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Lucas Chess

Homepage: www-lucaschess.rhcloud.com/

Source Code: code.google.com/p/lucaschess/

Platform: Windows only, but runs fine with Wine

License: GPL v3

Lucas Chess is one of the most comprehensive chess learning tools for engine assisted training. It contains a wide selection of useful learning methods and chess tools to aid beginners and advanced players alike. The preconfigured engine opponents range in strength from novice to grandmaster and can be good sparing partners to players of any level. Many of the featured playing and learning modes have a playful competitive component that motivates to learn and improve.

The program is free software and there are two versions: One is for regular installations, the other is a transportable version that requires no setup. Lucas Chess is being updated quite often and it's worth checking out newer versions every once in a while.

There is no real manual though and figuring out many of the functions is an exercise normally left to the user. This guide serves as a manual and entry point to Lucas Chess and its approach to computer assisted chess learning.

Play Mode

In play mode you can start games against an engine of your choice with freely adjustable settings. There are no ratings in this mode and you can use the tutor if you want (see competition mode below for more details on the tutor).

The engines' search depth or search time can be set and you can choose their move selection preference compared to your own performance during the game. For example you can make the engine always pick moves that are slightly better than your own, this basically means the engine adapts continuously to your own strength and results in interesting games. You can also select how quick the engine resigns or draws if it falls behind.

The personality button allows to finetune the engines' behaviors in even more detail. You can force them to use certain opening repertoires and control how they are acting in middlegame and endgame separately. It's for example possible to make the engine eager to advance pawns during the middlegame while hesitant to trade material. For the endgame you could make it more likely to keep both bishops if you want.

There are also so called “GM engines” in the engine selection menu, where the engines disguise as famous chess grandmasters with the help of preset personality options and fitting opening repertoires. Each of the following is available as a champion, expert and master version: Alekhine, Anand, Aronian, Botvinnik, Bronnstein, Capablanca, Carlsen. It's of course hard to judge how well the personalities resemble their famous name givers, but they have a certain entertainment value and offer some variation.

The tutor can be freely adjusted as well, with settings for the number of available hints, the engine used, the thinking time and whether you can use hints to take back moves manually. You can play without time limits, where the opponent engine is only constrained by its strength settings, or you can use time controls with a time allotment for each player and optionally a time bonus per move made. If you want to give yourself an advantage, it's also possible to add a time bonus to your own clock only. This might be a good way to play when you have set your opponent to be clearly stronger than you.

It's also possible to start the game from an arbitrary position that you can either setup manually on a board or import from a FEN code.

If you want to practice a particular opening sequence, you can force the game to start with any book move line you like. The setup dialog in question is organized in a cascading tree where you select a main line and then further submenus appear that allow to specify the variations. For example you might select the queen's pawn opening (1. d4) in the first menu, in the second menu you could then opt for the queen's gambit (1. d4 d5 2. c4), and the third and further menus would go deeper into the possible book variations. All lines are described with their name, the main lines and variations are designated with a yellow star. Once you have started a game with a specific opening, it will be added to the favorites menu for easier selection during the next game setup.

Additionally there are a number of engine personae for young players, they are named after animals and play on really basic level that should appeal to the youngest and newest players. As an incentive for youngsters, pictures of various things can be unlocked for winning against the kids engines.

During the Game

If you have selected an opening sequence in the game setup, you will be forced to play that line. For training purposes you get no indication of the next correct move before you make it, but if you try to make a different move, a pointer will show up to signal the correct continuation. Your opponent will of course make the appropriate move automatically.

Should you have no idea what move to make next, you can use “help to move”. This gives you an engine analysis of the current position with a list of possibles moves ordered by the ratings the engine has assigned them. Each continuation can also be put on an analysis board where you can play around with the position and get a better idea of where it leads. Remember that the main purpose of Lucas Chess is to learn, so don't hesitate to invoke the move help or any of the other guidance tools when you are stuck or want to understand exactly why you last moves led to your downfall.

The utilities menu allows you to get a more advanced analysis of the ongoing game, the analysis engine can be configured in detail before you fire it off. You can also consult the program's opening database here or view and modify a personal opening guide.

