Tag Archives: App

ChessJournal App

“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

ChessEssentials, Level 4

“We raise Champions!”

Past reviews can be accessed here
ChessEssentials, level 1
ChessEssentials, level 2
ChessEssentials, level 3
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
Level 4 (reference ratings 1100-1400) costs $2.99 and it also has 30 lessons, 30 puzzle sets and 30 tests still arranged in a well thought order. A junior at this level could become a regular at the national finals, while a club player could start giving top and titled players some headaches. In order to be successful with that, he needs to cover the following:
Mates
Lesson 1 starts the level with mate in 2 puzzles, same with how level 3 ended. We should consider this by now as a warm up, the same athletes do at the beginning of any training session. Please have a look at one sample:


Opening
Lessons 2 to 7 explore the French defence. This is a solid choice any player should consider using at one moment or the other of their chess career. The most obvious advantage is defending the f7-weak spot, as well as being involved in the fight for the center. The downside is having difficulty in activating Bc8, but we view this as a small price to pay for getting the benefits coming with using it. Learning the English opening is something I have done as a junior and I have won many a game for playing it against mostly surprised opponents. I have used a particular line which brought myself as well as my students lots of wins, including at World Youth Chess Championship (WYCC) level. It has positives and negatives as any other opening line, still its success rate speaks volumes.
– Lesson 2 covers the introduction to French Defence
– Lesson 3 covers the Exchange Variation
– Lesson 4 covers the Advance Variation
– Lesson 5 covers the Classical Variation
– Lesson 6 covers the Winaver Variation
– Lesson 7 covers the 3… a6 Variation
Lessons 8 and 9 cover the English Opening
– Lesson 8 covers a fiamchetto line of the English Opening
– Lesson 9 covers other ways to play it
Lesson 10 covers the Budapest Gambit giving any player a nice weapon to use against 1. d4
Please have a look at one sample:

Tactics
Disrupting the opposing defence and successfully running the attacks is the theme here, followed by a more advanced coverage of the pin. Attacking the King can be done on any side of the board and pretty much at any moment of the game if the right conditions are there and the player observes them.
Lessons 11 to 16
– Lesson 11 covers eliminating the defender
– Lesson 12 covers distracting the defender
– Lesson 13 covers atracting the defender
– Lesson 14 covers the interference
– Lesson 15 covers absolute pins
– Lesson 16 covers relative pins
Lessons 17 to 19
– Lesson 17 covers king in the middle
– Lesson 18 covers king on the king side
– Lesson 19 covers king on the queen side
Lesson 20 looks at how to use promoting a pawn into a queen at the right time to your advantage.
Please have a look at one sample:

Strategy
Lessons 21 to 25 focus on the rooks and how to use them efficiently.
– Lesson 21 covers how to open a line
– Lesson 22 covers how to use open lines
– Lesson 23 covers how to close open lines
– Lesson 24 covers the 7th rank domination
– Lesson 25 covers the back rank weakness
Please have a look at one sample:

Endgame
Lessons 26 to 29 look at some very important endgame positions
– Lesson 26 covers the separate 2 passed pawns
– Lesson 27 covers general king and pawns endgames
– Lesson 28 covers the Lucena position
– Lesson 29 covers the Philidor position
Please have a look at one sample:

Mates
Lesson 30 ends this level with mate in 3 puzzles. The training session takes it up a notch!

Conclusion: once a player reaches this point, his chess knowledge and preparation begins to take shape nicely. The tactical aspect of its game is getting sharper and the endgame should be a definite strength. Important strategical elements are added for a more rounded preparation. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

ChessEssentials, level 3

“We raise Champions!”

Past reviews can be accessed here
ChessEssentials, level 1
ChessEssentials, level 2
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
Level 3 (reference ratings 800-1100) costs $1.99 and it is useful to any club player wishing to move up through the ranks. It is the first level with 30 lessons, 30 puzzle sets and 30 tests also arranged in a well thought order. They cover the following aspects of the game:
Mates
Lesson 1 starts with more mate in 2 puzzles, similar with the last lesson 22 from level 2. The idea is to remind the student of the real object of the game regardless if they’ve done the previous levels or not. Please have a look at one sample:


