Chess books on computers and tablets

by John Nunn
12/15/2015 – Technology now enables us to keep an entire chess library on a portable electronic device and to play over the moves on screen while reading your favourite book. Grandmaster John Nunn, author and Director at the prominent publishers Gambit, talks about the growing range of books his company is converting to app format, to run on iPads, Android tablets and smartphones. You can try it out for free.

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Gambit Chess Studio

One of the dominant trends in chess publishing over the last few years has been the growth in e-books. There are two main types of chess e-book – those which are simply the text of the book in an electronic format, and those which add additional functionality, typically the ability to play over the moves in the book on the screen.

The market for non-chess e-books is totally dominated by Amazon’s range of Kindle e-book readers. Initially, other companies made an effort to compete with Amazon by developing their own readers, but they have been crushed by the Amazon juggernaut and most have given up, leaving Amazon with the market more or less to itself. One advantage of Amazon’s system is that it is available either as a dedicated hardware device, or as a software application which can run on virtually anything, from Apple’s iPad and iPhone to Android devices to PCs. For chess publications, it has the convenience of being able to store a whole chess library on a small device – but of course it’s just an e-book reader and you can’t play over the moves.

The second type of chess e-book is app-based and runs on mobile devices based on either Apple’s iOS (iPad and iPhone) or Google’s Android (which runs on many tablets and smartphones). This type of e-book allows the reader to play over the moves and may provide additional functionality.

Many chess publishers have gone for a third-party solution for app development, but at Gambit Publications we have preferred to develop the app ourselves, in conjunction with a German software company. Here’s what the app looks like in operation:

The various navigation buttons provide the facility to step through the moves or choose between variations. You can also (lightly!) tap a move in the text to jump to that position. The text size can be customised, you can flip the board so that Black is at the bottom, and so on. In the screenshot you can see a hyperlink (marked in blue). There’s no need to go into detail; the functions available are much as you would expect from a good e-book app. Moreover, it’s easy to try it for yourself, since it’s free to download and there is a substantial free sample which allows you to try all the app functions. There’s no doubt that having a book in app format makes it easier to read. Just as an example, here’s the index to an opening book:

The green highlighted move in the text corresponds to the position being shown on the large board at the right. Once you have found the variation you want, just touching the move on the screen takes you directly to the correct section. By the way, the same index feature is available in Gambit’s Kindle books.

Gambit’s app has been designed so that the appearance of the text on the screen is as similar as possible to the printed book. Here’s an example from an endgame book showing a typical winning zone highlight:

And here’s a book for kids showing the way illustrations appear:

It’s easy to get the app on your phone or tablet; just search for ‘Gambit Chess Studio’ in either Apple’s App Store (for iOS devices) or the Google Play Store (for Android devices). If you see the Chess Studio logo

then you are in the right place!

When you first start the app, you will see the store:

Going into the various categories, for example endgame books, gives you a list of the titles in that category:

Touching one of the books gives you a description of that book and the opportunity to buy it. Once you have bought it, it will be downloaded to your device. Since the books are stored locally, once a book has been downloaded you can read it without an Internet connection. It’s also important to note that if you have more than one device, then once a book has been bought it will become available on all devices linked to the same account. If you should need to reinstall the app, or reset your device, then the books you have bought will not be lost. On iOS devices, the app has a ‘Restore Transactions’ button which checks your account and downloads any purchased books which have not yet been downloaded to your device; the same thing happens with the Android version of the app every time it is started.

The crucial point about chess e-book apps is perhaps not so much the app itself, since all the apps offer the same basic functions; it’s more the quality of the titles which are available for the app, because what you are buying is not the app but the books. Gambit has converted a wide range of its English-language books into app format, including all of its award-winning and best-selling titles.

There are currently 86 Gambit English-language books available for Chess Studio, and more are being added all the time. The latest titles include the newly-published Understanding the Scandinavian by Sergey Kasparov and A Complete Chess Course by Antonio Gude.

A further advantage of Gambit’s electronic titles is price. All Gambit’s Kindle titles are priced at $9.95 or less (there may be local taxes to add, for example the equivalent European prices vary as e-books are subject to tax in Europe). This includes titles such as John Nunn’s Chess Course, which in printed format is 320 pages long. Moreover, thanks to Gambit investing in developing its own app, the prices for app books are also low, typically $9.99 to $13.99.

There’s no doubt that electronic publishing is changing the way people buy chess books. While there are still some advantages to the print format, the compactness and ease of use offered by e-books give readers a whole new way to enjoy chess books.

Topics: Gambit

Dr John Nunn (born 1955) is an English grandmaster, author and problem-solver. He was among the world’s leading grandmasters for nearly twenty years, winning four gold medals in chess Olympiads, and is a much-acclaimed writer whose works have won ‘Book of the Year’ awards in several countries. In 2004, 2007 and 2010, Nunn was crowned World Chess Solving Champion. He continues to compete successfully in over-the-board and problem-solving events.
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nbi nbi 12/17/2015 08:49
I have tried Forward Chess, Chess Studio, and Chess Viewer. These are all shamefully bad in that they lack adequate settings control (font size, board size, piece themes, just to name a few). Chess Studio (Gambit) has a horrific Android bug that locks the app into the tablet/phone orientation it was installed under - even if you delete and reinstall the app! What trash!

