Chess Academy is the latest addition to my phone’s home screen. The app is an addictive tactics trainer that presents a series of chess puzzles to solve. There is no time limit for each puzzle. If you enter the correct series of moves, you gain points, and if you make a wrong move you lose points. After making a mistake, you can try to solve the puzzle again, but if you’re still stuck after trying every combination you can think of, you can ask to be shown the solution.
The current feature set in the app is quite limited. While the Chess Academy website has multiple interactive lesson tracks, tactical training, and practice games, the iPhone app only lets you practice tactics. I don’t know if their development roadmap includes adding more of the desktop features. It would be a nice touch, but even if they don’t add them, the tactical training has plenty to keep me busy and entertained.
Unfortunately, practicing these tactics remind me how poor a chess player I am. I make obvious blunders and miss checkmate combinations that should reveal themselves to me more clearly. However, playing these tactical puzzles feels like a good exercise for my brain. While most casual games on my phone take very little attention, I am not able to play this one well without giving it my full focus. I probably look like a crazy person though—staring at my screen un-blinking and un-moving for a minute or more at a time.
Also, I find tactical training far more satisfying than playing a game against the computer. With the tactical puzzles, there is a clear solution (or at least it becomes clear once solved). Anytime I win against the computer, it is because I have it set to an easy level. It feels like the computer let me win. If I let the chess computer do what it does best, it would defeat me every single time. I am still able to beat my six-year-old in a game of chess (at least I don’t think he’s letting me win). However, he has an aptitude for it and will start beating me soon unless I can step up my game.