Chess apps are added to the various app stores on a daily basis – the better known ones often announced and promoted through chess forums and social media (I plead guilty!). At the same time with less or no fanfare, there are chess apps being withdrawn from these stores and being lost to the community. They sink into obscurity, losing any profile they had, with potential users unaware of the enjoyment they are missing. Some are indeed ‘treasures’. This short blog celebrates a few of these ‘zombie’ apps that are sadly no longer generally available but fortunately still live on at least on my trusty old iPod Touch.
A1 Chess (iOS)
A1 Chess was an inexpensive app developed by Andrew Short and released in 2009. A very simple app with no bells and whistles it just played a game of chess (what more is really needed!?). The app’s appeal lay in its simplicity, elegant design and visual appeal. There were no clocks, minimal settings and users options. The board theme and chess piece selections (there was only one!) combined clearly and well and made for a very easy and pleasurable playing experience even on a phone or iPod Touch.
A1 Chess simply offered 10 levels of play ranging from Learner (Level 1) to World Champion (Level 10) with an average of 3 minutes per move. The system of simple named levels encouraged the user to improve through the stages (for example level 5 was ‘Intermediate’ and Level 7 was ‘club player’). Playing strength wasn’t bad at all and certainly catered for the vast majority of players. The invidual levels were reasonably accurately described – my experience was that level 5 – Intermediate – probably played around 1400-1500 elo, though ‘World Champion’ play at level 10 may have been a little optimistic.
The only real downside with the app, related to the gameplay and this was the absence of an opening book. This of course meant less variety in games which was a little disappointing, and I ended up always expecting my Queens Gambit to be Accepted (as you can see from the image above!)
What happened next?
A1 Chess sadly disappeared from the app store some time ago for unknown reasons. The author Andrew Short is still actively inolved in app development releasing a number of non-chess related apps for Far Stars Games.
Touch Chess (iOS)
This app was released in 2012 by 2DEngine a small independent game developer based in the United States. At its heart it featured the Faile ‘open source’ chess engine – which is of medium strength in the context of other chess engines but certainly strong enough in absolute terms for the vast majority of human players.
Touch Chess was a well designed and presented app with a good range of features. A particular feature of the app were the large icon buttons and menu bar titles which made the app very accessible and easy to navigate around. In terms of playing options, whilst these were limited, Touch Chess had the unusual but interesting feature of having difficulty settings solely based on fixed and selective search depths. These ranged from the simplest 1/1 ply to the hardest level 4/8 ply (ie 4 ply minimum but 8 ply maximum search), though in reality there never felt to be that much difference between the individual levels.
There were a range of ways to alter the playing experience including different board themes including a not too unreasonable 3d chess set (though the dark pieces were perhaps a little too dark). A further plus was that Touch Chess included a nice range of separate pgn databases for the user to explore and play through. These were based on the games of well known current and former players but also very usefully included a range of different themes covering tactical minatures, chess traps and common checkmating patterns.
What happened next?
Development of Touch Chess ceased and the app was withdrawn for unknown reasons. However in May 2015 the developer 2DEngine in celebration of releasing a new app, generously made the Windows version of Touch Chess available for free and it remains available from their website.
Deep Green Chess (iOS)
This is a bit of a cheat – Deep Green Chess is still very much alive and well on the iTunes app store. I lament here the loss of the free (Lite) version of the app – important in my view as the app at £5.99 is relatively expensive for a chess app and for a punt in to the unknown if you’re not familiar with it.
Actually, Deep Green Chess developed by Joachim Bondo and released by Cocoa Stuff has a long pedigree being originally available for the Apple Newton in the 1990s. The Lite version was a generous offer as the only difference from the full version was the inability to save games (not a particular hardship for the casual player).
Deep Green Chess is not a complex or sophisticated app in terms of features and options – it is essentially just a game of chess with the ability also to set up and play a game from different positions. No, the app’s particular appeal is that it is one of the most beautifully crafted and designed chess apps available. It is very simple and straightforward to use. The board and piece set are attractive, the respective colours are well chosen and visually a game on a phone or ipod is both easy and enjoyable to play. Unusually for a chess app which has sound, in the case of Deep Green Chess these complement the app rather than detract from it – there are a range of well matched soft clicks, whirrs and ticks for associated elements of the game (eg gentle ticking for when the user requests the engine for a hint). The user also even has the choice to seeing the engine visually ‘thinking’ about its move!
There are a 10 playing levels which amusingly at the lower levels show the engine having differing levels of ‘concentration’ (eg level 1 plays at 1 second/move with 25% concentration). The maxium level is only 30 seconds thinking per move at full concentration. The vast majority of chess strengths should be suitably catered for by the apps various levels. The app isn’t aimed at the power or sophisticated user – there is no ability to influence playing style and there are no means of analysis other than a simple hint move – but Deep Green makes a great choice for a quick casual fun game fof chess – And what more do you really need!?
What happened next?
The Lite version was discontinued in 2011 in the words of the developer because “The difference between Lite and the paid version (Lite doesn’t save games between app launches) has been practically eliminated by iOS 4.0’s multitasking.”
Many of the long established and well known computer chess brands including the likes of Shredder, Hiarcs and Chess Genius are represented in the app market as are a host of top engines (Komodo Stockfish et al) but one of the biggest brands is missing as a native app….. where is Fritz??
Well, there was indeed once a dedicated Fritz app. Originally released on the iOS platform in early 2009 by Gammick Entertainment (under license from Chessbase) whilst no longer at the app store it still remains available for other devices
This blog celebrates the chess apps loved and lost but in truth Fritz doesn’t fall into this category – it was not much loved by me. Perhaps this was due to the expectations associated with the use of the ‘Fritz’ name. In short, the app was a general disappointment.
Yes, Fritz was generally well featured in terms of actual game play for example in terms of choice of time controls and options to influence the engine’s willingness to resign or accept draws. But the app was not particularly intuitive to use and felt too gimmicky. It had terrible music and sound options which were harsh to the ear and really grated. If I want to listen to music when I play then let me pick a tune from my own music library not your awful attempt at jazz or electronica! At least these options could be disabled.
Particularly disappointing was the engine itself – it was weaker than anticipated. There was some debate about whether indeed the Fritz engine was powering the app. (Implementations of the ‘Fritz’ brand on other devices have actually used different engines). Certainly Fritz performed poorly in my own testing against other well-known strong chess apps. The app also had a tendency use its time very poorly and lost frequently due to running out of time. For the enthusiast there was also no ability to multi-task either so engine v engine testing was problematical.
What happened next?
It is not clear when or why the Fritz app was withdrawn. Chessbase the publisher of Fritz subsequently released its own Chessbase database app on both android and apple platforms. In 2015 the Fritz engine (in its Deep Fritz 14 incarnation) became available for use via an update to this app.