Another interesting possibility is to add a number of kibitzers. You can use any engine to watch over the following types of moves: candidates, indexes, best move, best move in one line, select move, threats. The kibitzers will then display their analyses in separate windows with a board, move indicators and a list of analyzed continuations and their evaluations. While these windows are open the engine continues to ponder the position, you can see the increasing search depth in the upper right corner. The suggestions dynamically change as the engine looks further into the game and reevaluates the possibilities.

You can also save the game at any point in PGN and FEN format, or create an image of the board as a PNG file (the image format, not to be confused with PGN).

Competition Mode

The idea behind the competition mode is to slowly guide chess learners towards a better understanding of the game by providing a tutor (another engine analyzing every move in the background) and by gamifying the process.

To that end competition lets you play against increasingly difficult engines with fewer and fewer hints from the tutor as you progress. The different opponent engines are divided into five groups according to their strength. The engines in the easiest group don't have a lot of chess knowledge and make frequent mistakes, they are good for beginners to train with. The strongest group on the other hand contains engines that play on grandmaster level, like Stockfish and Critter. Each but the lowest group requires a certain number of points to unlock. Points are acquired by winning games against engines in the lower groups.

You play against every engine through six levels: beginner, amateur, master candidate, master, grandmaster candidate and grandmaster. Each level provides a certain number of tutor hints that can be accepted during the game. The beginner level provides seven hints per game and all the way down the grandmaster level provides no hints at all.

Each level also has you play the engine with increasingly difficult settings (each level is equal to the number of moves the engine looks ahead), a higher setting is unlocked when the one before has been beaten once as white and once as black. The difficulty of a game stems in turn from the combination of allowed hints and the strength settings for the opponent. The awarded points per won game factor in both level and strength, but each combination grants points only once, repeats are not rewarded with points.

These are the engine groups:

Group Name Required Points Included Engines
TarraschToy none Tarrasch ToyEngine, Rocinante
Bikjump 600 Bikjump, Clarabit, Lime, Chispa, Gaia
Greko 1,800 Greko, Pawny, Umko, Garbochess, Ufim
Alaric 3,600 Cyrano, Alaric, Daydreamer, Glaurung
Rybka 6,000 Toga deepTogaNPS, Rybka, Komodo, Stockfish, Critter

The engines are not only quite different in strength, they also play noticeably different chess styles, which makes for some interesting variation while you battle your way through their ranks. It's not necessary to play all engines through all levels and strength settings to get enough points for the next higher group. You can largely choose which combinations of engines, strength and levels (hints) you want to play, as long as you get to the points goal of the next higher group. Due to the increasing requirements and the way the granted points are calculated, this still means you will need to play some engines from each group on the highest difficulty combination. The lurking star of competition mode is the tutor. This engine (by default Stockfish) is kibitzing on every move you make and if it finds it subpar, it will tell you and allow you to make the move it recommends instead of your own for as many times as you have hints available in the game. For both moves the tutor's rating is also shown in pawn units. The tutor's appearances are unlimited, but once you have used up your hints, you can no longer undo your own moves. It's also possible to limit the tutor's appearances to cases where the rating of its own move is better than yours by a certain margin, in absolute points and/or in percentage terms. The setting is under Options > Configuration > Tutor.

When the tutor windows appears, the recommended move and your own are shown side by side and you can step through the continuations the tutor expects for both. At this point it's possible to further explore your own move and the tutor move on an analysis board and sometimes there is also a third option, which is what the opponent engine expected you to do.

It's important to pay close attention to the move ratings, because sometimes the tutor's suggestion is only marginally better than your own move, or maybe you intentionally want to push the game in another direction. Remember that you can only accept the tutor move a limited number of times per game, if your own move wasn't that bad you might want to stick with it, even if the suggestion is obviously better. Try to reserve the hints for truly questionable moves and catastrophic blunders. On the other hand you might want to accept hints that only give you a slight advantage in order to keep the game tipped in your favor as it progresses.

Once you have decided which move to make, you are returned to the game with the chosen move executed and your hints counter decreased by one if you decided against your own original move.

