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Chess is the undisputed king of board games, but getting started with it can feel somewhat daunting. Fortunately, there are many sites that let you play chess online for free against a computer or real players, allowing you to practice anywhere and at any time.
What Is Chess?
Chess is among the oldest and most popular boardgames in the world, first appearing in India around the 6th century. It took four centuries for chess to reach Europe and the Middle East, where it quickly became the favorite pastime of privileged classes.
However, most chess players would find it difficult to win a game of chess against someone from, let’s say, the 10th century because the rules of chess evolved over time and became standardized only in the 19th century.
The first officially recognized World Chess Championship took place in 1886, ending with Wilhelm Steinitz claiming his title of the world’s first chess champion. Since then, there has been a number of chess players who have achieved global fame, including Garry Kasparov, Bobby Fischer, and Magnus Carlsen.
These and other chess players have inspired countless people from around the world to learn the rules of this two-player strategy board game and test their skills by playing chess online.
Does Playing Chess Make You Smarter?
There’s no denying that it takes a genius to become World Chess Champion, but is it possible to become one by playing chess? According to the Institute of Education and its large investigation of the effects of chess instruction on the academic skills of nearly 4,000 British children, the answer is: no.
Does it mean that playing chess is a useless activity without any benefits? Of course, not. First and foremost, playing chess is fun, and that should be the only reason you need to play it. It doesn’t matter if you prefer to play chess alone against a computer or against human opponents—as long as you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.
Like any other activity that requires a lot of thinking, chess can sharpen your critical skills, enhance your verbal skills, and preserver your intellectual acuity to old age. In his essay titled “On the Morals of Chess,” Benjamin Franklin argued that playing chess could enhance crucial skills of circumspection, careful observation, caution, percipience, and forethought.
Just don’t expect chess to raise your IQ by 20 points or give you eidetic memory because no activity can do that. What chess can give you is a fun way how to hone your existing metal skills and maintain them in top condition, just like you can keep your muscles toned and strong by going to the gym.
How to Play Chess?
Chess is played on a checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an 8×8 grid. Each of the two players begins with 16 pieces, with each piece moving differently on the board:
- King: Each player has one king, and he can move in any direction but only for one space. Unlike other pieces, king can never move to a square where he would be threatened by another piece.
- Queen: Each player has one queen, and she can move in any direction and for an unlimited number of spaces.
- Bishop: Each player has two bishops, and each bishop can move along the diagonals of the chessboard.
- Knight: Each player has two knights, and each knight can move in an “L” shape, leaving over other chess pieces.
- Rook: Each player has two rooks, and each rook can move up and down the rank and file of the chessboard for an unlimited number of spaces as long there isn’t another chess piece standing in the way.
- Pawn: Each player has eight pawns, and each pawn can move forward one space or two spaces in the first move and only one space forward in subsequent moves.
The ultimate goal of chess is to checkmate the opponent’s king, which means to put the king in a position in which he is directly attacked by an opponent’s piece or pawn and has no possible move to escape the check. Checkmate can be achieved in as little as two moves, but it can also take hundreds of movies to win a game of chess.
Best Sites to Play Chess Online for Free
Because chess is one of the most popular boardgames in the world, there’s no shortage of sites to play chess online for free, and we know which are the best.
Lichess is an open source internet chess server founded by French programmer Thibault Duplessis. It allows players from around the world to anonymously play traditional chess as well as many different chess variants, including antichess, atomic chess, chess960, crazyhouse, horde, king of the hill, racing kings, and three-check chess.
Registered players can play ranked matches and compete in tournaments. But you don’t need to register if you just want to play a quick game of chess with the computer or friend. Creating a new game is as simple as clicking the “Create a Game” button and selecting which chess variant you would like to play. You can also watch other players play in real-time or solve intricate chess puzzles intended to test your critical thinking and chess skills.
Lichess is completely free and doesn’t display any ads. Its user interface is clean and easy to get used to, and it works great even on mobile devices. That said, mobile users can also download the official mobile app for Android and iOS.
In part thanks to its memorable domain name, Chess.com is the most visited site to play chess online. It doubles as a social media platform where chess players can discuss strategy, talk about hot topics in the world of chess, and more.
Each year, Chess.com hosts many chess tournaments, including its famous e Speed Chess Championships, deathmatches, and Crazyhouse Championships. Registered players can play both against human opponents and AI, solve intricate chess puzzles, and take interactive chess lessons.
Chess.com operates on a freemium business model, so all main features are available for free, but players have to pay to unlock various bonus features, such as tactics trainer, computer analysis, turn-based tournaments, and others.
Founded in 2006 by Mark Levitt, ChessCube offers live chess play and chat, chess training videos and lectures, and ChessCube Cinema. The site currently has over 720,000 registered users from over 230 countries, many of which subscribe to one of its premium memberships, which unlock perks such as weekly streaming videos, exclusive tournaments, customizable board colors, or the ability to use the site’s coaching features.
ChessCube maintains a thriving discussion board, where players discuss the site’s features, tournaments, and chess in general. There’s also the ChessCube mobile app, which runs on Android and iOS devices, but you’re better off playing on the website because the app desperately needs more polish.
SparkChess is an extremely polished online chess game with 3D graphics and an excellent in-game tutorial. You don’t have to register to start playing because the web-based version of SparkChess exists largely to convince players to purchase SparkChess Premium, a downloadable chess game for Chrome, Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
SparkChess Premium features a real 3D board that you can view from any angle, two exclusive AI characters that can help you improve your chess skills, first-class multiplayer experience with a built-in private chat, and much more.
ChessKid is intended to help the youngest chess players improve their skills and have a lot of fun. Unlike many other online chess games, it doesn’t ask for any personal information, features detailed activity reports that parents can use to monitor their children’s progress, and has a restricted chat that doesn’t allow offensive language.
ChessKid has implemented a great feature that makes it possible for more experienced chess players to coach young students and measure their progress with report cards and other tools. Coaches can create chess clubs and use club leaderboards to motivate students to improve.
According to its website, Chess24 was born in the Hamburg Chess Club when Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson pitched the idea of a small chess website to Enrique Guzman, the co-founder of a successful education company. The idea came to life in 2014 and has grown to become one of the most popular places for enjoying high-quality chess content online.
Today, Chess24 offers not only a great online chess game but also chess-related news, interviews with professional chess players, structured learning courses, eBooks, community discussion boards, and online store with merchandise, lectures, and chess gifts.
7. Chess Tempo
Chess Tempo is a popular site where you can play chess online against other real players or bots. You can play as a guest without registering, but registration is required to unlock all features Chess Tempo has to offer. The good news is that you can register for free and play without any restrictions.
Chess Tempo has a number of chess training sessions, which place players into difficult situations and teach them how to get out of them. Should you ever get stuck during a training session, you can visit the Chess Tempo forum and ask other members for help.