Opening
– Lessons 2 to 5 add three more openings and cover opening principles all students must know and apply: developing, castling, occupying the center and beginning the attack. One of Steinitz
principles says:
“The side who possesses an advantage must attack, otherwise he risks losing that advantage. The best way to come up with a plan for an effective attack is to identify a weakness in opponent’s position and to exploit it.”
It is possible a lot of players believe it is a no brainer to attack in their games; however for beginner to intermediate students this is not the case. On top of the fact they need to watch all the pieces, attacking can be confusing. I heard many a student saying “but I have attacked the opposing pieces time and time again” and that is true from as early as 1. e4 d5 or 1. e4 Nf6. Here we point to the fact pieces attacking each other are just the first step toward attacking as a concept. It also gives a few simple reference points when to look for attacks on both sides.
– Lesson 2 covers the opening principles
– Lesson 3 covers the Evans Gambit
– Lesson 4 covers the Two Knights Defence
– Lesson 5 covers the Danish Gambit
Please have a look at one sample:

Tactics
– Lessons 6-14 increase the complexity of the basic tactics covered in level 2. Lessons 6 to 8 in particular highlight how deceiving the pins can be and what opportunities appear during tactical battles. The player with a knack for tactics would have an advantage over a more positional player; however all need to know and practice their tactics by solving as many puzzles as possible and use them in their games. Lessons 12 to 14 introduce three typical checkmate combinations (smothered mate, suffocation mate and the well known back rank mate). They require continuous observation of the position in general and more importantly the position of both kings in particular. A good attacker would look at the defensive weaknesses of the opposition, while a good defender would make sure their defence does not allow any such devastating tactics against them. A good player must do both at all times.
– Lesson 6 covers the absolute pins
– Lesson 7 covers the relative pins
– Lesson 8 covers breaking the pins
– Lesson 9 covers forks
– Lesson 10 covers double attacks
– Lesson 11 covers the windmill
– Lesson 12 covers the smothered mate
– Lesson 13 covers the suffocation mate
– Lesson 14 covers the back rank mate
Please have a look at one sample:

Strategy
– Lessons 15-24 are introductory to strategy. According to Wikipedia strategy is:
“… the aspect of chess playing concerned with evaluation of chess positions and setting of goals and long-term plans for future play…”
The idea is to guide the students forward from the first basic concepts of value of pieces (pawn = 1 point, knight = bishop = 3 points, rook = 5 points, queen = 9 points, king = priceless) and it looks at how to increase or decrease their values during the game. Lessons 22 to 24 are a reminder sometimes obtaining a draw could be as valuable as a win. The stalemate, perpetual check and the wrong corner could save the student important half points when anything else would lead to defeat. The game is over and all hope is lost when we stop believing, so these lessons should become allies in fighting on to the end in all your games!
– Lesson 15 covers the relative value of pieces
– Lesson 16 covers freeing up space
– Lesson 17 covers opening lines
– Lesson 18 covers trapping pieces
– Lesson 19 covers the tempo concept
– Lesson 20 covers the zugzwang
– Lesson 21 covers the game of the 20th century
– Lesson 22 covers the stalemate
– Lesson 23 covers the perpetual check
– Lesson 24 covers thw wrong corner
Please have a look at one sample:

Endgame
– Lessons 25-29 continue the study of the endgame, focusing on the major importance of the passed pawns. Obtaining one or more passed pawns changes the balance of any position immediately and this is very important in the endgame. The students need to know how to play with and without passed pawns on their side. Moving one step forward when there are no passed pawns on the board, it is worth looking at opportunities to create such passed pawns; doing this at the right time could help the student achieve winning advantage and high satisfaction.
– Lesson 25 covers the opposition
– Lesson 26 covers the square rule
– Lesson 27 covers passed pawns
– Lesson 28 covers pawn breakthrough
– Lesson 29 covers how to play the endgame
Please have a look at one sample:

Mates
Lesson 30 ends this level with more mate in 2 puzzles, similar with the last lesson 22 from level 2. Reminder: the real object of the game is to checkmate the opposing king!

Conclusion: by the end of level 3 the student should become a good club player with a solid chess foundation. The knowledge of tactics and endgame play would begin to tip many a game in their favour on a regular basis. Players of this level would be solid additions to their club team for matches against other clubs; in team tournaments such solid players make the difference and help their teams win matches most of the times. The top players usually cancel each other out. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

ChessEssentials, Level 2

‘We raise Champions!”

A past review can be accessed here ChessEssentials, level 1
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
Level 2 (reference ratings 400-800) costs $0.99 and it is an important piece of a proper foundation for any chess lover. It contains 22 lessons, 22 puzzle sets and 22 tests. They are listed in a well thought order covering the following aspects of the game:
Opening
Lessons 1-2 focus on the f7-weak spot called “Achille’s heel” and all basic checkmates in the opening connected to this weakness. Please have a look at one sample:


Basic tactics
– Lessons 3-4 cover the importance of attacks and defences: every time there’s an exchange possible, we need to count the attacks and defences, as well as the value of pieces involved in it. Lesson 3 looks at the options you need to consider when pieces in general are under attack, while lesson 4 presents the options available when the king is under attack. Please have a look at one sample:

