My friends at the Chess House provided me with a DGT Smartboard to review. The board is an entry-level electronic chessboard designed for players who prefer playing moves from a physical chessboard. First, I will let Raphael from the Chess House explain the basics of the DGT Smartboard and I will go into greater detail from there.
DGT Smartboard – Introduction
Electronic chessboards have been around for decades. Their original purpose was to broadcast moves from a chess tournament to TV screens located off the main tournament hall. It was there that onlookers could see the status of their favorite players’ games and discuss the positions amongst themselves. It was an improvement from the old days where someone had to watch each game and then duplicate the moves on a demo board so the spectators could see moves as they were played.
Today’s modern DGT Smartboards can broadcast games, connect to a chess engine like Fritz, or play live chess over the Internet.
The DGT Smartboard can be used on chess-playing sites like Chess.com or Lichess.org. This enables someone to play classical time controls on a physical board against a human opponent anywhere on the Internet. If you are playing as white, you make your move and wait for your opponent’s reply which is announced from the connected computer. After you make your opponent’s move, play continues with your move and so on. There are no chess clocks to worry about. Time management is handled by the site you are connected to.
The Smartboard can also record chess games between two players. Think of having a friend over your house and playing a series of blitz games with him. Each game can be recorded and stored in the DGT Smartboard’s memory. The games can then be exported to a PGN file where they can saved to a hard drive or imported into a database program like Chessbase.
Below is a photo of what my setup looks like.
As you can see, the board position is mirrored on the computer screen. Once everything is configured, there is no need to use the computer – just make your move and wait for your opponent’s reply. You set it and forget it.
Note: There are several models of electronic chessboards offered by DGT. The DGT Smartboard is considered the entry-level version but there are higher-end models. Contact the Chess House for more details.
What’s in the box?
The board, measuring 20.5″x20.5″. This is a regulation chessboard that is within FIDE’s standard for tournament use. Each square is 2.1875″ x 2.1875″. Four pawns fit perfectly within a single square which tells me the pieces are scaled perfectly to fit on the board. Algebraic coordinates are neatly printed on each side of the board to give you a visual reference to where each color should arrange their pieces.
The pieces, which include an extra queen for each color. The pieces come in a resealable cardboard box for easy storage. Each piece is double-weighted and has a felt bottom. The DGT Smartboard can identify each piece individually wherever you place it on the board. This is helpful if you want to setup a position and relay it to a computer chess engine.
Fritz 14 CD. On the CD is the 32-bit version of Fritz and a set of software drivers that allow the DGT board to interface with the program.
USB cable. This connects the DGT Smartboard to a USB port or hub. This is also what powers the Smartboard. The cable is roughly 6 feet long which should be enough to route it through a desk or whatever computer setup you have.
Serial cable. This is used to connect the board to a DGT Pi chess computer (sold separately) where you can play against various chess engines. You can have two people play a series of games (e.g. a blitz session) on the DGT Smartboard and have their moves and times recorded into memory.
DGT Smartboard setup
The instruction manual is eight pages and is about a five minute read. The setup takes less time than that. Simply connect one end of the USB cable to the board and the other to a USB port on your computer or hub as the case may be.
To play against Fritz 14, you will need to install the Rabbit Plugin which is software located on the CD. Once installed, Fritz will recognize the DGT Smartboard and you are ready to begin playing.
Playing on Chess.com and Lichess.org
The configuration for both of these servers is pretty much the same. First, you will need to download and install the free program LiveChess from the DGT website. Note: This program must be running before you can begin to play on either site.
Playing on chess.com is the easiest. First, launch the LiveChess program and logon to Chess.com as you normally do. If you would like to hear a voice announcing moves (recommended), you should install the Chrome plug-in for Chess.com located here. The navigate to Settings | All Settings | Beta and click Join Beta. Now you are ready to roll. Click Play | Live Chess. On the top right hand corner of the chessboard is a gear icon. Click it and scroll down the menu to and check the box where it says DGT board. That’s it. You are now ready to play chess from your DGT Smartboard.
For a more detailed walkthrough of this process, please watch this video from the Chess House. I have embedded below.
Playing on Lichess is a bit different. After you install LiveChess, logon to your Lichess account. Hover over the Play menu and click DGT Board. Your screen should look something like this:
This window must be left open. It can be minimized but not closed. Now, here comes the tricky part. You will need to open a separate tab in your browser and login to Lichess with the same account as before. You are now ready to play chess on the DGT Smartboard.
There are no LED lights on the DGT Smartboard. This is confusing to some people who expect to see lighted squares telling them where to move their opponent’s piece. Remember, the Smartboard is an entry-level device and for the purposes of cost, LED lights were not included.
