How understanding chess players helps design decisions

Hello ChessJournal fans!

Welcome to another update on the development of the best companion app for over the board chess players (I know Im bias but what the heck). Last week I spoke about several ways ChessJournal can benefit the amateur chess fan. This week I thought I would discuss a major design decision for ChessJournal and why we have chosen that route.

Since the beginning I’ve wanted ChessJournal to be a product not a service.  Let me explain what I mean…

When I explain to friends, family and team mates what ChessJournal is many of them ask if it will be cloud based i.e. will you be able to remotely store your chess games and access them from any device.  In short the answer is no.  By choosing to make ChessJournal cloud based there are a number of factors that we need to consider, most importantly the storage of your data and all the factors that this entails (e.g. emails, usernames and passwords).

In essence, making ChessJournal cloud based means making it a service that would have a number of implications. These include:

  • 24 hour access and support (I know I’m a young father but even I have to sleep some time!);
  • A subscription payment model in order to cover mine and Matt’s time with servers and data storage etc;
  • Reliance on an internet connection!

This final point may initially sound moot but if you think about our principle of “carrying all your chess games in your pocket” then a reliance on an internet connection can be annoying.  From personal experience, many tournaments in the UK are limited in their wifi coverage and are often in cold dark halls but I have also been known to conduct analysis on trains, planes and even the bathroom (perhaps I’m sharing too much now…)!

So very early on in the development of ChessJournal we felt that it was a product and not a service.

We want chess players to access their games anytime, anywhere. No matter what.

We want to focus our efforts on making an exceptional application that  improves and meets the needs of over the board chess players with each new release.

We want the ChessJournal community to engage and tell us how they are using their individual ChessJournal’s and what features they need.

We want people to pay once and receive all the benefits that ChessJournal can provide for years without having to worry about monthly or annual subscription fees.

Perhaps most importantly we want a premium application that is not littered with adverts, or pushing people to constantly upgrade.

A final added benefit of us choosing to make ChessJournal a product and not a service is that all of your game data will naturally be stored in the cloud anyway as a natural consequence of backing up your iPhone.  Therefore, you the customer, have the best of both worlds. A quality premium app with your data backed up.  Happy days!

As always I will finish this post with an update on progress this week.  The big news from development land is that we have integrated the StockFish analysis engine (with a few wires still hanging out of the back) and are tweaking our game board interface.  Obviously the integration of StockFish enables a strong level of analysis but also allows some fun planning on the ChessJournal roadmap in the future. Keep your ears open for those updates.

Our social media presence continues to creep up with our little community now totalling 365 likes or follows.  Thank you for all your comments, shares and feedback.  Me and Matt genuinely take onboard every comment as we continue our journey towards launch day (what I have affectionately started calling “International ChessJournal Day”).

Keep reading and sharing!

Until next time…

Jon

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

 

 

 

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Four ways ChessJournal helps you improve

Hello ChessJournal fans!

Its been just over month since my last update on the development of ChessJournal and some of you no doubt are wondering what has been going on.  Its been a very busy month as myself and Matt have dived into the main development of the app.  Hence the radio silence! I will provide an update at the end of this post on development but in the meantime I wanted to talk about four core ways that we believe ChessJournal will help you improve at chess.

#1 It provides focus on your game

In essence, ChessJournal becomes the repository for your competitive, over the board, chess career.  As well as providing a portable digital solution to all those paper scoresheets, it also allows a fast and efficient aggregation of your performance, trends and mistakes.  Rather than focus on reading the latest theory of the Sicilian at GM level, ChessJournal helps you self analyse and spot where you personally go wrong.

For example, I am consistently a 1800-1850 club player. At that level it is often tactics that win or lose a game.  From a period of extensive self analysis I have spotted that I have a particular weakness for the “pushed pawn fork”. On numerous occasions I have dropped a piece by analysing to death the consequences of pawn takes pawn but failing to see the very obvious piece fork that occurs from my opponent simply pushing the pawn on.  I can’t explain this personal failure. It seems to be a tactical blindspot for me.  However, through self analysis I am now much more aware of it and have added a double check to my mental routine when sat across from my opponent.  Who knows how many points this personal adjustment may save me next season?

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(P.S. Im also aware that I could have won a pawn on c4 in the above position.  What can I say? It was a bad day!)

