Deep Green


I bought the chess app Deep Green for the iPod last week. It’s a very good, well designed chess application but I’m having a hard time saying anything beyond that: I’m not very good at chess.

As a child, I never played much of it. Sure, we had a chessboard but by the time I was old enough to grasp the intricacies of chess and graduate from “checkers”, I was already enraptured by Mario’s adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom. In my mind, chess was an archaic distraction from the days before the invention of TV games. The closest that I came to a chessboard, in those years, was Archon.

In my preteens I received one of those birthday videogames from someone that didn’t know better (we’ve all had those) that had me smiling in appreciation while, under my breath, I muttered “this isn’t Axelay, damnit”: The Chessmaster. I played it a handful of times, mostly lost, learned about castling, and never touched the cartridge again. The Super Nintendo controller wasn’t the ideal interface for chess. It was clunky and slow, though back then few people minded.

On the iPod, Deep Green‘s input is perfect. You can either drag a piece, with a highlight showing where you are about to place it and if you can place it there, or press it to select it and then press on a tile to move it there. Any errors, quite possible on such a small screen, can be instantly fixed by hitting the ever present undo button. It mitigates the fat finger factor. The only problem that I’ve ran into is with the pieces on the far right of the board which sometimes don’t register my annoyed taps on the screen, but I don’t know if this is a problem with the app or my iPod.

My chess life, after The Chessmaster, consisted of pirated copies of Battle Chess, and its variants, and the built-in in OSX many, many years later (last year, actually.) I think Battle Chess was the one game everyone with a floppy drive had and nobody played it for the actual chess. I remember being enthralled by the animations in that game and the chess was nothing more than a means to get those animations. The novelty wore thing since battle sequences that take longer than the actual decision making of chess are about as much fun as waiting for a bus in the winter. Once I managed to see all of them, including having the king take the queen, I was done with it.

Deep Green has none of that. It’s bare bones except where it counts: stability, usability, speed, and a good computer opponent. The stability is particularly welcome. My evenings at home in London over the summer, alone and internetless, were often accompanied by Unfortunately, when it wasn’t kicking my ass, it had a tendency to brainfreeze during the computer’s turn. The first time it happened I thought: “damn, my last move was so smart it completely blew the computer’s fucking mind;” the second time, I was a little less self-congratulatory: “damn, my last move must have been so stupid that it completely dumbfounded the computer;” by the third time it happened, I had given up.

With Deep Green, it’s nice to play a game of chess that doesn’t crash, has an intuitive interface, is speedy, and is portable. This makes it the best chess game I’ve ever had.

The only thing that I can’t comment on is the most important part of any chess software: the AI. I’m not qualified to judge it. I might know some chess tactics, but I don’t have any strategy to what I do. It shows: Deep Green beats me consistently on all but the very easiest of difficulties. How can I possibly comment on how well it plays when I’m so poor? (SEE: Edge Online: The Implications of the Skill Gap.)

I’m not very good at chess but it’s a very good chess app.

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