Review of Forward Chess app by IM John Watson

The website The Week in Chess is an invaluable resource for chess players looking for recent games and reviews. Mark Crowther (‘Sir Mark’ if the Queen does her duty) has spent over 20 years running TWIC.

Recently on TWIC, IM John Watson reviewed various ebook formats. Since Quality Chess books are on Forward Chess I was particularly interested in his view of FC. The verdict was highly favourable. Some of the highlights were:

“Several things distinguish this App and make it essential to know about. First, it has an imbedded analytical engine (Stockfish) which analyses the current position… More importantly, the Forward Chess App lets you make your own independent moves/analysis by tapping on squares of origin and destination, and then you can turn on the imbedded Stockfish engine to analyse those moves…

The other outstanding thing about ForwardChess is its selection of books. They put out ebook versions for a large number of chess publishers…

This is clearly an App that a chess book lover should download and browse through.”

The full review can be read here.

65 thoughts on “Review of Forward Chess app by IM John Watson”

  1. I am a user of Forward, I have some questions.
    First, I didn know about the Stockfish function. How to use it? I use the app in an Ipad 2.
    Are you planning to put more Quality books in Forward? (for example Endings by Aaggard, etc.).
    Thank you very much

  2. I agree with Mr. Watson! The Forward Chess App is the best Chess Reader on Android and Ipad! I have tried them all! Currently reading the first Judit Polgar book on the Forward App. (ipad)

    The other chess reading apps don’t even come close in my opinion. Looking forward to the Quality Chess King’s Gambit book being published for the app. Maybe?? 🙂

  3. @Ramiro

    We have put together a brief video (under 2 min) showing the basics of the app.
    It is available directly on YouTube at
    or through our homepage, towards the bottom.

    We are planning to release additional videos with more advanced stuff (the app can do a lot of things!), but it is on hold for a bit. We are completely reworking the iOS app, both appearances and functionality, so the new explainer videos will be done with the new version.

    Please let us know if we can help with you anything, the contact form is on the website,

  4. In general I´m very happy with the Forward App. There are exactly 3 things that bother me occasionally:
    – When reading black repertoite books I would like to be able to set the board with the black pieces at the bottom by default. There are already plenty of ways to configure the board in the app, adding this feature should be easy
    – Still no feature to highlight text (like in Kindle app for example)
    – Occasional mistakes (usually in sidelines) from translation of the book, e.g. there´s a hanging queen in one of the variations inNikos French book. Still, error rate seems to be low and it just happens …

  5. One huge, huge disadvantage is to be bound to either Android or Apple. It is not possible to transfer the books from one platform to the other and there is nothing FC can do about it. It is just is the policy of the platform providers. I guess this has been already discussed elsewhere in this forum.

  6. @wok64

    Please let us know about any mistakes you encounter. We can correct them, you would re-download the book and the problem is solved! One of the big advantages of the electronic formats, this is not something one can do with paper.

    And yes, the text highlighting feature is on our list 🙂

  7. I gave up with Forward Chess app few months ago. It crashes everytime I start it on iPad Air. It does a tick and checks apple ID for updates then goes off screen. Have tried lots things but cannot get it to work. Can you help? thanks

  8. @Jim Stone

    Jim, did you, by any chance, recently upgrade to Apple’s new OS? It created a lot of problems for many people and different apps. Including ours.

    The usual solution (so far it has worked 100% of the time) is deleting and redownloading the app.
    Then, you can restore your purchases either in bulk or one by one (all books are “non-consumable” – the store will not charge the same account twice for the same book.)

    In general, please do not hesitate to contact us directly with questions, comments, or suggestions.

  9. @ForwardChess
    Yes, I did upgrade to latest iOS and your solution has worked – thank you. I will have another play around with the free ‘True Lies’ book as I have that in book form too so its a good test to compare them.

  10. @rigao

    I think I can answer that. Quoting from the Forward Chess FAQ page

    “Can I have the same book on my iPhone and my iPad?

    Yes! Within each platform (iOS/Android), you can have a book on multiple devices, even at the same time. Simply make sure you are logged in with the same account as the one you used to buy the book and reinstall it – the store will not charge you twice for the same item.”

  11. @Bulkington
    amazon kindle e.g. is able to serve purchased books to android and ios simultaniously with just one buy (and even the pc on top). FC would just need to provide an account separate from the android/ios one.

  12. ForwardChess is particularly great for those of us who love digital materials, but never learned to use ChessBase properly!
    @ Aagard san – Unlikely, as an oldie perhaps, but any chance of Bauer’s spiffing Play the Scandinavian making it to FC?
    Looking forward to the Kotronias 1-2-3 Special on FC too, nudge, nudge… 😉 At any cost!

  13. The quality chess books on Forward chess seem to have increased a lot in price in January many
    Books that were 13.49 or less are now 14.99 . Is this increase due to change in VAT rules?

    I realise this VAT ruling is beyond QC ‘s control but it makes them less attractive unless some sort of discount scheme could be introduced.

  14. @Soviet School

    It is mostly exchange rates – the prices are set in USD and it has been appreciating.
    To quote Apple, from last week:

    “Within the next 36 hours, prices on the App Store will increase for all territories in the European Union as well as in Canada and Norway, decrease in Iceland, and change in Russia. These changes are being made to account for adjustments in value-added tax (VAT) rates and foreign exchange rates.”

    It is really not caused by Quality Chess or Forward Chess raising prices.

  15. It does not make sense to have the price in dollars for a company based in the EU. I guess the majority of the sells will be in the EU too (just because the chess scene in europe is far greater than that of the US), so having the prices fluctuate that much is a great inconvenience.

    I imagine is a forward chess policy, not one of QC, but at least from my consumer point of view having prices raise 2 or 3€ in two weeks in an already expensive market makes it less attractive to buy books. I was looking forward to buy the new structure book the minute it was out, but now I will wait until the exchange rates go down again.

    I guess it is a compromise with all the companies involved in forward chess, but maybe it should be studied if it is worth it.

  16. @rigao
    You really think the price will go down if the fx moves the other way? If you wish to play roulette in the fx markets, I think there are better options.

    My understanding (at least for me in UK) most of the price change was due to VAT now being charged at the UK rate, not the lower Luxembourg rate.

  17. AFAIR the change was that some new EU law says that the merchant has to apply the VAT rate of the country his customer lives in. So many different rates, averaging around 20% +/-.

  18. @Andre
    The news laws forced Google to start collecting taxes, something they didn’t do prior to 1/1. For Android users in some European countries it means increases of 25% or so. (Mathematically, to collect a 20% tax, you need to raise the price by 25%).

    They already implemented it in 3 countries – France, Italy, and Luxembourg.

  19. So it is expected that a price of 17.25€ (the modern tiger) right now in spain will raise by 25% in Spain (where I’m from)?

    That is 21.5€ for that book. The physical copy costs 25€. Someone please explain it, because the electronic copy should cost a lot less than the physical copy because you get away without the cost of materials, printing, storagind and shipping.

    I think 15€ for an e-book is expensive, but chess is my hobby and sometimes people pay through the nose for their hobbies, so I’m quite happy with my hobby. But paying 20€ is simply nonsense.

  20. @rigao

    The price for this book ( and most other books by Quality Chess) is set at $19.99. It is a discount of 33% off retail price. Then, for every country and currency the price is converted into local and VAT gets added by Apple and Google.

    Would we prefer if Spain didn’t charge this huge tax? Absolutely!

    The publishers can describe their expenses better, but most expenses are probably the same for both electronic and paper books. Author’s fees, editing, design, typesetting, etc. And electronic books have free shipping.

  21. Forward Chess :
    […](Mathematically, to collect a 20% tax, you need to raise the price by 25%).

    Thanks for the infos,
    but maybe you got this part slightly wrong. Or I misunderstand the procedure for digital goods. 😉
    You calculate with net values internally. To add the, say, 25% VAT simply add the 25% on top of the net value. The sum is displayed to the customer with the generated sub-line like “All prices include VAT.” Extracting VAT if you don’t have the net price is of course a completely different beast.
    At least for Germany I can say for sure that it’s illegal *not* to display the price including the VAT, and I’m not sure you are even allowed to display a net price without VAT to end customers.

  22. So that’s my point, 33% off retail price from a 25€ book is 16.6€, not 21€. If VAT is payed from the physical book (as I guess it should), it is also paid from the electronic one. You make the discount after taking everything into account.

    If up until now books were not paying VAT, good for you (and the publisher), you were having more margin than you were supposed to have, but 33% off should include VAT.

    But maybe I’m going all over the board for nothing… maybe someone from France, Italy or Luxemburg can confirm or denny that their prices went up to 21€.

  23. @rigao
    Quality Chess is based in the UK where there is no Vat on physical books, but the standard rate of 20% is charged on electronic books (supposedly EU law stops this being the same).

    Until recently when you were buying the iPad book, you were paying VAT at the 3% rate of Luxembourg. Now you are paying the 21% rate of your home country Spain.