#2 It removes the distraction of online performance

Every game that you choose to input to your personal ChessJournal will be played over the board in the context of a competitive environment.  It will not include blitz games played on the sofa with one thumb and half an eye on the board. It won’t evaluate your performance based on staring at a small 2D screen. It won’t evaluate your performance if you had to change a nappy half way through.

ChessJournal makes a clear distinction between classical chess and modern digital play.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against playing chess online but as I said in the last blog post, the two are very different beasts.  ChessJournal allows you to focus and learn from serious play (and also allows you to not beat yourself up for losing a Sicilian that you “should know” when playing with a three minute time control)

#3 It makes it easier to seek advice

The third way that ChessJournal allows you to improve is by utilising the power of digital to record and share your competitive chess games with friends, club mates and teachers.  If you are carrying your whole chess career in your pocket then showing that amazing exchange sacrifice just got a hell of a lot easier!  Whether you are sending it to Twitter, Facebook or email or just kibitzing face to face in the local coffee shop, a second opinion and fresh pair of eyes on your games enables objective critique as well as different perspectives.  Something that goes a long way to helping you understand and learn more about your own play.

#4 Your nemesis is never far away…

The forth advantage of ChessJournal is for those last minute double checks before a game. Perhaps you have been drafted into a league match at the last minute and are playing a person you already played this season.  Or maybe the draw for the last round of the tournament has just gone up and you realise that its your arch nemesis who knows you inside out!  What to do?

ChessJournal will allow to have all your games in your pocket enabling a quick spot of rapid research to determine exactly which obscure line of the Sicilian you and your nemesis played last time (and perhaps where you should deviate…).

As you can probably tell, the above four examples (and the reason for the development of ChessJournal itself) are inspired by my own experiences of being a competitive, amateur,  chess player.  I hope at least some of them resonate with you and help you understand what we aim to achieve with ChessJournal.

Bug hunting and polish

I will finish this post with an update on the progress of the app’s development.  Its fair to say the old adage of completing 80% of the work in 20% of the time is so so true as we steadily work through our development bug list one issue at a time.  We are determined to give ChessJournal the polish and performance that a world class app deserves so please bear with us!  To give you an example of some of the stranger bugs we have discovered, we had an interesting problem last week when trying to input a game where the native iOS behaviour of swiping on the left hand side of the screen to “go back” meant that we were unable to touch any chess pieces that were sat on the A file (quite a dilemma as I really wanted to move my “dim knight” to c5).

However, everything is positive and at the time of writing we have launched ChessJournal onto the app stores test servers, not once but twice.  Our target for ChessJournal v1.0 being available is May so not long to wait now.

Finally as usual I want to thank you all for reading but also your support on social media.  Since my last blog post our social media presence has grown to 334 people so thank you very much.

Until next time, keep spreading the word about ChessJournal.  Lets do this!

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

 

Why over the board is different

Hello ChessJournal fans!

Several people have asked me why ChessJournal is only for over the board (OTB) chess players.  A couple of others  have queried why they will not be able to play other people at chess on their mobile phones via ChessJournal. I thought I would write a quick piece clarifying our thoughts on this.  Surprisingly the answer is almost the reason for ChessJournal’s existence.

Fundamentally, we believe that OTB chess is different to playing online.

The act of sitting directly across from your opponent and looking them in the eye.  The act of using a three dimensional board as opposed to a 2D screen. The ticking of the clock and the constant fear of trying to read how much time is left, wondering when the flag will fall. The hunger hitting you after 4hrs of play and the knowledge you had a light lunch. The temperature of the room and the distraction of your team mates exchange sacrifice on the board next to you…

At ChessJournal we believe that our performances and the factors that influence our results are too different in OTB chess to be compared with online.  Indeed my own rating is some 250ELO points lower online than when compared to OTB. Almost certainly as I focus on quick games of two dimensional blitz with half an eye on Netflix or the latest dirty nappy!

Too many chess apps focus on the pure chess playing experience on your mobile phone. This market is saturated with 1000’s of apps and websites.  Two obvious big players in this market are chess.com and chess24.com who can measure their customers in the 100,000s if not millions.  Playing online chess has been done.

