Chess for Android by Aart Bik

[Android Chess by Aart Bik]Aart Bik’s Chess for Android

Weak engine, tap-only interface.
Has UCI support.

Rating by Mike D: 2.0 stars

Aart Bik’s Chess for Android is a free app that plays chess, unfortunately the overall quality falls well short of Chess Genius.

The BikJump engine

The chess engine, BikJump, isn’t a strong engine. It’s C++ version is currently rated at 2086 on the UCI-based rating system, and that’s on desktop quality hardware (so 800 points behind the leading engines). The Android version is a Java derivation for a less capable platform, so obviously that top-line playing strength takes a hit. But it’s also up against ferociously strong engines that are either remarkably portable, or have a recognised history of support on ARM-like processor architecture (like Chess Genius). So the playing style and strength is disappointing.

When you need to be at 30 seconds a move just to have a decent playing strength and it’s still weaker than Chess Genius at it’s immediate 1 second a move you know the engine needs a lot of work to be competitive.

Playing style

I was disappointed with it’s openings book. Being out of book 7 moves into a main-line Modern Benoni is just asking for trouble. The middle-game play is equally horrible, too many times there’s a good chance for the engine to take the upper hand, and it ends up giving away a pawn for nothing. It’s like the horizon effect is too close, like there’s a limit on search depth. Or perhaps the current algorithm isn’t pruning out enough bad moves to spend time looking at the good ones.

The endgame is tolerable, so it’s useful for getting the hang of rook endgames. But it’s not going to play that perfectly through calculation.

[Chess for Android by Aart Bik]

The interface

The board interface itself is pedestrian in comparison to Chess Genius. There’s no drag interface, so you have to tap the start square and tap the end square. On the plus side, I don’t recall many mis-placing of pieces. Perhaps the tap interface is better currently, though I missed not having the option of dragging pieces. There’s also no decent visual indicator of a move, if you miss the animation, you have to check the move list to see if it has made a move.

The menu system is a little bizarre, especially when trying to play Black. You start a new game, then click switch sides to get the engine to make a move for White, and you still need to go into the Options menu to rotate the board 180 degrees. This is indeed fixable. The option for rotating the pieces is bizarre; quite why anyone would want the board rotating 180 degrees on every move isn’t something I understand.

I’m focusing on the board and the playing strength because there are no other features. There are no tactical puzzles, or training modes. There’s a very simple PGN load and save, so it’s possible to play through saved games, but that falls short of the Chess Genius interface of navigating through a PGN file of hundreds of games.

Universal Chess Interface (UCI)

The one single redeeming feature of Chess for Android is the UCI support. Which means being able to plug in different chess engines – particularly stronger ones. The current list of Android UCI engines shows a couple of strong engines, like Stockfish, Toga and GNU Chess. Looking at the cross-table it’s plain to see that BikJump lags very far behind every other chess engine so far tested.

I’d keep this free Chess app installed on my Nexus S only to have a UCI-supporting chess board. If I find a better chess app that also supports UCI, then I’ll have no reason to keep this chess app installed on my phone. It won’t be the first app I’d try on an Android tablet either.

It’s a free app, so I am getting what I’m paying for. But I know Stockfish is available as a free Android App, so the quality bar even for free is far above what Aart Bik’s Chess for Android currently reaches.