“Record, analyse and store your competitive ‘over-the-board’ games”
This week I am happy for the opportunity to present another app useful for the club player, app called ChessJournal. It is created by Jon Fischer and Matt Lawson both from Bristol, England and it can be downloaded for free at the iTunes and Google Play stores. Jon was kind enough to help me write this article by answering to a few questions. Hope you like it and will decide to give this app a try!
Eugen: A short introduction about you and your team
Jon: ChessJournal App is a passion project started by a chess addicted designer and a chess intrigued developer! Me and Matt both work in the digital design sector and are passionate about product design best practice. Also we are both young fathers and are thus very short on time! When you combine our first two passions with a shortage of time to study, ChessJournal App is the logical outcome! We sat down together and asked ourselves, could we use an app to help club and tournament players study more, learning about their own games in the process?
Eugen: What is your chess story?
Jon: I have been playing chess since I was five years old and hover around the 1800 ELO (145 – 150 ECF). Matt knows the moves and would like to improve but probably needs a better coach than me!
I’ve been an avid club and tournament player in the Bristol and District chess league (in the UK) since 2004. Like a lot of adults I have noticed minimal change in my chess performances over the last decade. Every year the grades come out, every year I’m 145 ECF. Last year I decided to put down my openings books and started seriously studying my own games and nothing else.
- No openings
- No ending study or puzzles
- No tactics trainers
- Just me and my games
This year (using ChessJournal App) I have achieved my highest ever rating performance of 159 ECF (1892 ELO). An improvement of 98 ELO. Anecdotally I have had feedback from ChessJournal users that they have seen improvements between 65 and 110 ELO points. Obviously I don’t have any hard data on these numbers yet, but the anecdotal feedback is encouraging!
Eugen: Why this app? How did the idea for it come about?
Jon: The concept of ChessJournal started from a love of club and tournament chess and a feeling that the majority of apps didn’t really help amateur players improve. As I browsed through the app store, I felt the majority of apps fell into one of four camps:
- Play other humans at blitz
- Tactics trainers
- A chess database of master games on your phone
- All of the above!
My problem with a lot of the apps on the market was they either focused on openings, puzzles, master games or five minute blitz. But the majority of chess coaches and masters agree that one of the best ways to improve is through studying your own games and learning where you personally make mistakes. Whilst I love a cracking game of online blitz as much as the next player, it isn’t really helping me make better decisions, learn from my mistakes or understand how my games are won or lost.
Funnily enough, around the same time I happened to read an article on the chess improver blog on the benefit of keeping a journal for the ambitious amateur. As I was reading the article I also happened to be staring at a shoebox of paper scoresheets from my regular attendance at local tournaments.
Thus me and Matt settled on the idea of a “chess players diary” that would enable amateur players to carry and study their own games wherever they go.
We started work on ChessJournal in January 2016 and launched version 1.0 in May last year. We run a lean iterative design and development approach meaning we are always looking for feedback from chess players and factoring in their thoughts as we push to develop the best chess players diary and scorebook available. We learnt an awful lot about what players need from a chess diary in v1.0 that we decided to go back to the drawing board late last year and rebuild the app from scratch.
We officially relaunched ChessJournal v2.0 on April 19th 2017 on both Apple and Android featuring a host of new powerful features such as cloud storage and the ability to set and track personal improvement goals across your competitive chess season.
So far the feedback has been fantastic! We are averaging 4 star reviews and above and we are receiving a lot of lovely emails (and new feature requests) from club and tournament chess players around the world. We have already planned and scheduled the next update for ChessJournal 2.1 and there are more exciting plans in the future.
Eugen: Can it compete with the big and popular guys such as Chessbase, Monroi, etc?
Jon: My initial response is that we don’t want to, or feel we need to, compete with the big and popular guys such as Chessbase. We genuinely take it as a compliment that ChessJournal is regularly used in the same breath as Chessbase!
There are similarities such as the storage and analysis of your own games but after that our focus on self study and goal tracking hopefully helps club and tournament players see the angle and approach that we are taking. ChessJournal is categorically not a database app. If you want to understand the 18th line of a sub variation of the Berlin defence then ChessJournal is not for you. We will never add a five million game database to ChessJournal.
However, if you are a sub 2100 player and serious about cutting out the mistakes, having easy access to your games anytime and easily sharing your annotated thoughts with your club mates and coaches then we feel you will get real value from ChessJournal. ChessJournal is all about your game and no one elses!
I grow tired of hearing 1650 rated players (and I include my former chess playing self in this category) debate the merits of opening lines and their theoretical soundness. The large software players in the market dominate at the elite and very strong club player level where, I agree, that you need to understand theoretical novelties and what different people have played.
I guess what me and Matt are saying is that we believe real chess improvement for the amateur player can come from a focus on your own games and therefore a piece of giant database software is perhaps overkill for a lot of players. But then thats just our opinion…
Eugen: What’s it competitive advantage?
Jon: Its free! Ha ha, seriously I genuinely feel that ChessJournal is excellent value! The app is free to download but to unlock all features (such as annotations and sharing of annotated games) we charge a modest annual subscription fee of £5 / $6 / €6 a year.
A second major advantage is that it is available on both major platforms, Apple and Google Android. We get a lot of positive comments from iPhone carrying club players grateful for the ability to store their games. Because it is cloud based your games can be accessed anywhere on any device. One of my best friends has an Android smart phone and an iPad but his personal ChessJournal is always the same, wherever he is.
The third major advantage is simply mobility. Because it is an app you can leave your laptop at home next time you attend that weekend tournament. We have built in full import and export features for PGN so that a player can input their games when they are at matches or tournaments and still export them to other well known popular chess database software.
Eugen: The app’s best feature is?
Jon: Personally I would say either the goals section of the app or the annotation timelines.
Goals allows a player to create unique targets and goals for their desired improvement across the chess season. They can literally make a goal anything they want but once created they can link important games to them as they move through the season.
The annotation timeline is a feature unlocked with premium membership where a player can create and save variations in the game and annotate key positions. I suppose I am just really pleased with the design of this area in the app and we are in the process of rolling out some even better user interface updates.
We have a solid roadmap of new features coming and are regularly receiving new ideas from the chess community. To finish I would say that in the long term we are aiming to create the ultimate companion app for amateur club and tournament players. This is just the start!
Thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk to you about ChessJournal. More information can be found on chessjournalapp.com
Valer Eugen Demian