SmartChess app is available

by admin on October 1, 2011

After writing only two blog posts in September (one of them not even about chess), I promise to pay a little bit more attention to my blog this month. First, let me start with a small announcement: Andres Hortillosa’s SmartChess app for the iPhone/iPad is now on sale for $4.99 at iTunes.

It’s been a long road for Andy, who publicly announced the SmartChess app at the Chicago Open in 2010, where he had a demo version running. He was planning to start selling it by the time of the 2010 U.S. Open. Obviously the schedule slipped a bit, for reasons I don’t know, but I am excited for him that he has seen this project through to its completion.

Except… It’s really just beginning. What went on sale two days ago is still just a framework. It’s hard for me either to give a recommendation for or against it, because the success or failure of SmartChess will really depend on the content.

Here’s the start screen that you see when you boot up SmartChess. I like the design; it’s very simple and understandable.

If you click “Play” you can play a game against your phone. Unless you are a beginner, this feature will not be very interesting to you, because the engine appears to be very weak. It’s the weakest chess computer I’ve played in gosh knows how long. The “Settings” screen has an option called “Difficulty” that I assume sets the strength of the engine, but even at the “100” setting, which I assume is the maximum difficulty, it still played extremely poorly.

You can also set the app to “Player vs. Player,” which allows you to enter games into the computer and save them. I could see some potential value to this. Suppose you’re talking with your friends at a tournament and you want to show them a game you just played, or maybe one you played at your last tournament. But your memory isn’t so good, and you can’t figure out how the game went. Does this scenario sound at all familiar? If you had entered your moves into SmartChess, you could just whip out your iPhone and there would be no problem!

“My Games” contains the games you’ve saved. Pretty straightforward. I don’t see any way to enter annotations, and I don’t think that the games are saved in any kind of standard format (i.e., PGN).

“Bookstore” and “My Books” are really the crux of the app. I really don’t think that most people are going to shell out $5 to play a really bad chess computer or to obtain a bare-bones filing system for their games. The selling point for the app has to be the content.

So far, the content is pretty minimal. The bookstore has a few classic works that are in the public domain (“Lasker’s Manual of Chess” by Emanuel Lasker, “Chess Fundamentals” by Jose Capablanca, “Modern Ideas in Chess” by Richard Reti). There are only a couple of books from this century (e.g., “Kramnik Kasparov London 2000” by Karsten Muller).

Speaking personally, I’m a paper-and-ink guy, and I can’t even imagine reading one of these books on an iPhone. It just seems so claustrophobic to me. Ack! But on an iPad, maybe. Of course, these comments are completely irrelevant to the next generation who will grow up reading things on iPhones and iPads and will look at paper books as some kind of germ-filled relic of a bygone era.

“My Books” is, I assume, where your books will go after you purchase them. SmartChess gives you two freebies to start with: “The Rules of Chess” by Bruce Pandolfini and “Setting Up Tactical Combinations” by Andres Hortillosa. The user interface for reading the books seems very easy to understand. There are little arrows for stepping through analysis, and big arrows for going on to the next page or paragraph.

Finally, the “Game Collections” tab is a little bit puzzling to me. SmartChess comes with three game collections: Fischer-Spassky 1972, Fischer-Spassky 1992, and Hastings 1895. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way to add new collections, and there is no analysis provided. This feature is not going to hold my attention for very long. If I want to see Adolf Albin battling for fifteenth place against Isidor Gunsberg more than a century ago, I’ll go to chessgames.com. (Oh, by the way … Gunsberg won.)

All in all, SmartChess works great but it needs content. It will be a real challenge for Andy to deliver the content in a compelling way when there are so many other sources for the same information.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andres D Hortillosa October 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Hi Dana,

You forgot to mention that eBooks from Chesspublishing.com and Monthly Updates on 12 Opening groups by Palliser, Watson, Vigorito, Mikhalevski, Ward, Pavlovic, Bartholomew, Prié, Emms, Flear and Davies will be released in SmartChess!

Formation Attacks Vol 1 & 2 by Johnson is forthcoming.

Other books by Tal, Bologan, Donaldson, Hansen, Beim, Heisman, Topalov, Nakamura, Gulko, etc. are also scheduled for release.

Andres

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Andres D Hortillosa October 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I forgot to add three titles from IM Andrew Martin and your Bird by Bird.

Andres

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