Most of my chess preparation and studying used to revolve around ChessBase products. I stored my databases and notes in .cbh files, used computers with the ChessBase interface to study and do preparation, and used the tools that Fritz 12 gave as an aid.

Unfortunately, ChessBase doesn't seem to make these products for the OS X operating system. What software is there that lets me study chess, open .cbh files, and use chess computers on a Mac?

  • 2
    In honor of the 1000th view, I'll update with what ultimately happened. I didn't like any of these programs and ended up waiting until I got back to school to get my university to install Boot Camp for me for free, and then having a friend let me borrow his copy of Chessbase. To those with similar problems, this is the best approach - I'm sorry, but it's true. Hopefully one day Chessbase will write something for OS X, or maybe someone can fix it up for Wine. But until then, we're all stuck. – Andrew Latham Feb 1 '13 at 1:10
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    I've always found dual-booting for a single application to be a bit too extreme (not an OS X guy, but that's my understanding of what Boot Camp enables). Surprisingly, nobody has suggested virtual machines yet. VirtualBox should run on an OS X host, and would allow you to switch between your two operating systems without a restart. If you get a new machine, it's also easier to just take the VM image to the new one. – Daniel B Jun 7 '13 at 11:27
  • I am using VirtualBox now. Chess opening database is the only reason I run windows. If I could solve just this functionality on OSX then I could stop using windows. – Michael West Mar 22 at 14:23

11 Answers 11


I highly recommend Scid ("Shane's Chess Information Database"). Here's a screenshot of the Mac version (more to be found at Softpedia):

Softpedia screenshot of Scid on a Mac

It is completely free, has lots of functionality, and is fast (handles my 5.2M game database quickly and fluidly). I have only used Scid in its Linux and windows versions, not the Mac. But from what I understand there are no appreciable differences in the software across these operating systems, and I've certainly never noticed any real differences between the Linux and windows versions in my own use. A few notes:

1. Scid cannot open .cbh files directly, but you should be able to use the ChessBase products you've been using to export to PGN, which Scid can then import into databases in its own format.

2. This doesn't apply to you, but for those who have never owned ChessBase but do have some ChessBase files that they'd like to import into Scid, there is a way to do so without buying any ChessBase products, at least on a PC. The old Fritz 5.32 is now freeware, and can be used to convert ChessBase files to PGN. (Amazingly, I know of no other free program that can do this; maybe someone else does.)

3. Scid plays very well with chess engines for use in analyzing games. I have Houdini 1.5 (the free version before it went commercial with 2.0), some version of Stockfish (free), and some version of Crafty (free) in use with my Scid.

4. One potential drawback, but only if you're on an older OS X: you can download the Mac version here, and it is pointed out there that the executable is available only for Mac OS X 10.5 or later; if you're using an older version, you'll have to build the program from its source code. They have instructions for doing so though, so it might not be too big of an issue anyway.

5. While I'm at it, I'll point out that some other developer made a free android app called Scid on the go, which I have used on my android tablet. It's scaled down from regular Scid quite a bit, and I've really only used it in a read-only way (data entry's not really fun on a tablet anyway IMO). But I have my big games database synced across devices using Dropbox, and it's nice to be able pull up games when I've only got my tablet with me.

I'll end by adding that Scid is the only database program I've ever really used, so do know that my recommendation comes without me having much experience with ChessBase or other commercial alternatives to compare it to. But that's also because I've never had any reason to; Scid really is great, and again, all the software I've mentioned here is completely free.

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  • For the record, I strongly dislike SCID. Standard activities in the routine annotation and analysis of games are either extraordinarily cumbersome, unnatural and difficult or entirely impossible. – Andrew Latham Dec 27 '13 at 5:27
  • I think scid and chessX are good, for my purposes I've found hiarcs better/easier. It's a comercial product, so you'd need to google a bit to "find" it. – marbel Feb 17 '17 at 0:08
  • Scid vs Mac (a fork of Scid) is reported to support CBH format from ChessBase. – Timothy Ha Oct 3 '18 at 5:31

I agree that installing Windows via Bootcamp is a good course of action. You may also want to consider Hiarcs' Mac Chess Explorer:


It has many of the same functions as ChessBase, and is from a developer who has an excellent history of supporting his Mac products. The program works with .pgn files, so being able to use ChessBase via Bootcamp is convenient for converting files from .cbh for .pgn format.

