The Smartphone Age is a great time to learn chess!

I'm excited to report that the portable chess problem has been solved, and the solution is called a "smartphone" (aka iPhone 3GS). As a result, there is no reason not to learn this fabulous game.

My reintroduction to the game was made by my iPhone courtesy of Deep Green, but only really deepened with Shredder Chess (a total steal at $7.99 - the desktop version starts at $50) particularly thanks to the puzzle feature. "Puzzles" are generally mid-game problems with solutions from 1 to 8 moves in length. They are fantastic "aha!" teaching moments, and they are fun to solve. I've learned more about forks, time, and pinning from these puzzles than in years of casual play. I can apply these lessons directly to my normal games.
  • Click here to get a sense of a shredder chess puzzle (updated daily).
  • Click here to play against shredder free online.
The great innovation here is two fold. First, portable computer chess finally has found a great platform: the smart phone. Most people's interest in chess isn't high enough to justify a separate device, which have been sold for years. But it's enough to sustain an app on a phone you carry anyway. Forget Doodle Jump - play chess when you're waiting around for something! The second innovation is Shredder Chess' concept of a Chess puzzle.

Chess puzzles highlight the beautiful parts of a chess game. Openings are about memory and style, end games about mathematical certainty. But mid-game situations are where that big advantage is won or lost, and so where the game is won or lost even if it takes another 30 moves to knock over the king.

Shredder's software execution is all but perfect, particularly the ability to play the puzzle then switching to play the position against the computer, allowing you to test out alternate theories from both sides. That is, the solution to the puzzle is only the start. You can regress the game and ask the all-important question: I beat my opponent this time. How could he have avoided this fate?

Without a single word, these puzzles say so much! What a perfect way to learn the game: rather than memorize and apply the insights of masters, this method encourages you to make your own insights, which in turn makes the game in a very rewarding game of discovery rather than a boring game of regurgitation or application of theory. The insight of masters are invaluable, but to really appreciate them you must have your own framework of understanding. (Many Go teachers say that you should play at least 100 games of Go, before studying theory for this very reason.)

I should add that while you generally don't have to play out the puzzle game to it's end, I often do, as my end game is (was?) a big weakness. I might be up a queen and still lose in my rush to end it. But now I really understand the significance of a passed pawn and the slipperiness of the King and the need to be thoughtful and careful even when you have an enormous power advantage. Carelessness kills.

I can't say enough about Shredder on the iPhone, but there is one thing missing: openings. Very few of the puzzles occur in the opening, and most of those take advantage of fairly obvious opponent mistakes. Shredder has a cool feature where it identifies and names your opening. But it would be nice if it had an "opening drill" feature to help you memorize openings (and understand their implications for the rest of the game).

Not to take away anything from the amazing and innovative new kinds of games like Flight Control, Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, or Spider but why not kill two birds with one stone (or two stones with one bird, if you play Angry Birds). Chess is an aristocratic game of kings. It's good for the brain and a lot of fun, and perfect on this platform.

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