Lichess is unquestionably one of the most prominent websites you can use to play chess online.
It’s free, has unlimited tactics, doesn’t have ads, and it’s free.
However, there isn’t a comprehensive guide to how to use lichess, so I put together this guide.
You’ll learn how to navigate lichess, take advantage of its amazing features, and even improve your chess skills along the way.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- FAQ about Lichess
Lichess starts with a very welcoming home page that gets right to the point. You’re here to play chess. Of course you have other options, but from the home screen you’ll find the following elements:
- Quick pairing
- Feed from friends
- Top games
- Puzzle of the day
Quick Pairing: Choose from a list of 11 preset time controls
If you want to play a game right away against anyone on lichess, you can choose to play bullet, blitz, rapid, or classical.
You’ll be matched up with someone of a comparable ELO rating. You can adjust the minimum and maximum rating you’d prefer to be paired with in settings.
To establish your rating, you’ll need to play between 5-10 games. Until then, you’ll have a “?” next to your name which signifies you’re new to a particular time control.
You will need to establish a rating for each individual time control.
The following explains what time control classifies each:
- Anything under 3 minutes for each side is bullet
- Between 3 and 9:59 seconds is blitz
- 10 minutes up to 29:59 is rapid
- Anything higher, but still timed, is classical
You can also play games that span days under correspondence, or games quicker than 1 minute, with ultra bullet (less than 1 minute each side). In addition, you can play other chess variants, but those are not options in the quick pairing section.
Feel free to choose a custom time, but just be aware that you are paired up with players who are also searching at the same time. If your custom timing is bizarre and no one else is searching it (like 5 + 45 blitz), then you won’t find a match online against strangers.
Also, there is no delay in lichess. There is only increment. This means that after each move, you will have X amount of seconds added to your clock. This means 3 + 0 blitz gives each side 3 minutes and adds 0 seconds each turn while 3 + 2 gives each side 3 minutes and adds 2 seconds each turn.
Feed from friends
You’ll be able to see the latest activity your friends have been up to on lichess. This can include who they have friended or studies they may have created.
To add friends on lichess, you have to follow them. You can click through to their profile by clicking their username and then click follow.
Top Games: Watch top players play live
If you don’t feel like playing chess, you can watch other players play. This is known as lichess TV and you can select from any available time control.
I like to use this to learn how others play or have it playing in the background if I’m not playing or analyzing my own games.
It’s always fun to see how others play to get yourself out of your comfort zone and see how they play in the moment.
Puzzle of the Day
Lichess has unlimited, free tactics you can play that follows your tactics rating, but each day they offer a puzzle that is a difficulty more for the masses.
If you finish the puzzle and keep going, it will then follow your tactics rating points (more on that later).
Create a Game
The first option under play is to create a game. This is if you want to make a game away from the giant area on the home page.
I only recommend this if you’re looking to make a custom game or choose the ratings of your opponent.
If you want to play blitz, you’re better off going to the home screen and clicking the blitz time control that suits you in the moment.
The main reason you might want to use this feature is if you want to play a variation of chess such as:
- King of the Hill
- Racing Kings
Another reason you might use this option is to set a range of who your opponent will be. If you only want to play lower than your rating, you can change the maximum to 0 and minimum to -500. If your rating is 2000, you will only be paired with people between 1500 and 2000.
Quick pairing vs Correspondence
We’ve already explained the quick pairing setting, but what is correspondence chess?
With correspondence, you are able to take multiple days, or have no time control at all. This gives you more freedom when you make your moves.
You may make 1 move per day, or 11 moves in a day. The main point is that you have a lot of time between moves so you can carry out the rest of your day in other ways before returning to the game.
I like correspondence because it allows me to think in a similar way to an over the board (OTB) game.
There are a ton of great features in the learn section. This area is not just suited for newer chess players because chess involves learning at all levels.
I’ll explain what each of these are in this section.
- Chess Basics
Chess basics is suited to newer players in that you can learn how the chess pieces move as well as some basic ideas to keep in mind.
What’s great about this section is you can practice in real time and be corrected if the moves are incorrect.
The puzzle feature is one of my favorite parts of lichess. Puzzles are chess tactics that you can attempt to solve with no time limit. You have a tactical ELO which works the same as your regular ELO.
Each puzzle itself has a rating and if you get it right from start to finish, you “beat your opponent” when you solve the puzzle. If the puzzle rating is higher than your rating, you get more points. If it’s lower, you lose more points. If it’s just about your rating, you get a moderate amount of points.
Just getting the first move right doesn’t cut it. In order to gain points and not lose them, you’ll need to get the entire thing right.
Here’s an article I wrote that shows how I approach tactics
They’re free and you can play as many as you’d like.
Each puzzle is generated from a real game played on lichess. I love this feature because you can attempt the puzzle, and if you get it right or wrong, you can go to the actual game to see what was played.
