"Oh, no! I have to play as black now?"

May 11, 2010, 11:49 AM |

Yes, indeed. Chess.com has changed the live chess game seeks so members can no longer specify color. Members can still select color when challenging an individual, just not when putting up a seek. Color in game seeks is now assigned randomly by the software, with the goal of giving each player equal blacks and whites.

Why did chess.com make this change? Because it’s real chess.

In real chess, players take turns playing white because the first move almost always gives white the advantage. Of course you can win as black, but it’s a bit easier to win as white. That’s why your dad always let you play white when he was teaching you the game.

The other reason is that allowing color selection was creating some serious imbalances due to those “gotta have white” players. It goes something like this: 99 out of 100 players would prefer to play white more often. Give some players the option of choosing, and they’ll always choose white. Chess.com ends up with many, many “games seeking white” and very few “games seeking black.” Without intervention “a game seeking white” might quite literally rot waiting for a corresponding “game seeking black.”

For a long time the solution was to pair “games seeking white” with random seeks. However, this started throwing the random seekers’ statistics off. Instead of getting a truly random 50/50 black/white distribution, those of us who seek random were getting more like 55% black and 45% white. During one string of games, I got 10 blacks in a row. That’s not OK with most chess players.

Thus, the fellow who said to me “It’s none of your business if I always want to play white” was dead wrong. It was making a difference to all of us random seekers who would like play (and improve) in both colors.

So, chess.com’s fearless programmer and fearless leader bit the proverbial bullet and removed color choice from random seeks. The software now looks at your last 10 games, and attempts to “even you out” on your next game. Thus, if your last 10 games were white, you’re going to get black for a few games in a row until your last 10 games look a bit, um, darker. (Please be a good sport about this: aborting a seek that gave you black is not going to help. Seek again, and you’ll get black again.)

Some of you kicked. Some of you screamed. Some of you had tantrums of epic proportions. One notable example was the member who had 1900+ games as white and 27 games as black. Chess.com has been giving this fellow a crutch for a long, long time.

But I have news for all you “gotta have white” players. YOU CAN DO IT! Really! You, too, can play the black side of the board, and win! I consulted with chess.com live guru NM Zug and got some advice:

  • Try the French Defense: 1. e4 e6. This usually leads to a closed game with fewer tactical shots. (Grote’s note: In fact, my experience at the 1100-1300 level on chess.com is that it almost always leads to either the French Advance variation or the French Exchange variation. That will narrow your study considerably.)
  • Play good old 1. e4 e5 and stay in normal territory.
  • Against 1. D4, play the queen’s gambit declined: 1. D4 d5 2. C4 e6.

From one of my pals (and a darned good chess teacher) Deepozzzie, I have a link to a blog on basic opening principles.


Follow these principles and you can navigate through almost anything white will throw at you.

Use the chess.com opening explorer and book openings (under the “learn” tab) to learn more about some of your opening lines. If your opening as black doesn’t go well, step through it in opening explorer and see if you had better options on some of your moves.

Good luck! And learn to love the black pieces. If Anand can win the world championship – decisively – playing black, you can hold your own playing it here.

My best to all of you,