DGT Smartboard playing experience
I really enjoy using this product. I’ve been playing more classical time control games since I received it and I have no plans to stop anytime soon. Here are some notes I took during my play:
- Move pieces carefully and deliberately. There are some times when you move a piece and the Smartboard miscalculates your intention. This is especially true when castling. When you castle, you need to move your king first, rest it on the square for a second and the lift the rook to complete the maneuver. In a test game as Black, I castled too quickly and the DGT board only recorded Rf8. I actually managed to win that game but it is something for you to be aware of.
Make sure to place a piece firmly on a square. Sliding pieces is generally fine but sometimes the Smartboard might misread a move. To avoid this, pick up the piece and place it directly on the square you intend to move it to.
- Analyze some classical games. It is important to kick the tires on a new chessboard before settling down to play rated chess on it. So, break out your favorite chess book and play over some games on it. Think of it as a pre-game warmup. Move your pieces around, cplay over some variations to get a feel for the set. This exercise will make you more comfortable before playing a live opponent.
- Play unrated games online first. Until you get used to the feel of playing on the DGT board, practice by playing an unrated game against an online opponent or even a computer. You need to become familiar with making moves for your opponent. Frankly, it’s the same method you would use when playing over a game from a chess book but it is still something you should practice. I played about five unrated games before playing rated. Here is my very first (provisionally) rated game using the DGT Smartboard.
I played a second rated game that I also won. It only lasted 16 moves though. My opponent sacrificed a rook and thought mate was inevitable – but he missed something. Can you find it? Put your answer in the comments below.
Why should I buy a DGT Smartboard?
If you are a chess enthusiast, purchasing a DGT board is an investment you should consider, particularly if you are interested in playing slower time controls. The board by itself is what computer scientists used to call a “dumb terminal”; a keyboard and monitor that connects to a bigger, more powerful system. The DGT Smartboard works the same way in that it connects to a computer system via its USB cable. Without the USB cable, it is still a very nice chess set that can be used like any other set you own.
The software running on the computer is what enables the capabilities of the DGT board. I like the unit because it gives me the best of both worlds. I can play or analyze a game of chess on it without any hookup or I can connect the USB cable and start playing classical chess on the Internet. That is a flexible situation that most chess players will appreciate.
Each chess player has different reasons to make their purchases but here are some reasons why I recommend this product:
Emphasis on slow time controls. Let’s face it, each time you logon to Chess.com with the intention of playing a slow game, you wind up getting sucked into playing blitz. I know, because it happens to me all the time. Your really can’t use a Smartboard to play blitz chess. Can you imagine playing a 5 0 blitz game and making moves for yourself and your opponent? It’s just not possible. Making the investment in a Smartboard will remind you of your commitment to play slower time controls, and I can tell you, once you start playing it gets to be a lot of fun. More on that later.
Training your eyes. Chess analysis over a physical chess board is a lot different than looking at a computer screen. If your eyes grow accustomed to looking at a digital 2D board, it is hard for them to adjust to a full-sized tournament board. You might not see threats as quickly on a real board. Just take the a1-h8 diagonal as an example. On a digital board you can see the entire diagonal without ever moving your eyes.
On a DGT Smartboard, you will need to move your eyes across the squares to see what pieces are threatened. Your eyes have to travel farther. It’s just a different experience. Get yourself in the habit of looking at a physical board. The more you, the more comfortable you will feel with it.
Preparing for a local tournament. Playing games in a chess tournament requires a board, pieces, a chess clock and a score sheet. Practicing with a DGT Smartboard allows you to simulate all of the above with the exception of clock management – that is handled by either the computer program or the online chess site you are connected to.
When I played my first 30 30 game on Lichess.org, I was surprised how nervous I felt. It was similar to the jitters I would feel before the first round of a big tournament. I made my move, wrote it on my scoresheet and waited for my opponent’s reply. The game felt as close to a real tournament as anything I had ever experienced – all from the comfort of my own home.
There is something about looking at physical pieces and trying to understand their relationship to the position that helps me to analyze more deeply. This doesn’t happen as often when I use a computer screen. I think that is due to eye strain. I can stare at the DGT Smartboard for long periods of time without difficulty. Staring at a 2D screen for just a ten minutes has a tendency to make my eyes blood shot. I have to look away and then back to reset my gaze.
Chess technology has come a long way in 25 years. The Internet has connected players from all over the globe to be able to play each other anytime and anywhere. Similarly, DGT has made that even easier by connecting a physical chess board to the online chess experience.
Playing chess using classical times controls is much easier on a real board than on a computer screen. It was easier for me to concentrate on a position in front of me when I am staring at real pieces on a real chess board. I still made mistakes of course but my mind felt more present. Analyzing on the DGT Smartboard removed the digital distractions one gets when playing on a computer screen. There weren’t any Skype messages popping up at me. The sound of new e-mails being delivered were never a concern as all my energy was focused on the board in front of me.
The DGT product line keeps getting better and batter. The Smartboard is a great tool to encourage slower time controls and get players ready for their next tournament. This is an investment well worth taking if you are passionate about slow time controls and preparing for a future chess event.
Please feel free to ask me any questions/concerns you have and I will do my best to answer them.