Edward D. Collins


A popular place to play chess on-line is at the Yahoo! Games site. At times, I see anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 people, or more, logged into the chess room, playing here!! These figures never cease to amaze me because Yahoo! is NOT the ideal place to play on-line chess! That distinction belongs to the chess servers, namely, FICS and ICC.


This page is my effort to help educate those who are not yet aware of the on-line chess servers and all of the many advantages they offer.


Yahoo! is an excellent place to play checkers or euchre or bridge, etc. In fact, here at my site you can find a section for tips on playing blackjack specifically at Yahoo!. However, the chess servers have been around a lot longer (many years) than Yahoo!'s chess site, and for that reason alone, Yahoo! has a lot of catching up to do in the "features" department.

To play chess on the chess servers, you are not forced to use your web browser or load a slow Java applet, as you are at Yahoo!. To play chess on the chess servers, all that is required is that you take a moment and download a program, otherwise known as a chess "interface." There are literally dozens of interfaces to choose from. My favorite is WinBoard, and a small tribute to it can be found here.)

All of these chess interfaces are MUCH superior to the Java applet that is required to play at Yahoo!. The number of advantages in playing with these interfaces and on the servers, are almost too many to list... but I will attempt to do so here.



Here is a table showing just some of the advantages in playing chess on the chess servers, with a chess interface, compared with playing chess at Yahoo! and their Java applet.


    The Chess Servers Yahoo!
1 Can I play rated games for free?

You can not play rated games for free at ICC.  ICC (the Internet Chess Club) requires you to pay a monthly fee for rated games.  (You can play as a guest for free.) You can, however, play rated games for free at FICS.

2 Can I play unrated games if I wish? YES YES
3 Can I play 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? YES YES
4 If I choose, can I configure it so that my games are saved to my hard drive automatically, immediately after I play them?

Yahoo's! Java app is currently not able to automatically save your games to your hard drive.  In order to save at all, them you have to remember to click a button after the game.  The games will then be e-mailed to you. 

5 If I choose, can I have the score of my games automatically e-mailed to me after each game, in a PGN format?

As mentioned above, at Yahoo!, after the completion of your game, you can click a button and have that particular game e-mailed to you. I don't see what good this does since the game isn't e-mailed to you in what is known as a PGN format. (Many of the commercial and shareware chess programs have the ability to load games that are in a PGN format. This means that you can load your games into these programs to study and review and play over. But having the games e-mailed to you in the format that Yahoo! does, is not much help at all.)

On the servers, if you do not wish to automatically have your games saved straight to your hard drive, (most convenient and what I recommend) you can choose to have all of your games automatically e-mailed to you in a PGN format. (You don't have to click a button each time to do so, either.)

6 Can I resize the dimensions of the playing board on the fly?

The wonderful WinBoard interface gives you no less than 13 different board sizes to choose from which you can alter simply by dragging your mouse. Other interfaces are similar. Yet Yahoo!'s Java applet doesn't allow you to alter the size of the board on the fly at all... and even then it gives you only two choices to choose from.

7 Can I change the color of the board and pieces?

...likewise with the color of the squares for both the board and the playing pieces. I believe just about every interface to the chess servers that exists offer you plenty of options for the color of your board and pieces. Again, at Yahoo! you're stuck with their default color choices.

8 Can I play other forms of chess if I wish, like bughouse, Fischer Random, suicide chess, etc.?

Although I don't play much wild variants, at least on the servers I have a choice. Bughouse, suicide, FischerRandom are just three of the many different chess variants that you can play. Yahoo! doesn't have the ability to play any of these.

9 If desired, are there on-line computers that I can play against?

Tired of playing against humans? Want to brush up and play one of the many different computers that are available? At Yahoo! this is not possible but the servers often have dozens of different computerized opponents to choose from.

10 Are there automated lectures that I can watch to enjoy and improve my play?

A popular feature on FICS is watching many of the automated lectures that are available. These lectures are not only very entertaining, but very instructive as well. ICC has similar lectures for their members. Yahoo! does not have any lectures of any kind at all to watch.

11 Are actual Grandmaster events and tournaments relayed live to the servers that I can I watch?

Many of the recent World Championship matches during the past couple of years, as well as the popular Kasparov-DeepBlue rematch, have been relayed live on these servers. You can sit back and watch the Grandmasters makes their moves just moments after they made them, thousands of miles away. The fun part is taking part in the discussions with other players who are also watching the games. Yahoo!'s Java app currently does not have the ability to do this.

