If you look around for information on the world’s best chess programs, you’ll come across plenty of names like Rybka, Houdini, and Fritz. These programs have all earned their excellent reputations, as they’re great tools for analyzing games and playing against extremely strong computer opposition, among other tasks.
But most of that functionality is really important to strong players who compete in chess tournaments. Casual players likely won’t need such complex programs, and in many cases, they might not even get much enjoyment from the features offered – especially when the super strong computer engine beats them again and again, even when it is handicapped.
For more casual players, there are a number of simpler programs that can suffice to give them a good chess experience without all of those added frills. And for many Windows users, one of those programs – Chess Titans – may be pre-installed on their computer.
About Chess Titans
Chess Titans is a chess program that allows you to play games of chess either against a computer opponent or against another human in “hot seat” mode (meaning you’ll both play your moves on the same computer screen). The program understands all of the rules of chess, including proper castling and en passant rules.
There are a number of options that you can choose in order to customize your chess experience. The most important of these is the difficulty level, which ranges from Level 1 to Level 10. These levels should be enough for most casual players to find a computer opponent that’s about right for their level of play. You can also choose to play white or black, as well as customize many of the graphical options. The default options worked fine for me, though you can choose whether or not you want all of the special animations and sounds, and you can adjust the graphics quality in order to strike the right balance between beauty and speed (especially useful if you’re playing on an older computer).
Other options are helpful for those who want to get some assistance from the computer while playing. You can allow the computer to show you tips during play, which can be good for new players who would be completely lost without some move suggestions. You may also turn on graphical options that make it clear what the last move was, as well as an option that shows you all of the possible legal moves when you pick up a piece. Chess Titans also keep a full record of all of your game statistics, letting you know your record against the computer opponent at each individual level as well as overall.
Level of Play
One of the big questions out there about Chess Titans is about the strength of the engine. With ten different levels of play, there’s definitely a good range here for a wide variety of players – but just how strong is it?
First, it’s worth noting that the speed of your computer will have a rather large impact on the strength of Chess Titans on your machine. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with some general estimates. Looking around the Internet, it seems that most people put the highest levels of Chess Titans in the range of 1600-1800 on the FIDE or USCF rating scales.
Having played this computer several times, this seems like a reasonable estimate – with some very large caveats. First of all, the strength of the computer varies tremendously depending on the kind of position you’re playing in. In a positional sense, Chess Titans play rather weakly, particularly when it comes to king safety. In several games, I was able to win material from the computer when it only realized too late that it had to sacrifice material to ward off a strong attack. At the same time, it won’t outright blunder material (by leaving a piece en prise or vulnerable to a 2-3 move tactic) and will take advantage of the tactical errors you make.
In other words, it’s similar to any computer program – only in a much more exaggerated sense. Expect Chess Titans at the highest levels to make few direct tactical errors when it comes to protecting its pieces, but to have very little understanding of how to play a position when there isn’t an obvious target. At lower levels, this also applies, but there will be more blunders thrown in to weaken the overall playing strength.
Chess Titans Limitations
One of the big limitations of Chess Titans is the inability to set a time control. Instead, you’ll have to wait for the computer to make a move on its own schedule. This means that while the computer plays very quickly on lower levels, it plays somewhat slowly at higher settings (though on modern computers, it will still play reasonably fast).
It also seems as though Chess Titans has been removed from Windows 8 after appearing in Windows 7 and Windows Vista. While there may be ways to download Chess Titans (none official, so none especially recommended), one of the many other free chess programs on the market should suffice for novice players, so there’s no reason to search this one out if it isn’t already on your computer.