Getting the interface:
So, you'll need xboard (download version 4.2.7 for unix/linux, for windows). There are a number of other clients available, but I use xboard. On a Mac, an easier approach would be to install X11 (if it's not there already) and fetch a darwin port for xboard with "sudo port install xboard". You'd have a better luck with linux if xboard comes along with your distribution. A more complete list of all available clients/interfaces can be found here.
Access at freechess.org:
As the name implies, freechess.org is a free, well-maintained, feature-ful avenue for playing chess online. xboard merely connects to the server and everything else is managed by freechess. The things you can do at freechess.org are:
- play chess online with other people. You can set the parameters for a match (time duration, time increment, color, type)
- observe other (great) people playing. You can also observe live matches from grandmasters, along with expert commentary
- take online step-by-step lectures on chess -- this includes lectures on tactics, tips, opening/closing moves, best practices and recognizing patterns.
- examine past played games
- save / adjourn games for a later time
Connection and Setup:
My xboard command that launches xboard and automatically connects to freechess.org is:
xboard -ics -icshost freechess.org -icsport 5000
If you have a firewall, there are workarounds discussed in detail elsewhere. Essentially, you'll need to have telnet access to a gateway server which can then connect to freechess. When at IIIT, I used to use:
xboard -ics -telnet -telnetProgram telnet -icshost students.iiit.ac.in -icsport 23
(this connects you to students.iiit.ac.in first, and then you can "telnet freechess.org 5000" to start the session)
I usually save my username and passwd (on separate lines) in ~/.icsrc so that I don't have to enter it every time.
There are >5 kinds of games on freechess:
- Blitz: This is standard chess with short time constraints
- Lightning: This is standard chess with very short time constraints. A match can conclude within 2 mins
- Standard: This is standard chess with regular timings
- Suicide: This is the suicide variant of chess. Whoever loses all pieces wins
- Atomic: This is a variant in which bombs explode when you take a piece, thereby bombing adjacent pieces as well
- Crazyhouse: As the name says, it's crazy. You have to try it out yourself -- it's interesting
After you have logged in, you can issue a huge number of commands. See "help commands" for the complete list. I'm listing out the basic ones:
List out all the matches currently being offered:
To accept a match offer:
$ play 9
(where 9 is the id, as displayed by "sought"). There are lots of people online on freechess, so you need to be quick in accepting a match offer.
List out all players currently online:
Offer a match request to another user with handle "nirns"
$ match nirns
A match request is sent to "nirns" which if he accepts, a match starts.
$ match nirns 5 12
This starts a "blitz" game of 5 minutes and 12 secs increment after every move. If you run out of time, your opponent can "flag" you and you lose
To see your score/ratings/points:
To see nirns's ratings:
$ finger nirns
To see the list of LectureBot's lectures:
$ tell lecturebot list
To observe LectureBot's lecture:
$ observe lecturebot
Apart from the game and the fun, you need to keep track of your ratings. Your ratings are displayed for each category of game with "finger" command. Newbies have ratings of 400 - 900 in blitz/standard category. OK players have 900 - 1400, Good players have 1400-1900. Computer bots have 1900-2400. Grandmasters have 2400-2700.
Apart from the rating, you need to keep an eye on something called RD -- Rating Deviation. It gives a sense of "confidence" in your rating. Mathematically speaking, if your rating is x, the probability that your actual rating is within [x - 2 * RD, x + 2 * RD] is 95%.
Intially, the rating deviates by a huge factor after every game because RD is high. As you play more and more, the RD decreases and therefore the rating settles to a near-true value.
That's it. Explore the tonnes of happy commands on freechess. Have fun!
Oh, and if you happen to get online, my handle is: nirns.