Mastersoft Chess for iOS: Passable

| In-Depth Review

Mastersoft Mobile Solutions has a fairly new program for iOS, simply called Chess. It’s a good chess app bolstered by a low price. However, even at version 1.43, it feels a little rough around the edges.

I have been reviewing computer chess apps for a long time. The modern standard against which I compare other iOS chess programs is tChess Pro, previously reviewed. Shredder and Stockfish are pretty good as well. Now we have simply “Chess” from Mastersoft, and it’s only 99 cents. So the question is, really, do you get your money’s worth? With caveats, the answer is yes.

I should note here that I contacted the developer, but the company declined to respond.

MS chess -1

Sample Game in replay mode. Clocks aren’t running.

Author (white) to play: 32. Rfd1

The Basics

Modern iOS chess apps really have to live up to a minimum standard. They should look pretty good on an iPad, have lots of options for board and piece design, keep a log in PGN format, export and import those PGN files, support a chess clock, have a user definable ELO rating, a rich opening library, and provide hints and move takeback. They should also take advantage of iOS graphics to, for example, show legal (and illegal) moves, the last opponent move, etc. I consider 3D graphics optional.

This app does most of that. Regrettably, it’s missing the ability to import and export PGN files. User games can be saved and loaded, but not e-mailed. That’s a major strike against this chess app.

MS Chess -2

End of game options

Also, unlike other apps created by experienced chess professionals, this app describes the computer playing strength in terms of time to make the move rather than the ELO rating. So if you’re practicing for a tournament, you won’t be able to gauge your playing level. This casts the app into the airport waiting lounge category. For 99 cents, you get to entertain yourself with a strong app, but it’s not for serious players.

There were other problems with Chess. In the first diagram above, a game in progress I had with the app, my next move was 32. Rfd1. (Rook on f1 to d1) However, the app notated this simply as: 32. Rd1 not knowing that it needed to disambiguate the two Rooks’ ability to move to the d1 square. This is what I mean by a little rough around the edges.

The app has some options for how the last move is displayed. One is a nifty gold line from the origin square to the destination square. However, if you try to make an illegal move, say, a King into check, there is stony silence from the app, an inscrutable lack of visible UI and refusal to allow the move. That can be confusing to beginners. Why not throw up one of those neat gold lines from the attacking piece to the forbidden square as a visual cue?

The developer claims that this engine came in 4th in the World Microcomputer Chess Championship. The problem there is that the tournament by that name hasn’t been played since 2001 (replaced by the WCCC), and the developer doesn’t even name the year. Because the developer didn’t assist with the review, I can only conclude there’s something to hide. For example, maybe it’s an older chess engine, one the developer had ready access to. One of my readers thinks it’s “Gromit” by Frank Schneider. But that’s just a guess.

The app has an option to show its own thinking process, but I didn’t see it on the display. Finally, the Help page graphics seem to be hosed cosmetically.

MS Chess - 3

Help page graphics issue

What I Liked

There are some things to like about Chess. Some users have complained about problems with the soundness, accuracy or legality of the chess engine. In the games I played, I didn’t encounter any such problem. I liked the icons at the bottom, actually, better than tChess. They’re big and colorful. I liked the selection of board designs and pieces, but a classic Staunton design remains missing.

I liked the completeness of the in-app documentation, but noted the graphic cosmetic problem shown above. Also, once you go into a section, there’s no Back button. The Done button bumps you out of the Help page completely. As I said, rough around the edges.

The options icon is a tool box, but it looks like a mailbox with a red flag. It might lead a casual user to suspect it can e-mail PGN files. I’d rather see a gear icon there. In terms of the options, they’re minimal but adequate for casual chess. After all, it’s a 99 cent app.

MS Chess -4

User Options

Zugzwang

This app seems basically well done, but doesn’t have any amazing kudos. Its price has resulted a lot of attention and customer reviews, and, for most casual players, it’s a painless investment. It remains too incomplete and too ragged to declare a solid rating. A half point below that is “disappointing” … but passable.

For serious chess players and those who play in tournaments or whose who want to estimate their ELO rating, learn the rules of chess, e-mail and study games, etc, any of the major apps I mentioned at the top are preferable. This app is for beginners who know the rules, but don’t want to invest in a better chess app.

The Mastersoft Chess app is compatible with iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. It requires iOS 3.1 or greater.

Product: Chess

Company: Mastersoft Mobile Solutions

List Price: US$0.99

Pros:

Good looking, inexpensive, stable, capable of strong play.

Cons:

Can’t import or export saved games, rough around the edges, minor cosmetic, UI and annotation flaws.

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2 Comments

chess30

very indepth review by John! Thanks!

I’m an amateur player using this app for a while. Some other weakness of this app i found:
1. the clock is not total time but the time for each move, which is almost useless i think.
2. when playing black, the coordinate a1-h8 is wrong! Inconvenient for players who does not completely memorize the board like me.

Biggest problem is still inability of import/export pgn.

But it’s $0.99 app. Great for casual play - at various levels!!

Dom

Apologies John, I didn’t see your email. Thank you for taking time to review Chess and for the very useful feedback. I will certainly incorporate some of your suggestions into the next update.
Kind regards,
Dom
Mastersoft

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