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Internet Chess Club

The Internet Chess Club is a commercial Internet site devoted to the play and discussion of chess and chess variants. Paid members and guests play tens of thousands of games each day, and it is not uncommon to find over 2,000 chess players logged on to ICC. Additional services, most of which are available only to paid members, include

  • live broadcast of grandmaster tournaments with professional commentary
  • a searchable database of grandmaster games
  • recorded lectures on various chess themes
  • regular club tournaments
  • private lessons by professionals
  • ongoing player ratings modeled on the Elo rating system
  • dozens of chat channels on various chess topics

History

In the late 1980s a band of volunteers created the first Internet chess server (ICS) for fun. Players logged in by telnet, the board was displayed as ASCII text, and there were hilarious bugs in the server software which allowed, for example, rooks to be taken en passant. A small band of players reveled in the mere technological wonder of playing chess in real time with opponents from all over the world.

Over time more and more features were added to ICS, such as ELO ratings and a choice of graphical interfaces. The playing pool grew steadily, many of the server bugs were fixed, and players began to have higher expectations for stability.

In 1992 Daniel Sleator volunteered to take over as head programmer, and began a large overhaul of the server code. He addressed, among other issues, the frequent complaint that players would lose blitz games on time due to Internet lag. In 1994 he copyrighted the code, and began receiving purchase offers from companies wanting to commercialize the server.

On March 1, 1995, Sleator announced his intentions to commercialize ICS himself, renaming it the Internet Chess Club, or ICC, and charging a yearly membership fee of $49. The announcement was met by howls of protest. Many volunteers who had contributed in various ways to the flourishing of ICS were upset that anyone would attempt to profit from their efforts. ICC distributed several dozen free accounts to volunteers, but not everyone was mollified.

Within a few weeks, various volunteers took pre-copyrighted ICS code and whipped it into shape with features approximating those of ICC. They dubbed their server the Free Internet Chess Server[?] (FICS), and continued to allow everyone to have access to all features for free.

Despite its controversial beginning, ICC retained enough members and offered enough services to sustain a thriving chess community. The initially bitter rivalry with FICS gradually became less heated, although relations are still strained at times. ICC currently has roughly double the paid playing population it had in 1996. Not counting guests who play on ICC for free without having access to ratings and other features, ICC currently has about three times the playing population of FICS.

The free game services Yahoo and Pogo have a much larger number of chess players logged on at any given time than the Internet Chess Club. On the other hand, ICC has by far the largest active population of internationally titled players (FM, IM, and GM), who get complimentary accounts. In general, serious chess players are drawn to the rich set of services and features on ICC and FICS.

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