 costs roughly 80 USD. Earlier, I reviewed the DGT North American, which can be had for about half this amount.

Who needs to buy the DGT 3000? Anyone who uses DGT electronic boards and broadcasts games online! I was a DGT board operator at the Greater New York Scholastics this past February and became more familiar with this clock.

Features and Benefits of the DGT 3000

DGT 3000

The DGT 3000: officially endorsed by FIDE, and required if you want to broadcast games on DGT boards.

  • The display is huge and easy to see from a distance; much larger than the Chronos or DGT North American.
  • The plungers are large, easy to press, and not noisy.
  • The DGT 3000 seems sturdier than the DGT NA, and I would expect it to last longer.
  • Easier-than-expected to set. The big display provides more scope for the clock to make clear what a player or arbiter is setting. It is very easy to make a mistake setting the DGT NA, and trying to set a Chronos is downright confusing if you’ve never done it before.
  • It can accommodate U.S. time delay rules which its predecessor, the DGT 2010, cannot.
  • FIDE approved. This is important for official FIDE competitions such as World and Continental Championships.

This is all great, but is it worth twice as much as the DGT NA? As DGT itself says:

The fact that the DGT NA, in its display, does not add the delay time to the main time is the only reason why the DGT NA is not FIDE approved. According to FIDE rules and regulations the total time available to a player should be shown on the display at all times.Digital Game Technologies

This is a subtlety I missed in my review of the DGT NA. My bad!

Verdict

A player only competing in USCF tournaments where delay timing is prevalent can stick with the DGT North American — it is the best clock for the money. However, I believe the additional one-time investment for the DGT 3000 is justified.

If I were buying a chess clock today, I would choose the DGT 3000.

Olimpbase.org: The Encyclopaedia of Team Chess

Get pleasantly lost for hours on Olimpbase!

I don’t remember how I found Olimpbase.org for the first time, but I’m so glad I did. It seems the site has not been updated for a couple of years, but I still want to bring attention to it for those who are unfamiliar with it. I’ve put it under “Product Reviews” even though it is free.

The Olimpbase.org homepage

The Olimpbase.org homepage.

Wojciech Bartelski has compiled the definitive reference on team chess. As the name hints, it contains extensive info about Chess Olympiads played through 2016. it has not been updated for 2018, and the 2020 event has been moved to 2021.

For each Olympiad (Open and Women), Bartelski includes a summary of the event and the results. These include the standings of the teams, player results, and medal winners. Also, most of the games can be viewed in a popup window, or downloaded as a zip file!

More than Olympiads

In addition to the chess Olympiads, Olimpbase.org has compiled information about all kinds of team chess events, including:

  • World Team Championships
  • Continental Team Championships (African, Asian, European, Pan-American)
  • European Club Cup and various National Leauges
  • Student and Youth Team Championships
  • USSR Team Championships
  • Others: USSR vs. World, Mitropa Cup, Asian Cities Championship, Pan Arab Games, etc.

More than team events, too!

Olimpbase now includes many individual events as well. Examples:

  • The World Championship cycles (from 1886-2000)
  • The World Junior Championships (Open and Girls)
  • Continental Championships and Continental Junior Championships
  • National Championships of the Soviet Union and Poland

Olimpbase has another important resource…

The site contains all FIDE rating lists since the first list in January 1971 up to October 2001! You can find everything since 2001 on the FIDE website. Ratings are a big part of our game, and full rating lists provide historical context. Some interesting tidbits:

  • Only Fischer (1971), Karpov (1974), Tal (1980), and Kasparov (1984) achieved FIDE ratings of 2700 or above before Boris Gelfand joined them in January 1991.
  • As late as July 1987, Artur Yusupov and Andrei Sokolov were ranked =3rd/4th in the world at just 2635! A player rated 2635 today wouldn’t make the Top 100!
  • Judit Polgar was rated 2555 and =55th in the world in January 1989…as a 12-year-old!
  • 16-year-old Gata Kamsky was ranked #8 in July 1990 with a rating of 2650…as a FIDE Master!
  • Only 16 players reached 2700 before the year 2000.
  • Did you know: Michal Krasenkow (July 2000) and Loek Van Wely (January 2001) were not only 2700 players, both were ranked #10 in the World?

