Chess Cheapskate

Apr 1, 2009, 7:21 PM |

[Originally posted on]

It is extremely easy to spend way too much money on chess software. It's also unnecessary. When I first started down the path of chess obsession a few years ago I started by buying Fritz. And then I discovered ChessBase, huge databases, and the ability to look at chess data in all kinds of interesting ways. This probably interested me more as a tech geek than as something that was going to be immediately helpful to my game. Of course there's also Chess Assistant, Bookup, and a bunch of different training programs, engines with regular (and expensive) upgrades. For a compulsive geek this is all very dangerous. There is a huge temptation to spend way too much money in an acquisitive frenzy.

Here's why a family of 7 is a good thing: I can't afford to be an idiot. (Sure I could hang out in the shadier corners of the web and land quite a lot of "permanent trial" software, but let's ignore that thought.) I don't have the money to spend on ChessBase. Luckily Chess Assistant is considerably cheaper, but I don't even need that. I need Scid. Scid is free. Scid is open source. Scid is a chess database, and a front end for UCI engines. Best of all for me, Scid is cross-platform. My primary computer is a MacBook Pro and let me tell you, there ain't much available for chess hobbyists on the Mac. But Scid takes care of all of that. It's biggest weakness is the awkwardness of the UI, and even that has improved a bit with the most recent build. It does what I need as a database, as a front-end to engine analysis, and for human v. engine play.

The other thing needed is a source of high quality games. I bought Convekta's Huge Database a few years back, so I'm using that. But someone without a commercial game collection could gather up all of the TWIC games pretty easily. In fact I just cobbled together a quick little snippet of python to grab all the available pgn files (211–749 at the time):

#!/usr/bin/env python

from urllib import urlretrieve
for number in range(211, 749):
url = '' + str(number) + ''
myfile = str(number) + ''
urlretrieve(url, myfile)

I do still start up an XP virtual machine to run Fritz or Chess Assistant from time to time. (Actually, Chess Assistant and CT-Art—the demo, at least—both seem to work okay under Darwine.) But 90% of the time I'm just fine working with Scid. And since it's quite easy to give Scid a very small footprint on-screen, I find it more comfortable than working with my other options. Plus Scid's move entry is a snap—just start typing the moves and it's capable of auto-completing—something I really appreciate when I'm following moves and variations in a book.

All in all, I've saved myself several hundred dollars by avoiding the Windows chess software tar pit. Scid does everything I need, at least for now. As I need tactical software, those can be added, but if I stick with Convekta's offerings—I guess they're ChessOK now—it's still pretty cheap.

My "freetard" friends should be proud of me.