Chess Software Buying Guide

The question and answer columns in chess magazines (both in print and online) are always enjoyable reads; you can pick up a lot of tips from them. One of the best, most perceptive Q&As I've ever read appeared in an old issue of Chess Life in the 1990's. A chess player of my acquaintance sent a question to Larry Evans; the player was rated in the mid-1400's Elo and seemed to be "stuck in a rut". He never seemed to improve, so he asked Larry for his advice on how to get better at chess.

Larry's answer stuck with me and I've repeated it often, both in person and in print. It's the best improvement advice for beginning to intermediate chess players that I've ever heard.

A similar question that I've often been asked in my former role as tech support contact for ChessBase and in my present role as a ChessBase columnist is "What chess software should I buy to help me improve my game?" It's a good question and one that's often asked because of the sometimes bewildering array of chess training software CDs and DVDs that ChessBase offers.

Consequently I've decided to merge these two questions and create a sort of "training course" which will give you pointers on which chess software training tools to use and also help you improve your game. Since I'm a ChessBase columnist, all of my recommendations (save one) will naturally be ChessBase products. It's not a reflection on the quality of competitor's products; it's only because I'm (naturally) most familiar with the ChessBase offerings. And since this article is being presented to you by ChessCentral, nearly all of my recommendations will be products available at ChessCentral (and I'll provide links to the appropriate web pages from which you can order them).

I'll frequently be referring to various levels of chess player - beginner, intermediate, and advanced. These classifications are a slippery slope. I've met low-rated chess players who are really great at endgames, but who have trouble just getting to one (they frequently lose in the opening or middlegame). I've met intermediate chess players who excel at chess tactics but who are terrible at chess strategy. And I've known strong players who excel at chess openings and middlegames but who can't play an chess endgame to save their souls. Complicating this is the fact that many ChessBase training software programs are geared toward more than one level of player; software about chess tactics might contain many one-move tactics problems that are suitable for a novice but also contain other advanced positions that require long calculation and thus provide a challenge for advanced players. So you'll see some overlap between these classifications; certain training materials might be suited to more than one classification of player.

For what these classifications mean, here's a very rough guideline:

  • Chess Novice - a chess player completely new to the game or someone who's been a casual player for a long time. A ten year old kid just learning to play or eighty-five year old Uncle Bob who plays maybe two or three chess games a year just for fun would fit into this category.
  • Chess Beginner - someone who knows the chess rules, has played mainly for fun, has maybe played in a couple of rated tournament or an "in-house" school event, and knows they have a long way to go to "get good". In USCF terms, this might be a player who's rated below Class D.
  • Chess Intermediate - a chess player serious enough to play regularly in USCF events or at a chess club, who wins some and loses some, and wants to learn more. This is probably a USCF Class D through Class B player.
  • Chess Advanced - a serious chess player who's one of the "top dogs" down at the chess club, or who maybe finds himself just behind the top dogs. This might also be a titled (Expert, Master) player who's looking to improve his skills. This category would cover USCF Class A and Expert players and, in some cases, might even apply to Masters.

Note that this is a very rough guideline for the reasons stated right before I presented the list. The best thing you can do is try to determine your strengths and weaknesses as a chess player and guide your own study accordingly (for example, you might be good at chess endgames but know that you're a bit deficient in positional chess - so you'd categorize yourself as a strong intermediate endgame player but maybe a beginner to low intermediate player positionally).

With the preamble out of the way, let's move on to the advice - after all, it's the whole reason you're reading this article!

Chess Playing Software

Chess Openings Software

Chess Tactics Software

Chess Positional and Strategy Software

Chess Endgame Software

General Chess Software Buying Advice

Copyright 2015, Steven A. Lopez and ChessCentral. All rights reserved.