The subject of computer chess engines has been filled with controversy in recent years, leading to ample confusion on the part of the consumers. Programmers and general public alike have tossed around a multitude of ridiculous and not-so-ridiculous allegations of theft and plagiarism. At the end of the day, I still don’t know what 90% of that technical computer stuff even means – and I’m sure the majority of my readers are in the same boat. So I decided to do some good research and write an article about the Top 3 FREE Computer Chess Engines. I hope this article will provide some guidance on the subject of free computer chess programs, and point you in the right direction on improving your chess game without breaking the bank.
Houdini Chess – Freakishly Strong While Subtly Positional
Houdini Chess is a Free chess engine that has conquered the world of computer chess in the last 2 years. While the latest versions of Houdini cost about $50 USD, version 1.5a is completely free to the general public. Although, it is a closed-source program so it is not possible for programmers to view its’ code. Houdini Chess has risen to the top spot on every rating list that will include it, although some controversy has surrounded this computer chess program. Houdini Chess was programmed by Robert Houdart, who has widely admitted that he incorporated code from previously existing chess engines such as Firebird and Crafty. A debate is currently taking place in the world of computer chess whether it is acceptable to “quote” another author’s programming work to make your own programming stronger. By all means – this is irrelevant to the consumer. Houdini is a freakishly strong program that allows the user a variety of different training exercises, including playability in Chess960. Houdini Chess is famous for it’s overwhelming strength in positional chess, a very rare quality for a computer chess engine. As with many computer chess programs, the downside of Houdini Chess is that it is only available on Windows (sorry Mac users!). Houdini Chess is widely acknowledged as the strongest computer chess program, having beaten Rybka 4 in what has to be seen as an unofficial world computer chess championship earlier in 2011 – solidly winning 23.5 – 16.5 in a 40 game match.
FireBird Chess – Open-Source, Free, and Over 3000 Elo
Firebird Chess is considered to be one of the best computer chess programs in the world, and it is also 100% Free. Another bonus of Firebird Chess for the chess community is that the programmers have published the code as open-source – meaning that anyone (with a heavy background in programming) can easily check out the code. Open-source chess programs are becoming the new wave, as the entire world-wide community can freely chime in with suggestions for improvement. There is also some controversy associated with Firebird Chess as Vasik Rajlich, the founder and head of the Rybka team, has alleged that the programmers of Firebird Chess copied nearly all aspects of Rybka during the design process. However, this claim has never been substantiated with concrete proof and it sure looks like it never will be. Unfortunately Firebird Chess is also only available on Windows based operating systems, hopefully we’ll see more free chess engines for Macs in the future. Firebird Chess is one of the strongest computer chess engines today, and is a great addition to the arsenal of the serious chess player.
Stockfish Chess is the most user-friendly computer chess engine on the market, and by on the market I do mean it is completely Free. One of the coolest things about Stockfish Chess is that the programmers have made this chess engine compatible with nearly every computer operating system around (Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Android!) You can also download Stockfish Chess for your iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad – again provided 100% free so you can study chess on the move. While computer chess engines are notorious for difficult user interfaces, I found Stockfish Chess to be refreshing in that it is much easier to navigate. Stockfish Chess is also open-source, and the programmers actively encourage it’s free distribution to the general chess public. On most computer chess program rating lists, Stockfish Chess comes in around #3 behind Houdini and Rybka.