06 August 2013

Correspondence Chess on the iPhone

In ancient times, a handful of chess players bought many post cards. They sent these cards to people they had never met, but with whom they played a form of chess called postal or correspondence. I recall abandoning this form of chess when I discovered Net-Chess.com in 2003. Within the next two years, I was playing "correspondence" chess on half a dozen websites that I favored over the other dozen that I had tried. It has been a rare day since 2003 that I do not have at least one opponent awaiting my move. These games range in time from one day per move to ten. Occasionally, a time control requires a set number of moves over a specified period of time, such as ten moves in fifty days.

New terms have emerged for this correspondence-paced chess played on the web. Some call it turn-based chess. Others call it eChess, Slow Chess, or something else. The owner of Chess.com requested input for renaming this form of chess, which there is called "online" to distinguish it from "live". The majority of responses have favored correspondence as the traditional term, but there are dozens of other serious responses, as well as a great many comic offerings.

Chess By Post
Correspondence chess has evolved from telegraph to postcard, then to email. Email chess remains popular, but plays second fiddle to website-based correspondence. This form continues to evolve as players connect to the web, or to one another sans web via iOS or Android devices. It is possible to play correspondence chess on Chess.com via iPad or iPhone, PC or Mac, Android, or even older phones employing Java.

A growing number of apps offer correspondence-style chess. Some of these apps are dedicated to this sort of chess, while others include it as part of an array of features, including live chess, play against a computer, tactics training, and other forms of instruction or study. For example, tChessPro was the first iOS app to offer database support. An update connected it to Game Center, making it possible to play live or turn-based chess on the app.

Over the past week, I have been playing correspondence via the iPhone on ChessWorld.net with the Safari Browser, and also playing via several apps: Chess.com, tChess Pro, Chess Time, Chess By Post, SocialChess, and Candywriter's Your Move Chess. The Chess.com app has the most features, but most of the others offer a pleasing interface.

Your Move Chess
I recommend against Your Move Chess. The interface is busy and childish, and the app quite clearly is aimed at the casual player. Users playing with the sounds turned on (default) may feel as if they are in an arcade. The app makes available "lifelines"--one free per game, and more may be purchased or earned. These may be used to get assistance in a game in progress (something usually considered cheating elsewhere). There appears to be no way to download finished games, nor is it even possible to review them. Many apps carry advertisements, but Your Move Chess makes them as intrusive as possible. Not only are ads banners across the top, rather than below as in most apps, they are colorful and active. A few moves into a game, they cover the entire screen after each move.

This app's one positive feature is a good quality board and set.

Of course, one may upgrade for $1.99 to remove the ads, as well as gaining other features. Game review and download are not mentioned in the upgrade package description.

Chess Time by Haptic Apps LLC offers a selection of four chess sets and four board color schemes, all of which are pleasing to my eyes. In fact, several are a model of simplicity. For visual appeal, I might prefer removal of the border along both sides of the chessboard. On the other hand, getting a fat finger past the protective cover on my phone onto the a- or h-file may be facilitated by this border. Still yet, larger squares also facilitate movement by fat fingers.

Chess Time
Chess Time is not my top recommendation, but it seems adequate to the task. Unlike most apps, the game timer is clearly visible. The time control can be set at any of one to seven days per move, and the timer counts every second. Other app developers would do well to imitate Chess Time's clock.

After a game is completed, it is saved in a player's game history, where it may be reviewed from within the app or may be emailed. It is possible to do both. The emailed game, however, did not adhere fully to the PGN standard. The moves were in column format, rather than paragraph. Some chess database software may have difficulty with such columns, but ChessBase 11 was able to read the game without error.

One problem with the app crops up when a player wished to offer a draw. The offer must be made prior to making a move, contrary to FIDE rules. The correct way that should be implemented by all apps is to tender a draw offer with a move that has been made. Things are a little more complicated when claiming a draw by repetition or fifty-move rule. There some slight variance from FIDE rules might be expected.

The ads may be removed with a $4.99 upgrade. They are usually not unnecessarily intrusive, but a few have had a bouncing red ball moving across the screen.

Options allow a player to show/hide valid moves, coordinates, last move, and captured pieces. It is possible to view opponent statistics, as well as one's own. An irritating player may be added to an ignore list. Sending an open invite will start a game with another opponent. It is also possible to invite players by name, or a friend through email. The app has a leader list showing the top 100 players.

Chess By Post has a name that clearly connects the app to a tradition of correspondence chess. There are four color options for the chess board, but only one available piece set. My fat fingers have had less trouble moving pieces on this app than on any other. The ads in the free version are placed below the board controls, and not unnecessarily intrusive. The full version without ads costs $2.99.

