What happens when a pandemic hits and you spend the majority of your time at home for two years? First, shopping for groceries becomes your favorite social activity (or it did for me ... ). Second, you start to rekindle old passions — like a passion for the game of chess.
It all started in elementary school for me. In those days I played in the chess club (and proud of it). I was never that great, and I'm still not, but that didn't matter; I had friends there, and I enjoyed it. Looking back, the materials we had to study were basic at best. We flipped through hardcover books and pulled up data on the microfiche (yeah, I'm that old). Most of our materials seemed to be from the 50s and 60s.
I'd be a way better chess player had Chess.com been around when I was a kid.,
Players today are spoiled with the best information, training, guides, tutorials, and engines. It's no wonder there are more top players than ever before. Every game played (online or in over-the-board tournament play) is logged, and the knowledge and learnings go into the database for all to reference. With a little patience and persistence, the ability to recognize patterns, learn and thrive as a chess player is available at your fingertips.
I can't imagine how good I could have become if platforms like Chess.com were available when I was growing up. There's no doubt I'd be a smarter and savvier player, and I may have never stopped playing once I got to junior high.
With that, let's take a closer look at the game and Chess.com itself (you can find me there at username jamesf300). It's the biggest and best chess platform in the world, and whether you play for free or sign up for a membership, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Why you should care about chess
Chess is the ultimate strategy game. It has been played for centuries, with origins dating back to India in the sixth century. If you're unfamiliar with the game, the basic premise is to outmaneuver your opponent by positioning your pieces in such a way as to capture your opponent's king with a "checkmate" (the king being attacked and can't escape safely to any other square).
The board has 64 squares (it's an eight x eight grid), and each player starts with 16 pieces. You have a king, a queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and eight pawns. Each type of piece moves in a unique way. I won't bore you with the specifics on types of moves and strategies — and they are endless. That's what Chess.com is for!
Once you dig into the game you'll find it mentally tough and challenging. As you progress and gain experience you'll learn openings, study the middle game and pick up end-game strategies from a different perspective. If you pay attention and study, you'll start to realize you're building on a foundation of knowledge and experience, a foundation that'll pay off nicely as you trend upward in ability.
Why you should care about Chess.com
Chess.com is the largest chess platform and community in the world. Millions of players from all corners of the world play there. It's one of a handful of "standard" places to play, and I consider it the best.
There are all sorts of features, especially for paid members. Play any type of game you like, from super-quick bullet games to blitz, rapid, and slower daily games. Participate in tournaments, play with your friends, or versus AI (there are lots of fun bots to play). If you like chess puzzles (I love 'em) you'll have a never-ending supply. Of course, on top of that, the learning tools (including video classes, insights, and drills) make it super easy to pick up the game and learn at your own pace.
I could go on for some time about the features on Chess.com, but I won't. My recommendation is to sign up and start exploring. If it feels right to you, there are multiple membership options available.
Chess.com membership levels
As of September 1, 2022, Chess.com made some changes to its membership levels. If you don't want to pay, no worries, the basic free account is packed with features.
Basic account (free)
This is the account all members receive on signup. The list of features here is long, but I'll highlight some of the key ones:
- Unlimited gameplay
- New to chess guides
- Three daily practice puzzles
- One full game review analysis (Go back and see where you made mistakes, find the best moves, etc.)
- Ability to join tournaments
- See your position on leaderboards
- Play against the computer (bots)
- Unlock achievements and awards
- Use the opening library and opening explorer
If you're a frequent player you may find account limits and constant signup prompts to become tiresome. If that's you, I'd consider one of the following levels.
With gold, you get everything from the basic account, plus unlimited lessons, videos, puzzles, full use of the opening explorer, access to more than 100 computer personalities (bots), drills, and even some custom "flair" icons for your account. Gold accounts are $6.99 a month or $50 a year.
Platinum gets you everything from basic and gold, plus unlimited game reviews and analysis. This is a biggie as the analysis is one of the best features of Chess.com. There are other benefits, too, but this is the most noteworthy one. Platinum accounts are $10.99 a month or $80 a year.
At this level, you get everything from basic, gold, and platinum plus coaching explanations on all moves (post-game) and access to the insights feature for data on all your games. Diamond accounts are $16.99 a month or $120 a year.,
Which level of membership should you try?
I'd first give the free trial a spin to see what features you actually use. If you find yourself only using a few features here and there, the Gold or Platinum plans will probably treat you well. If you're neck-deep in all the features, the Diamond is definitely the way to go. Whichever you choose, I recommend locking in a monthly plan as the savings are significant … just add a calendar reminder for yourself in one year's time to make sure you're still using it (and cancel if you're not).
You're going to loss. A lot. But don't let it get you down.
If you're not into it or simply want to play a casual game once in a while, you'll do just fine with free access. There are still plenty of great features if you don't pay (I was a free member for a loonnnnnng time).
One caveat: Especially if you're new to the game (but even if you're not), you're going to lose. A lot. Like seriously, a lot. Don't let that get you down, you learn a heck of a lot more from your losses than you do from your wins. There are millions of fantastic players out there, one day with a little persistence and study you can be one of them.
Play Chess.com anywhere you roam
One of the beautiful aspects of Chess.com is the ability to play anywhere. I'm a Mac user, and the app works on my iPhone, iPad, and on the Mac mini I have in my office. If you're on Android, they've got you covered with apps in the Play Store. There's also a browser-based version you can log in to on almost any browser. They've literally got you covered from Mac to PC, iPhone to Android, letting you log in to the platform whenever and wherever you are.
Of course, you'll need connectivity to play live games, play lessons, watch live streams. But there are plenty of offline games to play. When traveling I often find myself playing bots of varying abilities that are built into the app. There's a variety of personalities and levels to play, from novice all the way up to world champion. There are often celebrity bots you can take on, too, depending on the time of year. They're a good challenge and keep you sharp when connectivity is an issue.
The chess world is crazy (good)
Once you dive into the chess world you'll find it's deeper than you may have suspected. One place I suggest you start is YouTube. There, you'll find all sorts of "grandmasters" and personalities of varying abilities, creating fun content and lessons for you. Honestly, it's really great. If you're more into the gaming scene, have a look at Twitch and you won't be disappointed.
For me, once the algorithm tuned in to my chess-playing tendencies, new personalities would pop on my home screen with regularity (surprise, surprise!). Below is a short list of some of my favorites:
- GothamChess (lives near our good friend MrMobile in Brooklyn — maybe we'll connect one day!?)
- Anna Cramling
- Chess.com (of course!)
All are fun and informative in their own ways, and I recommend subscribing to one (or more) and letting the algorithm do its thing from there. You can also use Chess.com to discover new streamers; they make it crazy easy with the "watch" section of the app. Tap around, tune in to some streams, and see who you like. It won't take long to discover some really great content from some really great people.
Is Chess.com the best place to play?
There are plenty of places to play, but the top three I'd recommend are Chess.com, Lichess and Chess24. Personally, I have always preferred Chess.com to the others, but do give Lichess and Chess24 a try. All three have unique benefits, and you'd be missing out if you at least didn't give them a quick go.
It's your move!
I hope I've convinced you to give Chess.com a shot. You can find me on there at username jamesf300. I look forward to many more games with friends — just like the old days!
P.S. While you're at it, give our pup Poppy the Poshie a follow on IG. She's waiting for your move!