A General survey of Interfaces on Freechess.org (updated to April 2004) - All usage figures based on year end 2002 and are outdated


Choosing a interface is like choosing a religion, the one you like is always the best! Kidding aside, deciding which interface is best for you, is a difficult task, if you haven't tried many of them. Rather then giving you my subjective opinion about which interfaces are the best, I have decided to compare these interfaces by listing some of the most commonly asked for features.

Updated to include Jin Chess. Updated to include Babaschess. Varese will be reviewed later.

The contenders are :

  1. Winboard - By far, the most popular interfaces. On a typical day, 30-35% of all users are using Winboard. Another 6% use Xboard or Winboard mods like Lightningrulez, Winboardplus.

  2. CClient - The next most popular interface (excluding Javaboard) is probably CClient. About 10-15% of all users use it. Like Winboard,Thief etc the source for it is available for download.Inemesis is a very much modified cclient adding a lot of features.Because it's so different from cclient it gets it own review in the table below.

  3. Thief - Close behind CClient in the popularity stakes is Thief,which is used a lot especially by bughouse players , although popularity is rising among non bughouse users.

  4. Slics - Once, one of the most popular ones, but this is no longer true.Less then 2% of users use it. It is also the only Shareware interface among the interfaces considered here, the rest are free.

  5. ChessMachine - One of the newer interfaces, unfortunately, development seems to be stopped. You need to apply a patch to get it working. See also News 482

  6. Javaboard - Technically this is the second most popular interface drawing almost 15% of all users. However this is used mostly by beginners and guests. Most players eventually switch to one of the other interfaces, because they are faster, and more flexible.

  7. Jin -This is a new Chess interface being developed. It requires the use of Java and may be a little slow on old computers (Pentium 1 maybe). Still it's one of the few interfaces being actively developed (CClient,Thief,Chessmachine have being abandoned) so it can only improve.
  8. Babaschess - A highly configurable interface, that allows anything from floatable console windows like Winboard or docked,tabs like cclient, control popup dialogs and more. Also has an excellent tabed chat window, offers smartmove,premove and analysis with winboard engines. Is my current (April 2004) favourite.

Left out of the survey are Fixation (a Macintosh interface, used by about 3-4% of Freechess users), Eboard (a Linux interface) , ChessPartner/ChessVision (commercial), Lightningrulez and Flumboard (which are modifications of Winboard), Inemsis - a cclient modification and rarely seen or newer interfaces like Freak , Checkmate ,Interchess and Arena .

The comparison Chart

Most of the popular interfaces are surprisingly similar and many functions are available in all of them. Examples including choice of move input (Click or Drag and drop) ,Multiple Profiles/Login scripts

Interface/Feature Winboard CClient inemesis Thief Slics ChessMachine Javaboard Jin Babaschess
Autosave Game Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes (Game logging can be configured using a script) Yes
Premove Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Smart Move No No No Yes No No No No Yes
Sought Graph No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Multiple Boards No Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Number of piece sets One Four (including two 3d sets) Ten (More can be converted) Thirty four Eight Seven One Three sets/four boards Thirty eight pieces/Twenty-five board
Customisable Sounds/Events 16 14 14 100 (including ptells) 30 23 (mostly taunts) No No 43
Customisable Buttons No No Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Customisable Right Click menu Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No Yes
HTML hotlinks No Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes
Ability to run Chess Engines Yes No Yes No No No No No Yes
Others Supports cutting and pasting of PGN games from clipboard Instead of multiple Windows, each windows is arranged in a tabbed format Speech, built in lecturebot, Encrypted Chat Personal "tell" censors Shareware, $12 to register "Spy feature" to keep tabs on others Uses only your browser Runs using Java,Flexible scripts Mutiple timers,dockable windows, Tabbed chat window for multiple private conversations

Autosave Game

Interfaces with this feature will automatically save all games played on the server into one PGN File. Of course, you could set automail = 1 and PGN =1 to automatically send all games to your email box, but why risk the chance of them being lost in the mail when your interface can save them locally?


Some people think premove is a form of cheating, others think it is a must-have for playing in lightning games.There are many forms of premove, but basically it allows you to prepare a move during your opponent's turn so as to respond instantly to your opponent's move.Of the interfaces considered, only Winboard, Thief and Slics have this feature. More advanced interfaces allow you to chain premoves so if your opponent is using premove too, you can answer his premove with a second premove! (eg Babbachess). Another pemove mod, allows you to set up multiple premoves for the same move. If the 1st premove is illegal , the second one will be used.

Smart move

Smart move is a close cousin of Premove. It allows you to click on a square or a piece, and if there is only one legal move, the interface will play it.

Sought Graph

While typing "sought all" shows you all seeks in progress, CClient,Slics and ChessMachine creates a graph that tabulates this information along 2 axes, usually player rating and time control.Other Icons show whether the game is unrated, the type of Chess variant and/or whether the seeker is a computer.By filtering or zooming in into certain sections, this can be useful for quickly scanning the types of seeks available. However sought graphs generally use up a lot of bandwidth since it polls the server to update the sought graph. Please read news 377 for CClient users.

Multiple Boards

Multiple Boards are a essential must-haves when playing bughouse, to keep tabs on your partner. Interfaces that allow multiple boards enable you to watch 2 or more games at the same time (including one of your own). Other interfaces in this survey without this feature still support multiple boards viewing but will switch back and forth from one board to another when a new move is made.

Number of piece Sets

Getting tired of seeing the same board or pieceset, game after game? Almost all interfaces allow you to change the color of your text window and board square and most come with more than One default piece set.Not happy with the default sets?Most interfaces like CClient,Slics,ChessMachine etc allow you (with some work) to change the piece sets with your own bitmaps if you are the artistic type.

Customisable Sounds/Events

What is playing Chess online, without the beeps,wave files and other sounds informing you that a notable event has occurred? Common events which you can set sound (wav,midi) files are when a opponent has moved,when someone has sent a tell to you, when someone has challenged you etc. Some interfaces allow more types of events than others to have customised sounds.

Customisable Right Click Menu

Most interfaces allow you to save and edit command commands you use on a right click. It can be useful for storing commands you use often. For example, you can highlight the player "Mad" right click and choose the option "History" which will send to the server the command History Mad. Saves a lot of typing this way.

Customisable buttons

Another way in which interfaces can help save time.

HTML Hotlinks

HTML hotlinking is a great feature. When ever someone posts a internet site, all you need to do is to click on it, and your browser will be opened at that site automatically. Beats, copying and pasting the whole line into your browser for interfaces without this option.

Ability to run Chess engines

Winboard (or its linux cousin Xboard) is the only interface (besides chess Partner,Arena Chess Vision and Eboard etc all not covered here) capable of running Xboard/Winboard Chess engines. The other way of doing so is through the use of ICSdrone. The new generation interfaces such as inemesis, Babbaschess don't allow you to run chess engines when playing but does allow you to analyze.


Each interface is unique of course, and this survey is just a general guide to help you find what you want by comparing some common asked for features. A interface is more than the sum of it's features and other factors such as user friendliness, look and feel,stability,speed etc is difficult to rate objectively and hence is left out of the comparison. Interfaces which may have many features could be overly complicated, difficult to handle for example.

In the end, choosing which interface you like is a personal choice, that cannot be made just by reading this article. I encourage you to try as many as you can, untill you find one that you like best.

If you have any comments about this article, please email me.

Other resources

Interface reviews - Perhaps inspired by this original article, this series of articles by Jason reviews each interface and compares them together in a big table.