Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Letters to a Not So Young Blue Devil Knight: Where to Go Next?

As many of you know, our most esteemed friend BDK--truly along with wormwood one of the smartest, most practically armed 'guys' around in our chess blogesphere--is about to become a father.

No longer able just to think of his wife and himself alone, he judiciously told us recently that its NOT that he cannot afford the US $70.00 for an ICC annual membership, but rather in comparison to other priorities such as responsibly paying down a VISA [1], ‘triathlon’s, and physical health’, seeks other venues.

I had long felt that I was the one among us who needed to write a narrative comparing all major chess playing venues in the English speaking world or among its friends where English is not the primary language, but well spoken (Netherlands, India, etc), and that time is now. With a few exceptions, I have either played many of them and in real size or viewed them.

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Major Providers:
ICC or The Internet Chess Club is the best, there is no escaping it. But it is also the most expensive, and to the many of you where ‘best’ must be right sized to family and/or individual budgets, myriads of FIDE masters, International Masters, Grandmasters, Experts, and hoards of ‘class C’ to ‘class A’ club level players with such intricately clever finger notes [2] that their marvels bar as high creative literature, despite all that, in comparison to other options and lifestyle choices, it just doesn’t seem worth it. I heartily disagree, but to each his or her own:

You can see the likes of Rabjabov, Nakamura, Aaronian, or Morozevich, and at times even Carlsen, Dreev, Mamedyarov, or Kamsky. FICS or Playchess either don’t have it or if they do, to a much less degree. Some say, ‘what do I care if GM’s play where I play?’ Well, “don’t knock it till you try it”--watching GM blitz at 3/0 or 3/1.

Play: Top ranks also for ease of getting a game. In fact, I venture to say, that ‘the pool’ for 5/0, 15/0, and—for those who like it—1/0 is so deep that this alone justifies the membership. What is so good about it is that you click, for example, 5/0 and you are put in a pool matching you by color and rank with a similarly paired player. It is fast, it is fair, and it doesn’t take long. No-play lists cannot be regarded—it chooses for you. This negates the factor of boosting by avoiding certain types of players—you get the low, you get the high, you get your peers, we all do. It’s fantastic. Who has time to sit and wait for games or, in-turn, inviting ad-infinitum? Who? Problem solved.

Advantages: many titled players; a large and increasingly comprehensive library of trainings and videos, a rich culture of wry comments from a richly woven community of really smart people from countries round the world; good recall of player data, easy to access and use game histories on not only your last twenty games, but your opponents, and their opponents; and a low rate of lag, or connectivity failure. All this makes for a rich virtual learning community or online community of knowledge, with rich and rewarding social intercourse.

Disadvantages: some find $69.95 to be too expensive (or 19.2 cents or about 0.142 Euro’s per day). Tolerance for rudeness, despite avowed implicit if not stated policy against it, is actually quite high.

I have heard Yermolinsky make explicit racist statements about Tiger Woods referencing Magnus Carlsen that I wont repeat here, but suffice to say, not only wrote ICC and printed his words, but positively spoke with Joel Berez, President of ICC, reaching him and talking at length with him on his mobile phone. Nothing done. Celine Rules [6 insert].

I am inclined to stay unsettled by this sort of thing and not forget, but recently, seeing his photo at the site, as one of the commentators for the current WCC between incumbent Anand and challenger Topalov, knew that he was already being well punished. As Gurdjieff once said, ‘people are their own punishment’ and the very hatred and vitriol he puts forth, told to stop it by no less than me directly more than once, shows in his physiology.

You know the type, very Russian and very bitter. Nevertheless, all that said, let me close our first review by noting that I have made many wonderful and lasting friendships there.

FICS or Free Internet Server first and foremost attempts to replicate what ICC set out to do, but to sustain what was once a free service, and was established as a breakaway faction.

Its main advantage, other than being ‘the low cost provider’ (and it naggingly shows), is its apparent similarity to ICC yet it lacks its imprimatur, volume, or capacity. I do admit, it’s the most community oriented social group, and if you play there, you will get to know the names and faces, perhaps much easier than at ICC and certainly Playchess or chessCube--by far the far largest volume providers.

Disadvantage: if you are on the west coast or in Europe, its player volume drops off after 11 PST and obvious very early 7 am CST near the center of Europe in the Netherlands will find yourself light on play.

Playchess is also free and the shear volume leader. While it lacks the volume of titled players and GM’s as ICC, it is the clear volume leader. Having said that, its player volume is very cyclical and is not continuous through the day and your ability to instrumentalize that will depend a lot on where you live or some as to when you can sleep.

This great site has a very great advantage--even without premium membership with ensuing access to videos and broadcast commentary channels and narratives--and that is its putting you half way to chessBase, when chessBase lite and PlayChess coordinate perfectly. They have it set, most favorably, so that you cannot use the one while you use the other [3], chessBase in their infinite wisdom (and perhaps no small marketing savvy) has seen fit, so that when you are off playchess, the games easily are stored in chessBase light [4].

