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: http://www.tim-mann.org
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.
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: http://www.chessbase.com/download/cblight/index.asp
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: http://www.chessopolis.com/cdb-1_5.exe
Download Der Bringer: http://chess.kearman.com/bringer/bringer19.zip
English User's Guide: http://chess.kearman.com/bringer/bringer-index.html
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: http://www.ludochess.com/dotcom/download.php3
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: http://www.tucows.com/preview/194615
CDB - CDB doesn't limit databases to a size of 8000 games like Chessbase Light. It also converts CBF files used by Chessbase to PGN format. You can add games to the database by importing PGN, text, NIC, ChessBase, or Chess Assistant files, or you can add games from the user interface.
ChessPad - With ChessPad, you can create, edit, and view PGN databases. You can also plug in a winboard-compatible chess engine to play against, or analyze games.
Jose - Jose Chess Database is a graphical chess tool with an attractive interface that you can use to store chess games in a database. You can plug in a chess engine and play against it or use it for analysis. You can also view games and edit variations and comments.
Scid - With the Scid database, you can maintain a database of chess games, search games by many criteria, view graphical trends, and produce printable reports on players and openings. You can also analyze games with any WinBoard-compatible chess engine, and even use Scid to study endings with endgame tablebases.
BabasChess - BabasChess is an amazing Internet Chess Client for Windows. It combines ease of use with powerful features for advanced users, and integrates a fast and customizable playing environment with a powerful PGN viewer/editor. It also supports chess engines so that you can analyze positions and games or play against the computer.
Winboard/XBoard - XBoard and WinBoard are graphical user interfaces for chess. You can use Winboard/Xboard as a front-end for chess engines such as Crafty, GNU Chess, or Comet. You can also use it to connect to chess servers, like FICS, and play against people from all over the world, observe games, or just chat. Winboard/Xboard also serves as a viewer and creator for game files recorded in pgn format.
Arena - Arena is a popular Graphical User Interface for chess programs (engines) by Martin Blume. It runs on Win95, NT4 or higher Microsoft OS versions and is compatible to Winboard protocol I, II, UCI protocol I, II, Chess960, DGT electronic chess board & DGT clock XP, Autoplayer, FICS (Free Internet Chess Server) and much more.
Nagaskaki - NagaSkaki is a free, fully functional chess program. It features different personalities with ratings ranging from 2300 to 1472. The program shows the best possible move and evaluates the current position. An opening book is included, and it also has the ability to load and save pgn files. The software runs on Windows 98, NT, and XP.
ChessBase Light - ChessBase Light is a version of ChessBase 6.0 that is free to download. You can save, copy, convert, annotate, print, search, analyse, merge and classify games. It supports CBH and PGN format, but there is an 8000 game limit for each database.
More details about some version of those freeware programs
The program comes with the old, but strong, fritz 5.32 engine, and fritz 6 can be used from Chessbase light. There are also a few other free Chessbase engines for download. Aside from playing against fritz, you can use program to analyze your games, study opening statistics, and organize engine matches. One of its most useful abilities is to create and search large databases in either pgn or cbv format. You'll need an opening book such as the hand-tuned RybkaII.ctg.You could download a large database from Norm Pollock's site, or view the latest games from The Week in Chess.
n.b. to install in Windows 7, right-click on 532Setup.exe, choose Properties, select the Compatibility tab, and Run this program in compatibility mode for Windows 98 / Windows Me.
F11 (main window) to view the opening book.
F2 (while playing) for the coach's suggestion.
T (database window) for the tournament table.
O (database window) for a game overview.
Ctrl Y to have Fritz analyze and comment a game.
The only shortcoming of this program is that it doesn't handle UCI engines. Not bad for free!
As the most fully-featured non-commercial chess program, SCID is an essential download for anyone with more than a passing interest in chess software. It is primarily a very good and very fast database program, with similar functionality to Chessbase, but it can also be used for play and training. The original program hasn't been developed by Shane Hudson since 2004; however, Pascal Georges continues development.http://scid.sourceforge.net/
A good place to start exploring, once you've opened your database, is the Tournament Finder. This is an extremely powerful piece of kit, and better than the equivalent in Chessbase or Chess Assistant! You can filter the tournaments by Player (e.g. Topalov), Date (e.g. 2006), Average ELO rating (e.g. 2600), Country (e.g. ENG), Site (e.g. Linares), and Event, giving you an almost instantaneous overview of any information you could desire.
Right-click on a tournament to display the tournament Crosstable. There, click on a result to load or browse a game. Click on a player's name to display Player Information, from which you can display a Rating Graph or create a Player Report. Another way to reach Player Information is via the Player Finder.
Open the Tree Window for database statistics on the board position, with button access to the Best Tree Games List and a graphical representation in the Tree Graph. The Statistics Window gives a breakdown by rating and year. Or navigate using the ECO Browser and then create an Opening Report.
And that's just for starters! There's also a Piece Tracker, a Repertoire Editor; Endgame Tablebase, Opening Book and Correspondence Chess windows; play on the internet or against an engine; and three training modes. Not to mention comprehensive database maintenance tools. There's probably other stuff, too!
Perhaps the best large free quality database is Million Base 1.74, which comprises the formerly commercial Rebel database brought up to date with The Week in Chess. For a more selective database (of about 575,000 games), Norm Pollock's PGNs are a good choice. For recent games, as well as TWIC, ChessOK provide a free weekly database for download. Another place to look for databases is on Lars Balzer's Chess Games Links.
Timeseal, which allows the clocks to be adjusted for lag when playing on FICS, can be downloaded here.
You can give the developers suggestions and report bugs on the scid users forum.