Conclusion

Olimpbase.org contains a treasure trove of historical chess information. If you love chess history, the Olimpbase is not to be missed!

The Chronos Chess Clock: America’s Favorite

Chronos Chess Clock

A classic beige “long” Chronos with buttons, and box.

The Chronos chess clock is the most popular timer in U.S. tournaments, and has been for years. I say that as a longtime tournament director who has walked through countless playing halls. These clocks can accomodate time delay and increment, so they can be used in USCF and FIDE-rated events.

The Chronos is extremely durable and reliable. I’ve owned mine since January 1998, only having to replace the batteries a few times. The $120 I paid is worth $191.18 in 2020 dollars. You probably won’t pay $120 for a Chronos even today!

The Chronos Chess Clock has options galore

In the 1990s, the Chronos only came in one style: long with buttons (as pictured above), in an off-white color. You can activate the lights signalling the player to move, and turn its beep on or off. You can even change the pitch of the beep!

Later, Chronos introduced a “touch” version, with silver disk-like buttons in place of the push-buttons. Many players preferred this as it was “cooler” and the push buttons can come off accidentally.

Nowadays, it’s hard to find “long” Chronoses. The newer versions are about 3/4 the size of the originals: easier to fit into chess bags, but less available digits on the LED. In addition, you can now buy the Chronos in a variety of colors.

Years ago, the downside of the Chronos was learning to set it. In an age where games are almost exclusively timed with digital clocks, they all have their quirks with settings. On the plus side, adjusting the times (for example, in case of an illegal move) is easier and more intuitive with the Chronos than other timers.

I said in a previous review that I now prefer DGT clocks aesthetically, but the Chronos chess clock is still the go-to for a lot of players, and I don’t blame them! The Chronos has unmatched sturdiness; I wouldn’t expect my DGT North American to last 20+ years.

ChessBase and MegaBase: Essential!

At least, they are essential for advanced players and for coaches. If you’re already familiar with ChessBase and MegaBase and understand their value, feel free to skip this post. Otherwise, you need to keep reading.

What is ChessBase?

ChessBase: makers of ChessBase and MegaBase

ChessBase: makers of ChessBase and MegaBase

ChessBase GmbH is a chess publishing company founded in 1985 and based in Hamburg, Germany. The company’s flagship product is also called ChessBase: a database program that can organize chess information in myriad ways. The current version is ChessBase 15.

The primary information ChessBase manages is chess games, which we’ll discuss below. The program can also play chess videos, organize opening “books,” and utilize endgame knowledge contained in “tablebases.”

What is the MegaBase?

MegaBase is a collection of annotated chess games played from the year 1475 to the given year. Pulished annually, the current MegaBase 2020 contains more than eight million games! You will find plenty of games with commentary by grandmasters and world champions including Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, etc.

The information available to you with ChessBase and MegaBase is staggering.

The information available to you with ChessBase and its databases is staggering.

A cheaper alternative is the Big Database, which contains the same eight million games as MegaBase, but few have commentary. It’s much better than nothing, but I highly recommend MegaBase.

For working seriously on chess, ChessBase will save you a huge amount of time and effort. Search games in a database and study them on your screen without combing through books or using a chess set.

You can search databases for opening positions, distributions of endgame material, brilliancy prize games, games with commentary by a certain player — the possibilities are extensive. In addition, you can also create your own database files that contain games in a certain opening, or study material for a particular student. Which brings me to my next point.

ChessBase and MegaBase: the most important resources for coaches

I would cry if I couldn’t use ChessBase to prepare lessons and manage my students’ material.

I make a new database file for every student I teach privately. This allows me to keep a running track of what we have worked on together; I just keep adding to their database. I can import games from MegaBase and the internet, recreate instructive positions from physical books, enter my own commentary, and much more.

