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On Chess: Playing Online Chess In This Pandemic

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez commentating on the 2020 Cairns Cup matches using online chess software.
Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club
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Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez commentating on the 2020 Cairns Cup matches using online chess software.

Do you think you are good at chess? Are you able to beat everyone at work or in school? Or, perhaps you are brand new to the game of chess and not sure how good you are yet.

Joining a chess tournament is a great way to garner experience, or show off what you already know. 

Normally, I would recommend taking a look for local chess tournaments on the St. Louis Chess Club’s website, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, this is not currently an option. Luckily, there is another option: You can play online chess.

Online chess is a fantastic way to keep your game sharp and your need for chess fulfilled. Some of the best chess websites currently are chess.com, lichess.org, and chess24.com. I’ve outlined a description of each of these useful online chess websites to help you choose the best one for you.

Chess.com

This site is the most popular option among online chess players and over-the-board professionals alike. It always provides quality chess articles and streams quality coverage of major tournaments acound the globe.

In fact, at 6:30 p.m. April 23, anyone can watch the St. Louis Chess Club compete against three other chess clubs in an Online Blitz Round Robin Tournament. We will also be streaming the tournament with live commentary on our YouTube channel.

Lichess.org

Founded by French programmer Thibault Duplessis, Lichess.org has been surging in popularity over the past month, breaking its record number of concurrent users, peaking at 60,000.

The mission of Lichess.org is to keep chess and learning resources completely free for everyone. Lichess is great for new players still trying to learn the game, or people returning after a hiatus.

Chess24.com

This site has a smaller player pool and is not as popular as the other two websites, but it deserves a mention for providing live PGNs of tournaments in progress, including major tournaments such as the Sinquefield Cup.

It is very easy to find live tournament feeds to stay up to date on all the major chess events happening worldwide.

Another exciting tournament occurring from April 18 through May 3 is the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, where the world’s top chess players will compete online for a $250,000 prize fund.

How is online chess different from chess in person?

The biggest difference is that instead of playing on a three-dimensional board, the players compete on a two-dimensional board.

You also don’t get to see your opponent’s reactions when you play; however, Lichess.org does support voice chat if you and your opponent agree to use it while you play.

The most important difference between the two is that most online chess websites require their games to have what is called a "time control." This is a timer for you to make your moves. The most popular time control is "5+0," which allows five minutes for each player to make all of their moves, otherwise known as "blitz." Blitz games last no longer than 10 minutes, making them the perfect time control during work breaks or between classes at school.

There are also other kinds of time controls using increments, such as "3+2." This means each player starts with three minutes, with two seconds added every move. This can be more suitable for players who prefer slower play and don’t like scrambling to make their final moves in sudden death (n+0) time controls. Play around with different time controls to find what suits your play best.

When you're ready to play

Once you have decided on a platform to use, it is time to get started. Sites may require you to create an account with them to keep score of your games and track your progress over time. Some sites may let you play anonymously, but be warned: You may not be able to find the game again when you are finished.

To start a game, click "play now" and select the time control you want to play. It may take some time, but the website will pair you with another user who is wanting to play the same time control and is typically of a skill level similar to yours.

Most websites also require the player with the white pieces to make the first move within a certain amount of time, otherwise the website’s server will abort the game. If your game is aborted, just return to the "play now" section on the website, select the time control you want to play and send out a new challenge.

While we will eventually move back into in-person open chess play, live tournaments, live lessons and lectures, the growth of online chess has helped many chess players of all levels to continue to learn and grow their skills during this difficult time.

Nick Risko is a senior chess associate and chess instructor at the St. Louis Chess Club, a partner of St. Louis Public Radio. He is also a competitive chess tournament player and a full-time student at St. Louis Community College.

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