The ancient and revered game of chess is still just as rewarding to play today as it was 1500 years ago. Even better, there has never been an easier time to learn or find opportunities to play.
There have always been great chess video games for as long as computers have been capable of simulating the game. However, in the age of the web you don’t even need to download anything.
There are many excellent websites that not only allow you to play chess online with friends, they help you learn how to become a better player. While you may have to pay for chess classes, all of the sites here offer at least some measure of chess instruction for free.
1. Chess.com (Free With Paid Options)
Quite possibly the best known site, chess.com deserves snatching what must be a very expensive URL from all the other pretenders. You can sign up in seconds and be playing against a computer or human opponent in no time. Free users get access to just about everything the typical player could want, but you do have to put up with a few adverts.
There are chess lessons and a wonderful curated guide that will take you from knowing nothing about chess to knowing enough to play a game through to the end. There are also Gold, Platinum and Diamond paid membership levels.
It goes without saying that these are ad-free, but they also add access to more chess puzzles and advanced data analysis of your games. In other words, the paid levels of Chess.com are mostly just of interest to people who are very serious about chess.
Notable Chess.com features include:
- Unlimited chess games in different styles and variants
- Support for joining clubs and leagues
- An unlockable achievement system
2. Red Hot Pawn (Free With Optional Subscription)
If you prefer a slower pace of play, the Red Hot Pawn offers a rather unique experience. While many other chess sites offer correspondence chess as one option to play against others, Red Hot Pawn is completely dedicated to this style of play.
As such the site makes it easy to manage, join and create correspondence games. It has a large, fantastic community of players and a perfectly functional chess board, if a little simple.
It’s a free service supported by ads. Paying a subscription simply removes them, but there are no other advantages we can see.
Notable Red Hot Pawn features include:
- A hilarious name.
- Excellent, clear interface that makes juggling multiple games easy.
- An informative forum and community support system.
3. Lichess (Free and Open Source)
Lichess has no advertising, no requirements to pay anything, and offers the ability to both learn and play chess. That sounds like the perfect service, but you should know that the site is also very barebones. It doesn’t have much in the way of aesthetics, unless you’re really into minimalism. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it can take a while to get a good handle on where everything is.
In terms of content however, there’s little to complain about. Apart from being able to play, you can also learn how to play chess, watch others play and tackle chess puzzles. These puzzles are both fun and help you become a better player, so it’s a great feature.
While Lichess may not be the best at any one thing, the fact that you can get an essentially complete experience without paying a cent is a killer point in its favor.
Notable Lichess features include:
- Eight chess variants in addition to standard chess
- Cloud-based chess engine analysis
- A complete set of chess basics lessons
- No advertising at all
- More than 80 languages are supported
4.Chess24 (Free or $14.99 per Month)
Chess 24 offers access to chess games as well as learning material without any money upfront, but on the learning side of things there are restrictions. For example, only premium users have access to live instructional videos as well as streamed content from chess masters.
There are videos of various types and prices on offer, but only a grand total of two free videos at the time of writing. There are however many YouTube shows that are organized and listed on the site which we’ve had no trouble watching as a free user.
One standout feature of Chess24 is their actual online chess board. It’s very attractive and offers a little more visually than the typical free online chess service. We particularly like how it clearly shows each move with an arrow and displays it in chess notation at the same time. The integrated clocks are also very user friendly and easy to read.
Notable Chess24 features include:
- A friendly beginner’s chess course
- A great glossary of chess terms
- Attractive chess board that’s easy to use
5.Sparkchess (Free or $14.99 for Premium)
Sparkchess is one of the more limiting free chess options on this list. While you can play against the computer and other human opponents online, you are locked out of the chess educational features unless you pay.
If all you want is a quick online game however, then Sparkchess has a nice web-based version of their chess app to play. You can also practice against the AI, with three different AI opponents available to free users. Free players can also play online against other opponents, but if you’re looking for live local 2-player matches, you’ll have to stump up the cash.
Notable Sparkchess features include:
- 3D chess board
- Full screen play
6.ChessTempo (Free With $3 per Month Option)
ChessTempo does give you a place to play chess online for free, but the real value of this site comes from its many resources to analyse and understand the game.
Whenever you play a rated game, ChessTempo puts it through a powerful analysis engine that provides you with detailed statistics about what happened in the game. Letting you learn more about your own play style.
ChessTempo is really only for people who already know the basics of playing chess, but who want to sharpen their skills by undergoing serious chess tactics training.
The free version of the service already offers a hardcore amount of tactical training and if you exhaust what’s on offer there you’ll be more than ready to start paying for the service, since you’ll be eating and breathing chess at that point.
Notable features of ChessTempo include:
- Play an unlimited number of online games.
- Chess engine analysis if your rated games.
- 2 endgame problems to solve per day.
- Access a database of recorded games.
- Unlimited tactics training, with more than 110 000 problems to learn and solve from real games.
Check and Mate!
There are so many options out there to play chess online with friends that there’s no harm in spending some time trying them all. Hopefully the five options listed here has at least one that’s the perfect fit for you, but if anything’s for certain it’s that there will never be a shortage of people looking to play chess.