Chess Endgames

Chess EndgamesReview details:                                                                           
App version:  1.2
Device:  Samsung S4 Mini
Operating system: 4.4.2

Summary

A potentially useful way to practice your endgames but let down by a poor user experience. Not currently a ‘keep me’.

Chess Endgames is a free android app developed by Complete Think. It is supported by banner advertising. There appears to be no ‘paid for’ version, so no way to use the app without viewing the adverts.

Features

Practising endgames is often said to be one of the best ways to improve your chess strength. This simple app is therefore well targeted as it offers the user the opportunity to test their technique by playing out a range of common endgame positions against an unidentified computer opponent.

There are a decent number of types of endgame position to practice. These include:

  • various piece combinations against a lone king, from  (Q+K v K), (B+Kn+K v K) to (P+K v K)
  • Queen against individual minor piece, and Queen against pawn on 7th rank
  • Rook against minor piece (eg R+K v B+K), and rook with minor piece (eg R+Kn+B v R+K)

Interestingly, there are also a selection of well known endgame studies, to test yourself with; these include for example, the Lucena and Philidor positions (the app mispells the latter!) .

For further variation, there is a custom build mode which allows the user chess_endgames_customto set up positions of their own choosing. Strangely, for an app focused on endgames the custom mode includes an option to reset pieces to the start position and play a game of chess. Be warned though, that the app’s engine isn’t capable of playing a proper full game as it doesn’t understand the concept of castling.

Whilst undeniably useful to play through endgame positions, the app is disappointing as a practical learning tool and herein lies its biggest weakness. Some key drawbacks are that:

  1. There is no guidance or explanation about any of the positions in terms of what the goal or objective is. In most cases this be should be obvious to the average user, certainly for the simpler positions, for example R+K v K, though this is not always the case. As an illustration, should the user be playing for a win or a draw in the Philidor position? – the app doesn’t make it clear. The lack of explanation is a real potential barrier for less experienced users and also seems at odds with the inclusion of a large number of very simple positions (including the ridiculously simple Q+Q+K v K).
  2. There is only very rudimentary information displayed to tell the user how they are doing. The information that is available – a cumulative record of wins / draws and losses and the number of moves and half moves taken per position – don’t really mean anything in isolation. For example, the number of moves would indeed be important, if each position had a target maximum number of moves to achieve checkmate; without it, it doesn’t really matter.
  3. There is no detail about the engine the user is playing against. How strong is it? Can it be relied upon to play the best defensive moves? In short, can you learn from using it?  (In practice, testing shows the engine does appear to play most endings pretty well though it doesn’t always play them perfectly – ie it doesn’t utilise revelant endgame tablebases)
  4. All positions must be played as white – there are no defensive ‘backs to the wall’ type of positions to practice as black.

Practical useability and presentation

The app’s practical useability could be best described as a bit of a ‘curates egg’ – a mixture of good and bad points.

Let’s start with the positives. The style and colour of the board and piece chess_endgamescombination are generally well selected. They are not unpleasant to view or use. This is good as the app includes no options to change the appearance; some variability even if limited, is always welcome from a user perspective as it helps to keep an app fresh and also maintain long term interest.

The app’s design and layout is less good; the current choice makes for uncomfortable regular use on a phone. In particular the board occupies only a relatively small portion of the screen, which means making moves is more difficult than it should be. More than once I had to use the ‘undo’ option to correct a move to the wrong square, as a result of the ‘fat finger’ problem. The layout could be improved and the board size enlarged by, for example, using menu headings instead of having the options to the side of the playing area. The existing design choice means that the options are harder to select. It may also explain why the app can only be used in landscape mode which is a frustrating restriction when playing on a phone.

Regular use of the app shows up some further disappointing glitches with the overall production quality, none of which should be too difficult to resolve. For example, testing K+P v K in custom mode after switching to a new position – I have been presented with a board with just two kings available, worse still moving on to the next position also brings up another KvK  position! Other examples of quality issues are highlighted elsewhere in this review.

There is one very practical ‘useability’ issue with the app that can’t be overlooked. It is extremely resource intensive in terms of its CPU, memory and crucially battery use. Any prolonged activity will noticeably drain your device unless operated with a charger and also certainly ‘warm’ it up.

Developer support

The Play Store description includes a brief narrative of the app’s purpose. The app itself includes a help menu option though this doesn’t seem to function – nothing happens when it is selected – and it is therefore not very helpful! There is no invitation from within the app to offer feedback or otherwise contact the developer.

Chess Endgames feels an app in the relatively early stages of development. It was last updated in September 2015 and hopefully there will be further releases with improvements. In summary it shows good potential but there are currently better apps to practice your endgames with.

Overall


Likes:

  • Free
  • Range of available positions


Dislikes:

  • No ad-free version
  • Help mode doesn’t work
  • General lack of instructions/guidance
  • Board size and design layout
  • Battery and resource intensive

 

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

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