    So it seems the overwhelming bulk of the change is due to the the high tax rate in Spain vis a vis Luxembourg. I’m actually a bit surprised your price has not gone up more with the euro in freefall against the dollar.

  24. @rigao
    Your assumotions would be right if the sales had much higher volumes than they do. Ebooks is the least profitable format for us and we are by no means getting rich in general.

  25. @Jacob Aagaard
    In my view QC’s books are worth every euro whatever format we are talking about. This is quite a specialist market, not Harry Potter. I would gladly pay ‘even’ more if we keep on getting books from top GMs in the future. People who don’t like the euro-dollar exchange rate can always buy books from Russel Enterprises or another US publisher 🙂

  26. Don’t misunderstand me. I like QC books very much. For me it is THE publisher and I’m happy to pay the high prices of books. It is obvious that they will be more expensive than normal books as they will sell few copies but have a lot of hard work behind it (may guess is that a lot more work than a normal book because the editing part needs to fit diagrams and such).

    I had no idea that physical books in UK do not pay VAT. That may explain some things. But for forwardchess to be successful it must understand that selling books at almost the price of physical copies makes no sense (at least for me, if I have to go for one or the other, I will only go for the electronic copy if it saves me money to buy more books).

    I do think that electronic is the way to go for chess books too. Maybe now the margin is not that great, but I’m sure with time, when people gets used to it, it will be a significant part of the business (note that this does not mean that the physical book will disappear, it will not, just that the electronic one will raise its sells).

    Now I have a question…. if Google decides to charge me VAT (so 17€ books go to 21€), it decides so according to my IP address or my account information?

  27. @rigao
    I don’t know about Google, but with Apple and Amazon it is account information that determines price. The problem is -I think- you need a payment card with a billing address in that country to buy from that country’s store.

  28. I do buy some books from Russell, more from QC though, and if you look at the exchange rate the dollar is not doing badly. I do wish there was a better arrangement, or I would be more patient, to get QC books across the Atlantic.

  29. rigao :

    But for forwardchess to be successful it must understand that selling books at almost the price of physical copies makes no sense

    What would you recommend? (Keep in mind that the prices are set by the publishers and Jacob already commented above that “Ebooks is the least profitable format for us”.)
    What would you do? Lower the prices even more?
    Again, remember that in addition to VAT, both Google and Apple take 30% of everything they sell.

    We can’t change tax laws, it would be easier for you to move to the US 🙂

    We do appreciate your interest and support and we really want to keep you happy!

  30. @Forward Chess
    I think it’s a bloody shame Google and Apple take such high percentage. It sound like robbery. In the middle ages cities put a chain across a road and asked money just to pass. This is rather similar.

  31. Paul :
    @Forward Chess
    On another note, is the 28th Jan release date for the Negi and Rios books on your website an estimate or firm?

    Firm, barring any force majeure circumstances. When we estimate, it is usually for a month, not a specific date.

  32. @Ray
    Keep in mind that Apple and Google actually built the road. In your middle ages analogy, it is the VAT which is the chain across the road, not Apple and Google’s fees.

    Of course, the whole analogy falls apart if your town in the middle ages happened to also build and maintain the road!

  33. Caveat: I’m not part of your target audience for digital books.

    reg. “the least profitable format”:
    At its core that’s a platform SIZE problem. The Forward Chess platform needs to grow! The costs for converting an existing book into FC format are basically a flat fee plus negligible additional costs for bugfixing. If FC had 100.000 different paying(!) customers per year, growing 30% per year, who buy realistically spread among the publishers, your margin per unit would suddenly be very high because the manufacturing costs converge against zero, leaving “only” the transaction costs.
    And growing in size is basically a marketing problem. You guys should really consider to play this much more aggressively. Example: Create a 5$ voucher, make a deal with ICC to give one of them as a free bonus to every member. If you sell this right it creates value for everybody.

    Other obvious economic points of leverage are:
    – increase the print price, keep digital constant
    – create middleware which outputs FC format on the push of a button; or at least something very close to it -> lowers conversion costs
    – outsource the conversion to India -> lowers the conversion costs
    – find a way to save some of the 30% cut
    – Can you add value to digital? For example:
    – evaluate if exclusively digital translations are an option
    – evaluate if other digital boni add value, for example full games included instead of just the opening part

  34. @Longinus
    If you look at the outrageous profits Google and Apple are making I’m sure the ‘road’ has long been paid for… In an ordinary supermarket you also pay for ‘the road’. All Apple and Google are doing is distributing products. In normal retail profit margins of a few percents are normal. Apple and Google have profit margins more in the order of 30%. To me it’s more a sign of market failure than a ‘fair’ remuneration for all the hard the hard work and risk they have put into it.

