Best Chess Software Programs for Mac
We are evaluating Mac OS chess applications to rate the best chess software programs for chess players of all abilities on the Apple Mac. We are reviewing the chess programs using these assessment criteria:
- User Interface: How intuitive and easy to use is the product. Does it look good and provide for the needs of chess players, beginners, club players, experts and masters?
- Features: Does the software contain the features we would expect, is it powerful enough for the aspiring chess player to improve their chess?
- Engines: Are engines included with the chess software, how strong are they, do they provide a wide range of strength from beginner to World Champion, are third party engines supported?
- Database Management: What databases are included with the product, are they high quality with consistent and accurate player names, ratings, tournaments etc. Are the database management tools powerful enough?
- Openings and Endings: Chess openings are so important, does the chess program allow chess openings to be studied, can we find openings and the best moves in different positions?
- Game Play: Can you play against the computer, do we have a wide range of chess strengths to choose from, does the software adapt to the players chess strength, does it maintain a rating for you?
- Stability: Often forgotten but of such importantance is the question about how reliable is the software?
- Performance: Performance is critical when using chess software due to the amount of data being analysed, is it fast enough to handle the demands of large databases, searching games and analysing with engines and playing games?
#1 HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro
Recommended editions: Premium edition for experts and masters 4¾/5, Deep edition for club players 4¾/5, Standard edition for casual players 4½/5.
HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro for macOS was released in early 2022 after 10 years development by the developers of HIARCS Chess Explorer. The Pro version is aimed at the full range of chess players from beginner to Grandmasters and chess professionals. HCE Pro is already comfortably the most powerful chess program for the Apple Mac and the choice for all aspiring chess players who want the most powerful chess tools to study and improve their chess. Many ChessBase customer moving over to macOS are now switching to HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro and we recommend HCE Pro to all Apple Mac users who want the best chess software program on their Mac. Below are the ratings within our review categories. As you will see this software has no real weakness just strengths, sure there are some areas where it could be even better but that would be quite picky considering the software is under constant development and improvement with free upates coming even as recently as August 2023.
The HCE Pro user interface is very well designed with intuitive use of menus, toolbar icons and keyboard shortcuts for the experts. The interface uses multiple tabs with each tab containing a database, live tournament or playing a game against the computer. Within each tab the view can be customised from the simple chessboard and notation or include the numerous addition explorers, like Game, Analysis, Book, Tree, Evaluation and Player Explorers. The product also has numerous chessboard styles, chess piece-sets, it even has a blindfold mode!
HCE Pro has all the essential features for chess database and playing software and adds many advanced features that gives chess players the powerful tools needed to prepare, analysis and practice. The ability to read ChessBase databases (CBH), ChessBase archives (CBV) and ChessBase opening books (CTG) means ChessBase users can migrate to use the HCE Pro software knowing they can access their existing data and bring it to life with the new features of HCE Pro. Furthermore the ability to search for games, positions, players, material, pawn structure and practically most attribute of a chess game make this product so effective.
The engines include HIARCS 15, 15.1 and 15.2, in addition the Deep and Premium versions include extra Deep engines with performance from 3300 Elo to 3450 Elo. What makes the HIARCS engines special is their unqiue playing style, the human-like play qualities and perhaps most importantly the realistic handicap levels where any of the engines can play at any Elo rating from a complete beginner to beyond the World Chess Champion. In addition HCE Pro can load any other UCI chess engine that runs on Mac OS.
Edition sub rating:Standard edition 4/5 stars
Deep edition 4½/5 stars
Premium edition 4¾/5 stars
HCE Pro has packaged databases including a 2023 MasterBase game collection which is a very high quality database of IM/GM play. It also has a database of 1000+ annotated games and a tactics database for use it the puzzle mode. HCE Pro also supports the major ChessBase database formats as well as the chess standard PGN databases. Perhaps most importantly it has its own database format called HCE which is not only concise, it is super fast and in our experience faster than ChessBase. The reason we have dropped the rating to four and half stars is the current lack of a game update service.
HCE Pro has an outstanding choice of opening books with game statistics and play recommendations. The Deep edition has a larger 2023 opening book and the Premium version has the superb full collection of opening books with a complete human reference of opening play and an outstanding tournament book, over 120 million positions! In addition the Deep and Premium editions have access to online endgame tablebases of perfect play in the endgame with 6 or fewer pieces on the board. Highly recommended.
Edition sub rating:Standard edition 4/5 stars
Deep edition 4½/5 stars
Premium edition 5/5 stars
Playing practice games is essential for improving your chess and this is one of HCE Pro's real strengths. It has an excellent play mode where you can select your opponent, the strength of play and even have the opponent match your playing strength which gives you the best practice as the opponents get stronger as you do. The best way to improve is to play opponents of similar chess strenth and HCE Pro allows you to do this! As well as playing from the standard opening position with white or black you can choose any chess opening or chess position to play from and that makes it easy to practice your openings and play your favourite positions and studies.
HCE Pro is refreshingly very reliable and considering all the functionality that can be running at the same time in different tabs it is clear HCE Pro is a trusted chess application.
When it comes to performance it really is a HCE Pro strength, when using the new HCE database format the performance is almost instant for nearly all operations. It is so refreshing to use chess software that can search a database for a position or opening and return all the games almost instantly. The header search and sorting operations are so fast they are a pleasure to use and even searching for material and pawn structure is very fast. The start up performance is also very good and it even reopens all the databases in use when the software was last closed.
#2 HIARCS Chess Explorer
Classic HIARCS Chess Explorer for macOS was first released in early 2012 but has been regularly updated ever since and as recently as 2022. It is a excellent product for chess players from beginner to experts who want an strong PGN database, analysis and game playing program. HCE has a wide variety of features for most players and includes the ex World Chess Software Champion HIARCS 14 chess engine that is already comfortable stronger than any human player in history at 3000+ Elo and has excellent handicap levels.