It's important to remember that no clock is running in competition mode, so take your time for every move and move only when you have a plan. An often stated chess adage attributed to chess champion Emanuel Lasker goes: “A bad plan is better than no plan at all.”

This system works surprisingly well to teach chess. The tutor shows where you are making mistakes, but because you can only accept the better move a couple of times it's not a free pass to win the game. Thanks to this, the tutoring is gentle enough to just nudge you into the right direction occasionally and it makes you actively analyze your own moves and the suggestions. In games against the more difficult engines, where you are pushing the boundaries of your own playing strength, the balancing between sticking to your own move and using a precious hint is a fun learning experience.

Additionally you can also take back moves you have made, even if the tutor did not disagree with you. Taking back a move also uses up a hint though.

If you get stuck with your progress, try switching to another engine opponent from the same group. Playing against different engines is not only more interesting, it might also help your tactical thinking to face contrasting approaches to chess strategy and it better emulates the experience of playing with human opponents.

Elo-Rating Mode

With the Elo modes the player can get a better idea of his playing strength. It might not be accurate enough to reflect real over-the-board strengths, but it should at least indicate a rough performance level.

Lucas-Elo

In this mode you can play games without time control against a list of engine opponents that have ratings between 158 and 3091. You start with a rating of exactly zero and can only play against opponents in the vicinity of your rating, which means you start at the very bottom and slowly fight your way up. In the list of engine personalities you can see the rating changes that you get for a win/loss/draw. Instead of picking a specific opponent, you can also battle a random engine in a certain rating range, again limited by your own rating.

There are no aids like the tutor or in-game analysis in this mode, it's just you and your opponent and the game's outcome determines how your rating changes. This is a great way to figure out a more or less realistic rating for your playing strength, because the engine ratings are adjusted to approximate real world player strengths. It's a little unfortunate though that Lucas Chess puts the initial rating at zero. Most players will in all likelihood be above and beyond that rating and it will take a number of rather less interesting games to arrive at your “real” rating. It would have probably been wiser to put the initial rating at least at 600 or so.

Tourney-Elo

The tourney mode is meant to emulate games against club players with a strength between 1390 and 2530. At the top of this mode's engine list are incarnations of the grandmaster personalities that you can also choose in free play mode. Unlike Lucas-Elo mode you have an initial rating of 1600 here and the games are played with time controls (total minutes per player and optionally added seconds per move made).

Again you are limited in the choice of opponents from the list by your own current rating and can also opt to play a random engine in a certain range. Like the Lucas-Elo mode the tourney games are devoid of helpers of any kind. If you want to establish your playing strength with time controls this is the right option for you.

Fics-Elo & Fide-Elo

These modes are quite different from the other two, they are more akin to the “Play Like a Grandmaster” feature from the trainings menu. You select a rating range for your opponent and then a recorded game from one of the databases is opened.

The idea is that you try to make the best move you can come up with and if you make a move other than the recorded one, yours is compared to the move that has really been played in the game. An engine adjudicator then computes a rating for both moves and if yours is better you get the difference in points, if the original move is better you lose the difference. Should you make the same move that has been played in the game, then points stay the same. Deviating book moves are neither punished nor rewarded.

The game progresses as it has been recorded in any case, if you tried to make a deviating move, it gets replaced by the recorded one as soon as you see the point change. If you end up with a positive score, you win, otherwise you lose. Your initial Elo score (1200 for Fics-Elo games and 1600 for Fide-Elo games) is then adjusted accordingly.

It's interesting how you are forced to make the best move possible and yet have no influence on how the game progresses. If the original player whose moves you are shadowing opted for an inferior continuation, you have to make the best of it the next move, at least in theory. In this case you might be amazed by how brilliant your own move was. If you are shadowing a better player, you can marvel at his genius while you make one inferior move after another yourself. For that reason this play mode has a high entertainment value and can be quite insightful at the same time.

Training

The included training tools are very varied and cover just about every aspect of chess, from opening theory to tactics and endgame practice. Most of the trainings can help to better understand chess or to memorize certain key strategies. It's a good idea to try them all at one point to see what suits you.

