Introduction to Playing Online Chess

"I don't believe in psychology.  I believe in good moves." - GM Bobby Fischer


   The game of chess that you may be familiar with is considered to be a major variant known as "western chess".  Several other variants of chess are also played all over the world, be it Chinese Chess (Xiangqi), Japanese Chess (Shogi), or Thai Chess (Makruk).  And those are just the major known variants.  There are obviously several other variants of chess that exist but for our purposes, I'll consider "western chess" to be the default format of chess that the reader is interested in.

   Most serious chess players begin by playing chess over the board (OTB), which in essence means playing with live people using a physical board and pieces.  Playing OTB chess can easily be done - just find someone that knows how to play chess and wants to play chess, set up the board and pieces and begin a game.  Nothing else is required.  But what if you wanted to play a game with your friend who lives 300 miles away?  Or find a game to play at 11 PM?  It'd be rather hard to play those type of games without assistance.

   Enter the Internet.  With the Internet you're able to play chess at any time you desire.  You'll be able to play against live opponents, using computer technologies.  But what about the psychology of OTB chess, some of you may ask - Internet chess has its own set of values and psychological effects.  If you so choose, you can completely shut out everything except what occurs on the virtual board with the virtual pieces.  Some might wonder if it's possible to interact with others or your opponent or if you're doomed to silently move the pieces around on the screen.  The answer is that you can interact with other people online, perhaps even easier than you could in real life - with the notable exception of physically assaulting the other player.

Getting Started

   In most cases, if you're able to read this webpage, you can play chess on the Internet.  If you're accessing this page via a mobile device or a locked-down workstation, there will be limitations on your capability of playing online chess on that format.  But to get maximum benefit (and fun), I highly recommend that you learn how to play on an Internet Chess Server (ICS) using an interface.  There are several other options that don't require the use of an interface but none of those are a real ICS, nor will they offer you top-flight chess.  If you're interested in improving or testing yourself against the best of the world, you will have to play on an ICS.  Playing on Yahoo! Chess isn't going to cut it.

   If you're wondering what the system requirements are for playing on an ICS are, don't worry.  If your computer can connect to the Internet, it can use an interface.  There have been interfaces written for every major operating system out there.  And if you've written your own operating system, you can just go ahead and write your own interface for it as well.  The original ICS was developed on older computer systems that predate everything available today.  While this might not be good news for graphic intensive games - chess is a simple game and just needs a simple solution.

   So in short, you've got everything you need to get started!

The Experience

   Just about every single place you can play online chess has its own culture with corresponding values and norms.  It might take you some time to figure those out if you plan on "fitting in" at all.  If you just plan to play and enjoy chess games, you can worry about fitting in later on.  Be sure to read everything and spend time reading the manuals or help files first.  The most irritating part of the online player's experience is someone who hasn't bothered to help themselves first and wants their hand held throughout the process.  Respect yourself and you'll be shown respect by others.  Just taking some time to try to solve your own problems can be a very instructive experience.

   Most players prefer to play at a single place - most of us don't have the time to spread across several different sites!  But sometimes it's a change of pace that we want, or a certain variant that we want to play, or even certain players we want to play that cause most of us to hop to another server to try it out.  That's what makes ICSes so attractive.  They all share a nearly common command set.  Once you have an interface that works for all ICSes and know the command set of an ICS, you're pretty much set with ICSes.  You don't have to worry as much!

   Now, with non-ICS sites, such as Yahoo! Chess, you're pretty much stuck with no options.  You have to use their software (due to the YICS' demise).  You can also be stuck with a horrible experience - as can be found on other well documented sites such as EdCollins', or even on Wikipedia itself.  But sometimes, language preference can overcome most of those issues and create a scenario where some members enjoy the experience on a site more than they would on a traditional ICS, such as on the Spanish-language Buho21 (En: Owl21).  Although, Buho21 might be an unique case due to its "succession" of the former Ajedrez21 site (bought out by and now integrated into the Internet Chess Club (ICC)).

But whatever experience you're looking for, you can mostly find it online.  It might be hard to find, but it's out there somewhere.

[Last Modified : 24 February 2009 -- Nick Long]
2009 Nick Long