Ubuntu Linux and Chess

Mar 21, 2012, 4:54 PM |

I thought I would test this chess.com blog out and write up a couple of posts on how to get some chess programs working on Ubuntu.  I will start with a few concepts.

I am using Ubuntu 11.10 (oneiric) and it's been my primary desktop platform since it came out.  Like a lot of people who have been Ubuntu users for some time, I don't like the new native interface very much, but at least on Ubuntu you have the flexibility to change it, and I have switched back to KDE.  I was a long time KDE user when I used Red Hat and Fedora as my primary desktop platform, I am not happy with some of the changes they have made but it's OK.  You may prefer Gnome.

Ubuntu versions are numbered for the year and month of release, so version 11.10 came out in October 2011.  Generally speaking the Ubuntu folks do a release every 6 months so things might change for Ubuntu 12.04 which is due in April 2012.

Ubuntu is actually very good for playing chess because being a Linux distribution, and Linux derives from Unix, it is very good at multitasking.  Much better than Windows.  You will see why that is important soon.

The strongest chess programs, and the ones that are most flexible, are actually in two parts.  The first part, the part that you see, is called a UI, or user interface.  It does the job of drawing the pieces on the screen, taking moves from the player, and sending them to the engine.

The most important part, and the part that does the thinking, is the chess engine.  You have probably heard all of the GMs on this site talking about various engines -- this is what they use to do their positional analysis, etc.  There are a few different chess engines out there, all of different strengths.  Some of the chess engines cost money, I won't talk about those for the time being as I will limit myself to the free ones that are available with Ubuntu.

The chess UI and the chess engine talk to each other using a protocol.  That's the tricky bit because there are actually two protocols in use these days.  One is called XBoard or Winboard, basically because it was the protocol in use by the original chess UI for Unix called XBoard, and a Windows port of that program called Winboard.  The second protocol is called UCI, or "Universal Chess Interface".  That's a newer protocol that's in use by the stronger chess engines.

And, wouldn't you know it, but you'll find that most of the UI programs only talk the Xboard protocol, and most of the better chess engines only talk the UCI protocol, and so you need this extra program called polyglot, which converts between the two protocols.

Now that's out of the way I'll start on the installation.  Follow that in the next blog post -- I'm trying to keep these short.