Immaturity on display
Chess By Post has a nice website, where a strong claim is made.
Chess By Post is the only cross platform chess game that keeps track of your skill level and always matches you against players of similar ability to your own.
Jeff Cole, Chess By Post Developer
I am skeptical of this claim. Chess.com is certainly cross platform with a website, iOS app, Android app, Windows Mobile app, and even a Java phone app. Although Chess.com does not automatch players of similar ability, players may set their own narrow or wide rating range limits in their seeks.

Despite a claim that seems grandiose, Chess By Post has many well-implemented features that merit attention. It tracks a users rating via graph, offers three lists of games: "your move," "their move," and "finished". At the bottom of each finished game are rematch and export game buttons, as well as arrows for replaying the game. The export game button opens an email message with correct PGN implementation. All apps should make this process as easy.

The chat feature on Chess By Post is the best implemented that I have seen in an app. Of course, that permits immature opponents to display their character. I have not found a way to silence tiresome opponents, although nothing compels me to open the chat window.

I would like to see a game clock in the app, as the time control is not clear. The game lists display the time since the last move, but this information is not visible with the game board. Happily, my email query to Jeff Cole was answered within the hour. A player using more than five days will be "automatically resigned." He is working on additional chess sets, as well as other features, including facilitating planning notes.

It also offers a list of the top 100 players.

Chess By Post is a strong app, and one likely to get better. In my opinion, it has the cleanest and clearest interface. Although there is currently only one chess set, the pieces are very close to what I would select if given options. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Chess By Post is that it has succeeded in attracting strong players. While testing and reviewing these correspondence chess apps, I have won nearly every game. In Chess By Post, so far, I have lost two of three (one loss was due to gross blunders on my part).

tChess Pro
In my initial review of iPad chess apps, I praised tChess Pro (tChess Lite is $0.99 and has the same online playing features). When I acquired an iPad and started collecting chess apps, tChess Pro quickly became my top app. At first, it was the only app with database capabilities. Now there are four apps that I use regularly on the iPad for reviewing games, and three are on my phone. The features offered in tChess Pro (and the lite version) for importing and exporting games remain exemplary. The same app (with one purchase*) works on both iPhone and iPad. It is even possible to print games from tChess Pro! The printed page has a nice diagram of the current position, and the moves listed in three columns across the page.

The app connects via Game Center for correspondence chess, as well as live. A game timer is visible above the board that tracks the minutes and seconds a player has had the game in view without moving. Thinking time used while the app is closed does not show. Indeed, it appears that such time is not measured. I have a game going where my opponent (down a rook, bishop, and three pawns) has made two moves in the past month. This element is a tad illogical for correspondence chess, and I am not certain of the time control.

The app offers three board designs, and three chess piece sets, including true 3D.

In tChess Pro, the last two moves are always visible, and it is easy to scroll through the entire game and reset the board to display any point. This app remains among the best multi-purpose chess apps, but for each of its main features, another app is better. For correspondence chess play, I rate it 3.5/5. Adding clear time controls would improve this rating substantially.

I reviewed SocialChess (October 2011) after using it on my iPad. It works as well on the iPhone as on the iPad. Since my iPad review, the game timer has been fully implemented. Players get three days per move. When I wrote that review, the app was free, but it now costs $1.99. Moreover, an additional in-app purchase of $4.99 per year is necessary if a player wants more than five games simultaneously.

The game board is attractive, but offers no choices for users who disagree. PGN export is fully functional with annual membership, but non-functional without. In 2011, all users were able to export games as PGN either as email or by copying to clipboard. The latter facilitates opening the game in tChess Pro, Shredder, Hiarcs, CBase Chess, or other database apps.

It is wholly free of advertising.

I rate SocialChess 2.5/5. It has a clean, well-functioning interface. However, the "improvements" seem to be moving in the wrong direction. While writing my reviews of iPhone apps for live chess, I clarified my sense of the difference between my experience with SocialChess and the generous ratings it garners on the App Store: "mediocrity appears brilliant in light of true incompetence" ("Chess on the iPhone"). For those whose other experiences are limited to Your Move Chess and Chess With Friends, SocialChess offers a whole new world. However, Social Chess clearly is inferior to Chess By Post, Chess Time, and tChess Pro. Other apps offer far more at lower cost.

Chess.com has become the most popular chess website. They were among the first to offer apps for iOS and other mobile devices, and their app design remains among the best. Chess.com attempts to offer everything: correspondence chess, live chess, news, video lessons, tactics training, forums. The forums are difficult to access via the iPad app, and almost inaccessible via the iPhone. The other features, however, are well integrated.