Training Positions

The numerous training positions included with Lucas Chess are divided into several categories, like checkmates in grandmaster games, endgame positions, and tactics.

When you have picked a category, you can select the position by number and are then presented with the board. The task is to find the (presumably optimal) move that has been played or needs to be played in that position. There are two different kinds of raining positions available.

The first has a predetermined sequence of moves and as long as the tutor is enabled you can only make the right move, if you try to make another, you get a hint that shows which piece to move. If you disable the tutor, you can depart form the intended sequence of moves and make any move you want. In this case an engine will continue the game as your opponent.

The second kind offers only the position itself without a preset continuation and you play it against an engine. Here the tutor works like it does in free games and the competition mode.

Play Like a Grandmaster

This is similar to Fics-Elo and Fide-Elo training, but here you are in the position of a chess grandmaster and try to emulate his moves to the best of your abilities. Game databases for three grandmasters are already included (Capablanca, Hikaru Nakamura and Alexei Shirov) and you can download dozens more at the click of a button. You can either use the whole dataset of a GM and branch into specific games as you go, or you can pick one single game from a list.

Your own move attempts will be judged by an adjudicator engine with adjustable settings, the default engine is again Stockfish. You can make the adjudicator display his comparison only when you stray from the grandmaster's path or you can have it judge each move even if your great mind thought alike.

There is also a table with your past performances on a second tab on the right. Here you can see if you are making progress towards thinking more like the big chess players. The track record is separate for each grandmaster.

When you play with the complete game database for a grandmaster, you automatically branch into the included games as you make the appropriate moves. If you are in a position where multiple continuations from different games are possible and you make none of these moves, a menu will be displayed where you can pick how you would like to continue. In the lower right corner, below the move table, you will see which game you are currently playing.

As soon as you have left the opening book, the adjudicator will give you a (negative) score for each move that is the difference between the grandmaster move and your own. Double clicking on any move in the list will show an analysis of possible variations at that point and might give you a better idea of how you are performing.

Training Mates

Here you can train mates in four sections from mate in 1 to mate in 4. You start a session by double clicking on a row of the table on the right. The training sessions are divided into blocks from 15 positions (mate in 1) to 5 (mate in 4). For each position your errors and the total time taken for the block will be counted. There is also a help tool that shows the next correct move if you get stuck, but each use of the help counts as an error.

Find Best Move

With this training feature you can feed positions to an engine and then try to make the best move in a set of them. You performance is of course critically judged with points and the amount of time you needed to think.

When you first enter this mode there will be no sets ready, you have to create one first. You can use the training positions that come with Lucas chess by clicking on “new” or import your own by clicking on “utilities” and then selecting the import submenu.

Openings

You have two training options here, both are helpful for building a solid opening repertoire.

Learn by Repetition: Assemble your own training lessons by adding openings from the database or by creating entirely new lines yourself. When you have collected the openings you want to train and gave the lesson a name, you can start training as white or black and with any number of repetitions. Should you make a move that is not part of your lesson, a menu will remind you of the possible lines.

Training With a Book: This allows you to train openings with the whole book, but you can set some criteria for your own moves and the opponent's. The following options are available for the opponent move: selected by the player, uniform random (every move has the same chance to appear), proportional random (more popular moves appear more often), always the highest percentage. For yourself you can enforce that you always have to play the highest percentage move. During the training session the opponent will of course pick his moves according to your settings. If you make a move that is not a standard book move or if you have set highest percentage for yourself, but make another book move, a menu will appear that shows all possible continuations and their percentages. At the end of a book line you can see how many moves were made and how often you needed guidance.

You can also double click on any move in the list to get an engine analysis of the possible moves and their evaluations.

Your Daily Test

This lets you practice to make the best move in a position as a little daily competition with yourself. You get a set of them (5 by default) and make the best move you can come up with. An engine then judges the virtue of your move compared to the other possibilities, time is not a factor in this test. Depending on your performance you get (negative) points, the best move gives zero points, a lot of points means a move was really bad. After you have made your move, you can also toy with the position on an analysis board. At the end all points from every position are added up to your final score for the day.

