11 February 2013

Chess Tactics Training on the iPad

Comparing Applications

Chess apps for the iPad and other iOS devices (iPhone, iPod, iPad Mini) proliferate. When I wrote my initial review of iPad chess apps, there were slightly more than a dozen. Now, it would take some effort to count all of the available programs in the Apple App Store. There might be dozens of applications specifically designed for chess tactics training. Other multipurpose apps offer training resources. Currently, I am using five apps in my tactics training: Chessimo, Chess Quest, Chess-wise Pro, Shredder, and Tactic Trainer. What are the principal features of each? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? Read on.


Chessimo offers training in tactics, endgames, strategy, and openings. It also has a rating estimator offering play against Crafty, and can transform the iPad into a chess set with clocks. There are over 800 classic games included for playing through, and these are referenced in the opening training.

The rating estimator should not be taken seriously. I found that Crafty played typically absurd "weak" computer moves until my rating was near 1400, then became far tougher than players at that level. Nevertheless, I discovered a weakness, and by playing the same game repeatedly was able to push my rating over 2300.

For players just beginning tactics training, Chessimo is worth considering. It may also be useful for improving board vision for stronger players (I hope so). The app is free, and lets the user play through the first four units of the first training module. Each unit introduces thirty problems, and then repeats them, or repeats exercises from previous units. An in-app purchase ($2.99) opens the rest of the tactics modules (five total, consisting of 51 units each). For $7.99, the user may purchase all modules in tactics, endgames, commented endgames, strategies, and openings.

Chessimo's method is repetition. Each exercise is repeated six times. The tactics begin with one-move checkmates, then two-move. Eventually, checkmate threats are present, but such tactical motifs as interference must be employed for the solution. The exercises are timed. If the answer is not found before time runs out, the app executes the solution. The time per exercise can be modified by the user, and the solution can be turned off.

Chessimo has vastly more exercises than most other training apps, but the difficulty level of these may be of little benefit to advanced players. Even so, the large quantity of problems that gradually increase in difficulty drills essential patterns into the memory. At least some of the checkmate in two problems come from the same games as the checkmate in one.

The app tracks haw many problems I have solved, the average time for each set, and the total time.*

As with all automated chess training programs, alternate solutions are not always supported. Sometimes, the preferred solution is not the best (see "Endgame Training with Chessimo"). Chessimo works in landscape mode on the iPad and does not rotate.

GM Gilberto Milos selected the exercises.

Chess Quest

Chess Quest offers 1200 exercises in six levels (200 each). After the so-called "Basic Level" for beginners, the exercises in the Level 1 are comparable to the educational exercises in the Anthology of Chess Combinations. In fact, some of them are the same exercises. Exercises in level five are challenging for advanced players, perhaps even for masters.

An advantage of Chess Quest is that completed exercises can be returned to for further study. Another advantage is the option of playing through alternate responses by the defending player. A small tree symbol appears in the game annotation where alternate responses are possible. Some exercises have complex trees.

The app has a simple design. Pressing a plus advances through the exercises in each level, or through the several levels. The user may configure whether the objective (White to checkmate, White to draw) is announced at the start of the problem, or remains hidden. I find this feature useful, and have turned off the notification. Hence, I must assess whether I am playing to win or to draw. Sometimes. the objective is merely to gain an advantage, or to avoid losing equality.

The quality of the problems selected is a significant strength of Chess Quest. They are well chosen.

The app works in portrait mode and does not rotate. I paid $4.99 for the app, but this price is a sale price "for a limited time."

GM Leonid Yudasin selected the exercises.

Chess-wise Pro

Chess-wise Pro ($4.99) is a comprehensive chess program offering play against the computer, six-piece Nalimov tablebase access, online playing at FICS, database features, and tactics training. There are 300 training exercises. Through the first 100, a hint can be seen on request.

The exercises are moderate in difficulty (comparable to levels one and two in Chess Quest). Some classic exercises appear in both apps, and can be found in many tactics books. One drawback to the program is that it asks only for the first move. If a user sees the correct move, but miscalculates a sequence, he or she gets the problem correct. In Tactic Trainer below, one error in the sequence causes a fail on the problem as a whole.

The app tracks which exercises have been completed. All exercises are accessible from the entry screen, making it possible to solve them in any order, and to return to any problem at any time. After I completed all 300 exercises, I was able to reset the list so that all are marked as unsolved. I like the possibility of going through the whole set a second time.

I use Chess-wise Pro as an integral part of my training, but do not rely upon it. I recommend against using it to the exclusion of other resources.

Several sets of chess pieces are available to suit different preferences. The app rotates fully.


