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Why can't I connect to when other sites are working fine?
Why can't I connect to when other sites are working fine?
Updated over a week ago

From time to time we see understandable frustration from players who lose connection to our live server.

The TL;DR is: most other websites and services use cached pages or non-real-time services which don’t require the same accuracy and timing that chess does. Or, game servers that do require this are limited to very small numbers of players on local servers. Chess is different!

We’d like to explain a little bit more about why this is.

One server to rule them all

Our current “Live Server” is literally one single server located in Virginia, USA. (It is one of more than 350 servers that run, with more on the way!) This is our most powerful machine which has been fine-tuned to handle hundreds of thousands of connections at a time. That server connects out through the datacenter to the broader internet, and we use both Cloudflare and Google as the main bandwidth providers to send and receive traffic all around the world.

Once the connection gets outside of our data center in Virginia, we have essentially zero control of the connection. The typical internet connection from one user to our data center goes through an average of 12 network hops, and across various ISPs, including local, regional, and transcontinental connections. If something happens on one of those connections - usually a local ISP that can’t connect to one of the regional providers - then it cannot connect to our server. From the sometimes thousands of miles of connections between your computer or phone and our live server, we control about 100 feet of that total distance. The rest is Cloudflare, Google, and other regional internet providers.

Well, if that is true, then how can someone be connected to other websites and services, but not to The reason this happens is that most other connections are different in several ways:

Why is different from other online services

First, most sites use CDNs (content delivery networks) to serve static assets/pages. If you are loading a web page, that is likely cached and a version of it is stored on dozens of servers around the world, likely one of those servers is much closer to you. If you are loading an image, it is probably coming from one of these same CDNs. If you are watching a video, that video file is likely going to you from a nearby server, and to someone on the other side of the planet, that same video is coming from a different server near them.

Most of the internet is not real-time

Secondly, lots of the content and interactions that most of us do are either not real-time, or are buffered. When you load a web page, it might have a small hiccup and then eventually load. No big deal. Or, you might be watching a YouTube video which loads more of the video than you are currently watching, so if your internet connection freezes for just a few seconds, you don’t even notice.

But when you are playing chess, we are maintaining a real-time connection where you notice every single millisecond! Most of the rest of the online services you use do not need this kind of connection. They pre-load content, use static files, and don’t have clocks measuring every single moment. We can’t pre-load your opponent’s moves! So with online chess, you notice every single micro-delay and hiccup.

And it's not just that faces these issues! All major chess sites have commented on these problems!

Time and accuracy sensitivity

Thirdly, most other services that people use are not as time or accuracy sensitive. Even real-time chat with someone doesn’t need the same level of move timestamping (to prevent clock abuse), and it is easier to have multiple servers handling this same data. But chess requires a server accurately measuring all time carefully in one single source of truth.

Small but limited servers are everywhere

Fourthly, other games create multiple servers all around the world, often closer to local players in order to not suffer from the effects of long-distance internet connections. But, those servers usually are isolated to certain regions, or have far fewer players.

Joining a “server” in most games means that you will be on one server, near you, with likely less than 100 other players. But has hundreds of thousands of players all on ONE server, because we need to be able to match you with anyone in the chess community to find an opponent near your rating who wants to play the same time control as you. If we split our player pool up only to limited regional servers, it would mean longer wait times and a fractured player base.

Our commitment to improvement

We aren’t trying to make excuses, but we are trying to explain why is different from many other online services that you use. All of that said, we do want to report that we have been working hard to fix many of these issues over the last few years, and want to update you on our progress!

The Realtime Chess Network

Our amazing engineering team has been working on moving game play from our one core “Live Server” to our new “Realtime Chess Network”. This is a newer architecture which lets us get the benefits of one combined player pool, but without the downside of a single location.

Over the coming months we will be matching players on one core server, but then their games will be played on one of several servers around the world, likely much closer to where they are! In the future we hope that all games will be handled from servers that are closer, and therefore more stable, than the one single server we have now.

This is rolling out and we expect that more and more games will be played on these new services, and the only thing that players will notice is more speed and stability. In fact, 30% of games are already being played on RCN (new network), but that is just currently at one location. Still, you can see the improvements in this chart comparing Live Server and RCN!

Live Chess server:


RCN on a EU server:

Looking ahead

We understand that there is nothing more frustrating than wanting to play chess and having an interruption or disconnection in your game. It has been our TOP PRIORITY to address this, and we have an amazing team working hard to move more and more games over. We hope to have 80% of games played on RCN by the end of 2024.

We hope this helps explain why chess is harder to deliver than most other online services, and what we are doing to try to improve the experience.

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