– Lessons 5-11 go over the most important tactical weapons players should use during their games. Anyone will make big steps forward just by learning and practicing these tactics. There is the pin and here bishops pinning knights happen as early in the game as the first few moves. I remember a retired lady (avid chess enthusiast) from my junior years; she would come regularly at the club and play many games with anyone. She could not stand the opposing knights and was very afraid of them because of the unexpected forks they could deliver. Her strategy was very simple: trade them knights as early as possible! After a while you could have success playing her just by avoiding to trade your knights. Yes, sometimes the strategy you need to win games is as simple as this one!
– Lesson 5 covers forks
– Lesson 6 covers double attacks
– Lesson 7 covers pins
– Lesson 8 covers skewers
– Lesson 9 covers discovered attacks
– Lesson 10 covers discovered checks
– Lesson 11 covers double checks
Please have a look at one sample:

Opening
– Lessons 12-16 return to this important area of the game for any beginner; now armed with all those tactical weapons, it should be easier to navigate the first moves of the game while looking to develop, castle, occupy the center, etc. In case the opponents do not do it, the student can take advantage of it. Here I have proposed 3 basic openings for study with the Four Knights being one of the most played at this level. Learning any opening should start with learning tricks specific in each case. You can win many a game just by knowing tricks. Amateurs you encounter in any park or club in the World are well versed in all sort of opening tricks. The majority of them have learned those from own painful experience (tricks played on them), so it would save you grief to learn them ahead of time.
– Lesson 12 covers how to play the opening
– Lesson 13 covers how not to play the opening
– Lesson 14 covers the Four Knights Opening
– Lesson 15 covers the Bishop’s Opening
– Lesson 16 covers the Philidor Defence
Please have a look at one sample:

Endgame
– Lessons 17-20 jump all the way to the endgame. It is hard to reach your destination when you don’t know where you are going. This is the next step forward from level 1 and it shows how the queen/ rook has to fight against the lone remaining pawn ready to promote. It does happen in beginners games; have seen it often how the player having the queen would check endlessly the opposing king because of not knowing how to stop the pawn. The basic pawn endgames cover the important concept of the opposition in the most basic endgame of king + pawn versus king, followed by how to play in king + pawn versus king + pawn with the pawns blocked. Some might argue they are complicated and it is too early to learn these endgames; in my opinion the students must challenge themselves from early on and having to deal with only 3 to 4 pieces helps. Last but not least grasping the concept of the opposition brings a sentiment of excitement which can drive the student forward to study more. It gives great pleasure and a higher level of self esteem to be able to know when a pawn could promote or not. This moves anyone to a higher level of expertise, clearly above the masses called “woodpushers” who just move pieces around.
– Lesson 17 covers the basic endgame King+Queen versus King+pawn
– Lesson 18 covers the basic endgame King+Rook versus King+pawn
– Lesson 19 covers basic pawn endgames – the opposition
– Lesson 20 covers basic pawn endgames – blocked pawns
Please have a look at one sample:

Mates
– Lessons 21-22 continue what was started in level 1, reminding the student of the real object of the game. It moves gradually from checkmates in 1 to simple checkmates in 2. One can never do enough of these and focusing on the opposing king (as well as protecting yours from similar disasters) it is needed at all times. Later on you will see that an attack against the king will be more efficient than an attack against a piece or position not including the king. The reason is very simple: capturing the king ends the game. I remember the Romanian junior national chess final from 1979 where a completely unknown player at the time (MF Witezslav Lowy) rose through the ranks of the 9 rounds tournament to almost win the title; his greatest asset was his knack to attack the opposing king in all his games. He finished tied for first, surprising everyone and leaving a great impression on me as you can tell.
– Lesson 21 covers mates in 1
– Lesson 22 covers mates in 2
Please have a look at one sample:

Conclusion: level 2 helps the student establish a solid foundation. Using this knowledge could help them get noticed and be considered as promising players. Last but not least I will mention again that it helps the most by providing a plan for studying chess and all has to be tried over and over again in as many games as possible. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

ChessEssentials, Level 1

‘We raise Champions!”

