3 Chess Database and Engine Setups

In this article I want to show you three possible setups for a chess game database and start looking at your games (or other) with an engine.

Setup 1: A free and ready to go setup (all OS, all devices)

Your main (web)app will be simply using lichess.org. This is a ready to go and free setup that only requires a browser. This is very simple but gets some jobs done.

It features a “weak” engine (webversion stockfish run locally) build in. But weak only in comparision to engines on other hardware! It will beat most humans 99.99% of the time but might not be sufficient to research or verify opening lines for repertoires as it lacks depth and might not grasp fine positional aspects.

It has a built-in opening book and games.

You can create studies to analyze your own games or openings and manage a game collection that way. Many studies are freely available so you can check content created by other players, too.

Setup 2: A free setup that needs some downloads and configuration (all OS)

This contains Scid vs PC as DB app, Caissabase and stockfish 14 and / or leela (Lc0).

This is a free but powerful setup to store your games, have a bigger database and store your own analysis and opening files. You are also free to work offline which might be a thing at a tournament.

Running the latest stockfish on your local machine configurable given it’s a decent CPU or Lc0 on a decent GPU is quite a boost in calculation power compared to the web version. More threads, more memory, tablebases… just don’t expect the same out of a 10-year-old laptop and out of a brand-new gaming desktop. The latter will provide quite a strong engine.

Caissabase is a free chess games database with roughly 4.8M games at the time of writing. http://caissabase.co.uk/

Check out the www.theweekinchess.com downloadable database files. They are published every Monday and contain notable games played over the week. You can download them for free and add them to your existing database to be up to date with new variations.

In the resources section you can download a script to download multiple files at once and merge them to import easily if you are behind.

Setup 3: Buy software and configure it (note: Chessbase requires Windows or emulation)

Chessbase is not free but is used by almost all the pros. It does have some nice features. Chessbase India has some very good content on youtube showing them off.

You can also add a database to your shopping basket, mostly “Mega DataBase” or “Big DataBase”. The first one contains some annotated games but is pricier. Both contain at the time of writing roughly 8.4M games.

You can buy a new database every year if you feel generous or update the one you got. It is also possible to buy an outdated Big Database cheaper and update it via theweekinchess.com games even though it might take some time to add a few years. Again, merge script comes in handy.

However, in my opinion there is no need to pay extra for an engine: stockfish, slowchess, igel and /or leela (Lc0) are great choices and are all free. You can check out their ratings on http://ccrl.chessdom.com/ccrl/4040/

Please notice that Fat Fritz 2 is basically Stockfish 14 rebranded so it’s not worth at all to buy. If you really feel like spending Komodo a unique project and quite a beast.

Chessbase also offers an option to buy time on very powerful server grade machines (in a few clicks) that run the latest engines to have a deep look into opening lines. This is, depending on what you rent, the strongest setup available easily and those are considered “very powerful” engines.


So, what is best? Whatever fits your needs, pocket, and effort. Personally, I run Chessbase on an (now older) “Big Database” that I keep up to date with www.theweekinchess.com games. I can check on players, model games and stats on openings. Within Chessbase I run stockfish and Lc0 locally because they evaluate some positions quite differently and sometimes, they present different ideas. On lichess.org blitz or rapid games I use their built-in web engine because it’s strong enough to find my many mistakes and missed opportunities and does so very conveniently. I never rented any server time and I doubt I will.

What is a decent PC? This changes every few months. Check out https://www.mmo-champion.com/content/1683-Build-of-the-Month for decent builds for different price ranges that are updated regularly. Please notice that concerning chess, the graphics card (GPU power) matters only for engines that make use of it (like Lc0) right now.

With the addition of Efficiently Updatable Neural Networks (NNUE) to the later versions of stockfish and other engines it seems that hardware is becoming increasingly LESS relevant as more promising moves are found in a different way compared to older engine algorithms. More hardware power will still pack more punch, but the marginal effect of additional hardware ressources is declining rapidly and an engine update (eg. stockfish 9 to stockfish 14 with NNUE) running on the same hardware will make a bigger difference than upgrading your four year old computer to a brand new one running the older software.