This is perfect for those scenarios where you look at a puzzle and thinking “well this would never happen in a real game!”
The only downside to puzzles is they are random so you can’t practice by theme. If you want to practice by theme, you’ll want to check out Practice.
Speaking of practice by themes, lichess does have this ability, but it’s pretty limited. Chess.com does also have this feature, but from what I’ve seen, it’s just as limited and you have to pay just to view it. No thanks!
You only have enough scenarios to play through in each to give you an idea of what a pin or skewer is, but not enough to play through them in various scenarios.
To learn beyond the basics, I’d recommend a book called Understanding Chess Tactics by Martin Westschnik
If you’re like me, you’ve played a ton of chess games, but struggle to remember coordinates. This feature helps you with that.
I know all the notation from white’s perspective, but struggle with black’s perspective. I often find myself trying to say the notation out loud when talking about a game with friends at a tournament. I’ll say things like “then I played e4, I mean d5” which is the same coordinate, but with the board flipped 180 degrees.
Coordinates helps time you so you just have to click the square as it pops up.
Chess.com also has this feature and neither is better than the other, though I suspect many players score higher on lichess because the next square to select is pretty close to the square you have to find. Chess.com has it further off so you lose milliseconds looking at the next square.
That’s if you’re going for time. The point is you should try to get the coordinates as quick as you can.
How do you use a lichess study?
The best part of lichess for studying is…well studies!
These can be unlisted, so you have to know the link to open them, or public to anyone.
I often create my analysis in a lichess study first before I create an article on my website.
The reason is each move saves your comments, but more importantly you Nakamura arrows
As you can see from my basic checkmates study, which I’m using for the Chess Trainer Hub we’re building, just opening the link shows my chapters on the left, saved markings on the board, and comments on the right.
I use this to take helpful screenshots or to refer back to an idea I forgot about the last time I studied an idea.
You can import PGNs of any games you have saved or build scenarios from scratch.
One thing I highly recommend using studies for is a log of your own games. If you are playing a particular tournament, you can upload the PGNs and annotate the game.
This is particularly useful if you have a coach and you want to virtually send them your games. It’s more organized than just sending multiple PGNs and you will both be able to add comments and drawings.
If you’re looking to improve at chess, there’s nothing better than a coach. Lichess helps connect you to coaches all around the world.
You can skype, zoom, or meet with them in person. They often have their titles, rates, and links to their profile so you can see how strong they are before contacting them.
LichessTV allows you to view the top games for various time controls. For those times you just wanna sit back and watch people play, but not necessarily a stream.
In fact, all lichess games allow you to spectate. If you wanna watch Magnus Carlsen play as drnykterstein, you can follow along and watch him annihilate opponents.
Twitch is the dominant platform to stream chess and lichess allows you to watch twitch streams from within lichess.
The great thing about watching from within Lichess is that below the stream, you can see the activity of the person’s profile as they play.
Broadcasts show ongoing and completed tournaments.
You’ll be able to see all the games of people who are playing at the moment, and comment with the community who is also watching.
Being able to see Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave play in real time, or view their games they already played.
Videos Library is similar to YouTube, and often a lot of the videos are embedded from YouTube.
The reason you’d watch them on Lichess is that they are categorized to help you streamline your watching time.
Analysis Board/Opening Explorer
I spend more of my time in the analysis board, which includes the opening explorer on the right hand side.
I love being able to open the board and just see what the most played moves in an opening are. You can then play through them forwards and backwards to learn ideas.
This is amazing because you don’t have to purchase Chessbase and a database of 5 million games. You have it all for free here. Sure it’s not as indepth, but for free, it’s totally worth the price for the value.
Just click the little book icon and you’re able to toggle the opening explorer on and off.
What you’ll see are a database of openings from games within lichess, and from games played by masters and above.
When you open the game, you’ll see e4 is the most popular move with 125 million games played in lichess. Next is d4 with 67 million games.
Then you see the win percentage for both sides, and percentage to draw.
A lot of players use this to determine the win percentage of chess openings. It’s all relative to how much data you have, so of course you would get more out of chessbase, but there’s a tremendous value here for free.
If you want to see just masters games, click the gear icon and switch to masters. Just click “all set” and it will change the database. I would leave everything else highlighted green just to expand your database.
Board editor allows you to set up any position and then play from that position. You can also start from within this screen and click study to turn it into a study or add the starting position you created to an existing or new study.
I find it easier to just create studies from the study page however.
You can use this for specific scenarios you want to set up then play against the computer.
If you played a game in a tournament and want to analyze it, you can import the PGN here.
Honestly, when I play on chess.com, I often copy the notation, and import it into Lichess since Lichess has the better engine.
I’ve heard chess.com’s paid engine is better than the free one, but I just can’t justify paying for chess.com for that feature. Not when Lichess has a free version.
Simply upload the pgn and click import. You can also import a file if it’s easier. It will tell you if there are errors when you paste the PGN.
