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Wulebgr Chess

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Live sites--Online chess in real time

I have played hundreds of games at each of the sites below, and thousands at several of them.

(Note: If you believe sites like Pogo and Yahoo are chess sites, read Edward Collins' excellent explanation of the differences.)

 
Internet Chess Club ICC is no longer the leader for chess in cyberspace. It remains among the most active live sitesólots of players online at all hours. Their graphic user interface (GUI) performs well, and they offer the option of using a variety of others. For example, Chess Assistant has a built in interface that can be used to play at ICC. ICC remains the choice of some of the strongest players. However, the cost of ICC membership is higher than other sites.

For the average player, ICC ratings in some categories may be lower than OTB (over the board ratings). Masters, however, may find inflated ratings on ICC.
PlayChess (ChessBase) Playchess has displaced ICC as the top site. It leads in number and strength of players. ChessBase software is required for access--either the Fritz family of engines, or through free client software available from their website. The software GUI and their new media system significantly outdistance all rivals. The lectures by titled players are first rate, and many are stored on the server for access at any time for a small fee (usually two ducats, ~15 cents each). This site costs less than ICC, has most of the same features, and the superior GUI facilitates features not yet available on ICC. Those who like to chat while they play, however, will find not find a conducive environment (which also prevents the verbal abuse that occasionally bursts forth on other sites).

In my experience, the ratings are slightly inflated compared to ICC
FICS

(Free Internet Chess Server)
While not as feature-rich as ICC, Playchess, it is a good site for play. It sets the standard for free sites (a standard ignored by Yahoo, Pogo, and similar junk sites). FICS offers high quality play and flexibility of access (telnet, java, or GUI). The home site offers links to many external sites offering GUI software.

With such GUI software as BabasChess, the quality of the interface rivals ICC's best choices.

Ratings appear deflated, which some allege stems from rampant cheating, but may reflect merely the almost complete absence of titled players.

Chessmaster 10th Edition

Appears defunct (Review will probably prove accurate if revived)

This site is amateurish. It fails to incorporate basic features that are standard in ICC, FICS, and USCL. The players are friendly, and the clan system facilitates team competition. This site may prove among the most child-friendly. There is no annual subscription fee. During the period that the trial version was active, there were frequently 30 players online at once. Now, 12 seems the usual number.

I have used extensively nearly every Chessmaster version beginning with 2100 in 1989. Once I made the move to ChessBase and Chess Informant software, Chessmaster has lost priority. For under $50 total expense, Chessmaster remains a great deal. It also has the best lessons for beginners. Online play is a poorly supported bonus.
Chess.net This site was a great place to play when it was free. The interface seemed quite good in 1999, but it has not changed much since. This site has failed to remain competitive.

The ratings were terribly inflated in 1999, but seemed less so in late 2003.
 

Updated 18 July 2008