The positions you get to see in this test type are usually of such nature that it's relatively hard to see a move that's clearly better than another. These are not tactical puzzles where the goal is to see the one decisive winning move. It's rather a weighting of possible continuations and their pros and cons. For that reason the positions are a very good training, especially if you often find yourself in real game positions where you have no idea what to do next. When you have made your move here, look closely at the list of alternatives and analyze why the best move is superior to the others.

On the start window you will have a list of your past performances. See if you can improve your score by getting it as low as you can. The settings for the daily test let you adjust how many positions you want to face in a test set and which engine to use with how much thinking time for the ratings. The default, Stockfish with 7 seconds thinking time, should be good enough for most positions.

Resistance Test

This is another interesting test of your chess prowess against engine power. The task is to play against an engine and to get as many moves as possible into the game without losing too much evaluation points. By default the engines are set to calculate for 5 seconds and the game over threshold is 100 points. It's a good idea to just keep the default settings or decide on different parameters from the very beginning to have an equal measure for all tries. You can play against any engine you like and the move depth is recorded in the list separately for games you played as white or black.

During the game you will see your current points in the lower right under the move depth. For every move outside the book your score will be adjusted according to its evaluation by the engine adjudicator. As long as you have a positive score, you have an advantage over your opponent, when your score goes below minus 100 (if you kept the default), you have lost the challenge and the current move depth will be recorded if you surpassed your previous achievement for that engine. You can also choose to continue the game at this point, but it won't count towards the resistance score table.

Training with the resistance test can be quite interesting and effective, because you immediately see your performance after every move and the incentive to last as long as possible motivates to think more thoroughly about each decision. If you are impatient to make a move even when no clock is running, or if you often see a better move just when you have made another, then the resistance tests might be just what you need to improve your patience.

Be sure to analyze your games postmortem for maximum training effect. It's especially important to look into your one big blunder if you were performing relatively good until then. Try to understand why you didn't see the blunder for what it was and avoid the same mistake the next time.

If you are looking for a real challenge, then the blindfold versions of the resistance test might intrigue you. You can play with all pieces hidden or with just either side invisible. All the other rules still apply: Test your chess strength and see how good your memory is at the same time. It's the ultimate battle for survival on the chess board.

Learn Tactics by Repetition

This training module drills you on making the right moves by repeatedly showing you positions according to a more or less advanced scheduling logic. The frequency depends on your performance. If you do well, you see a position only a couple of times, if you fail again and again, you are forced to repeat it until you get it right.

There are four modules: mate in two with specific pieces, checkmates from FICS database, tactics by Uwe Auerswald, and checkmates in GM games. Each has a number of subsections, for example the mate with specific pieces lets you choose which pieces and the GM checkmates are categorized by the number of moves. When you start a category, you can define a number of advanced settings in a manual setup or just go with a default configuration.

Additionally custom training from the personal opening guide can be added as repetition trainings. See Tools > Openings > Personal Opening Guide for further details. I'm not sure if this kind of training is really beneficial, I suspect it makes you remember positions and the right solution, but I doubt it does much to improve tactical cunning and understanding.

Resources for Zebras

This training module has an assortment of practices to train a better board view, to strengthen your chess memory and some lessons that might aid beginners in their quest to better grasp the intricacies of chess.

Check your memory on a chess board: You are shown a position and have a certain amount of time to memorize it. Then the board is cleared and you try to reconstruct the position by dragging the right pieces to the appropriate squares. Like the competition mode this module has levels (amateur, beginner etc.) and each level has increasingly difficult sublevels where the number of pieces you need to remember goes up while the time you have for memorization goes down. You unlock levels and sublevels by successfully completing the previous stages. See how far your memory gets you!

Find all moves: This module has two subcategories: opponent and player. Depending on the category you chose, you are faced with positions where the opponent's king or your own are in check and the task is to indicate all possible moves that get the king out of check. There is a twist though: The moves have to be indicated in the order king, queen, rook, bishop, knight, pawn. That means make all possible king moves first, then all queen moves etc. until you have made every possible move that gets the king to safety. The moves don't have to be tactically good choices, it's only a matter of finding the legal moves that stop the immediate threat, even if it they create a great disadvantage or result in check mate on the next move.