If I wasn’t already a tenured user at ICC, FICS, and now chessCube, I would make it my first choice barring ICC.

Despite its lack of heavy credentialed players does not mean there are not tons of class B's and A's so this is not Yahoo! on steroids. No. But again, despite missing all the IM's of ICC, it does offer a compensating benefit--Fritz8 when viewing match games. When you play, it is fully disabled. But when you are watching, you can select Fritz or Crafty or whatever client you want among an array of choices, and without having a separate window for chessBase or separate application, it is BUILT IN. It's the bomb. So when Dortmund or Linares or Wijk aan Zee is showing, you have built in analytics. A+ to team chessBase! And again, its free. Good god.
[tempoary Insert: I am told this is not true, that to get RATED you need a premium membership at 29.90 Euros, about US $38.47--about 0.10 cents per day]

Disadvantage: Playchess is very light in the wee hours, and its very, very heavily weighted towards European players.

Click to enlarge, photo courtesy of chessBase
But if you like me, view Europeans as superior to many American’s (I am NOT being sarcastic), then this is not all bad! And if like me, you are a night bird, it’s a no go unless you play at work, at lunch in the States, OR emphasize the weekends.

Playchess totally lacks features like finger notes at ICC and FICS, which add no small part to their great color.

ChessCube also has great volume. The apsx/java GAME BOARD interface is very, very slick which is a GREAT positive, but the game room and reporting interface sucks a big weenie. Such beta between greatness and paltriness!

Disadvantage: integrity is the lowest [5]. The shear volume of disconnects and take backs is mindblowing. I say, no way. The reporting is a dinosaur. PGN’s are available, but only if you touch the top of you head, spin three times, and get a PMP Certification or are a Certified Dell technician. You also need fifteen fingers. Need I say more. How unfortunate—they didn’t get it all wrong, and yes, its free.

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The Zoo:
Yahoo chess: the volume of strong players CAN be very good, if you know WHERE or when to go, but it can still be hard to get a game. Nevertheless, most of you would be shocked HOW strong the intermediate room is, Challenging Café—a tough, tough place as distinct from Yahoo! Social, a real zoo if ever there was one! Rudeness is maximal, its the McDonalds of chess or as they say, 'what do you want, its the internet?' Degraded is another word.

Disadvantage: pgn reporting via email has, despite showing availability that I know of, has been disabled. Terrible.

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Odds and ends:
I don't pretend knowledge or experience of chess.com's PLAYING venues, but certainly have been a member there for a long time. I respect them greatly, but just like I am a veterate ICC person and never concerted bypassed playchess, so here: I have done all my posting at blogger, and used it as my source of chess contacts and conversations.
I had no idea chess.com had such volume, but I cannot but be skeptical of the quality of the interface and ability to access, retain, and view games, or get player data. That is to say, as much as the some 1,000 games that I could see being played today, its not to ask WHY NOT play here, as why play there when those same sort of volumes are available playchess or chessCube for free also.
On the fly, the board like chessCube's is very sweet, with a nice replay feature (unlike chessCube). But its also very, very hard to see the whole room. If I am playing, I want to see who is who, and what is what. It has some of chessCube's volume, if you want a simple web hosted player, but without the ability to see the whole venue on one page. Very critical.

Good environment but weighted for correspondence chess, usually three days per move. I suspect they MIGHT have internet chess, but can hardly be expected to have volume.
If I were both a professional writer with duty to verify all data, I would join JUST to get this data, but enough, I have too much already, AND if my life afforded the leisure of disciplined rewriting and polish, I would gladly do so, but I have not had income for 1.5 years.
Sorry. If gameKnot or its affiliates wish to notice me about this, I will gladly insert this here.

Same as gameKnot except I know that no internet (blitz or standard, etc) chess is played there, save correspondence. Very, very smart community. Very active message board. I suspect a lot more programs and chess engines are used than is acknowledged, but that is not our matter today. Smart record keeping, smart interface and heck, wormwood loves it--'works for me'. I left, but respect it--I can play or do deep analysis on computers here at home without involving others. Forgive me if I am wrong.
I will gladly paste clarification here also. Please advise. Write David underscore _ Korn at cable speed dot com; cablespeed is one word.

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Stats and comparisons:
1:30 am PST, 4:30 am EST, 9:30 am CST:
Times are obviously late but A. I am wide awake and can measure it calmly, and B. proportions are larger in the day but similar.

ICC: ‘403 players displayed of 891’, assume means 488 not counted, so 244 games. ICC has a Spanish speaking set of options in play and training that they purchased.

FICS: ‘305 players displayed of 831’, assume means 528 not counted or 264 games.

Playchess: ‘1375 main playing hall, 2,444 online’.

ChessCube: ‘2,237 online, 557 live games.

