I’ve always loved playing chess. My dad taught me to play when I was a kid, and ever since I’ve been hooked. Black vs. white, historic enemies locked in mortal combat, fighting for eternal supremacy of their 8×8 universe.
I’ve also, historically, stunk at chess. Mac OS X’s Chess program would regularly beat me up and steal my lunch money without even breaking a sweat. Like a huge sucker for punishment, I kept on doddering back to it — ready to take my medicine like a champ.
Times have changed now. I’ve got Shredder on my side.
Shredder is the name of a chess engine that’s been handily beating the tar out of other chess programs since 1993, and is now available to beat the tar out of you on your iPhone or iPod touch. Shredder Chess is a Chess application built using the Shredder engine, and it flat-out kicks ass. Rather than being just a chess game, it acts much more like a chess teacher. The program is intelligent enough to detect your ELO ranking (a measurement of your skill level) and adjust it’s own ELO to equal yours, making for very even matches. It occasionally makes deliberate mistakes to more closely resemble a human opponent. And, like any good teacher, gently gives you a little smack on the back of the head when you’ve done something stupid.
Not content with merely being a simple game, Shredder Chess also comes complete with a huge library of chess puzzles. You’re shown a board setup and asked what one side’s next best move is. You’re awarded points based on how quickly you solve the puzzle and how many mistakes you made (or hints you requested) in the process. Any chess player worth the locker they were stuffed into during middle school will tell you that solving chess puzzles is one of the best ways to improve as a player, and Shredder Chess is packed with them. The app says it has 1000 puzzles contained within, which should be plenty enough for anyone. If any puzzle you come across strikes you as an interesting point to play from, with one tap of a button you can start playing from that set-up as either side.
A few other bits added on top make this program all the more worthwhile. Getting slaughtered and want to switch sides mid-game? G’head. Need a hint? Just ask. Want to make a custom board setup and start the game with the White Rooks flanking the Black King? It’ll make for a short game, but Shredder will let you.
Do I have any complaints about Shredder Chess? Not many. For one thing, it’s only a single-player game, so if you want to play against another human, you’ll need another app. There are also no Timed matches, so if you want to practice playing against a clock, you’re out of luck. And finally, though this is pretty much entirely my own stupid fault, the prominently-placed Hint button is just way too tempting to use repeatedly, which likely results in both my ELO and my ego being a bit artificially inflated.
Overall, this is an extremely well-built app that has done wonders for my chess game and caused me to miss my stop on the train home from work on more than one occasion. It’s a bit pricey as iPhone apps go, checking in at $7.99, but considering Shredder-based games for OS X and Windows start at $40 and go up into triple-digits, it’s not so bad.
Final verdict? Let me put it this way: Shredder Chess replaced “Phone” as one of the 4 icons in my iPhone’s Dock last week. Think about that for a second. I can no longer access the Phone functionality from any screen, but I sure can start a chess game any time I please.
Photo Credit: nestor galina