It really wasn't that long ago that the idea of playing chess against a computer was about as realistic as Mr. Spock's ears, but today's chess engines are so powerful that even free game software can challenge expert players. Or so we assume with Mayura Chess Board, which quickly eclipsed our limited chess-playing skills and proved an excellent piece of software as well.
Mayura Chess Board's board and pieces have realistic 3D highlights. That plus a pair of counters labeled white and black and a window to hold captured pieces add up to this game's interface. A toolbar has some useful controls, including tools to rotate or resize the board, toggle sounds on and off, show the move list and game details, and access Hints. From the menu bar, we could change the skill level, reset the clock, and change the engine between three choices, Easy Peasy, Toga II, and Rybka, the default engine. We could also add and remove engines with the help of a small pop-up, save and return to games, type in moves directly into an entry field, and change various preferences, including the opening book. The Help menu included the rules of chess as well as tactical and strategic advice.
But how well does it play chess? Better than we can, that much is obvious, but it boasts some pretty high-level play for users who can take it on. The motion of the pieces is smooth, and moves are illuminated on the board in green squares, at least in the not-so-advanced settings. The program wouldn't let us make illegal moves and even gave us the opportunity to take blunders back. Mayura Chess Board certainly managed to knock some of the rust off of our chess game in a few bouts, though really we only managed to delay the inevitable a while longer each time. But our experience stressed what a great practice tool Mayura is, in addition to being an excellent chess game, free or not.