Senior Chess

senior-chessReview details:
App version:  1.79
Device:  Nexus 7
Operating system: 5.1.1


Summary

A well developed and supported app that whilst lacking a little polish is easy to use and reasonably featured.


The first thing to note about Senior Chess is that it is one of those rarities – a free app that is not supported (or more often overwhelmed) by advertising. This doesn’t mean to say it is any less a quality product – far from it – and kudos and thanks are due to the developer as a result.

Playing strength

In this case the developer is Leen Ammeraal known and respected in the computer chess community as author of the strong (in human terms) ‘Queen’ chess engine. It is not a surprise then that Senior Chess plays a strong game of chess and will provide more than a stiff challenge to the average user or even club player. This has been recognised in recent versions with the introduction of an interesting strength limiting option in the form of a ‘possibly weak moves’ level. This allows the user to choose the proportion of moves the engine makes that are deliberately weaker than normal. Artificially weakening a strong engine is a notoriously difficult exercise to do well and sadly Senior Chess doesn’t quite manage to pull it off.

The problem is that choosing a percentage figure for weak moves say ‘1 in every 5 moves’ (ie 20%) means you end up expecting and looking for a mistake at particular intervals which doesn’t make for a realistic challenge. In fact you often don’t have to look too hard as the weak move can be an outright blunder which makes the overall game play too variable – it feels unrealistic to have a run of good moves and general play followed by an obviously weak move at periodic intervals.

As an example, as shown in the image, using the ‘1 weak in 1o moves ‘setting (ie 10%) – on move 3 Senior Chess played the inexplicable

Senior chess weak move  3…Nd5??

So whilst the novice player may be well catered for by this option (by opting for a high percentage of weak moves) it is this type of game play which makes Senior Chess perhaps less appealing for the average player who conversely finds the time based levels of play too challenging.

Features

Senior Chess options menuSenior Chess has all the key features you would expect in a decent chess playing app. These include:

 

  • loading and saving a chess game
  • setting up/editing a chess position
  • saving  and loading positions (in FEN format) and also copying to/pasting from clipboard
  • 2 player mode (allowing for human v human play)

Whilst there may not be the breadth of options available with some other chess playing apps there are a couple of interesting and valuable features worth noting. These are:

  1. Senior Chess’s abililty to access 5 men endgame tablebase support (this essentially means the app can play all positions with 5 or fewer pieces on the board perfectly). This is particularly useful when setting up positions to practice your endgame technique (for example to test if you can checkmate a lone king with a bishop and knight)
  2. The option to load and play out a range of established test positions (currently 400) to see if you can find the winning move or line; this again is a great way 0f learning and improving your chess.

However, on the downside there are some surprising omissions which potentially impact on enjoyment from a playing perspective.

Senior Chess time controls

Notably, the range of time controls is rather limited, the user being restricted to selecting different move based thinking times – from instant play to 60 seconds per move (there is also an infinite time option). Certainly, the inclusion of some sudden death options (eg Game in 5 minutes etc) or  incremental time controls (eg  3 min + 2 seconds) would be welcome. Additionally, for practical game play, a resign and draw option really is a ‘must have’ feature, and it is one that Senior Chess currently lacks.


Practical use and presentation

Ease of use is an area of strength for this app. It has been well designed with the options clearly thought out and identified. This is shown in the use of simple option descriptions – for example ‘Go (machine to move)’ How easy to use an app’s ‘set up a chess position’ feature (in Senior Chess this is ‘Edit Mode’) is, is often a good test. Here Senior Chess makes this is a simple exercise, from the initial dialogue box asking if you want to start with an empty board.

Senior Chess feels a little less polished in terms of presentation than some other apps. The size of the move notation and engine output text is rather small (the latter can’t be turned off, an important option if you don’t want to see how you’re doing against the engine) and the game sounds don’t feel easy on the ear and risk starting to grate after a time. Fortunately these can be turned off. A bigger potential issue lies in the fact that there is no choice about the board and pieces. Whilst the given options are clear and easy to view, some opportunity to change the visual layout would be a good option to offer some variety now and again and help maintain interest. For example, a full screen or ‘big board’ option would certainly be useful when using Senior Chess on a phone.

Developer support

Lastly but by no means least, developer support for an app is of course an important criterion. In this respect, Senior Chess is well served. The developer has provided detailed guidance on using the app notably including several youtube presentations. There is a history of regular updates and bug fixes and at the time of writing the app is in active development.

Overall

Likes:

  • Free and ad-free
  • Active developer with regular updates
  • Ablity to give stronger players a good game
  • Access to endgame database
  • Simple and easy to use interface and options
  • Playing out test positions/puzzles

Dislikes:

  • Unrealistic weakening mode
  • Limited choice of time controls
  • Lack of board and piece options

These are my thoughts; if you have used this app what do you think…..?

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