There’s a box to check that will allow you to request a lichess analysis to start right when you import.
Your profile is a great way to track your progress. You can see at a glance what your rating is for each time control, as well as how many games you played during work today.
You have the opportunity to upload a profile with more information, see your followers, and a graph of your recent games, or you can change it to all games.
You are also able to export your games with the download button on the top right into a large PGN. This is useful if you want to import all games or a range of games into a database like Chessbase to better analyze your playstyle.
I wish you could search by openings, like the Sicilian Defense. It would be awesome to have a specific record of how often you win lose or draw with a specific opening.
Chess insights gives you a deep analysis of your playstyle. Seeing the numbers behind how many games you win when you trade queens is amazing! And that’s just one thing you can see at a glance. Here’s mine:
I win more often in bullet when I trade queens. Therefore I should keep doing it!
However, it’s only a slight edge, so I can hardly decide to trade queens every single time.
I do have a more sizable win percentage in rapid when I trade queens. This means that having more time helps me to seize an advantage in these games.
What is Average Centipawn Loss
The average centipawn loss is the amount by which a chess engine’s evaluation of the position changes after each of the player’s moves.
To summarize, this according to Lichess, this is just the precision of your moves. Lower is better.
This is a way you can analyze how well you’re doing in your games.
To dive deeper, average centipawn loss is what makes up inaccuracies, mistakes, and blunders when you analyze your game.
The engine will have a few “best possible moves”. Average Centipawn Loss shows how far off that best move you were.
- For an inaccuracy, you are at least 0.5=50 centipawns worse than the suggested computer move.
- For a mistake, you are at least 1=100 centipawns worse than the suggested computer move.
- For a blunder, you are at least 3=300 centipawns worse than the suggested computer move.
In situations where you are completely winning and have an advantage of +10 or more in the game, these average centipawn losses are not taken into account. At that point, any more you make is still winning, unless you make a blunder that brings the game into a more equal playing field.
FAQ about Lichess
Should you accept any and all rematches
This is a fun one I wrote about here. Lichess offers a rematch setting where you can instantly be paired up with the same player you just demolished (or got crushed by) in the same timed game.
99% of the time, I prefer to analyze my games after, or find new opponents, rather than rematch. Sometimes I have to get back to work.
It’s up to you to accept rematches, but just remember that rematches are not obligatory and you should move on without raging online because someone didn’t play you again.
How does lichess detect cheating?
Occasionally, you’ll be refunded rating points if you lost to a cheater on lichess.
Lichess, while open source, doesn’t reveal exactly how it detects cheating.
There are a few reasons that were revealed in an interview with Thibault, the founder. They have to do with how well you’re playing compared to the best moves possible.
If you have a newer account without many games under your belt, and you play near perfect moves almost every time, you will most likely be seen as a cheater in the system.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be penalized for playing a great game. However, the more games you play, the more lichess will understand your playing behaviors and understand when it appears you might be cheating and when you aren’t.
Additionally, I believe if you have an analysis board open to a particular position, and your correspondence or live games match the position, lichess may detect cheating.
How to you adjust the board settings and other customizations in lichess
If you click your name on the top right of the desktop version of lichess, you can access a few ways to change what your board looks like. They include:
- Board Theme
- Board Geometry – 2D or 3D
- Piece Set
How does lichess rating work?
Lichess operates on the ELO system. Your lichess rating will most likely differ from your chess.com rating, USCF rating, and FIDE rating by a bit.
The general fluctuation is about 200 points lower on lichess or chess.com than your USCF and your USCF is about 200 points lower than FIDE.
This is not a rule and just a general way to sense your online vs OTB rating.
What’s the difference between chess.com ratings and lichess ratings
Many people online say that chess.com ratings are on average about 200 rating points higher than lichess. This website sums this up with more data than I have available on my end.
Is lichess better than chess com?
Absolutely. It’s free forever according to the founder and it is open source. This means it will continue to be improved by community members.
Since there is no monetary incentive to use lichess, it focuses on the experience of the users first.
Who founded lichess?
Thibault Duplessis, a french developerm, founded lichess in 2010 to be a free way to play chess online.
According to the Perpetual Chess Podcast, he believes that chess is one of the few activities you can experience around the world without any barriers.
Desktop Vs the App
I much prefer playing on the app vs desktop. I just find that I’m much faster at moving, and I like playing on the go.
The experience is very much the same and lichess did a great job with their app. It’s easy to find everything in the same way it is on the app.
Clock if you want to play over the board
Screenshot from phone
How do I help keep Lichess Free?
Lichess offers a ton of amazing features at no cost to you, and there are no annoying ads interrupting your experience.
To keep Lichess free and running, you should consider supporting the cost of servers and the creator’s amazing efforts.
You’ll even receive a badge next to your profile indicating that you support this amazing chess interface.