After something of a break from chess – I was a keen player as a child but lost interest in my teens – it’s taken Android to pull me back into the gambit-filled fold. I saved all my roubles to buy a physical Kasparov chess computer back in the day, but the modern apps are so much better.
There are four free chess apps for Android that stand out, but if you have a favourite not listed here I’d love to hear about it. Just use the comments.
While winning zero points for an imaginative app name, Chess – Play & Learn is the app I keep coming back to. And for one simple reason: it improves my game.
You can play a game just like any other chess program. You select the rating for the computer, randomise whether you’re black or white, move your pieces. If you want to enable hints, that’s fine.
But what I love about this app is that, once it’s over, you can ask the computer to analyse the game and work out where you’ve gone wrong (and where the computer went wrong). It gives each move a numeric value based on how much advantage it gave you, or otherwise, and marks particularly bad moves as Blunders.
It then shows you the path you could have taken, including the fact that you could have had checkmate in five moves if only you hadn’t moved the darn rook.
There are other nice touches, such as the option to switch sides mid-game; training sessions, including a daily puzzle, that you don’t even need to pay for; and you can watch live matches taking place between grandmasters.
How does it make money? There are in-app purchases for subscriptions that increase the number of lessons you can take, with the Gold membership giving five lessons per day and costing £2.25 per month.
But you don’t need to pay, making this the best free chess app for Android overall.
As any chess enthusiast will know, Magnus Carlsen is the dominant force right now. He’s been world champion since 2013 and shows no signs of relinquishing his crown, even if Kasparov might just be coming out of retirement.
This game gives you a chance to play against Magnus at various ages, from the age of seven (when he still makes basic errors) right up to his current age of 26 (where he will destroy you, although I was pleased to last for a few more moves than Bill Gates in the clip below).
There are also tutorials, but the vast majority of these must be paid for. They’re expensive too: £1.74 will buy you a 3:45 video lesson on mating with king and rook. I’ll stick to the books, thanks.
It also wants you to pay for “Brain Power” to unlock hints, undos and chess boards. Again, the prices are steep: £9.46 will buy you 8,000 points, for instance, but a regular player would burn through that in a month.
You can earn Brain Power through playing, though, and if you stick to the freebie mode this is still a good game if you want to benchmark yourself against the best player in the world.
There are no shortage of options if you want to play chess online against real people, and on the surface it may seem that Real Chess has numbers on its side: more than five million people have downloaded the app. However, a recent update seems to have disrupted the connection, and I couldn’t even start a game.
That’s why I’ve opted for Lichess instead. While it “only” has a million players for you to battle against, it turns out that’s plenty. All you have to do is choose time limits, a rating range and whether or not you want the game to be rated.
After that it’s go go go, especially if you’re unused to playing against the clock. I thought ten minutes would be enough but it turns out I was wrong… despite capturing my opponent’s queen I ran out of time before getting checkmate.
Anyway, it set the pulse racing on a Tuesday lunchtime. And note you’re joining something of a community with Lichess – there are tournaments going on all the time, so you can battle it out like Magnus himself if you so wish.
After that loss on Lichess it was clear I needed help, and I haven’t found a better tutor than Chess King’s series. There are dozens of different courses, all aimed at different skill levels and various areas of the game, but they follow the same pattern: you’re given a series of puzzles around a theme (castling, say) and you progress through them until you’re a master.
The app does rely on in-app purchases to reach the end of the course, but even if you reach the free limit on one course you can jump to another. Most people won’t need to pay.