Monday, December 31, 2012

tChess Pro iOS App

I've been happily using the tChess Pro (currently version 1.7.3; $7.99) iOS app for over a year, and I thought I would share some ways I use it.

Some of my ideas could also be used with other chess software, but a major appeal of tChess Pro is that it runs on a mobile, instant-on, touch screen device. My old, slow desktop PC remains useful for certain tasks, but I tend to avoid using it if I can reasonably do things without it. If you're already doing chess study on a personal computer with UltraHyperScrumpdillyiciousDatabase, you may find much of what I describe to be rather primitive compared to what you are doing. However, I enjoy relaxing around the house with tChess Pro on my iPad, sometimes accompanied by a chess book. tChess Pro also runs on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

I generally play in only a few tournaments each year, and play little, if any, other chess. I am consequently normally rusty, but I (try to!) take my preparation for rated games relatively seriously. Below are some ways I use tChess Pro for chess study, and for making chess diagrams.

A tool for reviewing and saving games:

tChess Pro makes reviewing games so convenient that I gave away the small analysis chess set which I formerly used. I save games in PGN (Portable Game Notation) in tChess Pro, allowing any position in any game to be recalled without having to set up physical pieces, saving time and eliminating frustration from possibly mistaken piece placement. Then, tap the triangles to go forward or backward through the moves. I often review my own games multiple times, since I have difficulty remembering what moves I played even a short time after a game (yeah, I know, shocking, isn't it?).

Before buying tChess Pro, I had already saved a variety of games in PGN files. By e-mailing those files, each of which could have one or more games (or positions), to myself as attachments, I was able to import them into tChess Pro as PGN database files. The original file names are carried over, so as preparation for the import, I grouped selected games into opening-specific files. I named the files in ways to keep certain groups of games together and to make them identifiable from short names: the PGN database file names are limited to the width of a portrait orientation window on an iPhone.

1/31/13: I revised everything between these two horizontal separator lines, having discovered that my previous annotation example had some problems due to my having done some nonstandard editing on the PC prior to e-mailing the game to myself for use in tChess Pro. Along the way I discovered some additional functionality, which I am also describing.

Move annotations can be edited and viewed within tChess Pro. When playing through a game, tap the pencil icon to bring up the Annotation window:

 through which you can scroll if the text is long:

The Annotation editing screen:

You can copy and paste text from the game, including PGN tags and annotations:

Tapping the FEN button will generate the Forsyth-Edwards Notation (which identifies a chess position, including details like whose turn it is to move), which can similarly be copied and pasted:

It is possible to view almost a whole screen's worth of PGN text at a time:

tChess Pro comes with a PGN database file of Bobby Fischer's games, and provides an option to additionally download a PGN file of the 2008 World Championship games, plus another of Garry Kasparov's games.

I discovered a variety of chess book PGN files (normally without annotations) on the Internet, including some matching two of my most frequently used opening books. For someone like me who strongly prefers Algebraic Notation, these files make it far more appealing to work through games in books printed using Descriptive Notation!

tChess Pro numbers the games in a PGN database file sequentially. If the games in a book are numbered the same way (e.g., the first game is labeled "Game 1", as in my Zürich 1953 tournament book), you can directly correlate matching games.

The games in many books are not, however, so numbered. For those, the search function can be helpful, allowing you to search all the tags found in the PGN for games (or positions). You can search for one or more items. Searching for "1/2-1/2" brings up all the draws in a file. Of course, you would need to confirm that the tags in the PGN actually do contain the values you're expecting. For instance, if draws are not recorded as "1/2-1/2" in the result tag, there is likely no way to search for draws. Searching for both players' names (an "and" search, not an "or" search) helps if you select a random chapter in a book and want to find games the two played against each other.

One time when I was not using tChess Pro, I was working in my head through the notes to a diagram in one of my Descriptive Notation books by looking back and forth between the diagram and the notes. I was puzzled by one of the later moves because I had failed to notice the "ch" at the end of an earlier "Q x P ch" move. Instead of that move, I had mentally played a different "Q x P" (not check) move, which invalidated my subsequent mental picture of the position. I certainly make similar (though, I suspect, fewer) mistakes when working with Algebraic Notation, but being able to simply tap triangles to move through a previously saved game, instead of moving pieces by following (or trying to accurately follow!) printed moves, eliminates chances for errors.

To modify a PGN database file (e.g., to make corrections or additions; I have found some move order differences between games in books and the corresponding games in matching PGN files):
  1. Export it via e-mail
  2. Modify it (as a PC file)
  3. E-mail yourself the new copy as an attachment
  4. Re-import it, which will overwrite the existing PGN database file having the same name
The first step is unnecessary if on my PC I already have the PGN file equivalent of the tChess Pro PGN database file.

Tailoring PGN database file names and other optimization:

PGN database files are sorted alphabetically. For my focused opening preparation files, I start the names with "0_" so that they will appear first, e.g.,


(hey, I can't give away my serious opening secrets here). I use lower case letters whenever reasonable because they take less space than upper case ones, and as mentioned above, there are screen display width limitations.

Within such a file, I sort games into two groups, my own, and all others. Within each of those groups, I order games chronologically descending. This grouping and ordering facilitates finding games, and also adding future games.

For chess book PGN database files for which I have the printed book, I start the names with "1_", so they will appear in the next group. I add on the author(s)' last names, followed by the (typically shortened) book title.

