Choosing an Online Chess Site: chesscube.com
Chesscube.com is a real-time chess server based in South Africa. It features a sharp and intuitive flash-based interface with fairly smooth gameplay. Chess 960, otherwise known as Fischer Random Chess, can be played there as well. This is the only chess variant they currently offer.
Chesscube.com utilizes a unique system of levels ranging from 1 through 20 that rewards you based on how much you play, referred to as XP (short for experience, not for the Windows operating system). The more you play the higher the level you achieve and the more features and functionality you ‘unlock’. New accounts start off at level 1, but even here, you are able to chat in public chat rooms (pending email verification), play in tournaments, post games to Facebook, set rating range for seeks, copy your games as PGN, etc. At level 2 you are able to view your recent games and some basic playing stats. As your level continues to get higher, features such as Audio/Video chat in the public chat rooms, etc, also become available.
The chesscube.com server features a wagering system in a currency that goes by the name ‘cubits’. You are given a hundred or so cubits en prise upon creating a new account and are given more each day you log into the server and from winning cubit wagered games and winning or placing in tournaments. Cubits can be purchased as well, which is how chesscube.com makes their money, along with selling ‘premium’ memberships which range in price from $4.95/month - $24.95/year. Premium members are entitled to features such as in-game-analysis while spectating, preferential listings in chat rooms, custom pieces, etc.
Most of the games at chesscube.com involve cubit wagering in predefined amounts ranging from 10-2000 cubits per game. If you win your game, you don’t win an amount equal to your wager. Chesscube.com takes a commission of 20%. In other words, if you are risking 20 cubits, you can only win 16. The cubits, once you have accumulated a great many of them, have questionable value. There is not much you can do with them other than pay for the privilege to stream a limited number of chess training videos via the online ‘ChessCube Cinema’ (2,500-50,000 cubits per video) or pay for background images that range in price from 1000-8000 cubits each. Cubits can also be used to pay for a premium membership. At present, no tangible goods may be purchased with the cubits and they may not be redeemed for cash.
Although the premium membership rates at chesscube.com are lower than most of the other fee-based chess servers, they suffer from the same issue prevalent at the free servers, which is a marked lack of strong players. I fail to see any significant value in being a premium member and for this reason expect future releases of their interface to systematically reduce functionality in the absence of paying fees.