May 2002
Presented by:
The FICS SR Team

A General survey of Interfaces on


Choosing a interface is like choosing a religion: the one you like is always the best! Kidding aside, deciding which interface is best for you is a difficult task if you haven't tried many of them. Rather than giving you my subjective opinion about which interfaces are the best, I have decided to compare these interfaces by listing some of the most commonly asked-for features.

The contenders are :

  1. Winboard - By far, the most popular interface. On a typical day, 30-35% of all users are using Winboard. Another 6% use Xboard or Winboard mods like Lightningrulez, Winboardplus.

  2. CClient - The next most popular interface is probably CClient. About 10-15% of all users use it. Like Winboard and Thief, the source for it is available for download.

  3. Thief - Close behind CClient in the popularity stakes is Thief. It is used by many bughouse players, although popularity is rising among non-bughouse users.

  4. Slics - Once one of the most popular ones, less than 2% of today's users use it. It is also the only Shareware interface among the interfaces considered here; the rest are free.

  5. ChessMachine - One of the newer interfaces, it is unfortunate that development seems to be stopped. You need to apply a patch to get it working. See also News 482

  6. Javaboard - Technically this is the second-most popular interface, drawing almost 15% of all users. However, these are mostly beginners and guests. Most eventually switch to one of the other interfaces because they are faster and more flexible.

Left out of the survey are Fixation (a Macintosh interface, used by about 3-4% of Freechess users), Eboard (a Linux interface) , ChessPartner/ChessVision (commercial), Lightningrulez (which is a modification of Winboard), and rarely seen or newer interfaces like Freak, Checkmate and Interchess.

The comparison Chart

Most of the popular interfaces are surprisingly similar, and many functions are available in all of them. Examples include choice of move input (click or drag and drop) and multiple profiles and login scripts

Interface/Feature Winboard 4.2.6 CClient 2.0 Thief 1.0 Slics 2.6 ChessMachine 0.93 (patched) Javaboard 1.0.4 beta
Autosave Game Yes Yes Yes No Yes No
Premove Yes No Yes Yes No No
Smart Move No No Yes No No No
Sought Graph No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Multiple Boards No Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Number of piece sets One Four (including two 3d sets) Thirty four Eight Seven One
Customisable Sounds/Events 16 14 100 (including ptells) 30 23 (mostly taunts) No
Customisable Buttons No No Yes Yes Yes No
Customisable Right Click menu Yes Yes Yes No No No
HTML hotlinks No Yes Yes No No No
Ability to run Chess Engines Yes No No No No No
Others Supports cutting and pasting of PGN games from clipboard Instead of multiple Windows, each windows is arranged in a tabbed format Personal "tell" censors Shareware, $12 to register "Spy feature" to keep tabs on others Uses only your browser

Autosave Game

Interfaces with this feature will automatically save all games played on the server into one PGN File. Of course, you could set automail = 1 and PGN =1 to automatically send all games to your email box, but why risk the chance of them being lost in the mail when your interface can save them locally?


Some people think premove is a form of cheating, while others think it is a must-have for playing in lightning games. There are many forms of premove, but basically this option allows you to prepare a move during your opponent's time so as to respond instantly when your opponent does move. Of the interfaces considered, only Winboard, Thief and Slics have this feature.

Smart move

Smart move is a close cousin of Premove. It allows you to click on a square or a piece, and if there is only one legal move, the interface will play it. Only Thief so far has this feature.

Sought Graph

While typing "sought all" shows you all seeks in progress, CClient, Slics and ChessMachine create a graph that tabulates this information along 2 axes, usually player rating and time control. Other icons show whether the game is unrated, the type of Chess variant and/or whether the seeker is a computer. By filtering or zooming into certain sections, this can be useful for quickly scanning the types of seeks available. However, sought graphs generally use up a lot of bandwidth since it polls the server to update the sought graph. Please read news 377 for CClient users.

Multiple Boards

Multiple Boards are an essential must-have when playing bughouse, to keep tabs on your partner. Interfaces that allow multiple boards enable you to watch 2 or more games at the same time (including one of your own). Other interfaces without this feature will switch back and forth from one board to another when a new move is made.

Number of piece Sets

Getting tired of seeing the same board or pieceset, game after game? Almost all interfaces allow you to change the color of your text window and board square and most come more than one piece set. Not happy with the default set? Most interfaces like CClient, Slics, ChessMachine, etc, allow you (with some work) to change the piece sets with your own bitmaps if you are the artistic type.

Customisable Sounds/Events

What is playing Chess online without the beeps, wave files and other sounds informing you that a notable event has occurred? Common events are when a opponent has moved, when someone has sent a tell to you, and when someone has challenged you to a game.

Customisable Right-Click Menu

Most interfaces allow you to save and edit command commands you use on a right-click. It can be useful for storing commands you use often. For example, you can highlight the player "Mad", right-click and choose the option "History", which will send to the server the command History Mad. Can save a lot of typing.

Customisable buttons

Another way in which interfaces can help save time

HTML Hotlinks

HTML hotlinking is a great feature. Whenever someone posts an internet site, all you need to do is to click on it, and your browser will be opened at that site automatically. Beats copying and pasting the whole line into your browser for interfaces without this option.

Ability to run Chess engines

Winboard (or its linux cousin Xboard) is the only interface (besides chess Partner,Chess Vision and Eboard and Checkmate which work only for analysis, and not covered here) capable of running Xboard/Winboard Chess engines. The other way of doing so is through the use of ICSdrone.


Each interface is unique of course, and this survey is just a general guide to help you find what you want by comparing some common asked-for features. An interface is more than the sum of its features, and other factors such as user friendliness, look and feel, stability, speed, etc, are difficult to rate objectively and, hence, is left out of the comparison. Interfaces which may have many features could be considered overly complicated and difficult to handle.

In the end, choosing which interface you like is a personal choice that cannot be made just by reading this article. I encourage you to try as many as you can, untill you find one that you like best.

If you have any comments about this article, please email me at

Your truly,

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