As I write this, the finals of the U.S. Championship are being relayed live to the servers!

12 After logging on to the Internet, can I start playing almost immediately, without having to load a bulky, memory-hogging browser and then wait for a slow Java applet to load?

I can literally be halfway through playing a game on the servers in the time that it would take for Yahoo!'s Java applet to even load. But then again, if you like Java, both ICC and FICS make it possible to access their sites with Java apps. At least with the servers you have a choice!

13 Are there specific areas (channels, rooms) that I can visit (listen to) that pertain to specific subjects?

I myself enjoy taking part in the programmer's channel and the channels devoted to sports, computers, etc.

14 Are my last 10 games that I've played, saved on the server, automatically?

When playing on FICS, your last ten games (20 on ICC) are automatically saved. This is a wonderful feature. You can easily look back and see how you or your opponents or friends have faired recently. Yahoo! has nothing like this at all.

15 Can I configure my interface/applet to play my own wav files for certain events?

Many (but not all) of the chess interfaces allow you to configure the program so that you hear a sound for certain events. For example, when I'm challenged to a game, I have my WinBoard program setup so that I hear the sound of a phone ringing. When someone sends me a personal "tell" (a message) I hear a different sound. Once again, Yahoo's Java applet does not offer anything in the way of personal configuration!

16 Are there on-line tournaments that I can take part in?

Playing in an on-line tournament can be much fun. On both FICS and ICC there are tournaments going on all the time. Usually these are 3 or 4 round Swiss's with as few as four people participating to as many as twenty people... or more! Often these tourneys are finished within 30 minutes or so. At this time Yahoo! has no such tourneys.

17 Is my win-loss record saved on the server, broken down by the number of rated blitz games I've won, the number of standard games I've won, etc.?

Probably one of the nicest features, which most of us have now taken for granted, is that your win-loss record for rated games, is saved. Not only is it saved, but it is broken down; you can see instantly what your blitz record is, what your lightning record is, etc. Although Yahoo! saves your win-loss record, it is not broken down into categories.

18 Can I save, on the server, some of my noteworthy or favorite games?

Yes, with the JSAVE command. This will permanently save games in your "journal."

19 Can I add certain players that I may not wish to play to a "noplay" list?

Yes, and this list is saved on the server even when you log off.

20 Can I pull up a list, both by rating and alphabetically, of all of the players who are on-line and available for a game?

The "who" command contains many possible arguments and is highly versatile.

21 Can I set up a "formula" so that I am only open to play certain types of games (blitz, lightning, standard, wild, etc.) and/or players who fall within a certain rating range? YES
22 If I am accidentally disconnected from the server, is my game automatically saved for, giving me a chance to log back on and finish it, before it may be adjudicated against me?

Yes, if you want it to be. Otherwise, if you are tired of people who "disconnect" on you just because you're winning, you can set your "noescape" variable on ICC to 1 and NOW if anyone disconnects on you, you're automatically given the win! (Note that both player's must have this variable set this way, otherwise if one player disconnects, the game is saved and can be resumed later. If you wish, you can set it up so that you are only playing others who do have this variable turned on.)

23 Can I send a private message to another player, whether he/she is currently logged on or not?

The servers have the ability to send a private message to another player, even if that player is not currently logged on! If they are not logged on, the message will be saved and the next time that they do log on, they will see this message.

24 While playing, is there a method to help fight against Internet "lag" so that I'm not penalized for a slow connection?

The servers have a way to help fight against Internet lag. This is a program, built right into most interfaces, known as Timeseal on FICS and Timestamp on ICC.  Once you make your move it is "stamped" with the current time. This way if it takes a moment or two to reach its destination, it can be proven that you actually made this move when you did. Yahoo! offers nothing in the way of this.

25 Are administrators on-line that can help answer questions that I may have?

In all the time that I have spent playing poker, blackjack, backgammon, and now chess at Yahoo!, I have never seen an administrator on-line answering questions at any time. Not once. And yet the chess servers ALWAYS have someone available who can help answer your questions.

26 Are players who use bad language kicked off the server?

Although you can censor people who use bad language at Yahoo! (you can censor people on the chess servers too) it is not even tolerated on the servers.

