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Are chess engines of much help to a beginner? And what is the best free engine to try?
They have their areas of use. They're great for spotting your tactical mistakes in your games. Combined with a chess GUI (graphical user interface), you can build a database of your games that you've played.
Engines suck at teaching you anything about strategy or positional topics.
The "best free engine" is in the eye of the beholder. Almost any of them will do a good job of spotting tactics.
The problem with engines is that it's easy to overuse them, and then they turn into a crutch. They're no substitute for learning chess the old-fashioned way.
Playing engines is actually quite good to practice your blunder-checking since they will spot and punish every blunder you make on the spot.
However, it requires a lot of frustration-tolerance.
The strongest free engine should be Stockfish.
I use it in the "Droidfish"-App for my Android-phone and it's also available as "Stockfish"-App for Apple-Stuff.
I don't really see much point in installing them on the PC other than having them tackle it out with eachother. My phone is more than capable in beating the crap out of me when it has 1 minute +10 s per move while I take myself unlimited time. On the PC it's the same but 50 times faster ^^
in fritz 5 (the free one), you can analyse the game by pressing CTRL+Y, which adds ?s , !s and comments
I think that as a begginer engines are not great to use because they do not teach you to think for yourself. The best way to learn is to analyse games you lost (see what you have done wrong and how to improve that etc.)with no computer assistance. Also books are very good such as my system etc.
more than just engine, u have to also think of the interface, to make sure its user friendly specially for beginners, or else its chinese (no offense).
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