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Free Software Every Chess Player Should Have

There are many free chess programs and related software. For the amateur player this software is all you really need. If you're a beginner at chess, spend your money on a few good chess books (Play Winning Chess by Yasser Seirawan and Logical Chess, Move By Move by Irving Chernev) and download these free programs.

NOTE: You don't get toll-free Tech Support with this software! Be prepared to spend a little time reading the Help files and experimenting to find out what they can do. Tech support for certain commercial chess programs is about what you'd expect from a toy manufacturer so you aren't losing anything.

The Usenet groups and are good places to find out more about available free chess software and how to use it. There are many more free programs available (check the "Pitt" link on my Favorite Chess Websites page) but I recommend you start with these:


Der Bringer

Der Bringer

There are so many! The one I like best is Der Bringer, by Gerritt Reubold. Der Bringer's default user interface is in German but can be set to English. The Help files are only in German. I liked this program so much I wrote an English-language user's guide that covers the main features. The manual is in HTML format and can be read in any standard Web browser.

Download Der Bringer:

English User's Guide:



Stephan Nguyen has been working on a Java-applet chess program for some time. Jester plays a reasonable game of chess, although it does not have many of the features of traditional chess programs. You can't save games in play, or export a record of the game, for example (but you can copy and paste the move record). Jester offers a variety of "fantasy chess" games as well as traditional chess. The interface is very attractive, looking something like one of the Fritz layouts. Best of all, Jester uses only 165 kB of disk space. You can keep it on a floppy disk and pop it into any PC that has a Java-compatible browser. You can try out Jester on line at the URL below.

If you download the program for offline use, unzip the files into a directory. Click the supplied HTML page to start the program. When you want to quit, just close the HTML page. The HTML page includes the instructions. Jester is "Helpware," meaning Stephan requests that you make a donation to a humanitarian or charitable organization if you use it.

Jester Website:


There are millions of chess game files available for free download on the Internet. These games range from weak amateur to Grandmaster level. With chess viewing software you can play through these games and even add your own comments and criticisms. See for yourself how Morphy, Steinitz, Fischer and Karpov have changed the face of chess.



Winboard, by Tim Mann, comes with a chess engine called GNUChess and will also serve as an interface to Crafty, another good, free chess engine (a chess engine has no graphical interface of its own, as opposed to a chess program, which does) and many other chess engines. I mostly use Winboard as a viewing program. You can set Winboard as the default program to view PGN files. When you double-click on a PGN file (which may contain from one to thousands of games), Winboard automatically opens and either starts displaying the game or presents a list of the games in the file.

Linux users can download X-Board, also from Tim Mann.

Winboard/X-Board Website:



The freeware Arena interface was designed for use with chess "engines" compatible with Winboard and the UCI (Universal Chess Interface) protocols. Several very strong freeware chess engines are available, and are easier to set up in Arena than in Winboard. If you're playing on a budget there's no need to buy a commercial chess program anymore! Of course, you will use Arena's analysis function only before playing a correspondence chess game.

Arena Website:


Chessbase Light

Chessbase Light

The acknowledged leader in chess database programs is ChessBase. ChessBase Light is free and not severely crippled (it won't read .CBF ChessBase files and a database can contain no more than 8000 games). It's worth downloading and spending the time to learn to use it.

ChessBase Light Website:



Another good database program is CDB by Peter Klausler. Unlike ChessBase Light, CDB does not seem to have a limit on the number of games that can be contained in a database. CDB will also convert any CBF-format Chessbase files you download to PGN format. CDB databases are larger than similar ChessBase databases. It's worth it to have both.

Download CDB:


EditPad Classic

PGN files can be edited like text files. The default Windows text editor is Notepad. If Microsoft had put a little effort into making a decent text editor I might feel some sympathy for their legal problems. Fortunately, independent programmers have stepped in to fill the gap.

The text editor I recommend is free for non-commercial use. EditPad Classic by Jan Goyvaerts is so feature-laden you'll wonder how you got along without it. I'm using it to make the Web page you're reading now. The author no longer supports or supplies EditPad Classic (it's been replaced by a fatter version called EditPad Lite), but you can download it from the link below.

EditPad Classic download: