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Subject: How to improve at chess (tactics)? rss

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Ola Mikael Hansson
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I've been playing a bit of chess (and variants) lately, and would like to put some effort into improving. While I've known the rules since childhood, I've never been much good at chess, and played too many other abstract strategy games.

As far as I can tell, my big hurdle is tactics - while I am aware of standard tactics, and if told there is a move in a position, can fairly often find it, in actual game-play, I often fail to spot both my own and my opponent's opportunities.

What's the best way to work on this? Doing lots of tactical problems, in order to build intuitive awareness and be able to spot tactical opportunities in real games? Is there good (free) websites or programs for doing such? (I guess a good book could be doable as well, though a program or website would feel easier to me.)

Or should I be looking at something else than tactics? My feeling is that my chess games against humans generally gets decided by tactical shots, and playing against computer programs (at easy levels), I usually lose due to overlooking some tactics.

Also, another advantage of tactics is that a lot of it remains the same across variants - whereas strategic ideas tend to wary a bit more, and while generic opening principles are good, specific lines become worthless.

So - how do I improve at tactics?
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Gastel Etswane
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First rule is that you have to play a lot to improve.

Join redhotpawn or some online game site to get lots of games under your belt.

Find a good chess database and analyse your moves before doing them. Don't use an engine, rather a compilation of moves from previous games. This will give you a bunch of ideas for each move and allow you to follow their progressions. Don't always select the most popular, develop a style which suits you. That way you will get use to positions as you see them. You might not win every game, but you will become much better.
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Pedro Pereira
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Play Play Play!

Preferably with players better than you and face to face. Join a chess-club, they usually also discuss games and do puzzles, basic end-game exercises, etc.

Check out www.gameknot.com a website for chess only. And an excellent as that. Every day you'll find two new puzzles, one easy and one difficult.

Try out different openings once in a while, but be sure to explore each one thoroughly.

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Michael J
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Do lots of tactics problems. There are tons of opportunities to do them online or mobile. I recently found a great program that builds its tactics database via crowd-sourcing. No more "$9.99 for 500 tactics". It's free, and there are 1000's of tactics in it. It is an iOS app called "Chess Tactics". I also like the online chess tactics server at http://chess.emrald.net/.
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Ola Mikael Hansson
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Pedrator wrote:
Play Play Play!

Preferably with players better than you and face to face.

Yeah, that's a problem - not going to get any face to face games. Is there any good free servers for playing games in real-time? (I know of several turn-based servers, but tend to lose track of what I was planning when only doing a move every other day or so...)

mjacobsca wrote:
Do lots of tactics problems. [...] I also like the online chess tactics server at http://chess.emrald.net/.

Tried that site out... wow, the time pressure feels harsh! Especially when I have to take in the whole initial board situation in a few seconds...

(Also, would have liked a nicer interface... I'm used to much nicer chess boards on the computer.)

Still, that seems pretty much like the kind of thing I was looking for. Did 45 problems there, and it placed me around 1150.
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Pedro Pereira
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unic wrote:
Pedrator wrote:
Play Play Play!

Preferably with players better than you and face to face.

Yeah, that's a problem - not going to get any face to face games. Is there any good free servers for playing games in real-time? (I know of several turn-based servers, but tend to lose track of what I was planning when only doing a move every other day or so...)


No idea about real time. What you can do in gameknot is making personal notes. Which is also an interesting option for you. Keep the number of days per move at it's minimum and make your personal notes for each move, why you did that and what you mean to do. Also, try to play only 2 or 3 games at any given time.

If you use the personal notes, you can go back and see what you missed when you wrote down that note. That's a good exercise.
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Ola Mikael Hansson
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For turn-based, I've played on www.brainking.com , www.littlegolem.net , www.schemingmind.com (Alice Chess is a cool variant!) and www.goldtoken.com - all of which (to me) have the advantage of supporting chess variants and other games as well. At least brainking supports making private notes for games in progress... don't recall about the others - been some months since I last played on them.
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Michael J
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Chess.com and Playchess.com offer real-time and turn-based games. I recommend those highly. If you have a mobile device, Chess.com has a great app that allows you to play both ways as well. But I do think mastering tactics problems is key to improvement. We've had this debate numerous times on this site alone, but I think that tactics are the weapons that grand strategies are based on, and no serious chess player can play without a thorough understanding of tactics in every position. At lower levels, most games are decided by a) blunders, and b) tactics. If your rating is 1150, those are the two things you should be working on first and foremost.
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henry moen
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A very basic way to improve tactics is to focus on the Four Squares in the middle of the board.

Often times (though definitely not always!) the player who controls those 4 squares wins the game.

Also.... comparative point values are important. Although Chess is not a Point Game, you can compare pieces by saying....

Queen = 9 pts
Rook = 5
Bishop = 3
Knight = 3
Pawn = 1

evaluating your trades in this way may help you keep ahead.

good luck!
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Ola Mikael Hansson
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mjacobsca wrote:
I think that tactics are the weapons that grand strategies are based on, and no serious chess player can play without a thorough understanding of tactics in every position. At lower levels, most games are decided by a) blunders, and b) tactics. If your rating is 1150, those are the two things you should be working on first and foremost.

Yeah, that was (as I said in my OP) my impression. However, the question is how to work on those in a good way?
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Puzzles are probably the best way to improve your tactics. This one is old-school, but good:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/1001-Winning-Chess-Sacrifices-Combin...

... any chance of getting up to SW London? Some face to face games might not be completely impossible
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Dallas Tucker
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While not focused on tactics, there is a guy on youtube who does all kinds of videos. He has videos of his own blitz games (he is a skilled player), commentaries on grand master games, etc. He does a pretty good job of explaining the ideas behind positions, and I have learned a lot by watching him. His username is Kingscrusher, and his channel is here. Additionally, he puts up new videos almost every single day, so there is plenty to watch and learn from.
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Michael J
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unic wrote:
mjacobsca wrote:
I think that tactics are the weapons that grand strategies are based on, and no serious chess player can play without a thorough understanding of tactics in every position. At lower levels, most games are decided by a) blunders, and b) tactics. If your rating is 1150, those are the two things you should be working on first and foremost.

Yeah, that was (as I said in my OP) my impression. However, the question is how to work on those in a good way?


The best way to work on fixing blunders is to focus on technique and routine to slow yourself down and help you dot your I's and cross your T's. Chess is about patience and self-control. You have to have focus to see the board, and if you are lazy or distracted your board awareness falls. It requires effort to look at an opponent's move, and analyze why they may have made it, not to mention look for any new dangers that may have surfaced. Yet a player who thinks his plan is so rock-solid that his opponent could not have messed it up will find themselves on the wrong side of a checkmate every time. You have to fight impulsivity, laziness, cockiness on every move. This is the real battle of Chess. It's actually my favorite part, because I think it helps me elsewhere in life as well.

Regarding tactics, the best way to work on those is to do them. Everyone has their own favorite tactics book, but I prefer tactics that come from real-world situations rather than made-up games. But there is no substitute for doing them, over and over, over and over. You WILL get better if you do this.
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Getting better at chess is an iterative process. In general, You play, you lose, figure out why you lost (Tactical blow? Strategic misunderstanding? Tactical oversight?), and address that specific problem thoroughly through self-training methods, assuming you cannot afford a chess teacher, which, of course, is the best method.

But, your question was about tactics. I used http://chess.emrald.net as a tactical trainer and it works pretty well. You get x amount of seconds to solve a tactical problem. the faster you do it, the more rating points to acquire. The slower, the more you lose.

To improve, you should:

1) Have a basic Black opening repertoire that is simple to play that has some cross-pollination whether your opponent opens 1.e4 or 1.d4. For example, The Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6) and the Semi-Slav (1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6), which both have similarities in their middlegame strategies.
2) Have a basic understanding of Rook and Pawn/King and Pawn endgames.
3) Write down your games, always!
4) Analyze your losses with a chess computer and annotate your games
5) Addess the flaws in your games (your losses), rinse and repeat.

Don't fall in love with your wins. They do not offer anywhere near the teaching value as a good throttling you took. Concentrate on your losses.

A few other points:
1) Extensive opening preparation yields little results until you are probably at least a Cat A player (1800-1999 USCF), so skip that. Just learn a few variations and learn to play them well. Spend your study time elsewhere.
2) You cannot overstudy endgames. Knowing you can hold or win a certain type of endgame makes middlegame decisions easier to make. R+P/K+P are the most common endgames to get good at.
3) You cannot do enough tactical puzzles. These should be done automatically every day for a set amount of time, say, 15-30 minutes - as long as you can keep the interest in it. Everyday. Always.

Good Luck. Chess is a 10!

FYI: http://www.playchess.com - PlayChess servers. Live opponents. Great app on the PC or your Android. Live Pro games as well.

Edit: Avoid Chess Variants. These are detrimental to actual legit chess play, especially if you are looking at playing in tournaments.
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It's been said by many that tactics trumps strategy every time. Still, the best way to get better at tactics is to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the individual pieces, and the best way to do that is to study a lot of endgames. Boring, I know. Still, if you want to improve your chess play then many say studying the endgame will cause the biggest leap in your overall chess awareness.

I can only recommend books I like that are still in print:

"Chess The Easy Way" by Reuben Fine. The best starter book around. It teaches the right approach for each of the game's 3 phases as well as the basic goals of most popular openings. Nothing extreme, but you're missing a lot if you go into a game without knowing everything in this book! I know you want COMBINATIONS! but this book is essential to anybody wanting to improve their chess playing ability.

"Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge" by Y. Averback. Just what you need to understand completely of the endgame. If you know all of this you can figure out the rest.

"How to Reassess your Chess" by Jeremy Silman. More strategy than tactics, but if you are unable to assess the differences between the strengths of both positions how can you possibly know where to calculate the combinations you want to improve on? Combinations are not just for attacking the king, except in books of tactical problems like "1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices & Combinations". You should study those kinds of books as well, to gain a reflex into investigating sacrifices in your own play, as well as a generally improved pattern recognition capability.

But don't count on them too much for suddenly enabling you to find amazing combinations everywhere. It's really not like that. Brilliancies in real play are quite rare.
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Ola Mikael Hansson
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Whoshim wrote:
While not focused on tactics, there is a guy on youtube who does all kinds of videos. He has videos of his own blitz games (he is a skilled player), commentaries on grand master games, etc. He does a pretty good job of explaining the ideas behind positions, and I have learned a lot by watching him. His username is Kingscrusher, and his channel is here. Additionally, he puts up new videos almost every single day, so there is plenty to watch and learn from.

Yeah, I have him subscribed, and it was in fact stumbling across his channel that woke up my enthusiasm for Chess and variants this time around.

markgravitygood wrote:
But, your question was about tactics. I used http://chess.emrald.net as a tactical trainer and it works pretty well. You get x amount of seconds to solve a tactical problem. the faster you do it, the more rating points to acquire. The slower, the more you lose.

Despite the focus being so much on speed, this is addictive! I do think it's helping drilling me to spot potential forks, pins, skewers, etc. quicker.

Rating 1231
RD 23.6
Tries 292
Success 80.1 %


Quote:
FYI: http://www.playchess.com - PlayChess servers.

That's Chessbase's server, right? I thought it was pay to play? Can one access that for free, and if so, with what limitations?

Quote:
Edit: Avoid Chess Variants. These are detrimental to actual legit chess play, especially if you are looking at playing in tournaments.

Legit chess? I fail to see how Mad Queen's Chess (aka Fide Chess) is more (or less) legit than Shatranj, Grand Chess, Makruk, Alice Chess, Shogi, Extinction Chess, JangGi, Berolina Chess, Racing Kings, Chu Shogi, Atomic Chess, XiangQi, Los Alamos Chess, Grand Chess, Knight Relay Chess, etc... some of which have more history, and have gone far longer without major rule changes than Fide chess; others are more or less recent inventions from the last century or two.

What is common for them all are that they are chess variants I have played on various turnbased servers. Further, all of them benefit from similar basic tactics. I've fallen for forks, and pins, (or sometimes, but not often enough, executed them myself) in many of these. If I had to choose between getting better at Fide Chess, or improving across the spectrum, I would definitely rather improve at the larger variety of variants. Therefore, the repeated mentioning of variants in my original post, and the focus on tactics.

Chess is not a 10 for me, and likely will never be... but I still enjoy playing it. I think Shogi is more interesting, and went through a period of doing Tsume problems to improve at that - but due to the drop mechanism, those kind of tactics don't generalize well to other chess variants, unlike most of the tactics in Fide chess.

Still, I am very much the kind of person who prefers variety to focusing on one game - and I play for fun, mostly on on-line servers, with no intention of serious competitive play (though I did that in the past for Othello... two world championships, and numerous tournaments at a national level - I think that gave me more than my fill of competitive play for a lifetime). Further, much like Fide chess is only one chess variant among many to compete for my time and interest, the whole chess family is also sharing my time with a wide range of other abstract games, both historical and more recent.)

