There is a sub-genre of chess apps available for the iPhone and iPod touch that don’t let you play any actual games of chess, but rather give you a starting move and 2 to 3 moves in which you must force checkmate. These puzzler apps can definitely be fun to ponder over and can help you improve your strategic thinking in chess, but there are several single star ratings in iTunes from people who didn’t realize that they were purchasing a puzzle app rather than a full-blown chess application. In this comparative review, I’ll be looking at several chess puzzle apps (Chess Problems, Chess Quest, and Chess Puzzler) and one of the full-fledged chess applications that comes with a set of puzzles, Caissa Chess Pro with Puzzles.
Chess Quest ($2.99; direct iTunes link) was mentioned multiple times in several of the chess forums that I read as a good source of chess puzzles, so I purchased it and reviewed it previously here. The application offers 1200 positions with tactical solutions and the app claims “most of which were created particularly for this application.” However, that feature may in fact be the huge shortcoming of the application. I’ve found that 1 out of every 10 or so puzzles seems to be entirely incorrect, indicating a solution that is by no means a guaranteed win for white or checkmate. I’ve actually asked for my money to be refunded because of this, but have not heard back from Apple as of yet. When the puzzles have accurate solutions, they are definitely cool and useful, but Chess Quest still has a few design flaws. There is no engine included in the application, so you are not allowed to make incorrect moves. Chess Quest only lets you follow moves that are in its book of solutions, and therefore it can end up being a game of trial and error, rather than a true learning experience. One nice feature of the app is that it allows you to export the PGN of the puzzle. Review Rating: Boo.
Chess Problems ($2.99; direct iTunes link) offers a variety of over 300 famous directmate, helpmate, and selfmate puzzles. Each puzzle in this application is named and dated and you have a certain number of moves in which to achieve checkmate. Checkmate is either achieved by you directly mating your opponent (a directmate), you mating your opponent with help from your opponent’s move (a helpmate, in which you move both white and black to achieve checkmate in the allotted number of moves), or by putting yourself in a position to be checkmated (a selfmate). The application offers no hints towards completion of any of the puzzles (although since they are all well-known games, you could search for the correct solution online or in books should you be really stuck), and it allows you to make wrong moves, suddenly telling you “No more moves” should you burn through the allotted number of moves. Overall, Chess Problems is a nice puzzler and the only downside I think it has is the limited number of puzzles contained. Review Rating: YAY!
Chess Puzzler ($0.99; direct iTunes link) was only $0.99 so I grabbed a copy, but I quickly found that it was even more problematic than Chess Quest with multiple errors in the puzzles, so I asked for, and received a refund for it. On the plus side, it does actually let you play chess if you like. Review Rating: Boo.
Caissa Chess Pro and Caissa Puzzles
I will be writing a full review of Caissa Chess Pro ($7.99; direct iTunes link) soon, so please be aware that this is not a full review of the application, but just a look at its puzzle interface. Since Caissa is a full chess application and engine, if you choose to play one of the 76 included puzzles and you make an off book move, the application continues to play out your move sequence, which is not only fun, but extremely helpful in discovering why your solution was far inferior to the textbook solution. Just like with regular play in the app, you can also ask the engine for a hint to help you solve the problem, which can be an irresistible pull when you are very frustrated with a particular puzzle. As such, I wish this feature were disabled while in puzzle mode. That being said, the only real downside to the puzzles included with Caissa Chess Pro and Caissa Puzzles is that there are only 76 of them. Review Rating: Yay! (Puzzle review; not full app review)
Keep in mind
While I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Chess Problems or Caissa Chess Pro with Caissa Puzzles for people looking for chess puzzles for their iPhones, you should keep in mind that most of the full-fledged chess apps available for the iPhone or iPod touch, like Caissa Chess Pro, allow you to set up whatever beginning board position you would like, so it’s entirely possible to enter in chess puzzles that are readily available online or via puzzle books and play them out on any of the good quality chess applications for the iPhone (which I plan on finally reviewing this week). Chess Genius ($9.99; direct iTunes link) even has the ability to import PGN databases from hosted URLs online, so you could potentially import an entire database of puzzles into the app.