Playing Chess Online

Welcome! You have stumbled upon a guide to playing chess online. The problem with playing computers is that they’re often too strong, they cannot simulate weaker ratings properly and they have a set opening book. Playing online overcomes this problem by allowing you to play against humans players around your level. Sometimes you can even meet up with famous grandmastersgiving a simultaneous display as well.

Playing online

If you’re a busy person and don’t have time to constantly go to chess clubs and to travel to tournaments, playing online is a flexible alternative. However, generally the ratings online mean very little, they are just there to track your improvement. To actually achieve chess titles (FM, IM, etc.) you will need to pursue either over-the-board (OTB) chess or correspondence chess.

Apart from busy enthusiasts, playing regularly online is also an important aspect of the training regime for serious chess players. Playing online allows chess players to try out new openings and practice their skills in tactics. This can also develop their positional/strategical chess, endgames, etc. An excellent addition to online play is that you can try out any opening you plan to plan in tournaments in future – this allows you to gain more experience in the opening so that you have less chance of being blown off the board in a long game.

Here is a snapshot of my ratings on the Internet Chess Club:

Online Chess Clubs

I will outline a number of online chess clubs. They can range from excellent free servers to premium paid clubs.

Free Servers

I recommend most casual players can play on FICS, the Free Internet Chess Server. FICS, with over 300000 registered users, is one of the oldest and one of the largest internet chess servers. And it is absolutely free! FICS was organized as a free alternative to the ICC (see below), after that site began charging for membership. FICS is my main recommendation for people who aren’t willing to pay to join a chess server.

– FICS Using BabasChess interface

I used to play on free servers like Pogo and a Chinese server called OurGame, which were bothreasonable. There are quite a few other free servers including Yahoo! Chess and InstantChess. It is annoying that sometimes players cheat (using help from a computer) on these popular free servers.

The Two Heavyweights

As you become stronger, you really should consider one of the two heavyweights below. (These servers heavily monitor cheating and such players are caught surprisingly quickly.) I have many years of experience on the Internet Chess Club.


Serious chess. Serious fun!

The Internet Chess Club (ICC) is one of the best places to play online chess if you’re interested in improving. It is suitable for all levels of players, beginners to grandmasters. ICC allows you to have a no obligation free trial before you decide whether you want full membership.

I have played on ICC since 2003 and my experiences have been flawless. They use state of the art technology to catch cheating and also host a number of other chess-related activities.

One of the most useful additions is the ChessFM videos, which allows players to access regular chess video updates. ChessFM is an entertaining series of videos on chess improvement and other topics. My favourite shows are GM Har-Zvi’s opening updates, GM Benjamin’s Game of the Week and IM John Watson’s Chess Talk.

If you use the ICC trial or have paid for membership, then I can suggest playing 5-minute autopairing games. These games are my favourite – they automatically enter the player into a pool and starts a game with a player of similar rating who is also looking for a game in that pool. This saves a lot of time compared to the conventional ‘seek and wait’ strategy and the random selection of opponents makes ratings far more accurate.

For more information, see my “Introduction to Internet Chess Club” article.

PlayChess is a chess server run by the company ChessBase. I haven’t played regularly on PlayChess, although I have had some fun playing in the ‘computer chess rooms’. This is where a player can play as either a ‘centaur’, where the player plays with help from the computer in the background, sometimes referred to as “advanced chess“, or use their engine automatically with no human interference. (Note that there are two different ratings systems for fully automatic chess engine and centaur.)

When consumers purchase a ChessBase product like Fritz or Junior, they are given a one-year pass to PlayChess – this is what gives them tonnes of business. If you don’t have Fritz, you can register for a 30-day trial at PlayChess.

There is a mysterious unbelievably-strong anonymous player on PlayChess with the username “Raffael”, who often tops the ‘best lists’ on the server. Some have argued that this player is Kasparov.

Comparison between the two heavyweights

I have played quite a few hours on both these servers, but since I have spent much longer on ICC, I have a bias towards it. In my opinion, ICC’s premium features are slightly superior to PlayChess’ and it’s interface is more extensive. In comparison, PlayChess is cheaper (since I last checked) and it is superior for centaurs and engine testers who can utilise the specialist computer rooms.

Online qualifiers and tournaments

Sometimes online qualifiers and major tournaments are played online. A couple of months ago there was a range of qualifying tournaments on ICC to win a a round trip ticket, hotel room, entry fee, breakfast and dinner package to Gibraltar to compete in a strong OTB tournament, the Gibtelecom Chess Festival. The festival in that year was held in the Caleta Hotel, recently voted Gibraltar’s best hotel. PlayChess also has similar qualifying tournaments.

Perhaps the best known online tournament is Dos Hermanas, which is widely considered to be the biggest and strongest online blitz tournament in the world. The 2010 Dos Hermanas tournament had over $10,000 in prizes on offer and was won by American Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, a legend in online play, who has an OTB FIDE Elo of 2733 as of May 2010.

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