At ChessJournal we want to create an app for the chess connoisseur.  The serious, competitive player who understands what it means to sit down and “shuffle wood” with your long term nemesis from the club down the road.  We want to create an app that will allow this type of chess player to digitise their chess career (given that our phones are always switched off when playing OTB) and actually learn, share and analyse this very different, more traditional, form of combative chess.  To learn about themselves and their game in the traditional, historical format of past world champions and their chess heroes.

Thats why we are making ChessJournal.

To conclude, I will end this blog post as I always do with a quick update on our development progress in the last two weeks.

Its been a slightly quieter time from myself as I returned to work after paternity leave but Matt has been working hard on the development.  Unfortunately we had a setback yesterday when we realised that a major piece of code we were using was in BETA and had actually been updated outside our knowledge.  This has necessitated some rebuild work from Matt who its fair to say was frustrated but also relieved that he had figured out the problem!

Finally for those that missed it, we launched a companion website for ChessJournal last week that explains more about the app: chessjournalapp.com.  Please check it out.

I also did some slightly comedic video marketing which actually received a lot of positive feedback and helped boost our social media presence well over 250 likes / followers.  You can see the video here.

Thank you for reading and please keep spreading the word of ChessJournal.

Cheers

Jon

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

 

Fonts and Followers

I can’t believe its been 11 days since the last update, time flies!  Matt and myself have been busy beavering away on various aspects of ChessJournal and have had some great successes and interesting times…

On the positive front, we have almost completed all of the core functionality for ChessJournal, huzzah! The only exception is the ability to extract key analysis data from our open source chess engine and link it to games.  This is the last piece of version 1.0 functionality to be developed and although StockFish is very large, Matt assures me he is in the process to taming the savage beast.  Its just trickier than other aspects of the development and requires a little more time.

codechessjournal

As for myself, I spent the week developing a brochure website for ChessJournal (chessjournalapp.com – going live soon) to explain the premise and benefits of ChessJournal.  One interesting event that happened this week when I went to purchase the very nice fonts that we had been planning on using in the design of ChessJournal (font geeks should know we planned on a nice Optima / Palatino combo which was looking lovely).  Unfortunately I failed to notice a very small dropdown menu on fonts.com which adjusts the price of the font you want depending on usage.  For example, do you want to use the font on a website or an app.  When I adjusted the dropdown menu for “web app usage” my basket price increased from a respectable £75 (which I was quite prepared to pay) to an astonishing £2,490 (which you will be stunned to hear I was not prepared to pay)!  Further digging around revealed that we had to go back to the drawing board on the fonts being used in ChessJournal which necessitated revisiting all the design work to date and generally lost us a couple of days.  This will be why the more astute of you will have noticed a subtle logo tweak this week.

 

The logo and design on the left would cost £2,490.  The ones on the right would cost a hell of a lot less. Ah well, you live and learn!

Finally we registered on the Apple app store and have started proceedings to get ChessJournal into the store and evaluated and cleared.  To be up front, version 1.0 of ChessJournal will only be available for iOS devices but we fully intend to roll out on the Android Play store as part of our development roadmap (I will do another post on the ChessJournal roadmap close to launch).  Its just we had to start somewhere and I feel the mac community is sorely under supported when it comes to Chess.

So that is a very development heavy update from the ChessJournal team.  A real positive this week is our community has continued to grow, particularly on FaceBook.  Some targeted marketing from myself at chess clubs from around the world has boosted our FaceBook likes from 8 to 63 in a few short days.  Twitter continue to ticks along at 144 followers so we can comfortably say the ChessJournal community is now “in the hundreds”.

I want to say a massive thank you to all you early adopters of who have expressed an interest in ChessJournal. It really is lovely to get all the messages, questions and recommendations from around the world and I know moving forward it will put ChessJournal in a really strong place. We want ChessJournal to grow and evolve so if you are reading this and feel your chess club team mates and friends would be interested, please do spread the word.

Until next time!

Jon

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

 

Introducing Chess Trends

Hello again ChessJournal fans!  First of all my apologies for being quiet in this last week.  I expect most of you will let me off for my tardy blogging when you learn that in the last 7 days I have become a father for the first time!  A truly remarkable experience that meant developing an app for over the board (OTB) chess fans fell off my radar (and rightly so).  I have just settled my newborn son down to sleep so thought I would post a quick update.

Despite me being preoccupied with changing nappies, work on ChessJournal is progressing nicely.  Luckily myself and developer Matt agreed a cut off point for the design and functionality of ChessJournal version 1.0 the day before my world turned upside down last week.  Therefore, Matt has been chugging along nicely in my absence.

On todays blog I want to talk about the final piece of functionality that we have added to version 1.0 of ChessJournal.  We are calling it “Trends” and you will notice from the screenshots below that it is being given high priority alongside “Games” and “Stats” as we feel it is a crucial area of ChessJournal that will continue to grow and expand in subsequent releases of the app.

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“Trends” is basically a collection of patterns that ChessJournal collates about your OTB games to help you with your personal study and match play.  We haven’t really defined what makes up a “Trend” yet but we feel it is any pertinent data from which a pattern can be detected to help inform your personal study.  For example, what day of the week do you play best on? Our introduction of “Trends” is partly the reason for my earlier blog post on how do you study chess.

Initially, ChessJournal 1.0 will be launching with three “Trends”:

  • Opponent performance: How you fair against different opponents depending on the result i.e. win, lose or draw;
  • Length of game: How you score in games of different types of length which indicates  areas of your game you should focus study;
  • Day of the week: How you score on different days of the week which should help you prepare for those long weekend tournaments (or the first league match after a big tournament).

I have added some screenshots of the Trends area of ChessJournal below for you to get an early glimpse of our efforts.

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An additional trend that me and Matt are working on is called “Mistakes”.  Basically we are hoping to develop a solution that shows you when in games you tend to make mistakes and the nature of them i.e. an inaccuracy (?!), a mistake (?) or a full on blunder (??).  I will blog more on the mistakes trend when I have more information and progress to report.

A final point on “Trends” is that it can become an area very much informed by you, the ChessJournal community.  On the community front, since my last post we have added another 22 Twitter followers and Facebook has rocketed up to a monstrous 8 likes! Slow and steady wins the race! Please do keep in touch and let us know your thoughts and help spread the word of ChessJournal, we really appreciate the support.  Thank you for reading!

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

A design preview…

We are drawing to the end of another week and I thought I would share some news from the ChessJournal team.

Development is well under way this week with file structures and basic forms starting to take shape.  Matt assures me that he is having lots of fun whilst I continue to tinker with designs and try to tell the wider world about ChessJournal.  Speaking of spreading the word about our project, we had an interesting week on social networks.

Our Twitter presence has risen by a massive 28 followers to 105 people.  I am pleased to be getting a steady stream of feedback and comments from the Twittersphere so kept it up people!  I also decided to register a presence on Facebook knowing thats its an easy platform for a lot of chess clubs to use.  During the registration process Facebook very kindly told me that 28,000,000 people had stated an interest about chess on Facebook.  I excitedly set up the ChessJournal page imagining all the untapped potential…

After a week we have 6 likes (and one of those was my wife).

My disappointment at the Facebook presence was dramatically forgotten in the middle of the week however when the ChessJournal blog started to receive a massive spike in visitors.  A deep dive into our analytics revealed that an innocuous post on Reddit (“What is your workflow when you analyse your own games?“) had started to drive a lot of traffic our way.  I noted that the Chess community on Reddit only numbered approximately 50,000 people which, when compared to Facebook, shows thats its not about quantity but quality of engaged passionate Chess players online!  I whole heartedly embrace the Reddit crowd, welcome to ChessJournal!

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To finish with I thought I would share some early screenshots of our design efforts.  Obviously things are in flux as the natural part of a design and development process but I hope this gives you an idea of what to expect from ChessJournal 1.0.

I hope you all have a good week and I look forward to giving you more updates soon.  Until then, spread the word!

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UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

 

How do you study chess?

Its been an exciting first week at ChessJournal as development started and news broke to the world!  Ive been pleased to see the initial response despite very little content to show for mine and Matt’s (everyone say hello to developer Matt, my partner in crime) efforts so far.  We have amassed a whopping 74 followers on Twitter and had some positive affirmations of the ChessJournal concept.  A good start!