Yahoo, Social: 1,460 in top seven room, and next set several hundred et al.
Yahoo, Intermediate: 167 in Challenging Café
Yahoo, Advanced: two room about 200, sum: 2300 with odds and ends (often more like 4,000 in day time, i.e. EST, latter in day from India/Philippines, Europe, Japan.

9:45 am PST today, 12:45 pm EST, 8:45 pm CST in Amsterdam:
These second set of measure were taken was during the peak of the Anand-Topalov game 8 (Topy win!), and was an excellent way to measure peak users among the aficionado or chess cognoscenti crowd:

ICC: '500 players displayed of 3,901'; WCC game 7 had 1,606 viewers when these measures were taken, so 894 games were being played:
(3,901-1,606= 2294-500=1794/2= 894)

FICS: '793 players displayed of 1,733'; WCC game had 427 viewers, so 257 games (players are those shown NO playing, i.e. list of those available for invites, ostensibly)

Playchess: '7,446 online, 2506 main playing hall; Broadcast showed 3,004, so assuming most were viewing match, that’s about 1253 games, but hard to say.

chessCube: '2,675 players, 982 games' (no WCC broadcast)

chess.com: '3,547 players online'.

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I cannot say who, but spoke with an executive from one of these companies who told me, he ‘wouldn’t let his kids play at this site’, that’s how bad it is, as far as nasty language and behavior goes—and is looked upon with truly blind eyes, or benign neglect.

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To conclude, what you want to be able to do is play chess, not be disconnected too often, be able to complete or avoid disconnected games, be part of a social fabric or dimension, however large or small, be able to save or record your games, then be able to access them, and view them, and be able to obtain and sustain play at the time of day or days of week which suite your work, lifestyle, and economic budget preferences.

If all you want is a place for straight chess—for fun—with no regard for post-mortem or reporting, chessCube has the volume and a great playing board. Its allows premove and is sweet to look at, in all senses.

If you want to be a serious student, my vote is you go straight for playchess and skip FICS. It has real player volume and puts you immediately within easy reach of the foothills of chessBase through its baby version, chessBase light (same software, but disabling of some key features in file management! [5]) and is also free.

Click to enlarge image!!!!
And lastly, if you can spend not so much spend $70 per year as drink one beer less per week or forgo eating lunch out, at work, say twice per month, then there it is, the bar none, top choice but some of you, I know, think $150 for a sport for three years is too much yet the hours you spend on it says otherwise!

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Kant rules [6].

Love dk

[1] The leading credit card provider VISA is a provider of 'revolving credit', known for increasingly pernicious annual fees and/or penalties, easy 'get in terms' with limited conditions, but hard to get out of without belt tightening, due to not only higher rates, but very high rates relative to FED [7] Fund Rates. Those rates are near zero and the banks are having a pig fest.

[2] Finger notes are personal notes giving reign to free speech, self expression, settling grievances, or giving thanks!

[3] Total inability to view the one during the other is not quite true, but believe me, I have been using chessBase daily for over four years, and cannot tell you all I know at once, but its MOSTLY TRUEAgain, its not quite that simple but it is...more or less how it is: You need chessBase lite, another highly recommended free application, to READ those games from playchess. Suffice to say, if you do both, they make it easy and painless.

[4] Top marks here.As always, I can get you past that, but alas, a story for another day.

[5] Chess is not played by grabbing a piece, putting it down, then moving it, and saying 'I didn't mean that. Its not chess if it is. Chess is heavy and tense and irrevocable. Attracting a mass of persons who ask for TB's is not flattering to chessCube, no fucking way! They do laps around all other sites therein, its a fact. Why? The TB button is built in the screen. Bad, bad, bad design. Its like providing a brothel at a methodist isolated offshore drilling site. Flames. Light the match.

[6] Just kidding. Fritz Perls, and the Upanishads rule, take your pick.

[7] The FED does NOT set interest rates in the market [8]; rather, their charter purpose is price stability, one of the major tools of which is monetary policy, that is to say, setting rates that they charge to major money center banks in overnight loans. The trickle down affect is that banks loan THOSE funds, AKA 'injecting liquidity into the market. The FED can apply brakes or add fuel to this flow, by selling bonds or in turn buying bonds by taking money out of the system or re-injecting it.

[8] In the long run, the FED cannot control rates, but market forces do. The FED sets and communicates policy, meeting every six weeks and three weeks latter, making the minutes of the preceding meeting available, also every six weeks. The FED sets policy; buyers and sellers, that is to say, market forces set rates. And guess who or what is the market? It’s the currency market, enormous tranches of Euro’s, Yen, Yuan [9], Reals, Pounds, Wan, Peso’s sloshing around the planet, between buying and selling by major central banks such as the ECB, BOJ, European Central Bank or Bank of Japan. These markets dwarf even the most gargantuan USA stock markets, in global financial super novae.

[9] The currency of China, AKA Rimbi.