This is one of the best downloads for the more advanced user in that it combines database software with an excellent engine interface, so that you can use one of the many free UCI engines for analysis or playing against. It has a good game display and analysis navigation, and perhaps the best database searches.http://chessok.com/demo/ca/setup_calight7.exe
Use Chess Assistant to play a game against one of the top UCI engines, to blundercheck one of the latest grandmaster games, or to manage a large database. There are some extra boards and piece sets from Chessassistance.com, as well as an opening encylopedia which can be best viewed as an ECO table. Other useful files, such as fonts, can be downloaded from here.
To install a UCI engine go to Engines/Engines setup.../Add... Choose Universal Chess Interface from the Type drop-down list. Press the button to the right of the Path box to browse to UCI engine .exe file.
Space or Ctrl-Space (game window) to start the analysis engines. Ctrl-Space gives many different ways to configure your engine output. Click in the Engine analysis to view the position on the board.
Shift F5 (game list window) split mode.
Engines/Engines setup.../Hint with arrows is useful for showing the current engine analysis graphically on the board.
Engines/Engines setup.../Personalities to edit the engine's built-in configurable parameters.
Open large databases (including chessbase files) from windows explorer by right-clicking on the file and using Open With CALight. This bypasses the 15,000 game limitation.
Use Base/Convert bases... to covert your large databases to Chess Assistant for Windows (.cdp) format. This will speed up searches considerably.
To Show List of Tournaments and Show Tournament Table you need to convert the base into .cdp format.
For player, tournament and ECO statistics, right-click in the games list and go to Statistics. This can be used as a player or tournament index for the database.
To merge games so that they can be viewed as an ECO table, create a new game, and, in the panel with opened databases, drag the dataset of games you want to merge into the new game.
There are quite a few limitations when compared with the commercial product, but despite that, it is perfectly usable (especially with the large database workaround above). It doesn't have the database features of chessbase light, but the ability to use strong free UCI engines and to save games makes up for this. The internet console is of no use to non-members of the Internet Chess Club.
The new version of Chessbase Light may have been a long time coming, but it was certainly worth waiting for! Essentially a read-only version of Chessbase 10, with some functions limited to 32,000 games, it is state of the art software for browsing chess databases, creating statistics, and replaying games. If that weren't enough, it also comes with the latest Playchess server interface and a top quality database of 12,000 games. An excellent companion for Fritz 5.32!http://www.chessbase.com/download/index.asp
You can use this program for browsing and searching databases, small and large alike. The tournament tab gives quick access to a list of tournaments in the database: double click on a tournament for a tournament table. The player tab shows a player's tournament and game history: right-click on a name for player statistics or to create a dossier. You can also enter the database via one of the classification keys: openings, themes, tactics, strategy and endgames. If you set a large database as a reference database, you can view position statistics from it in the reference pane when you replay a game, or right-click on the board for an opening report or to provide a quick opening annotation. Games can be merged and viewed as an ECO table or as a tree: use the best book line pane to show frequent variations from the tree. Other functions include game statistics, piece probability, game overview and exporting to html. The Playchess server is a good place to play chess on the internet, and the best for watching live chess from top grandmaster tournaments.
Update: Chessbase light 2009 updates the 2007 version with a few new features from Chessbase 10: frequently played lines in the reference tab; show next move in the book pane; and the ability to search a subset of better quality games. Perhaps the most impressive addition is the ability to search and download games from the online database of 5 million games!
Use Fritz 5.32 to create databases, and save and copy games to databases!
If you want to view games beyond the first 32,000 in your database, e.g. from the tournament or player index, or from one of the classification keys, simply use the Clip button (or press F5) to copy the selected games to the clip database, and view them from there! Shift F5 opens the clip database, and Ctrl-Alt-V empties it.
To get search results beyond the first 32,000 games, create a new search in one of the classifcation keys (right-click, Edit/Insert new Key...) that will find all games, such as Year: 1500-2100. After classifying the key (Tools/Classification/Classify all Keys...), click on the new key you just created so that the games are displayed in the games pane, and search using the Filter button at the bottom of the screen.
You can use Shredder 6 as an alternative analysis engine.
When observing games on Playchess, set Help/Spy... to show with an arrow on the board a threatened move, and Help/Opening Hints... to show the best moves from the opening book.
The program is read-only, which means you can't create databases or save or copy games to databases. Some functions are limited to the first 32,000 games of the database, for which you can use the clip database as a workaround. UCI engines are not supported. Playchess Nicknames only last for 30 days, after which you will have tostart again or enter as a guest.
The Free Internet Chess Server (FICS) is one of the oldest chess servers on the internet, and is a very pleasant place to play and socialise. Babaschess is without doubt the best interface to use on it, and sets a benchmark for high quality software regardless of cost. Of course, the nicest thing is, it's free!http://www.babaschess.net/
Traditionally, commands are entered as text in the text console, which is a very versatile and speedy way of doing things once you've learnt the language. Fortunately for those new to the server, you can access all the most useful commands and settings using the babaschess menus, by right-clicking, or through the info windows, such as the seek graph.
The interface is very highly configurable and windows, backgrounds, boards and pieces, move highlighting, sounds, console fonts etc etc etc can be tweaked and changed in countless combinations. There are also a few ready-made themes to try.
Babaschess supports UCI engines and its Analyze game, with its two score deltas for "?" and "??" annotations, is my favourite blundercheck from all chess software (although it would be nice if board sounds could be automatically turned off to stop it sounding like a machine-gun) !
Don't miss the additional graphic pack and the rating graph plugin downloads.
Visit http://www.freechess.org/ for more information about the Free Internet Chess Server and to register for an online username/handle!