We all remember our first steps in chess. Our first lesson about the chessboard and pieces probably came from our grandparents, parents or friends; if you were the curious kind maybe you saw someone play the game and asked what was that about. Depending on your age I bet the chessboard looked way too big and pieces way too many to control. How did you feel about the rules, eh? Did you spend a lot of time confused if indeed only white moves first or either can move if the opponent agreed on it? It seemed only fair to ask, isn’t it? I remember having a hard time convincing a number of beginners you were not allowed to start with 2 moves in a row; for some reason the local folklore had that as an important rule. How about the en-passant rule? That gives headaches even to average club players…

I was one of the lucky ones to have my father Valer Vasile Demian (IM-ICCF, national correspondence chess champion of Romania in 1968) as a mentor. Our chess library is today of a decent size and quality because of his passion. I got to learn chess bit by bit using invaluable books (collectibles today) he bought or magazines he was a regular subscriber for. The Eastern block had access to high quality magazines from former USSR (Shakmatny bulletin, 64) or former DDR (East Germany). They still contain buried chess treasures today (more about that in future articles). This is how I was exposed to the books written by G M Lisitsin. His book on endgames is IMO the best endgame book ever written and we were lucky to have it translated in Romanian (1960 edition). My father told me he read the book one summer when he was sick and by the end of it his chess understanding and strength increased by at least one category level. I did the same and found out I got the same jump. Years later I started to incorporate this into my chess teaching materials and proved this to be the case over and over again. We take pride in our students knowing the endgames from early on and playing them well above average.

These days the internet has radically changed the way we communicate and keep ourselves informed. The younger generations have apps at their fingertips and use them with ease. Of course there’s the danger of forgetting our brains are still the best apps we can use and here is where our mission comes from. Back in 2012 I have decided to create and offer a chess app based on our method, one containing the minimum knowledge a club player would need to be able to play at a solid candidate master level by the end of level 6. Of course there are tens of thousands of apps out there, many of them offering chess content in one form or another. It is not easy to make yourself visible and this is one reason why I am writing a series of articles about it. My hope is more players will see the benefit of checking our app out.

The app is called “ChessEssentials“, it was released in 2013 and it is available at the iTunes store. It has 6 levels out of which 4 are available right now (March 2017). I am quite a bit behind in my original optimistic schedule; in that one all 6 levels should have been available by now. Lately I have concentrated on doing a major app upgrade together with my programmer (released on Mar 17th, 2017), as well as working hard on putting together level 5 (about 60% done). It is not easy to do that in your spare time when the goal is to provide value to those choosing to download it.

Level 1 (reference ratings 0-400) is free and it focuses on the basic rules of the game. It contains 18 lessons, 18 puzzle sets and 18 tests paired as “lesson X + puzzle set X + test X”; the idea is to learn a chess concept presented in a lesson, practice it with the respective puzzle set and verify it with the test. All lessons, puzzles sets and tests are numbered, so it is easy to identify how they are paired together. The lessons have a description of the concept being presented, giving the user the opportunity to choose whichever one they want in any order. This latest update includes an improved monitoring feature showing how much the user has completed percentage wise. Another improvement is to allow the user to go back and redo or solve unsolved puzzles by going directly to the first unsolved one (skipping those already solved) and so on. A completed lesson, puzzle set or test would get a check mark on the respective list, while an unfinished one would get a dark circle for an easier identification. The main idea behind programming the app was to make it as simple and intuitive to navigate as possible.

  • Lessons 1-9 deal with the chessboard, how the pieces move and the original position. They include how to write down the chess moves and offer a particular feature for this level only: when you tap on a piece to move it, all its possible moves are displayed on the chessboard. This helps visualise them for the selected piece at a moment when the chessboard might look way too big and a Bh1-a8 move might as well be from one continent to another! We were all in those shoes and see it every day with our new students.
  • Lessons 10 covers the basic mates queen + king vs king and rook + king vs king.
  • Lesson 11 covers the basic mates 2 bishops + king versus king, bishop + knight vs king, 2 knights + king versus king + pawn (to show it is possible) and one sample king +2 pawns vs king. All are mates in 1, except one mate in 2. These are fundamental endgame positions a player needs to know for an obvious reason: we need to know what the target is. The fact we have the minimum number of pieces on the chess board for the checkmate to be possible, helps learning how to keep track of them.
  • Lesson 12 deals with the stalemate concept.
  • Lesson 13 with deals with other draw types such as perpetual, 3 fold repetition, lack of mating material, 50 moves rule and draw by agreement. It is important to know them as soon as possible to have a clear idea how any game could end.
  • Lessons 14-18 deal with 1 move checkmate from any position, checkmate delivered by a queen (#14), rook (#15), bishop (#16), knight (#17) and pawn (#18). Here the idea is to make you aware any piece (except the king) can checkmate at anytime if the right conditions/ positions are present; in other words any player must pay attention to the board constantly from the first to the last move!

Below I have chosen a few simple puzzles for better understanding. Please select each puzzle from the pull-down menu on top of the diagram.

Conclusion: level 1 teaches the rules and the object of the game. This way a beginner learns what to play for and it is less likely it will wander around aimlessly in their games. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian