Chess Software for Linux

Once there was a time when chess software for the home was slow, weak and expensive. To find human opponents, you had to go to your local chess club. Today, the situations is different.

Linux offers a host of chess software that provides master strength computer opponents and analysis, and even an interface for playing against people all over the world via the Internet.

The strongest chess programs readily available for Linux (to my knowledge) are Crafty, Phalanx, and GNU Chess. Crafty is the strongest, though Phalanx and GNU Chess play at master strength (with fast hardware). Crafty is available via anonymous ftp from while Phalanx is available from the standard sunsite ( and GNU Chess can be downloaded from any GNU archive ( The chess interface of choice (compatible with all three) is known as xboard, though a pretty 3D interface known as GLChess is available (the home page is The most recent version of xboard should also be available from any GNU archive, though an older release probably came with your Linux distribution along with GNU Chess.


Crafty is the “long-time hobby” of Bob Hyatt, whose previous works include Blitz and Cray Blitz. Crafty is a very strong program and is constantly being enhanced. Though you could just download the Linux binary and use it as is, opening books and endgame databases are available from the ftp site, and add much to the playability and strength of the program. You have a choice between 1 MB (small), 30 MB (medium) and 74MB (large) opening books (or, if you like, the monstrous wall.gz which expands to 222 MB). For a basic installation, download the files crafty-14.13.linux,,, crafty.doc, crafty.faq and, or the latest source if you want to compile it yourself. Give Crafty its own directory (to store the book, game, position and log files), move the Crafty files there and unzip them. Execute Crafty (if you get a permission denied error, try using chmod on crafty-14.13.linux).

To create the opening book (book.bin) from the file small.txt to a depth of 60 ply (30 moves), type:

book create small.txt 60

The file books.bin should also be created in order to tell Crafty which openings it should (and shouldn't) play. The file start.pgn contains the necessary data. Just type:

books create start.pgn 60
After this brief “installation”, you should have a small, master strength chess program on your Linux box.

Performance can be maximized by allocating more memory to the hash and pawn hash tables. I have a 64 MB machine, so I set the options hash=24M and hashp=10M. Crafty configurations can be specified on startup; this means that you can include Crafty's startup commands in the resource file of your window manager for easier Crafty startup in X Windows.

Crafty can be run through xboard, with the Crafty-exclusive benefit of a splendid analysis mode (compatible with more recent versions of xboard) that allows you to move the pieces for both sides while Crafty rattles off analysis several moves deep (you can use analysis mode without xboard, but it's not as much fun). In order to start up Crafty through xboard, type:

xboard -fcp 'crafty xboard'

or you can specify more options such as:

xboard -fcp 'crafty xboard hash=12M hashp=5M'


Even though Phalanx, by Dusan Dobes, is the youngest of the three chess programs (it began in '97) it has managed to become quite imposing; in fact, it is not much weaker than some modern commercial chess software. Phalanx is also fun to play and good for variety, since Crafty, GNU Chess, and Phalanx all have different personalities. Phalanx should compile easily without any errors, and is then immediately functional. It has a small, default opening book, but creating your own from a PGN (pretty good notation) file is easy; instructions are contained in the README file. Phalanx can be used through xboard by typing:

xboard -fcp phalanx
GNU Chess

GNU Chess is the classic chess program which has been around for ages on a number of platforms. It is also rather strong and quite fun to play. GNU Chess came with my Slackware and Red Hat installations, and I imagine it comes on other Linux distributions as well, so you may already have it on your machine. It is very fun for blitz chess, especially since with its default opening book it is prone to making original moves which may or may not be very good (this doesn't matter since it wins anyway). GNU Chess can be played in a console or under the X Window System through an interface. When xboard is executed, by default it loads up GNU Chess and prepares for blitz games of 5 minutes per side. You can, as usual, specify startup options; the xboard man page contains the details.



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Computer chess on vs Linux

Evildutch's picture

I used to play computer chess on using a Fritz interface (Fritz 11), which was able to load UCI engines like Rybka. I'm trying to find a way to play on using ubuntu as a platform, but wasn't able to find a satifactory solution, with Wine the Fritz application just won't start. Probably the Linux community might find a solution for this in the near future.

Rybka the best chess

greenkyd's picture

Rybka the best chess software as of now is made only for Windows based. basic versions of Rybka you can play in Linux with Arena

There seems to be no

Anonymous's picture

There seems to be no reasonable gui for chess in linux. Only xboard supports analysis. None other!!

Linux Chess Gui

Stevenaaus's picture

I just discovered Scid It is mainly a database program, but with many strong engines that can be played against too.

It has bugs, but i'm fixing up the "Play" menu item to work flawlessly. CVS has the latest fixes.


Anonymous's picture

I always use PyChess for playing offline, online or analyzing.
It has support for all the engines, and it even has its own, which isn't so hard to beat though.

Any idea of ELO strenght?

Roberto Perez-Franco's picture

Hi there! Thanks for the article. Is there any estimate of the strength (say, in ELO) of these chess softwares, for a given hardware?

Re: Chess Software for Linux

Anonymous's picture

Very nice article.

Just one mistake that can be corrected(pgn = portable game notation) and not pretty good notation :). Or maybe the author was being funny.

In any case, this article is good, there is also 1 more strong program called ruffian, but not sure if linux ruffian is available.

Ruffian Linux

Anonymous's picture

Ruffian linux is a commercial product carried by Lokasoft.