Tom Kerrigan got hooked on computer chess as a 13-year-old growing up in Fort Collins, Colo. A friend of his got the Chessmaster game for the PC, and Kerrigan tried to make an illegal copy for himself.
“I tried to pirate the game and it had some kind of copy protection. I was into programming at the time, and I thought how hard could it be to write a chess game?” Kerrigan said. “Ever since then I got really interested in that.”
The amateur programmer kept tinkering with computer chess through high school and college, though he didn’t have as much time for it after joining Microsoft out of college in 2001. He worked for the software giant for four years, mostly on Office user interface.
After a brief stint at a startup company called MindTouch in 2006, Kerrigan took some time off, backpacking in Europe and Asia. Later, as he was contemplating what to do next, he started thinking about a chess game for the iPhone — Apple’s popular mobile device — but initially thought he was too late.
“I didn’t have the idea to work on iPhone apps (applications) because I thought the market would be flooded and there would be too much competition,” Kerrigan said. But, he said, “I looked at iTunes and it turned out there wasn’t much out there. I saw an opportunity.”
He bought a Mac and an iPhone, did research, registered as a developer with the Apple App Store, and started coding.
The result was a game called tChess. The first version of the game, called tChess Pro for chess enthusiasts, went into the Apple App Store on Nov. 6. It sells for $8. A second version for casual players called tChess Lite, which sells for $1, got released Nov. 15.
For Kerrigan, watching the progress of the tChess games has been an exhilarating and at times nail-biting roller-coaster ride.
A friend alerted him when tChess Lite, the $1 game, made it into the Apple App Store’s top 100 paid applications. The game steadily advanced through the rankings, peaking at No. 12 “for a couple hours,” according to Kerrigan.
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