Stockfish Chess for iOS is Powerful and Free

| Quick Look Review

Stockfish is a free chess app for iOS devices and is based on the free Stockfish engine. It can play at near grandmaster level and has most of the customary options for playing chess but lacks a few of the bells and whistles of the best paid chess apps.

Stockfish-4

Main Chess board, USCF pieces on wood theme (note smallish game log)

Features:

  • ELO setting up to 2500, near grandmaster strength
  • A running score on the display and ability to save the game or e-mail it
  • Load and save games in PGN notation
  • Hints
  • Quick flip of the board
  • Analysis and two-player mode
  • Ability to set the Opening Book variety of play
  • Several styles of opponent play from passive to suicidal
  • Computer can think on opponent’s time
  • Seven different piece designs
  • Source code freely available
  • Previous move marked in purple outlines

 

Stockfis-2

Game Options

More on Features

Stockfish is a basic player’s game. It has all the niceties required for playing, analyzing and saving chess games. However, it doesn’t have some of the features of two notable iPad chess programs that I’ve reviewed before, tChess Pro and Shredder Chess.

For example, tChess Pro has a 3D mode, a custom designed Staunton piece design, a display of the captured pieces in a corral, a learn chess mode, a blindfold mode and an option to display the coordinates along the edge of the board. Shredder claims a rating up to 2600, and like tChess, will chart your ELO rating over time as you play against the computer. So in this regard, if you’re after a more full-featured chess program for the iPad (or iPhone) you’ll want to consider the above two apps which sell for under US$8.00 each.

Stockfish-3

Level Options

Stockfish doesn’t seem as stable to me as tChess Pro and Shredder. It has been crashing on me at launch. The other two apps never crashed on me during testing. Stockfish also has a more basic kind of display of the score of the game which is more condensed and harder to read.

My chief complaint about computer chess programs in general and Stockfish in particular is the selection of the piece design. I believe that the players need choice, but the style of the pieces is important for pattern recognition on a 2D display. Having exotic, hypermodern pieces may appeal to some, but in my opinion, it detracts from the playability of the game. That said, the Leipzig, USCF and XBoard designs aren’t too bad; they’re just not as cool as the Staunton set in tChess Pro. And they they’re better than some of the silly designs found in Shredder. Stockfish also has a good selection of board designs, and I especially liked the “Wood” theme.

Overall Impression

Tord Romstad in Norway has done a fabulous job implementing the Stockfish engine on iOS 4. If you’d like to play chess against a strong computer opponent on your iOS device, and you don’t want to spend any money, I’d say this is the best choice amongst all the free chess apps. However, it lacks some of the extra features you’ll find on tChess Pro and Shredder for US$8, and the stability needs to be improved.

Of course, if you’re a chess fanatic, you’ll want all three. Given that a quality wood chess set and board will set you back several hundred dollars or more, US$16 for all three of these chess apps mentioned here is a bargain.

Stockfish version 2.2 for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch requires iOS 3.2 or later. It’s free and highly recommended.

Product: Stockfish Chess

Company: Tord Romstead

List Price: Free

Pros:

Strong play, all the essential elements for chess play

Cons:

Piece designs are not great, missing some bells and whistles of the commercial chess apps

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