Having paid a lot of money for the original Mac version of ChessBase, which was total vaporware, I will never buy another Chessbase product. Frederic Friedel stole my money once. He will not get a chance to do so again.

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It's probably a lot easier to install Windows (via Bootcamp) on your Mac, which is hopefully not too old.

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For native OSX databases you're pretty much limited to SCID and Exachess unless you want to go the Parallels route and use windows software from there. You might be able to rig up WINE and run it on the later versions of OSX; not sure, never tried it.

In both of these you'll be missing the high-end features of chess base, such as the opening report. I'm not aware of anything on OSX that opens the .cbh format files. ChessBase got really closed after the older (CB6 and earlier) file format was decoded and distributed. I'm not aware of anyone who has decoded their cbh format.

ChessBase, back in the day, tried to create a Mac product, but it was slow, buggy and under-featured compared to their Windows version, and when it didn't sell well they blamed the Mac user base instead of their own lack of skill for it and vowed never to build another version for the Mac.

As for "use chess computers," I suspect you are referring to top chess-playing software. Fritz, being a CB product, will never appear for OSX. However, most of the rest of the top names already have an OSX version: HIARCS, Shredder, Stockfish; Rybka and Houdini have yet to appear on OSX.

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I was able to install ChessBase on in OSX Yosemite using crossover. It is working well for me, and this way i don't have to boot a separate virtual machine just to launch it.

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As it is related closely to this question (but please read my comment qualifying this also):-

I would like to add my post on setting up : CHESS ANALYSIS ON MAC OS X LION 10.7 USING STOCKFISH AND HIARCS ENGINE


Summary below: INSTRUCTIONS

Basically to get a strong chess computer on Mac you have to do 2 things:

1) get the engine that basically analyses the possible moves and gives you the evaluation of current position with “best play” - This engine is usually free, this can be HiARCs or Stockfish and there are probably others.

2) you need a GUI – a interface basically so you can easily drag moves and then you link this to your engine. For HiARCs and Stockfish you need what is called a UCI type of GUI.

Now if you have 30 euro spare then you might want to try Shredder which has a demo version for free and you can get this from their website. This is engine and GUI in one and simple and reasonably professional.

However – if you are a bit intrepid and stingy as I am then you could follow these instructions:

1) Get the engine first, download Stockfish – you want a binary version, as of writing this is here:

2.2.2 binary download for mac.

Now once downloaded, open up the .zip and inside go into the Mac folder. Now click Finder > Edit > copy and we will paste this file in a short while, into our GUIs engine folder. So we must get that now…

2) Now next you need your GUI app. For the GUI I recommend a free one – JOSE

Just check the link for full discussion.

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  • The JOSE GUI will open your databases but it doesnt compare to chessbase. The best option is really to run VirtualBox / VMWare / Parallels with Chessbase light inside, which I do also. But your engine will be constrained by this. (Or use Bootcamp as stated by Daniel above) – Luke Barker Apr 3 '14 at 13:01

You asked, "What software is there that lets me study chess, open .cbh files, and use chess computers on a Mac?"

The Games menu in Chess Openings Wizard for Mac does quite a bit of the work of a game database like ChessBase, indexing millions of games in PGN format. No direct support for .CBH files though. When it comes to studying chess and using the strongest chess engines on a Mac, it's a decent alternative.

Chess Openings Wizard for OSX is in pre-release beta testing as of June 2016.

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"CBH to PGN 1.0.4" is an android app that works flawlessly as far as i can see. once again, the android kids are leaving us PC fogies in the dust. ;o)

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    The question concerns Mac OS X and also it concerns having the "full package", not just a format converter...sure, nice to know this app is available, yet this answer seems to fit better for a "chessbase to pgn converter" question. Cheers. – Rauan Sagit Apr 2 '14 at 13:23

On my MBP, I had initially bought ExaChess, but later switched to Hiarcs, which has a much better (though not perfect) UI. It gets the job done.

I've never used ChesBbase. Hiarcs does not directly open .cbh files, but I believe you can find a third-party app to translate your .cbh files to PGN.

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  • [converted to a post] – jaxter Sep 15 '16 at 19:08

The question relates to alternatives to ChessBase for OS X.

Since numerous posters have responded by suggesting that you try to run ChessBase in a virtual machine or emulator, I thought it would be relevant to raise an important consideration regarding this strategy.