The module has 60 levels for opponent and player moves. The levels correspond to the number of moves that can be made. You start at the first level and if you find all moves, the next gets unlocked and so on. For each try the time and the errors you made (moves indicated in wrong order) are recorded. If you have trouble seeing all your options in a chess game, not only in check positions, this training might help you to improve your vision for valid moves.

Becoming a knight tamer: An exercise intended to get a grip on knight movements. You move a knight around with the goal to point it at an unmoving opponent king. Some tests also have some other pieces on the board which you must avoid. I don't think this training is very useful, unless you really don't understand yet how the horse moves.

Moves between two positions: This exercise shows you two positions side by side, the right being a continuation of the left. Depending on the level you choose, between 1 and 10 moves have been made to get from the left position to the one on the right. Your task is to indicate the piece movements in the correct order to get from the initial to the final position. For each try your time is recorded and the best (lowest) time for every level is highlighted on the performance list.

This is of course trivial for level 1 where only a single move has happened. From level 2 onwards this training requires and increasing amount of critical thinking and good board vision to determine the right moves, especially when pieces have been captured. The higher levels should provide a good challenge even for advanced chess players.

Determine your calculating power: This is somewhat similar to the previous exercise, but here you are given only the initial position and the task is to continue from there by indicating a chain of the best moves you can come up with for both sides. You have 60 seconds thinking time to study the position before you can start indicating up to ten moves. For the second part you have at most 240 seconds, but you can stop earlier and make the adjudicator check your moves. The engine then checks every of your moves for its validity and gives you points between 0 (bad move) and 100 (best move). Points for subsequent moves are only counted toward your final score if you made the best move before that. In other words only a chain of optimal moves counts.

When the adjudicator is done analyzing, you see your points and whether you indicated moves were even legal (denoted by a green check mark). The small buttons with the question marks behind each move open an analysis board where you can see all the evaluated continuations and their merits or lack thereof. The positions are all from real games and you can see the player names and the game's outcome below the board.

Making perfect moves in succession is not an easy task, if you are not a high level player, don't be surprised when you repeatedly get only one or two moves right. It's still a good learning tool, especially because the pieces on the board don't move at all while you are indicating moves. The whole continuation from the position you are seeing is in your head only, it's a test of tactical aptitude and positional memory at once.

Learn a game: This another variation of “moves between two positions,” but here you can choose a game in PGN format which is then displayed on two boards at the same time. The second board on the right is always as many half-moves ahead of the left as the level you have selected. For example on level 2 both black and white have moved once compared to the left board. You can choose to play white, black or both sides. Your time as well as the number of errors you have made will be recorded for the score list.

If you always wanted to memorize a particular game, for whatever reason, this is the right tool to do it. For tactical training I would suggest to use one of the program's better alternatives.

The board at a glance: Here you can train your chess board memory. You are shown a position for a couple of seconds and then indicate what pieces were on the board. At your option you can also increase the difficulty by opting to be asked about their exact position, the square color, if they attacked another piece or were being attacked. You can set a fixed amount of seconds for the memorization phase or set a number of seconds for each piece on the board. The so called “sites” represent different series of positions. After each successfully solved position the difficulty increases by adding more pieces to the board. Your performance in each session will be recorded together with the settings you have used. Depending on your chosen settings (what information you want to be asked about), this gets really hard pretty fast.

This exercise is a good training regiment if you want to play blindfold chess. You might want to use it for that purpose together with the blindfold version of the resistance test.

Training Ratings

This is the non-competitive version of the Elo-Rating mode. You can freely set your own rating in Options > Configuration > Non Competitive Mode and play against the engine personalities in different strength brackets without affecting your “serious” rating. There is no tutor or other helpers here, just a simulated rating mode without any actual penalties or benefits.

Tools

The tools menu is home to a number of essentials that no serious chess player should be missing. Especially the openings guide can help players to progressively refine their entry into any chess game.

Create Your Own Game

This tool allows you to freely build games move by move. You can for example recreate a game from a book, create chess puzzles or just test your ideas with this game builder. You simply move the pieces for both sides and if you want you can get move suggestions from an engine or enable an engine opponent at any point if you like. It's also possible to adopt a book opening line from the database and then proceed from there. All analysis tools including kibitzers and position analysis are also at your disposal.

