Towards the end of one of my recent economics tutorials at university, I asked my students if there were any questions. There was a brief discussion (in Dutch) among three boys in the front row and then one shot up his hand and said, “Sir, can you help us?” while waving his iPhone with the other hand. It’s not unusual for my students to have the lecture notes or even textbook on their phones, so I wandered forward to see what was up. To my surprise I saw that he had the Chess.com app open on the screen, and as I came closer he continued, “I’m playing a game against my Dad, and we googled you and saw that you’re a grandmaster, so we thought…”
The rise of the smartphone has given chess players a new lease on life when it comes to the chess world, with a whole raft of apps available for following tournaments, learning and playing. And quite a few of my friends outside of the chess world use apps to play ‘correspondence’ games with their friends or family, usually playing at most one move per day. I had a similar thing set up in my old share house where my housemate would write his move every day on a scoresheet we stuck on the fridge, and I’d reply in kind when I got home. And recently we set up a board in the living room of my new place and Sabina and I played a similar game (a surprisingly high quality one, too) over the course of a month.
And now there’s a new way to play while virtually ‘hanging out’ with your friends: Facebook Chess. There are over a billion people connected to Facebook and personally I use it for short messages to my friends far more often than email, text or even WhatsApp. The clever people at Facebook have now added an ‘easter egg’ – a tech term for a hidden computer function – to their messenger program. And despite it being pretty basic, it’s totally cool.
Using it is very simple: Just type @fbchess play to one of your friends as a Facebook message. That will automatically start a game in your personal chat thread with them (the computer will work out the colours, but if you want to get ahead, type instead @fbchess play white ). After that, it’s just like one of those old-school command-based chess programs from the nineties. Just write the commands using algebraic notation, and don’t forget that they’re case sensitive too. So for example, @fbchess e4 works, and so does @fbchess Bg7 , but not @fbchess bg7 . Each move appears on the board in the messenger window so you can see where you’re up to.
Anyway, if you make a mistake, it’ll tell you, and you can always type @fbchess help if you want a list of commands. Useful other ones include @fbchess undo (but your opponent has to accept the takeback, naturally!) and – let’s hope not – @fbchess resign .
You’ve probably already worked it out, but every chess-based command starts with @fbchess ; if you want to just write a normal message (like “Ha, didn’t see that coming, didya?!”), just write it as you normally would.
Okay, it’s no Fritz, but I still think it’s kind of a cool hidden feature of something I probably use about thirty times a day. And you know those awkward Facebook chats where you can’t think of anything to say and are desperately looking for a suitable yet harmless emoticon because it’s your turn to write? Well. Now you can just play a move.