Sorry for the minor rant - the idea that Fide Chess is somehow legit, and other types of Chess not, set me off. To make up for it, and to provide some beauty to contrast my obnoxious words, here are photos of various Chess sets which I own:


Here is one of the chess sets I've had for the longest - an Italian Alabaster Chess set which I received for my birthday back as a child. Although very pretty, it is less than practical, as it is easy to mistake the bishops for pawns - despite me warning people about that before playing with them using the set, that mistake still happens all too frequently.


What I would currently use to play Fide Chess face to face. Fairly basic board, and the pieces are a subset of my Grand Chess pieces. One day, I hope to spend the £150-£200 to get a nicer set, but there seems to always be other priorities getting in the way.


The aforementioned Grand Chess pieces on the board meant for them (both purchased from www.mindsports.nl). While the design of the new compound pieces is simple, it is also very clear, and works excellent in practical play - the top of a rook or bishop on top of a knight's head.


I'd have liked to have a photo of Dragon Chess (not the Gygax one) here too, as I think the piece designs are nice... feel free to browse the image gallery for that game here on the geek to see them, as my copy is unfortunately packed away at present. Omega Chess would have been another cool one to take a photo of, due to the weird extra corner squares, but not sure where I've put my pieces for that one. (Things are a bit disorganized around here currently, as I am preparing to move next year.)

So, time to range further afield.


One of my four XiangQi (Chinese Chess) sets, and the nicest by far. The others all come with thin paper / plastic for the board - one of them is very good size for bringing along in one's pocket though.


The closely related (yet very different in actual play) JangGi (Korean Chess). One curiosity is that one colour uses the Chinese symbols for the pieces, the other side uses the Korean symbols... making us poor westerners even more confused - I do hope I remembered which piece is what and set them up correctly Would love to get a nicer version of this some day - this is cheap plastic pieces and cardboard board... hard to get hold of though, and my understanding is that it has seriously declined in popularity in Korea as well.



Shogi (Japanese Chess) is the Chess variant I think is the best one (so far). Wish I could afford to get proper wooden hand-calligraphed pieces instead of my plastic ones. So, let's go with another Shogi set, just because I like the game so much:


This is the full Shogi version of Dobutsu Shogi. As the pieces all have arrows indicating their movement, it makes it much easier to pick up for other people - for some reason, having to recognize a few Japanese characters seems to really put some people off, even if they have no problem having to recognize the 3-d pieces used in Fide Chess.



The small Dobutsu Shogi. Fine as a filler, or for introducing somebody to the concepts of Shogi (and still have room for skill and improvement), but not really enough space to develop much in the way of strategies - it's all tactics.

(I also have various other, mostly larger, Shogi variants - Tori, Chu, Tenyiku, Dai-Dai - but I am way too lazy to get them all out and set up just for a photo).


Makruk (Thai Chess) - while the game is draw prone (due to promotion to their rather weak version of the queen), I love the aesthetics of the pieces, with the horse being the only figurative one. Note how the pawn are flat on the top, so when they get promoted, one can simply flip them over.


Shatar (Mongolian Chess) - while again being impractical to play on (the pieces and board are rather small), I do adore the details on the pieces, as well as the woven felt mat used both for the board and the tube to store the game in.


Sittuyin (Burmese Chess) - which has the interesting twist that the game starts with only the pawns on board, and then a placement phase happens with flexibility on how to arrange one's pieces - thus, in this example starting position, the setups of the players are not symmetrical.


Last but not least, Shatranj, the ancestor of Fide Chess, and a game that was played at a high level for centuries. I quite like it, and I think these pieces are really nice (wooden pieces modeled after the style of old pieces that have been found) - there is a stark simplicity to their shapes, with no more ornaments than necessary - a single protrusion on the horse to represent its head, two bumps on the elephant for the tusks, a larger and smaller throne for the king and queen. Very nice set, from a purely visual point of view, probably my favourite amongst the various Chess sets I own.

So... a dozen chess sets - hope somebody enjoys photos of such!
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Russ Williams
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unic wrote:
Shogi (Japanese Chess) is the Chess variant I think is the best one (so far).

It's become my favorite chess game as well!