You can also rate and comment each move verbosely by right clicking on the move list to display the extended edit area. Here you can also add variants to any move, either manually or with the help of an engine.

Games and positions can be imported and exported from and to PGN and FEN notations at any time if you wish to share your creations.

PGN Viewer

The PGN viewer allows you to view and analyze recorded games. You can invoke an engine for single moves or analyze a whole game at once. The latter can also be done for just one side and variants can be added automatically. You can also edit games to your heart's content.

From the database of your games played in Lucas Chess (hint: enable auto recording of your game in the options) you can also generate custom tactics trainings, play like a grandmaster lessons (you do play like a grandmaster, don't you?) and custom opening books. You can also run all your games through analysis in batch mode.

Your games database can also be filtered by a multitude of criteria and logical operators. For example you could find all games from the last three months where black's Elo was above 1500 and no more than 16 moves were made.

If you like to look at random interesting games, there's a “game of the day” function that gives you a hopefully intriguing game to view and take apart.

Database

The are two separate databases, one for full games and one for positions. Both allow you to get a good overview of a huge number of entries. The games database has a second summary tab where you can run an analysis over the whole database to extract statistical information, for example win/loss/draw percentages for opening continuations, player statistics and a lot more. Opening books as well as tactics trainings can also be generated from the game database and the complex filtering possibilities from the PGN viewer are available too.

Tournaments Between Engines

With this tool you can let any number of engines compete in an automatic tourney. You can add any of the engines that come with Lucas Chess by choosing “import” on the engine tab or add external engines by choosing “new,” for both you can adjust their settings and give them aliases if you want. You can also define an opening book to be used by all engines in the tournament and start the games from the end of a book opening of your choice. Depending on the number of engines you add to a tournament and your patience, it might be a good idea to limit the time per side to a couple of minutes. On the other hand some engines pretty much crumble with short clock constraints while others are better at managing the allotted time.

Besides the entertainment value of seeing the engines battle against each other, engine tournaments can be very useful to test parameter adjustments. Maybe you want to bring down one of the stronger engines to a level where you stand a chance of actually winning. For that purpose you could add the engine of your choice multiple times with different settings and with different aliases. Add some of the weaker engines for comparison and you are good to go. When the tournament is finished you have a better idea of how the adjustments you made affect the engine's playing strength.

If you want to add an external engine to the roster of opponents in Lucas Chess, an engine tournament is also a good way to figure out where it fits in strength wise.

Openings

The openings tool allows to create custom openings, which can be named and optionally added to the list of standard openings. The other big part of the tool is the personal opening guide. If you want to create a personalized repertoire of openings (which is a good idea for any chess player) this is the place to do it. The personal opening guide can be invoked from numerous other places within Lucas Chess for quick reference.

When you open the personal opening guide for the first time, it already has a small selection of standard openings included. This default guide can be freely modified or you can delete it and start from scratch if you wish. You can attach a rating, an advantage description and a comment to each point of an opening. By default the comments are the common names for the openings, but you can edit them to be more descriptive. The ratings can also be evaluated by an engine with an adjustable search depth. The standard openings database can also be imported, either in full or as a stripped down basic version with the just main lines. Polyglot books and PGNs can be imported as well.

Training lessons can be generated from any opening, just select the branch and click the training button. After giving the lesson a name it will be added to the Learn Tactics by Repetition training module as a separate submenu.

Below the openings tree view is a statistical summary of games from the game database that is connected to the openings guide. That database is empty at first, that's why the stats all show zero the first time, you have to go to the second tab of the openings guide and populate it with games. The easiest way to do that is to load a PGN with games, but you can also manually add games one by one. After you have filled the database with some games, go back to the moves tab and click the rebuild button left of the stats area. This will check all the games and fill in the data about win/loss/draw percentages and the rest.

Now you can run additional engine analyses on the games, filter the stats by player or create a new opening guide just from the included games. The latter is especially handy when you have imported a sizable number of your own games and want to tailor your opening repertoire to what has been working best for you in your past games.