As I sit here on a lazy Sunday morning drinking coffee, the thought occurred to me that everyone studies chess differently.  Its a very unique endeavour often accompanied by strange looks from partners, friends and family as we mutter to ourselves in the corner via candlelight (Ok. so its not 19th century London but you get the gist).

Personally I’ve probably spent too many hours changing and studying openings, looking for the killer start to every game even though I really need to focus on finishing them. A common amateurs mistake as every player over 2000 will tell you. I can think of two instances in my life where a shift from opening study to tactics paid off almost instantly with improved league performances and a Major tournament win in my local city of Bristol.  In my opinion, its tactics that decide most games at the amateur league level at which I currently compete.  Getting to an endgame would be nice…

So we know that there are primarily the three stages to a chess game we could study, openings, middle games endgames, and we can also look at tactical improvements vs. positional strategic endeavours.  I can spend a lot of money on books and a lot of hours reading them hunched over a board studying these concepts (nodding along pretending I understand them).  But the question becomes how do you know what to study and who decides what your personal weaknesses are?

Chessbooks.jpg

ChessJournal is intended to help you with this question by making it easy to analyse your games (alone or with friends), record your personal thoughts about hard lessons learned, and spot trends and patterns which can guide your future self-study.

But there are other aspects to study that we want ChessJournal to address.  We are not just talking about openings vs. endgames or tactics vs. strategy.  Where do you study?  When?  Who with? What little tricks have you learnt that helps the knowledge leave the pages of the book and enter you brain ready for the next competition?!  What desperate bit of information are you looking for in your games? Maybe its when on average in a game you tend to go wrong? Maybe its the impact of time of day?  Please do tell us how you study chess.

Now is the time to talk to myself and Matt. We want you, the chess players, to help guide ChessJournal’s development. As I said in my last post, its all about your game.  You aren’t going to play anyone else’s!

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

 

A Chess Journal?

Welcome to The Chess Journal Blog.

This will be the official place for news and updates on ChessJournal as well as an open forum for feedback on the application.  The app is currently in development and we hope will be available in “early 2016”.  After launch we hope to keep an open dialogue with fans and purchasers of ChessJournal as we iteratively work to develop the best app there is for personal self improvement in the world of chess.  But we are getting ahead of selves.  What is ChessJournal?

From my perspective, it is a passion project from a team exploring the world of digital design and chess.  But as far you the reader is concerned, it is a digital solution to a physical problem…

The internet is wonderful medium for playing two-dimensional chess against strangers.  But if you are reading this I suspect, like me, you are also a fan of the more traditional form of chess.  Two people sat opposite each other engaged in a battle of wills, trying to secretly outwit each other when the answers are all there on the board. You could be sat anywhere in the world.  A park in New York. A coffee shop in Paris. Once I played in the Sahara desert against a camel driver!  Whilst ChessJournal is focused on over the board chess it is in a specific context that our app comes to life: competition.

For a whole range of reasons in competitive chess a player is not allowed his phone on.  It is a purely physical and mental endeavour as you focus solely on the 64 squares and the person sat opposite you.  However, one annoying side effect of competitive chess is the culmination of literally hundreds of scoresheets!

scoresheets

At the completion of a competitive game of chess the first thing we do is console or congratulate our opponent before diving into the mistakes we made, the masterly moves we conducted and our grand plans we so wanted to work.  We rush home and plug moves in computers and databases, and wince when we get the answers back. But why?

We want to get better. We want higher grades. We want to stop making mistakes.

The next day or the weekend we often arrange to meet friends in the park or coffee shop and share the tails of our chess escapades in order to seek advice, guidance and sympathy.

Enter ChessJournal.

ChessJournal is the digitisation of your chess career.  It is never leaving the house without your games collection.  It is analysing that late blitz finish on the commute to work.  Its looking at statistical breakdowns of your whole chess season and spotting trends, patterns and themes.  Its instantly sharing your exchange sacrifice with your best mate because you know they will love it!

Who is ChessJournal for?  You could argue its for amateurs, club players, semi-professionals and literally anyone who wants to get serious about study.  At its simplest I would say its for you.

Its all about your game.

Over the the next few weeks I will be posting up further updates on progress.  I hope you get as much from studying and sharing your games as we have from designing and building ChessJournal. Thanks for reading and please do follow us on Twitter.

Kind regards

Jon

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.