27 Can I watch a game without worrying about one of the players "booting" me?

If you're just interested in watching games, and not interested in actually playing, you can do so on the chess servers without worrying about someone "booting you." Note: if you set your "private" variable to 1, then the games that you play will be private and others will not be able to follow your games. However, you will find that very, very few players set their private variable this way.

28 Are there daily "new items" that inform me of new features, changes in the server, contest results, upcoming events, etc.?

When Yahoo! makes changes to their applets, whether it be the chess applet or the blackjack applet or what-have-you, the changes that they made are left a mystery; they don't inform you in any way what was done. The chess servers, on the other hand, via their almost daily news items, DO keep the players informed of the changes and updates that they make. These news items also inform you of upcoming events, contest results, etc.

29 Is my won-loss record against everyone that I've played, saved on the server, available for viewing at any time?

On FICS, you can execute the PSTAT command which is short for "player statistics." This displays the record that one player has against another player. Yahoo! keeps no such statistics or your record against other players.

30 If I'm playing a timed game and I wish, for whatever reason, to give my opponent more time, can I do so?

If your opponent has been lagging or has been asking questions or what-have-you, if you wish, on the servers you can give him more time in your timed game. This option is not available at Yahoo!.

31 Can I "follow" a certain player (for example, a friend or a strong player) and automatically watch any games that he/she takes part in?

This is very easy to do on the servers with the FOLLOW command.

32 Are the rules of chess even being followed?

It was pointed out to me that Yahoo! is not implementing the 50-move rule correctly although I haven't verified this myself yet. Also, I read in the Yahoo! Message Boards that if your opponent has no mating material and you run out of time, you lose. This, of course is not correct. According to the rules of chess, in such a scenario the game is considered a draw.

33 Can I set it up so that I'm immediately notified if a friend of mine logs on?

With all of the different "lounges" that Yahoo! has, how are you ever supposed to find or meet a friend of yours, other than taking the time to jump into each lounge and look for him or her?

There are no lounges on the chess servers. Just one big "room." That alone would make it easier to find someone, but it's even easier than that... just add the name of your friend to your "notify" list, you'll be notified when they log on! If they are already logged on, you'll be sent a message stating such!

34 Are the ratings of the players even realistic??

I've seen dozens and dozens of players on Yahoo! with ratings that are five digits long! Currently a player with the handle "tim_trumpet" has a rating of 4830... and his record is 0-10-0... he hasn't even won one game! Another player I've seen has a record of 5000 something... and he has a record of 30 wins and 80 losses.

Obviously the formula that Yahoo! uses to compute/determine the player ratings needs much work.

35 Can I play over a game from a past World Championship game?

On ICC, you can examine, play over, and review every game from every World Championship Match since the days of Steintz. Yahoo! doesn't have a database of games of any kind.

36 Can I play in a tournament and win actual money?

Earlier today FICS offered $40 to the winner of five round, 3 0 tournament. (Recall that FICS is not a commercial server and is made up completely of volunteers!) Yahoo! does not offer any cash prizes of any kind.

37 Can I setup a certain position to analyze or review, either by myself or with someone else?

The chess servers have what is known as an "examine mode." Just a few minutes ago, I had the pleasure of showing a fellow player on FICS my "White to play and mate in 131 moves" problem, which can be found here at my homepage. While in this examine mode, the position was quickly set up and we were both moving each other's pieces back and forth, exploring different lines, which is what the examine mode allows. Yahoo! offers nothing like this!

38 Does the server automatically decide whether I'm due to receive the white or the black pieces?

It is considered "proper," especially when playing more than one game against the same opponent, to alternate colors; it you play the first game as White, the next game you should be Black, and vice versa, since White does have a slight advantage. In order to implement this at Yahoo!, you would have to actually "stand up" and then have your opponent "stand up" and then sit back down again in the other "chair" and have your opponent do the same. Trust me, this is a hassle! The chess servers automatically take care of what color you are due! Of course, if you wish you can override this if both player's agree simply by challenging your opponent and specifying which color that you wish to be! But on the chess servers, if you don't specify, the server will do it for you!

39 Is the entire setup and method that one finds an opponent for a game even ideal?

This will take a moment to explain.

At times I've seen over 2,100 people logged in at the same time in the Yahoo! chess area. By comparison, ICC, on the average, probably has about half that. But the players at Yahoo! are spread across many different "lounges." Yahoo's Java app apparently doesn't allow much more than 100 people to be logged in to any one lounge at any one time.