Quote:
This is the full Shogi version of Dobutsu Shogi. As the pieces all have arrows indicating their movement, it makes it much easier to pick up for other people - for some reason, having to recognize a few Japanese characters seems to really put some people off, even if they have no problem having to recognize the 3-d pieces used in Fide Chess.

Not sure if that was tongue in cheek or serious, but of course almost everyone in the west grows up exposed to western chess pieces, either from literally learning chess as a child, or at least from seeing it used constantly in advertisements, films, TV shows, book covers, articles, news about chess, etc. And there are only 6 types of pieces to distinguish anyway.

In contrast, relatively few people growing up in the west learn anything about kanji characters or the skill of distinguishing them. And in Shogi there are a larger number of symbols one must distinguish than the 6 pieces of western Chess.

I also suppose that distinguishing different sort of similar "random looking" 3D objects is also an easier task than distinguishing sort of similar "random looking" 2D symbols.

That said, I found I learned the one-symbol Shogi pieces reasonably quickly. I recently got a two-symbol set and am still not quite used to it.
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My Bad - I assumed you were actually serious about getting better at "FIDE" Chess.

So, sure, go crazy on the variants. They can be fun. I haven't seen a good one yet, however, but I'm old and crotchety.
 
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Ola Mikael Hansson
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markgravitygood wrote:
I assumed you were actually serious about getting better at "FIDE" Chess.

I am serious about improving my skills at Chess.

But I am not aiming at becoming the absolutely best I potentially could. There are degrees in between. I could spend 8+ hours a day working on improving my chess skills - but I don't want to. I want to spend maybe half an hour or an hour a day on it, for now. Still plugging away at chess.emrald.net/ - but I've started to see some repeats problems now.

In the end, improving is not a goal in itself for me - it is only important because it makes playing the games in question more fun.

I am also serious about wanting to improve at Chess variants, especially those that are closely related to Chess.
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Concerning Shogi, 81Dojo is a good place to play. I have not played much there, but the people I have played against have been very friendly. One even walked me through the game, commenting on moves and ideas (which is customary in Japan, but something I did not expect online). A great youtube channel for it is Hidetchi's Channel.

To play Chess960 online, I use http://en.lichess.org/.
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unic wrote:
Still plugging away at chess.emrald.net/ - but I've started to see some repeats problems now.
That is actually a good thing! It will help engraining the pattern into your brain. If you see the same problem for the third time, and you recognize the solution instantly: that's the state you want to reach! And then for a couple of thousand other positions Good luck!!
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LiefKleinKonijntje wrote:
unic wrote:
Still plugging away at chess.emrald.net/ - but I've started to see some repeats problems now.
That is actually a good thing! It will help engraining the pattern into your brain. If you see the same problem for the third time, and you recognize the solution instantly: that's the state you want to reach! And then for a couple of thousand other positions Good luck!!

Some patterns are definitely sticking. Removing guarding pieces and forks, I seem to spot quicker and more often now.

Defensive problems are giving me a lot of trouble though - where my King is in check and I have to find the one right defensive move.
 
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So, I downloaded the playchess client, and gave it a try. Seems one get a week for a free trial, and after that, it is a fairly expensive yearly subscription - not really suitable for me.

Are there any good free chess servers? (I prefer slower time controls - say 10+5 up to 60+30 - not really into bullet / blitz at all.)

I did play one game on playchess, in which I got white - I couldn't find any way to save the game as PGN after it had finished, so I took a screenshot instead:



I definitely felt the tactics training had been of benefit - e.g. 14. Nd5 which forks the queen / adding a second attack on the bishop, letting me win the bishop in material.
 
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Seriously?

You think 12 cents a day is "fairly expensive"? It's a quality service second to none, if you ask me. Don't buy that coffee and scone once a month or don't have that last beer when you go out, then you are even.

If you want a free chess server, you can try ... wait for it ...

The Free Internet Chess Server.



But, you can play any time control/color on Playchess. You just need to put up a challenge with the correct parameters. Go to the room "Play and Watch/Main Playing Hall and put up a challenge.

If you registered with an email on Playchess, it sends you your games automatically to that address, I believe. But, I've sort of been out of that circle lately and forget.
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Dallas Tucker
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http://www.chess.com/ has a lot of nice features for free. http://en.lichess.org/ is free, and nice because it is streamlined, and all of your games are saved.
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