Preparing for lessons can be a very time-consuming process, but ChessBase cuts that time down tremendously. When I’ve finished preparing my lesson, I print out the material and go to my student’s home to teach the material.

DGT North American: Best Value Chess Clock

The DGT North American clock is as good as any chess timer on the market.

And it comes at a great price — around $40!

The DGT North American chess clock

The DGT North American chess clock

Why DGT North American?

The North American is different from other DGT clocks because it has settings for time delay, common in US Chess Federation (USCF) tournaments, but not elsewhere. Digital Game Technologies actually worked with the USCF to develop the clock.

I love the buttons on DGT clocks, and their displays are excellent. The DGT NA in particular is very easy to set and, in my experience, durable.

Verdict

I recommend the DGT NA over the iconic Chronos, even if the Chronos did not cost three times as much. It comes down to personal preference: I just find DGTs sleeker and less clunky.

If you’re using DGT boards and broadcasting games, or want to connect to the internet, you’ll need the DGT 3000. Otherwise, there’s no need.

At an international round robin I was Deputy Arbiter for, we used the DGT NA. The tournament was played under FIDE rules: Brandon Jacobson earned a GM norm and Abhimanyu Mishra became the youngest International Master in history.

The Internet Chess Club (ICC): Why I still pay to play

I’m an Internet Chess Club (ICC) dinosaur, I guess.

There are a lot of popular chess-playing sites nowadays, many of them free. The biggest at the moment seem to be chess.com, chess24.com, and lichess.org. These “big three” are free.

Internet Chess Club logo

Internet Chess Club logo

Still, I happily pay $69.95 each year to play on ICC, the Internet Chess Club.

The former industry leader (established in 1995) keeps losing market share to other sites, but there are two huge reasons I haven’t switched.

ICC’s Barrier to Entry

I like the fact that to play on ICC with anything but a guest account, players need to make a financial commitment to do so.

I believe a person is less likely to “fool around” or cheat when they have real skin in the game. There’s no incentive to do so.

This means I rarely encounter players who let their clock run out in hopeless positions. I also can’t ever remember facing someone I felt was using computer assistance. Players give their best effort, and the games are very “professional.”

I don’t like to chat with my opponents. I have set an auto “Thanks for the game” message to appear after each game, and no talking allowed during play. It’s rare I get a rude comment after a game, even if I win in a time-scramble — I get such comments less than ten times a year.

Part of this “professionalism,” I’m sure, has to do with who I’m facing.

The Pool of Players (Literally!)

ICC has “pools.” When you join the 1-minute, 3-minute, 5-minute, 15-minute, etc. pools you are automatically paired against another player in the pool. Pools aren’t unique to ICC, other sites have them too.

The thing is, I nearly always get a worthwhile game. True, ICC occasionally pairs me against a player with too few games to have an established rating. Overall though, I don’t feel like I waste my time when I log on, having to face players far below my skill level or who may be using computer assistance.

I’m not saying no one cheats on ICC, and I’m not accusing other sites of having lots of cheaters. My point is, I see no need to change what works for me. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for everyone.

Caveat Emptor…ICC isn’t perfect

One of the increasingly annoying things about playing on the Internet Chess Club is that it can take some time to be paired in the pool, sometimes around a minute. No doubt this is because of the decreasing number of opponents available to play. It’s not too big of a deal, though.

A 1500 player probably wouldn’t get the same value from ICC compared to one of the big free sites. And for many years, I have only recommended ICC to players roughly 1000 or more. So if you’ve finished Chess School 1a, give it a shot!

My current USCF rating is 2075. Not enough to get perks on other sites (or on ICC either, for that matter), but too strong to be mixed in a giant pool with a lot of weaker players. At least I think so…maybe I’m wrong. The hypothetical 1500 player I mentioned earlier isn’t bumping against the top of the scale.

Perhaps my read is incorrect and I’m just being stubborn? I’d love to hear what other people think about this topic!