  35. @Andre
    Sounds like a plan, except that it ignores the fact that we need to stay in business until it works – if it would ever work the way you predict, which is by no means certain. So, with the hope of greater future profits, we undermine our core product and take on bigger short term financial responsibilities. It is certainly a gamble :-).

  36. @Longinus
    What road do you refer to?

    Is the ForwardChess application programed by Google and Apple? I think it is not, so I fail to understand why google is charging anything at all. Just because the application is in the google market? Then the solution is easy, let the application be downloaded outside such market and reduce this 30% googles charges. I sure would be happy.

    But I agree with ForwardChess here, if 30% is going to google and 20% is going to VAT, it is quite difficult to turn profit from this niché market.

  37. @rigao
    By the way, I was wondering if Apple and Google don’t relise they’re killing innovation in this way, which in the long run can’t be good for them? They’re going down the same path as Microsoft went before and we all know how that ended…

  38. @Ray
    Not sure these guys were ever that innovative. Google did the search engine and Apple applied a design to various existing products. A real shift in thinking? I don’t see it.

  39. I find it outrageous that they charge that much for doing next to nothing, and I would gladly go to a clone application where there was no tax by google.

    You have to enable other software in the configuration of your device in android, and I realize not many people will go there, but I would gladly do so even if the price was the same so the people really getting the work done would get the money, not google.

  40. @Jacob Aagaard
    Indeed, I agree – but I meant innovation in products offered on their platforms (such as Forward Chess). By charging outrageous amounts of money for use of their platforms, they are hampering such innovation imo.

  41. Google and Apple bring something to the table: the key to the door behind which the customers are.
    Who controls access to the customer is in charge, if the number of customers has reached critical mass. That’s a key component of Amazon’s business model, for example.

  42. @Andre
    It is what Microsoft was pounded by EU for, when they tried to install IE for free with Windows. I never understood why Apple was allowed a cut of everything that works on their machines…

  43. @Andre
    This just proves my point that it’s basically just the same as levying toll, which was common practice in the middle ages. Anyway, in the end if they continue like this, killing competition on their platforms by charging outrageous prices for excess to ‘their’ customers, I’m sure they’ll go down the same route as Microsoft, i.e. become irrelevant.

  44. PS: a sustained return of over 20% is impossible if there is enough competition. The fact that they can sustain such a high profit % just proves that there is insuffiient competitive pressure.

  45. And a final PS: I was wondering why it isn’t possible to go around Apple and Google by using a web-based application? I am sure that customers of ForwardChess know where to find it regardless of the format, so the whole argument of Apple and Google giving the key to a customer base just does’t sound convincing to me for such a niche market target group.

  46. @Ray

    They do have the key to the customers as to install forwardChess outside the market one has to enable the option to install third party software, and many just don’t know that is even an option.

    But it is true that you may try to put the option to realize the purchase in a website and let the app sync automatically the data. Maybe someone from forwardChess can explain if it is feasible or not.

    Oh, and they don’t have a 20% return. They add near null value to the product (apart from owning the key to the platform, which in Android case is supposed to be open source) and get paid through the nose, so I would say they are getting a lot more than a 20% profit.

    I understand that they do provide something with their market. They review (at least in theory) what the app does and garantee that it will not harm your device or steal your money or data. They should be paid for that work. They also in theory look out for the quality of the software they provide, and provide the server for the downloads. But I think it is pretty obvious that charging 30% of whatever is made is outrageous. They do have a monopoly and the devices they sell go with the parameter of not allowing outside the market applications. In my view this is exactly as if windows would not only ship iexplorer but also had an option in the control panel to not allow firefox to be installed.

  47. I agree with most things that are being said. I just cannot see a business way for us to do it differently.

    We should also not forget that this started out with some people being disappointed that 20-25% VAT will be in place on ebooks throughout Europe. Well, I personally found it more disagreeable that Google and Apply were paying 0.5% corporation tax in Luxemburg, so although greatly inconvenient, it is a pill I am ready to swallow…

    But it is between Leonid and John to work out what we will do. Best would be if we could set prices for the European Union and not just go by US prices.

  48. @rigao
    Good points! I like the comparison with Windows in your last sentence. For Apple I can at least partly understand it because the hardware is also Apple’s (though I still disagree), but for Android it’s even more ridiculous since indeed it’s supposed to be open source.

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