Fancy a Game of Chess?
by Nick Murphy
Back in the dark, dark days when the internet was a mere stripling, used mainly by the government and the military; and the World Wide Web was something you only heard about on the news or “Tomorrow’s World” style technology programs; there were only a few ways to get a good game of chess…
You could join a chess club – if there was one local to you. But the quality (and friendliness) varies enormously, (believe me). Unfriendly clubs can put newcomers off within minutes, despite the fact that clubs need a regular stream of new players and beginners coming through to survive, you would be surprised how many times I’ve turned up to a club, finally got someone to play against, only for them to crush me two or three times in a row, then grunt and move on. And when you consider that clubs generally meet maybe once a week – and may have matches or other events already scheduled to take place, it can take a little while to become a regular playing part of even a friendly welcoming club.
Another option was to take up postal (sometimes called “correspondence”) chess, sending and receiving the moves via the postal service – perhaps using specially printed postcards or windowed envelopes. At this rate, moves take days, and whole games could last years. It can prove tricky to find the enthusiasm for a game that may not get into the middlegame for several months. And that relies on you finding someone willing to agree to play such a game in the first place.
But then, from out of the wilderness came The Internet (with capitals); a vast global technology network, the “Information Super-Highway”; and it appeared to some as though it was designed with chess in mind. Originally, you could play over early internet services like IRC (Internet Relay Chat) or Telnet, then commercial chess programs offered online aspects to their software, so you could – with the aid of the chess program and a dial-up modem (I sometimes make beeping noises when I log in to my wireless broadband just out of nostalgia) enter into online play against other humans in REAL TIME over a dedicated chess server.
Ultimately of course, this lead to commercial chess servers; services that you had to pay for, but could offer so much more functionality and sophistication than the free to play servers – often using a custom-made dedicated Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the purpose. Such servers generally required a yearly fee, but then offer many more features and much more content than their free counterparts.
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