The classic HIARCS Chess Explorer for macOS contains most of the features a beginner or club player would want to be able to manage databases, learning openings and play chess against a variety of chess opponents as the Elo strength can be set and the cool feature of matching your strength is available in HIARCS Chess Explorer.
The HCE user interface is straightforward to use with easy menus, toolbar icons and keyboard shortcuts. The interface uses multiple tabs with each tab containing a database or for game play against the computer. Within each tab the view can be customised but not to the level of HCE Pro. The interface has all the essentials with chessboard, notation and game list, analysis view and book and player explorers. It deserves four stars here but now HCE Pro is available the inevitable comparison makes the classic HCE look slightly dated and less polished when compared to the flagship HCE Pro product.
All the essential features you would expect from quality chess product are here, sure it lacks the superb features of HCE Pro but you it offers enough for HIARCS Chess Explorer to be a powerful chess tool for using PGN databases and playing chess.
The classic HIARCS Chess Explorer comes with the ex World Chess Software Champion HIARCS 14 chess engine in single core form playing up to 3050 Elo. An engine stronger than Kasparov and Carlsen and still capable of playing realistic handicap levels at any Elo rating from a complete beginner to World Chess Champion strength. Classic HCE can also load any other UCI chess engine that runs on Mac OS.
HCE has packaged databases including a top games collection and a database many annotated games and a tactics database. HCE only supports PGN databases and since that is the standard chess database it is an excellent choice to share your games and data with others. It is limited to PGN databases of up to 2 million games and PGN databases are slow to load and save to disk. However, in use HIARCS Chess Explorer is very fast and a pleasure to use.
HCE has access to a good opening books with game statistics and play recommendations. It supports the online book subscription to give access to the superb full collection of opening books with a complete human reference of opening play and an outstanding tournament book. It also has access to online endgame tablebases of perfect play in the endgame but with only 5 or fewer pieces on the board.
Playing practice games is essential for improving your chess and this is one of the classic HCE real strengths. It has an excellent play mode where you can select your opponent, the strength of play and even have the opponent match your playing strength which gives you the best practice as the opponents get stronger as you do. The best way to improve is to play opponents of similar chess strenth and HCE Pro allows you to do this! As well as playing from the standard opening position with white or black you can choose any chess opening or chess position to play from and that makes it easy to practice your openings and play your favourite positions and studies.
Classic HIARCS Chess Explorer is very reliable in use and we did not encounter any crashes.
The performance of the classic HIARCS Chess Explorer is contrasting. Due to the fact PGN databases are serial files, reading and writing very large databases from/to the hard disk is necessarily slow. Not really the classic HCE's fault as ChessBase is also slow on large PGNs as well and on smaller PGNs of under 100,000 games HCE is fast. The reason huge PGNs are more of an issue for HCE is that it does not have it's own fast database format like HCE Pro does, so HCE has to rely on the PGN database format. However, once a PGN database is loaded HCE builds a tree of it in memory and as a result HCE is very fast in operations like searching, finding openings, players etc. In operation we would give 4/5 stars but due to the performance on loading and saving large PGN databases we have given it 3.5/5 stars.
We plan to add detail and other chess software applications to our list on this page. Below you will find a very detailed table of product comparisons to help you make your choice.
|Features||HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro||HIARCS Chess Explorer|
|Platform||from $79.95||from $54.95|
|macOS supported||✓ macOS 10.14 Mojave - 13 Ventura||✓ macOS 10.13 High Sierra - 13 Ventura|
|Displays||Up to 5k||Up to 4k|
|CPUs||Intel & Apple M1/M2/Pro †||Intel & Apple M1/M2/Pro †|
|64 Bit Support||✓||✓|
|64 Bit Optimised||✓||✗|
|Engines Included||HIARCS 15, 15.1, 15.2||HIARCS 14|
|Single Core Rating||1 core, 4GB, 3300 Elo||1 core, 2GB, 3050 Elo|
|Deep Edition||up to 16 cores, 16GB, 3400+ Elo||✗|
|Premium Edition||up to 32 cores, 32GB, 3450+ Elo||✗|
|Supports add-on UCI Engines||✓||✓|
|Engine matches||✓ (advanced)||✓|
|Endgame tablebase support||Nalimov and Syzygy||Nalimov only|
|Play against computer||✓||✓|
|Rates your play in Elo||✓||✓|
|Play Elo rated opponents||750-3300||750-3050|
|Play using Millennium boards||✓ from v1.2||✓|
|Database games included||575k+ games||35k games|
|Max database size||30 million games||2 million games|
|Annotated||1400 games||800 games|
|Tactical test databases||✓ (advanced)||✓|
|PGN Database Support||✓||✓|
|Chessbase CBH, CBV Support||✓||✗|
|HCE Advanced Databases||✓||✗|
|Online Book Access||✓||✓|
|Extra Book Downloads||Add-On Option||Add-On Option|
|Online Endgame Navigation||✓ (Deep/Premium)||✗|
|CTG Book Support||✓||✗|
|Game Explorer||✓ (advanced)||✓|
|Player Explorer||✓ (advanced)||✓|
|Opening Explorer||✓ (advanced)||✓|
|Analysis Explorer||✓ (advanced)||✓|
|Pawn Structure Search||✓||✗|
|Game Analysis||✓ (advanced)||✓|
|Batch Game Analysis||✓||✗|
|Comments and Variation||✓||✓|
|Complex Nested Variations||✓||✗|
|Pop Up Variation Boards||✓||✗|