For tournament PGN database files which might be of interest to me even though I don't have a printed book, I started the names with "2_", putting them in the next group.

After that come all the assorted other PGN databases, which I tend to use less often.

In the above screenshot you can see:
  • A chess book PGN file (1_znosko-borovsky_artCombination.pgn).
  • A tournament (book) PGN file (2_palmaDeMallorca1970.pgn).
  • A game I exported from tChess Pro and e-mailed to myself (chess_122412_1552.pgn). Such games are named "chess_" followed by a date and time stamp. I later often incorporate such games into a larger group (e.g., 0_scholars_mate) on my PC and (re-)import that into tChess Pro, then delete the original date-and-time-stamp-name PGN database file from tChess Pro.
  • The three I mentioned from tChess (fischer60.pgn, kasparov.pgn, wc08.pgn).
  • My iOS Game Center games (game_center.pgn; more on that below)
  • A miscellaneous collection of my own games (ho_k.pgn).
  • The game in which Neil McDonald, one of my favorite chess authors, swindled a draw from World Champion Kasparov - see screenshot below (kasparov_mcdonald_1986.pgn).
  • tChess Pro's internally saved games (saved_games.pgn).

Kasparov - McDonald, 1986
After 54 Bxe4

54...Rxg3+ 55 Kxg3 Qe5+ 1/2-1/2
(Did I hear "Ha-ha!" from Nelson of The Simpsons?)

For player names in PGN databases of my own games, I use the abbreviated style of:
last-name, first-initial
to increase the chance of the entirety of a game's date, which helps identify it, showing in listings in PGN databases.

It helps that my last name is very short; if your last name is Znosko-Borovsky, you will have less luck with this approach, but there's always the ever-popular "Me", as often appears on scoresheets.

My PC remains my base for PGN files. I e-mail those files as attachments to myself, to be saved permanently in e-mail and thus enable retrieval anywhere using wifi. That also helps if I ever need to reinstall tChess Pro from scratch.

Conducting the post-mortem of a game:

If you and your opponent don't mind sitting side by side while going over a game, you can enter the game during the post-mortem (and subsequently add tags and save it as PGN). The screens of devices smaller than an iPad may be ill-suited for such a task. It's simpler to look at things from just White's (or Black's) viewpoint, which was agreeable to both of my opponents, but you can also do the much more troublesome switching of the board viewpoint after each move.

Checking on gross tactical oversights:

Any self-respecting modern chess engine (ok, maybe that's a bit much anthropomorphizing) can pump out analysis adequate for my practical needs. I'm once again an 1800 player (barely), and my main analysis need is blunder check. I've started using tChess Pro, which can be set to a "2500" rating, to look at some positions from my own games. Boy, the oversights are all there, just waiting to be revealed. In January 2012 I lost a game against John Elmore, a stronger player. I was never satisfied with my play, and recently I decided to see what tChess Pro suggested at select junctures. I had earlier played 11 Nf3-h4, but after 14...Nf6-h5:

I was "shamed" into moving my knight back with 15 Nf3. According to my recollection, John mentioned that 11 Nf3-h4 wasn't a good idea, as we saw played out in the game. Imagine my surprise when tChess Pro pointed out the 15 Nf5! possibility. Sure, I know this kind of tactic (and indeed, the "famous" Nf5 sacrifice by name), but I missed it in that game, and it seems John missed it as well, since I don't recall him mentioning it in the post-mortem. I'm hoping that tChess Pro can broaden my vision so I will miss fewer tactics such as these, which I consider to be well within my practical reach.

Working with my Padawan who lives in a galaxy far, far away:

My nephew and I each used tChess Pro on our iPads with the iOS Game Center connection (over our respective wifi) to review some of his games. For the time being I have a significant rating edge on him (who knows how long that will last; maybe someday he can help me). Game Center gives us Voice Chat, making tChess Pro into a nice teaching tool. Naturally, the board updates on both sides as each of us plays a move. Whoever's directing the play simply states the next move, and the appropriate person plays it. We stop and look at potentially interesting junctures, and rewind as needed ("Let's take back all the moves until move 10 and look at a possibility there."). We haven't actually used tChess Pro to play a game, even though that's likely the primary reason for using Game Center.

Saving chess diagrams:

I have historically used DiagTransfer on my PC to compose chess diagrams manually (making occasional mistakes, about which my friends Eric and Jason alerted me). However, while writing this blog entry I found that tChess Pro screenshots (hold down the power button, then press the Home button) can be cropped within the iOS Photos app (or, more efficiently, using the free Photo Mage app which I favor as of 1/2013) to produce chess diagrams, like the ones I used above. The resulting (color) JPEG format image files are larger than the (black and white) PNG format image files from DiagTransfer, but I'd say that I have just found my new way of making diagrams.

Tom Kerrigan, the maker of tChess Pro, also makes two other iOS chess apps, tChess Lite (99¢) and Chess - Learn Chess ebook (free), which may be of interest. I cannot really comment on either of those, but he has implemented a number of my requests in tChess Pro over time, making it an even better tool. If tChess Pro sounds interesting, I encourage you to check out his website, and read reviews of his products in Apple's App Store (where it may help to look for "t Chess" instead of "tChess") or elsewhere. It is certainly my longtime favorite and most frequently used chess app.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Agreed - also my favorite iOS chess app. Run it on my iPad and even on my old generation 2 iPod Touch.