Aside from these basic configuration issues why would anyone want a different reader de jour from each publisher?? That's nonsense. Until the publishers agree on a universal format so that a single reader can support all publishers there's no point in wasting time and money on this.
Fullstep Fullstep 12/17/2015 09:12
Forwardchess gets my nod. I like being able to read books on my iPad. Built in engine makes it most useful. Drawback? There is no way to move annotated games from Forwardchess into pgn or Chessbase formats. I am wedded forever to the program quality and availability of Forwardchess. This makes me a bit nervous. Everyman gives you all the formats.
genem genem 12/17/2015 09:07
A response to the commenters who claimed that while the ForwardChess app has an engine...
...the Gambit active ebooks suffer from a lack of analysis engine: Not really true, at least on Android. Gambit lacks an engine, but it intentionally integrates with Analyze This, so there is no suffering.
Download the free app 'Analyze This'. Then Gambit's app, and at least one other app, offers pretty good *integration* with Analyze This. Passes info through the clipboard, and one of the apps even directly jumps to Analyze This.
At my request, the Analyze This app developer added the feature for the NULL move. Tap the king whose color is on-turn, then tap the other king. The you can resume the engine and see what the "threat" moves might be for the color that is off-turn.
TheKnife TheKnife 12/16/2015 10:57
I would like to buy combinations of ebook and printed book for special prices. I love the old book, but like to take ebooks with me on my phone and tablet.
Nyman Nyman 12/16/2015 09:38
I own ebooks from both Everyman and Gambit. I can read the Everyman ebooks using a variety of tools...Chessbase, SCID, etc... With my Gambit ebooks I am forced to squint at my iPhone instead of my 27" computer monitor to I don't! I would buy many more Gambit books if they released them in either PGN or Chessbase format. Much easier on my 67 year ol eyes. Think aboiut it Gambit!
semprun semprun 12/16/2015 09:38
Sorry Kindle books are horrible. I have purchased enough to know. The champs here are Forward Chess (many publishers, great books) and Gambit studio, although Studio lacks a very important feature available with Forward chess: Analyse a position (with or WITHOUT a chess engine). Thus if you are following a game you may think 'Why not Ke7?' then play it on the board and analyse as if you had a real board. Gambit studio only lets you play PRINTED moves. Still, great titles also with Gambit Studio. As John Nunn explains, it has allowed him to rescue gems like Secrets of Rook Endings that would not make sense to print on paper

Currently purchased: 40 Forward Chess books, about 15 of Gambit

Many of them I have also in print, but it allows to travel very light and of course printed books are still great.
TimmyBx TimmyBx 12/16/2015 04:19
With Kindle books, you can read the same book on different apps, and it will remember where you are. For example, start reading on your iPhone, then switch to your kindle, picking up at the spot you left off. All the information is kept in the cloud.
oldsalt7 oldsalt7 12/16/2015 10:38
Great stuff. I have a whole range of books on e+, Forward Chess & Gambit Chess Studio. Only Forward Chess has the facility to use a chess engine (stockfish 6). e+ is losing out due to not having this facility. Gambit books are only available on Chess Studio, so there is no choice. It is about time that the others, including Everyman's Chess Viewer offered this facility.
thlai80 thlai80 12/16/2015 02:16
One thing that developer needs to consider is migration from iOS to Android or vice versa. If I purchase a hardcopy, I can read the book anywhere. But if I purchase in iOS and then having another Android device, does it work? It has to have the ability for cross platforms when it comes to e-books purchased.
Queenslander Queenslander 12/15/2015 11:52
I think ebooks are wonderful! Although I still love my printed books (I was a Bobby Fischer 'boomer'), ebooks help me learn more quickly.

I find it's best to work/play right through variations without trying to go back and forth. I don't worry if I can't remember everything the first time (or even the second time). The most important thing for me is to develop understanding and a general feel for the opening or type of position - this is what translates into better results for me in tournament play.

I therefore think the opinions of genem and XChess1971 below are a bit too extreme. I'm Elo 2000-2150 strength (currently FIDE 2080) and ebooks work for me.
XChess1971 XChess1971 12/15/2015 10:01
If you can't remember the moves. I don't understand what are you doing playing chess. You shouldn't even use a board.
genem genem 12/15/2015 07:11
I have purchased *active* chess ebooks for Gambit, Everyman, and I tried to write a comprehensive review of all the features, comparisons, strengths and weaknesses --- but there is so much important detail to describe that concision proved impossible.
But let me drive home one major problem:

* These active chess ebooks give you no good way to REPEAT the opening variation you just now stepped through.

Oh sure, you can step backward through the variation very easily. But when you try to step forward through that same variation again, at each half-move the software pops up a list of next moves and you must remember each move you chose a moment ago when you stepped forward through the variation. Sometimes you remember, but sometimes you are unsure and chaos ensues.

Web browsers have Back and Forward buttons, and the Forward button remembers for you. These active ebooks should have a similar kind of forward button.