You don’t have to be a Grandmaster like Bobby Fischer to play a game of chess. Heck, you don’t even need to own a chess set. All you need is a decent internet connection and one of these awesome websites for online chess where you can learn how to play or hone your skills against other players.
Generally speaking, most chess sites offer a balanced variety of resources for playing chess and learning how the game works. They also offer options for playing casual ranked matches as well as tournament play. The sites are also great for analyzing games and watching live streams of pros playing in global tournaments, and most are compatible with tons of languages as chess is an internationally-beloved game.
Update, 2/10/22: Checked that links and content still up to date.
New players, or those looking to improve their skills, should choose a site that offers robust learning tools, from lessons and puzzles to video tutorials and tactics trainers. These will help ensure you not only know the basics but are learning to think like a chess master. And if you’re looking to get serious, some sites even have professional coaches you can hire for regular lessons that’ll help train you on tactics, analysis, and strategy.
Chess.com (free, with premium options) is one of the best sites for playing and learning how to play chess. You can access it on the web or via the site’s iOS and Android apps. The site has phenomenal tools and features for both beginners and Grandmasters. (You may even occasionally see a few playing a game there, like Magnus Carlsen or Hikaru Nakamura.)
The site has plenty of options for live and AI games and puzzles, tournaments, and educational resources. You can easily find an opponent at your level, no matter what it is, whether you want to play a real-time game or one via correspondence. You can even keep track of your place on the leaderboard, which hosts stats for the site’s three million users.
Article lessons are paced out from the absolute beginning (learning how to move each piece) to master level maneuvers (like advanced tactics and endgame patterns). You can also watch live streams of expert players, review master games, and peruse a list of chess experts (including Grandmasters) that are available to hire as your chess coach. Or if you’re the expert, you can join Chess.com’s PRO Chess League or Speed Chess Championship.
Basic membership is free and lets you play unlimited real-time and correspondence-style games, and participate in forums. The three premium plans range from $2.42-$8.25 per month and get you access to additional features like unlimited puzzles and lessons, game reports and analysis, and unlimited video library access. Whether you choose to upgrade to a paid plan or not, Chess.com has invaluable resources that should appeal to casual and pro players alike.
Another great site for tactics training is Lichess (free).
It’s an open-source server, so there are no ads or premium paywalls, and you can access the site online or via its iOS and Android apps. You can play games against a friend or AI, or choose to participate in Swiss tournaments, daily or monthly Arena tournaments, or Simultaneous exhibitions. If you’re a beginner, you can jump in with Lichess’ Chess Basics feature, try your hand at a variety of puzzles, practice and study, or even hire an expert chess coach.
In addition to standard games, Lichess also allows for variant game types like Crazyhouse, Chess960, Kling of the Hill, Three-check, Antichess, Atomic, Horde, and Racing Kings, and you can set your own parameters for increments and minute per side. The site has integration with Twitch, so you can watch chess players from around the world stream without leaving the site. You can also review historic games in the site’s library, or browse the community forum to look for information about the site or game.
Although the site’s home page makes it seem like it’s focused on tournaments, chess24 (free with premium options) actually has fantastic tools for training as well. There’s a tab for watching live tournaments and other events in between games, or you can find something to buy from the site’s merch shop.
New players have plenty of options for learning, like chess24’s lovely chess courses, video series (with lessons from top players), ebooks, tactics trainer, and move database and analysis. Chess24’s Playzone makes it easy to play a game, with options for playing ranked opponents with varying time controls, or in a tournament. There is a player leaderboard that stays regularly updated, and a tactics trainer that’s available on both the web and the iOS app.
To access some of these features, however, you’ll need to upgrade to one of the premium plans, which range from $9.90-$14.99 per month. Upgrading gets you full access to everything on the site, like ebooks and videos, tactics training, game analysis, live premium training from experienced coaches, and more.
Before Chess.com and Lichess, there was the Internet Chess Club (starts at $9.95 per month). It’s one of the oldest chess servers out there, and though other sites have swooped in and stolen a bit of its thunder, ICC still an outstanding place to play a game against other great players, many of whom are titled. The site runs on prepaid and subscription-based memberships but offers a free 30-day trial.
The Internet Chess Club is rich with options for learning and playing chess. Though registering for a free account lets you play limited free games and access the site’s more than 3,000 video lessons, you’ll get the most out of the site by upgrading to a paid plan. From there, you can play in sitewide and USCF-rated tournaments, take chess courses and practice in ICC’s Learning Center, follow global elite chess tournaments, and watch Grandmasters compete.
The site has an extensive list of coaches available to hire if you need help building up or polishing your chess-playing skills. Likewise, ICC’s options for gameplay are also robust, with weekly online tournaments, casual games with friends, and official U.S. Chess Federation online rating tournaments.
You can refer your friends and make money when they join, read the latest chess news, and talk with other players in the forums. There’s even a merch store, where you can snag all kinds of chess goodies from apparel and DVDS to boards and books. With ICC, you can download a client for your Windows, Mac, Kindle, and Chromebook devices, or through its iOS and Android apps.
Playchess.com (free with premium options) is run by ChessBase who made the popular chess software. It offers all kinds of options for engaging in the chess world, from training and playing, to studying and even watching Grandmasters play in tournaments. You can also see other players’ profiles, including those of Grandmasters, and review their game moves and stats.
Playchess has games for beginners, which can give you a limited number of hints, or you can play a normal game with time control elements (like bullet, blitz, or slow games) and no hints. And if you’re basically a pro, you can hop into a tournament and (hopefully) win a prize. The site also offers a large database of over eight million games, and even allows you to store your own in the cloud for later analysis.
For learning, the site offers tons of training videos, tactics training, and a tool for developing and exercising your opening strategies. Although this site is the only one in our comparison that doesn’t offer a mobile app, its library of training tools and playing options are absolutely worth checking out, no matter your level or ranking.