The History of ICSes - Parts 3 & 4

"Now we have to pay extra for a game of chess? When will this stop?" - Anonymous

Part 3: What is FICS and how did it come about?

FICS is the Free Internet Chess Server.  It was created in a response to the privatization of the ICS into the ICC.  Several disgruntled and disillusioned players and programmers banded together to continue to keep the internet chess that they all loved free for all.  Thus they began the project of the FICS.  Some of the original ICS programmers were a part of this project, and as far as I can determine, FICS was begun sometime in June 1995 on or before June 15.  FICS was welcomed by the original ICS members that did not wish to pay ICC to continue to play there.  A grass-roots movement had sprung up, much to the chagrin of ICC.  Today, FICS still exists in direct competition with ICC, subsisting on donations and the generosity of certain benefactors.  The server address for FICS remains freechess.org 5000.

FICS has no proprietary interface, which is the bane of the stupid player.  There are several nice interfaces that you can use to play on FICS that you can use to play on any other server as well.  Some of those interfaces can be seen and gotten from my interface page here.  The lag compensation system on FICS and all FICS derivatives is known as "timeseal".  Timeseal was developed by Heinrik Gram (Hawk) of FICS who also worked on the original ICS project.  Several old-timers can be found at FICS and they remember the days where there was no existing timeseal system and people had to make do as well as they could with the time loss they would acquire over the course of the game.  Several traditions of the past have been lost in today's cutthroat speed-demon times.  In those days, lagflagging was a rude action to take.  Autoflag was usually left to "0", thus making manual flags the norm of those long lost days.  I personally began playing on ICSes on FICS in 1997 using SLICS.

FICS has long been the best place to find variant players for what limited variants it has offered.  Currently and for the past few years it has been the best place to play the "House" variations, or in other words: Crazyhouse and Bughouse.  Crazyhouse was first added by a FICS derivative, MEWIS and later added by FICS and then ICC in fact adopted it as well.  In the early days so to speak, there was just a few Wild variations and Bughouse.  During this time period, FICS was open source and free to all, so several smaller servers that catered to specialized groups of players (usually country ICSes) opened and throughout the years, most of them have disappeared from the historical canon.  One server had spawned into a multitude of servers.  Then one day something occurred that would change the face of ICSes forever yet again, just as the original ICS turning into the ICC had. 

Part 4: The chess.net Scandal

    The unspeakable act that changed the face of ICSes again forever was the creation of chess.net in late 1996 by an ex-admin of FICS who stole some player files from FICS and began SPAMIcs.  That admin was grimm of FICS, whose account on chess.net apparently has been deleted in an effort to hide their heritage.  This is his information from FICS:

Now, with SPAMIcs set up and some of the player files from FICS being used (which contained personal information), John Fanning came into contact with grimm and contracted to buy SPAMIcs and set it up into chess.net, a commercial site.  Fanning is a name that is common knowledge to those that follow music, his nephew - Shawn Fanning, invented Napster.  There have been some wild urban myths regarding the creation of chess.net such as Roman (the Grandmaster) wrote it, that Karpov owned it.  The truth is that there is one and only one creation tale of chess.net that is correct and this one is it.  Now, after changing it to chess.net, Fanning:

brought Roman (whom he had helped peddle Roman's videos on ICC and gotten banned for it) to chess.net.  Karpov was paid to play at chess.net as well.  Several changes were made to the open source FICS code to "alter" it so that they could claim that they had wrote it.  The problem is that chess.net has never had a coder that even knew what he was doing.  Even a high school kid taking a C++ class could program better than some of the people that chess.net has had in charge of doing the programming.  The server changes are so horrible that it has been known to strike visitors from other chess servers with the feeling that they are visiting an impoverished third world country every time they visit chess.net.  Chess.net has for several years run ads in Chess Life which is the only way I can possibly explain how they have managed to get and retain players.  Their properitary interface sells for about $30 on a CD-Rom.  The problem is that this interface is the WORST sorry excuse I have ever seen for an interface, ranking at #1 on my own personal "worst-interfaces" list.  Blitzin would weigh in at #2.  Chess.net has failed in every marketing opportunity I have ever seen it undertake.  The only thing it has going for it anymore is it owns a prestigious domain name on the web.

The interface itself is so horrible I will not defile young eyes with a screenshot of it.  The amount of utter worthlessness that surrounds this server is easily recognized by some of the user names I've seen on there, an example being:

hot_rod.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr.jr(C)

Please realize that I'm not making this up.  Most of the people that play on this server are certified idiots.  The same can be said for the administration as well.  I shall not waste any more space and memory to chess.net and move on to saying that ever since their "attempt" to run a pay chess server, FICS has ceased to be open source.  This was a death knell for the small servers that ran FICS code unmodified except for language translations.

Continue on to Part 5: The Death Knell of the Small Servers and Part 6: US Chess Live!


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[Last original modified: 25 January 2003]
[Last revised modified: 20 May 2009]