External Engines

Lucas Chess comes with 21 built-in engines that range from simple amateur to grandmaster strengths and cover various playing styles. If you want to add more engines you can do that here, all settings can be tweaked and you can define their Elo strength to better place them among the other engines. The ability to define alias names is very helpful if you add more than version of a single engine.

Correspondence Chess

Lucas Chess can also be used as an interface for correspondence chess on the following servers: ICCF, SchemingMind and myChess. Just enter your user credentials here to create a new link for quick access to your games.

Options

Configuration

Lucas Chess comes with sensible default settings, but there are some things you might want to tweak to your liking. When you have changed anything in the configuration dialog, Lucas Chess will restart to apply the changes.

On the first tab of the configurations you can, among other things, select from more than a dozen languages for the interface. You will likely want to change the engine score system to 1 pawn = 1.0 points here, as this is the more common form usually used for evaluations.

On the tutor tab you can select the engine to be used as your teacher by default. The default Stockfish is a good choice, because it produces quite good results even with very short thinking times. Since the tutoring function can get a little annoying when it comes to your rescue on each and every move, you can also adjust the sensitivity here. I suggest to set the minimum difference in percents to 10% and maybe also to set a small minimum points difference if you want.

In the boards settings you can opt to display candidate moves if you are a chess beginner. Activating the captured material window by default is also useful to have a better overview of the pure material difference on the board.

Another setting you should change is on the autosave tab. By default Lucas Chess does not save your played games anywhere unless you specifically save them manually every time. Click on the empty field after “autosave to a PGN file” and specify where you want your games to be saved. The “Personal Training” subfolder of “UsrData” (where profile data is saved) is a good choice. Next specify which games you want to save automatically: won, lost/drawn, unfinished. I recommend to save won and lost/drawn games in any case, whether unfinished games are worth saving is primarily a matter of why you are usually not finishing them.

The last tab lets you set ratings to be used for the training Elo modes, it doesn't really matter what you set them to, since they have no actual influence on the “real” ratings you get throughout the program.

Colors

Here you can edit the colors for the board, the piece style, and the shape of indicator arrows. It's also possible to define images for white and black squares and for the background by clicking on the buttons with the question marks. If you like marble or wood styled boards, this is the way to do it. All settings can be stored as themes and you can also import themes created by others.

The color options for PGNs let you define the palette for the range of good to bad moves. Even if you don't want to change the colors, it's worth looking at the defaults once to see what the different colors mean in analyzed PGNs.

Change Board Size

Change the sizes of the main board and the tutor boards separately here. While the tutor boards can be quite small if you wish, the main board has a certain minimum size that can be a problem for very small netbook screens. A trick to circumvent this issue is to decrease the size of the board frame in the color options for the main board.

Custom Sounds

Sounds can be defined for almost every event of a chess game, but there are no default sounds at all. The modify button brings up a separate window for each event where you can either record a sound from the microphone or load a WAV file.

Training Favorites

If you think the training menu is a little unwieldy and you are not using most of the training tools anyway, then you can define favorites here. Your selection will replace the standard menu which will be moved into a submenu of its own. To restore the default state delete all your entries.

Users

Lucas Chess even has built-in user management. All settings, progress and game records are saved separately for each user. When you start the program for the first time, it will ask you for a user name which will be the default profile. The profiles can also be password protected by double clicking the empty field in the password column. The user management is especially useful if you use the portable version of Lucas Chess. In this case the profile data will be stored in the subfolder “UsrData” in the program folder.

Summary

Lucas Chess includes so many options and training modules that players who first encounter the program will likely need some time to get an idea of the possibilities. Competition and the Elo rating modes can be considered the main measuring sticks of one's strength and it's encouraging to see your progress in them. From all the training tools I recommend just using what works best for you and of course always analyze your own mistakes with your wits and the help of the engine masterminds.

Chess learners should not only train and play with engines though, real humans still provide the most fun and interesting games, even if the engines can beat the best grandmasters. If you are looking for a platform to play against real opponents check out Chess.com.

Software | Games | Non-Fiction | Turn Based Strategy


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