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If you're interested in chess and wish to improve, you might want to consider installing a chess program onto your computer to help train you. Some programs are dedicated to certain areas of the game (such as endgame or opening study, or tactical exercises), while others allow you to input your games into a database and have the computer analyse them for errors and suggestions.
Most regular tournament players usually have some sort of chess engine installed on their computer. These engines are programmed to find the best possible moves in any position given to them and determine who is ahead by means of algorithms. When plugged into an interface, you can either play directly against the engine or submit a game for the machine to analyse.
There are a vast number of chess engines; they vary widely in quality and playing style. Some are commercial, others are freeware and available to download over the internet. Due to advances in technology in the 21st century, some of these engines have become so strong that even the best human players in the world have difficulty beating them, even on an average-speed home computer. A non-Master will probably never be able to beat - or even draw - a strong engine unassisted. In a sense, having a good chess program running over your games is almost like having a Grandmaster on hand to discuss your games with you.
Engines are not all the same. Depending on how it's programmed, it may favour moves that are attacking and tactical, while others prefer solid, positional moves and don't take as many risks. Formerly, commercial engines were the strongest, but now some freeware engines are just as good or even better.
If you don't want to install your own engine, you may play against one on a free online service. Be aware that these do not play at full strength and may not be allocated a lot of thinking time. In summary, they do not play at the highest level they can play at.
- lichess.org features the powerful Stockfish engine in levels 1 through 8 (Glicko-2 ranges 1500 to 2361 -- near Grandmaster), with 50 to 400 ms thinking time. You may set up positions using the Board Editor. You may analyse the games afterwards with Stockfish at nearly full strength, with 2 seconds of thinking time for each move.
- GameKnot features a proprietary engine at levels ranging from ~1000 Elo rating to 2200+ (Grandmaster) Elo rating. Allows setting up a position from the Games DB. Does not offer a takeback option. Requires a Java Runtime.
- The Shredder Chess website features the engine of the same name on easy, medium and hard levels. The hard level is particularly difficult for players of all skills.
Before you can use an engine, you first have to run it through an interface. There are many that can be used, the most common of which are listed:
- "Fritz" interface - This is one of the most popular interfaces in use by professionals today. It generally comes prepackaged when you buy one of the commercial engines sold by ChessBase (Fritz, Shredder, Hiarcs, et al.). As such, it's considered commercial, although older versions of the interface may be released as freeware. (Be aware though, that there may be compatibility problems in this case.)
- Arena = This is the most common freeware interface. It is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux.
- Chessmaster - This interface comes prepackaged with the King chess engine. It is different from the above two interfaces in that not only does it allow you to input games into a database and play against the computer, but there are multiple training tools available as well, such as an openings book, tactics exercises, etc., so you don't have to purchase a separate program to do this. However, it may be harder to install independent chess engines to run underneath this interface.
- Stockfish = Very strong open-source engine, consistently ranked as first or second strongest in the world.