Among iPhone apps, the Chess.com app offers the greatest range of choices for chess board colors and chess piece styles. Creating or accepting an open challenge is a snap. Time controls are set by the user with six possible time controls from one to fourteen days per move.

In addition, the website offers an abundance of tournaments, active team play, vote chess, and more. The mobile apps (iOS, Android, etc.) and the website all work together seamlessly.

From an open game, one touch opens an analysis board. This feature (crutch, some say) is invaluable to correspondence chess players.

All games are saved on the server.** These can be downloaded easily via the website, but no more than fifty at once. Downloading the games via an iPhone is more difficult, but this process is easier via the iPad. Premium users may download the games of any player on the site.

As a website site for correspondence chess, Chess.com is a close second to ChessWorld.net in my book. As a site for chess news, it pales in comparison to ChessBase. For live chess, it exceeds all other websites, but falters in comparison to the principal servers: ICC, Playchess, and FICS. For Tactics Training, Chess Tempo reigns supreme, but Chess.com is very good. Second place in nearly every website category may amount to first overall. Chess.com does appear to be the most popular website, although I'm fairly certain that a substantial number of its seven million members departed after a short time.

The iPhone app renders most elements of this terrific website easier to access when away from the computer.


I rate Chess.com's iPhone app 4.5/5. It is my top recommendation for the iPhone.

Chess By Post and Chess Time (see update below) are close behind at 4/5. I recommend them strongly, with preference given to Chess By Post. Chess By Post seems the one to watch as it improves. I suspect that it will get much better. For a wholly Mobile playing environment, it already leads the way. Chess Time has some nice features.

I recommend tChess Pro to those seeking playing environment and database integration.

Avoid SocialChess and Your Move Chess. They are a waste of storage space on your phone.

Update 7 August 2013

I am rethinking my positive review of Chess Time. The app has many useful features, but it seems to court nefarious advertising. This morning, an ad appeared that looked to be part of the app, and offered some sort of download. When I touched the ad, it asked for my phone number (a common technique in cell scams that increase a monthly phone bill). Later, an ad offered a free app, which I assumed was bogus and did not touch. Despite appealing features, I plan to delete the Chess Time app from my phone after my current games are finished.

Likely Scam
Arousing Suspicions

Update 11 August 2013

My game having finished, I confirmed my suspicions and concerns regarding SocialChess. That section was rewritten today.

Update 3 September 2013

The detail concerning draw offers in Chess Time, and that concerning the non-existent time control in tChessPro were added today.


*On the iPad, Hiarcs is my choice for reviewing games because it offers a strong engine and its opening book is geared towards positional play. Unfortunately, my purchase of the iPad app does not transfer to my iPhone. I must purchase a separate app for the phone.

**While I was replacing a lost database due to harddrive crash, I did learn that only my past 5000 blitz games were available (I have played over 8000 on Chess.com, as well as more than 14,000 bullet). My total number of correspondence games from postcards and all websites and apps over the past fifteen years may number close to 5000. My personal database of online games, which excludes nearly all bullet games, exceeds 55,000 games (and I am missing several thousand).


  1. I highly recommend the Chess Pro by Christophe Theron for reviewing games. It has a variation function that makes it great and useful for reviewing games and exploring options. And the engine is good. But it is the variation feature that makes it.

    (We discussed this on Chess.com in a forum)

    1. I read the posts in that forum, and I have been playing with the free version of Chess Pro on my iPad for several months. I will look at it more closely when I review database apps.

  2. Have you seen this tool? http://chessmicrobase.com/

    1. Yes. I recall that you brought it to my attention a few months back. It appears useful.

  3. I am a little suspicious of Chess by Post. Whenever I want to start a ranked game, there is ALWAYS another player available within a minute. I think that I might actually be playing a computer for some of these games. Can anyone think of a way to verify that there is always just a supply of players available at a moment's notice?

    1. That's a good question John-Robert. I just sent a seek and had a game within seconds. However, after my opponent's first move and my response, I must wait. I seem to remember that when I had White, I made my move first and then waited for an opponent. It bears further testing. To this end, I began a chat with my opponent. Computers either will not respond, or will respond with simplistic common comments.

    2. This opponent claims to be in India, and uses text-speak. "u2" in reply to "good luck".

  4. I'm actually playing a "correspondence" type of game on Twitter, tweeting moves back and forth. Would any of these iPhone apps work to keep track of the game?

    1. These correspondence apps are not designed for that, but a database program is. tChessPro is a database app.