The Chess Assistant is a chess database and learning tool written by Convekta Ltd and distributed by ChessOk. The program has been around for decades, first introduced in 1988 and the latest version (21) is what I reviewed.
Chess Assistant (CA) is a less expensive alternative to its competitor, Chessbase. As of this writing, the basic version of Chess Assistant sells for $90 compared to Chessbase at $143. The pricing does not include optional databases, endgame tables and chess engines, that would increase the cost for both products.
Below are my general thoughts and comments using the program.
General thoughts and impressions of Chess Assistant 21
Software install. The installation of Chess Assistant was simple and painless. After a quick Internet download and a couple of mouse clicks, I had the software installed on my system. Note: There was a Windows-specific error message that popped up but this had something to do with the digital signature of the .exe file that Windows 10 did not recognize. After I clicked to continue, the message went away and the installation resumed without incident.
Entering your games. The main purpose of purchasing a chess database program is to enter your games into it. So, I created a database called ‘MyOldGames’ and began entering a few games into it. This was very easy to do. Below is a screenshot of my database.
As you can see, the interface is easy to navigate. You have a choice of board pieces, colors and you can adjust the board size by dragging the lower right edge of the board display. Each game you open from a database is rendered on the left-side pane. In this case, I opened MyOldGames with the active window (#1571/1571) which is game number 1571 of the database that contains 1571 games. Above that is the list view of the database.
Free 1-year access to Chess KING. ChessOk has a series of online training sessions designed to improve all parts of your chess game. I perused some of the courses and found them to be very helpful. The courses are for players of all levels.
Less windows to manage. I like how CA handles the use of multiple windows. Say you open 3 or 4 games to analyze. CA keeps track of this by using something called the object bar. In other databases programs, opening 20 games equals 20 different windows you will need to manage on your desktop. Chess Assistant puts each game in the object bar, freeing up clutter and letting you focus on your chess work.
Deep customization. Virtually every aspect of the chess experience can be customized. There is even an option for the use to write scripts to automate certain game import operations. This is how a chess database program should be. Let the user decide what the best settings are for him or her and let them have at it.
Liberal use of the right-click mouse button. Making an interface intuitive is important but also difficult. CA makes use of the right-click button quite a bit. In places where I wasn’t sure what to do, I simply clicked my right mouse button and found a menu of options I didn’t know existed.
Engine vs. Engine capability built in. Say you get to a position and want two engines to finish it off. Not a problem. CA can host multiple chess engines to either analyze your games or play against each other.
Suggestions for improvement
- Keyboard shortcuts. CA requires you to use a mouse click to jump into a variation. This feature can be annoying as it forces you to click an icon. Chessbase is the opposite. in that you simply use your up, down, right, left arrows to navigate through variations. The problem with Chessbase is that this can get you lost in the depths of a variation with no breadcrumbs to get you back to the main line. CA addresses this with the UI which acts as a guard rail to get you in and out of a variation without getting lost. In either case, keyboard shortcuts should be an option.
- Tutorial. There are instructions that come with Chess Assistant but having a well written tutorial would be nice. This is the best way to expose the full features of the product and walk new users through common tasks.
- Opening CBH files gives an error message. Native support to opening Chessbase files is great but I kept getting an error message each time I tried to open one. This needs to be fixed to allow CA users to open .cbh files without incident.
- The lack of online cloud storage features. While CA does give you access to its online courses, it lacks some of the opening and cloud storage features of its competitors. An online database or opening book would be a welcome addition to the platform.
Chess Assistant is a capable database program and a fine piece of software for players seeking an alternative to Chessbase. While it doesn’t have some of the online capabilities of Chessbase, CA makes it easy for players to create databases as well as enter and annotate their games.
The program has some bugs that need to be ironed out but aside from that, it is a reasonable investment. The staff at Better Chess recommends Chess Assistant for the chess player who is on a budget and can do without some of the online integration features. What’s left is a customizable database program that will allow you to enter, save and review your chess games for many years to come.