Best Chess Program/Engine

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Welcome to my best chess program article. Are you searching for the best chess playing engine? In this article, I will discuss the wide variety of chess engines and which one may be most suitable to you. Historically, chess engines are very strong at tactical analysis, but weaker in quiet positions where the human player may best look for a strategy/plan than for tactics. This means that almost all chess programs favour moves that lead to open, tactical positions.

As a side note, the endgame ability of most chess engines is often enhanced by the use of so-called 'endgame tablebases'. These are pre-programmed masses of knowledge that allow chess engines to play certain endgames flawlessly, such as the endgame king and queen vs king and rook, which can be quite hard to master in practice.

The most popular chess engine protocol in use is the Universal Chess Interface (UCI). UCI is considered stronger than the older XBoard/WinBoard communication protocol.

There are currently a wide variety of chess programs available on the market. The top engines on the CEGT computer chess rating list at the time of writing are Rybka 3.0, Naum 4.0, Fritz 11, Zappa Mexico II, Thinker 5.4D, Shredder WM Edition Bonn, Hiarcs 12, Fruit 2.4 Beta A, Sjeng 3.0 and Glaurung 2.2. The previously extremely strong program Junior is now lagging behind on 16th. However, this is rather meaningless because, as English Grandmaster John Nunn says, "by the time the next round of versions has appeared, the order may be entirely different".

Note that chess engines that are designed to be run on multiple processors are often denoted by the term "Deep" before the engine name, e.g. Deep Fritz. All of the top 10 chess engines on the CEGT list are run on 4 CPUs. On the other SSDF computer chess rating list, again Rybka 3.0 leads the list. Then comes Naum 4.0, Zappa Mexico II, Fritz 11, Shredder 11, Hiarcs 12 and Deep Junior 10.1 (in this list, Junior is up a bit). Another important rating list to check is the newer IPON rating list.

Of course, average people do not want to purchase a 4-core computer to run their chess engine. Although if you are a serious analyst, you may want to consider investing in two CPUs or a "duo CPU", which will pretty much double the speed of the chess program compared to running it on a single processor.

Although I normally like things free (see other articles on this website!), serious chess players almost can't go without spending some money purchasing a chess program. This is where the German company ChessBase is the world's premier supplier. They sell arguably the strongest chess engine on the market at the moment, Deep Rybka 3.0.

At this moment in time, they also sell Deep Fritz 11 and Deep Hiarcs 12. Additionally, they supply Shredder and Zap! Chess (Zappa), although the strongest versions of those programs at the moment need to be purchased elsewhere. These chess engines, when purchased from ChessBase, come with the 'Fritz interface', which is a chess database interface, allowing users to perform many advanced database operations (in simple terms, extremely useful!). Purchases from ChessBase also include a 1-year subscription to the popular chess-playing site PlayChess.

Rybka has been the strongest chess program for a while now. With regards to playing style, Rybka and Fritz are more balanced. Rybka is very modest in its assessments, such that if Fritz or Shredder think White is better by 1.5 pawns, Rybka often only considers White to be up only 1.0 pawn. According to ChessBase, Shredder 11 "still likes to go on the attack, but is not as speculative as previous versions".

Hiarcs is known for its human-like playing style and its "sharp attacking chess" and "never say die attitude". According to the authors of Junior, they haven't developed Junior to have the highest rating out of all programs, "instead they have developed Junior into an instrument that enables human beings to gain new insights and understanding in the game of chess". Junior is known to be a very aggressive engine and its particularly strong at considering compensation. This makes Junior an interesting analysis partner and it allows "users to explore new possibilities of sacrifice attacks and sharp dynamic play".

Zappa is optimised for multiple CPUs, in particular 64-bit machines. This allows Zappa to have very high rankings on rating lists involving multiple processors due to its efficiency. The general conclusion is that "all are extremely strong tactically, while all show deficiencies in quiet positions" (J.Nunn).


It's your choice whether you would like to purchase Deep Rybka, the balanced and arguably strongest chess program at the moment, or another engine like Junior, which can help you create new and devious opening preparation as well as give you a new perspective on the game due to its aggressively and good consideration of compensation. Or perhaps you have 512 CPU cores lying around, when Zappa would be your best choice (it can literally use 512 CPUs).

You can find updated information regarding chess engines on the GeniusProphecy Chess Blog.

To purchase products, I recommend Wholesale Chess. They provide the highest quality chess products at the lowest prices (especially for US and Canadian players). They even offer to match prices with other chess websites! Even though I live overseas, this is where I choose to purchase chess goods.

For chess opening training and repertoire maintenance, I highly recommend the software that I personally use, Chess Openings Wizard. This software was approved by Grandmaster Peter Svidler (FIDE rating 2730 as of January 2011) many years ago.

See Also

Free Chess Programs
Best Chess Interfaces/GUIs
Chess Software

Article originally written: Friday, April 24, 2009

Article edited (slightly): Friday, January 28, 2011