So, assuming you're in a lounge with a full 100 people, and assuming that 80% of them are already playing a game, this leaves just 20%, or 20 people, who are available as an opponent for you. But I'll bet half of these players aren't interested in playing at all... they may be chatting in the lobby or taking a break from their last game or whatever. So now we're down to 10 people as possible opponents. But probably half of these players won't be interested in the time controls that you are! (Some players only prefer zero increment blitz games, others prefer slower games, others prefer non-rated games, etc.) So, assuming that you did enter a lounge with a full 100 people (and many lounges have much less than that) and that you sat down and created a table with your favorite time controls and conditions, this leaves us with about five possible opponents for you!

What's unfortunate is that someone else, who is also your rating strength, may also be sitting down at a table with those exact same time controls in a different lounge waiting for an opponent... and you wouldn't even know it! The two of you could be, and should be, playing each other!! Instead, both of you are twiddling your thumbs!

With the chess servers, everyone is in the same "lounge"... it's all one, big room. Look how much easier it is to get a game: Lets assume that only 1,000 people are logged in to ICC, compared with Yahoo's 2,100. (I got this number from one of the administrators at ICC. He said that figure was about average, give or take 200.) And let's assume that the same 80% are already playing a game leaving just 20% available, half of which won't be interested in playing at all, and half of that who won't be interested your chosen time controls. But here this leaves a full 50 players as possible opponents!! And this is being generous with my estimates!

On the chess servers, if you're interested in a game, you don't create a "table" you simply put out a "seek." Everyone who is available for a game and who is interested in those time controls automatically sees this seek... it's flashed on their screen. Consequently, you play more games in less time! The concept of different "lounges" and creating "tables" is simply not ideal!

The above estimates sound about right because I find games within seconds after putting out a seek on the chess servers. At Yahoo, I could grow old before I find a game.



Note: This article was originally written in June of 1998
and was last updated January 19, 2005.

95% of the above will probably still be valid no
matter how far into the future you read this.

I expect to add more noteworthy items as I come across them.
(I can already think of about a
dozen more advantages which are
very minor in detail and are probably not even worth mentioning.)


The message boards at Yahoo!'s site are filled with complaints and "suggestions" for improvements. I have to laugh when I read these, because every one of these suggestions already exist on the chess servers!


Unless you are a "newbie" and you simply have not yet learned how to download programs and unzip and run them, I can see NO advantage in playing chess at Yahoo!. The only advantage in playing chess at Yahoo! is that it caters to computer newbies. (This, of course, is the same reason why AOL is so popular.)

I wholeheartedly agree, it is "easier" to click on a link, and wait for a Java applet to load, than it is to take the time to learn how to download and run a new program. But it was also much easier for everyone to learn how to ride a tricycle than it was to initially learn how to ride a bicycle wasn't it? And once you learned how to ride that bike, did you ever go back to your tricycle?


Here's what The Chess Kamikaze had to say about Yahoo! Chess.


It's been a year since I first logged on to Yahoo! Chess and, frankly, I'm shocked and dismayed at what it's become over the last twelve months. What used to be a pretty good site to play chess has become a dump for Internet society's human refuse.

Cheating is rampant; everytime Yahoo! tries to fix a loophole that allows cheating, people quickly find a way to circumvent it. It's now pretty standard practice for many players to improve their ratings by changing clock settings to "1 0" just before the start of a game, in the hope that their opponent will fail to notice and lose on time. The chat boxes are just a string of non-stop obscenities and the message boards are nothing but endless threads of racist and sexist crap. Evidently, there are a lot of adolescents with too much time on their hands and too little adult supervision overrunning the game areas.

My new advice to players looking for a Web-based server is to skip Yahoo! entirely. There's no point in trying to play chess there. I know a number of people who are just starting out as chessplayers who have all but given up the game because of the garbage that goes on at Yahoo! Chess.

I'm afraid that Yahoo! Chess is broken beyond repair. In fact, they shouldn't even try to fix it. People get the Internet they deserve by making it what it is. The idiots who have destroyed Yahoo! Chess have now turned it into a circle of Dante's Inferno; the best part is that they're too stupid to even realize it -- they're actually enjoying themselves.


I agree with everything he said except this:
I don't think it was
ever a good site to play chess.