Shredder ($7.99) is a terrific training tool as a playing program, and it offers 1000 tactics problems to solve with the clock ticking. Speed and accuracy are necessary for full score.

Tactics training with Shredder resembles training with Chess Tactics Server or Chess Tempo in blitz mode in that problems are scored and time counts. Wrong answers and too much time both reduce the possible score.

Most of the problems are slightly less challenging than the norm in Chess-wise Pro, but the timer balances the  effort needed. Shredder is an integral part of my chess training. Recently, I completed my second pass through all 1000 problems. In 2013, I aim to complete my third, but with a higher scoring percentage than achieved through the first two passes.

There are several board colors and piece sets from which the user may choose to render the appearance aesthetically pleasing. The app rotates fully.

See my more in-depth review at "Tactics Training: Shredder iPad App."

Tactic Trainer

Tactic Trainer ($2.99) offers exercises to be solved that increase in difficulty after success, and decrease in difficulty after failure. The developers claim that it contains more than 20,000 problems. Solving the problems produces a rating--Glicko rating system--that determines the level of problems presented.

Strengths of the app are that it is simple and offers problems of an appropriate degree of difficulty for chess enthusiasts of a wide range of skill levels.

Weaknesses are that access to problems previously solved does not permit trying again. An update in May 2013 added tracking for number of problems attempted, and how many were solved correctly. The app is like a Chess Tempo lite with minimal capabilities for review, and with limited performance data. However, Chess Tempo requires a web connection. Tactic Trainer can be used in the back country or on an airplane far from internet access.**

The app offers a range of chess sets and pieces from which to choose (slightly fewer than Shredder). It rotates fully.

See my in-depth review at "Tactic Trainer for iPad, iPod, iPhone, Android: Review."

I believe these five apps are among the best resources for tactics training using the iPad (or iPhone and iPod touch). But, it may be that there is a terrific app unknown to me. Please leave a comment if you know of one that should have been mentioned in this comparative review.

*In two and one-half weeks use, I have spend more than five and one-half hours on tactics (1707 exercises) and another two and one-half on endgames (307 exercises).

**This paragraph was altered 8 June 2013 to reflect changes included in an app update several weeks earlier.


  1. www.chessity.com works great at an iPad! It's not an app :)

    1. Chessity is a terrific website for chess training. Its problem selection criteria differs enough from Chess Tempo that there might be merits in using the two together. As a website, rather than an app, however, it cannot be "used in the back country or on an airplane far from internet access."

  2. I just got an iPad mini. Your review of tactics training apps has been most helpful! I am currently using Chessimo, and really like the repetition feature. It looks like Chess Tempo will still be my number one training site, but it's great to have some variety in training tools.

    1. Glad you found my reviews helpful, Chet! Thanks for the compliment.

  3. Hello James,

    Just wanted to let you know that I have released a iOS version of my Chess puzzles app, iChess

    Hope it will find a mention on this blog. Thanks!

  4. Don't forget Chess U. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chess-u/id416507647?mt=8

  5. Do you know any software which gives puzzles tactics wise?

    1. For PCs, I use Chess Informant Solver's Kit which comes on the Anthology of Chess Combinations CD.

  6. thanks for these suggestions.

    is the graphic at the top of your blog one of your chess sets? its beautiful...

    1. The image in the banner is of a travel set that was given me as a gift. The gift was purchased during a Panama Canal Cruise out of Florida. The gifters could not recall in which port they purchased the set, but they thought it was in Costa Rica--Probably Limon.

      The board, which folds to create a box holding the pieces is about six inches square and the king stands about one inch tall.

      The position on the board is from an online blitz game that lasted less than a minute. I was Black.

      1.e4 e6 2.f4 c5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bd3 Qh4+ 8.g3 Nxg3 9.Nf3 Qg4 10.hxg3 Qxg3+ 11.Ke2 Qg2+ 12.Ke3 Bc5+ 13.Ke4 f5+ 14.exf6 d5# 0–1

  7. I have used all the programs you review and like ChessQuest the best. Recently I put Chess Tactics Pro on my iPhone and purched a couple puzzles packs from them (350 puzzles per pack for $0.99). Overall I think is it now the best program for the iPhone/iPod touch for practicing tactics as the puzzles are good, the options are good, has built in computer analysis via Analyze button so you can dig into puzzles you get wrong and it comes with 50 free puzzles per difficulty (easy, intermediate, hard) + type (puzzles, mates, tactics) combination.

    1. Thanks. I don't think that I've tried Chess Tactics Pro. I'll take a look at it.