Elsewhere on chess.stackexchange.com I have enumerated several known defects in ChessBase, in multiple versions. There are 2 that I would expect to manifest in an emulator-based environment:

  1. My versions of ChessBase (from 6-11) all exhibited crashes every few hours, just in regular use. Some of these crashes appear to be related to:

    • Leaving a dialog open in one window/instance, (say, the annotation window for a game, or the statistics window for a games list, or the filter window for a games database), and then trying an action in other instance/window that requires a dialog.

    • Trying to close a games list with the [Esc] key, instead of mousing over and clicking the [X] button on the window header bar. This sometimes works, and sometimes causes a crash.

    Obviously, dialogs should be independent and completely decoupled objects, but the dialog handler appears to have a design flaw. This isn't the only case of an action that causes ChessBase to crash, of course.

To make matters worse, ChessBase 11 is so buggy that when it crashes in Windows 10, it fires up multiple instances of the Windows Crash Resolution Dialog (not its real name), and keeps cycling through them so insistently that you can't even toggle to another application. If I don't want to sit around for several minutes while this resolves itself, I have to override this behavior by pulling an interrupt with the Task Manager and use the End Task function to rip ChessBase out of the OS application stack. Even then, I still have to click "Ok" in the Close Program dialog box. It's vampire-like behavior dressed in a software cloak.

  1. Context-handling is erratic. When a database games list window is opened, the list may have context (i.e. one item is selected), or it may not. The resulting odd behaviors include:

    • In the 1st case, pressing [Enter] opens the game, and in the 2nd, nothing happens.

    • In the 1st case, pressing [Ctrl]-F opens a filter window for that games list. In the 2nd case, either nothing happens, or, if you messed up and happen to have another games list window open in the background, the filter window opens, but when you run the search, it will be applied to the background window's games list.

  2. When no game is selected in the games list: sometimes pressing [Up] or [Down] will select one, and sometimes not. Sometimes pressing [Tab] once will select a game, sometimes pressing it twice will do so, and sometimes no number of presses of [Tab] will do anything. Sometimes switching windows and coming back will select a game, and other times it will do nothing.

I've completely given up trying to use the HotKeys feature for many types of action, because the context is so unpredictable.

  1. Switching between several ChessBase windows can be done fast enough to overwhelm ChessBase's context management functions, in which cases it simply freezes up and never comes back. I'm not talking breakneck, try-to-break-the-program switching, I'm talking normal-expert-hotkey-switching use.

  2. When a database games list search completes, sometimes the selected games appear in that window, and sometimes the context handler arbitrarily puts the games list in the background and switches to another ChessBase window, such as an open game board. Once it starts doing this, it will do it repeatedly until ChessBase is restarted. Plus, you can't just use the [Alt]-[Tab] hotkey to switch windows just once, to get it back; you have to do 2 operations, and you have to toggle multiple windows to find the window where the games list is. I now just hold the [Alt]-[Tab] hotkey down while I mouse over the window selection display to find it. [BTW: This is the display that best shows what goes on after ChessBase crashes. It's a high-speed kaleidoscope of 3-Card Monte with as many cards as you have windows open in Windows. As impressive a mind-boggling feat of buggy coding in a commercial product as I've ever seen.]

Now, keep in mind that all these behaviors are being exhibited in the native target environment for which ChessBase was written. If they make you shudder, just imagine how you'll feel when you see what happens when the emulator tries to handle them.

As a footnote, I should add that in no other Windows package that I own that was built to for the Windows XP architecture has there ever been any serious issue with backwards compatibility in Windows 10. Windows 10 is very capable of resolving these issues, when they present, including multiple configuration options to roll back how operating system calls are handled to prior versions. None of these recovery / compatibility functions make a bit of difference with ChessBase 11.

To be fair, ChessBase GmbH don't claim that CB 11 is Win 10 compatible, but they also say the only solution is to buy two upgrades at the upgrade price, or a full-price copy of the newest CB. Given that 5 prior versions in a row exhibited so many defects, some of them persisting through all the generations of the product, I'd say it's a poor bet that 13 will delight the user in this area. There are very few software products that actually have user-rant websites dedicated to criticizing them, but ChessBase is one of these.

So, I implore you not to make things worse for yourself by trying to run the product in a non-native environment. The question poser asked for alternatives for Mac OS X, and this is one good reason why.

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I don't know of a mac native .cbh file reader.

ChessX seems to use pgn as it's database which can be slow. Using the opening tree and a pgn of 100,000 games it took 30 seconds to show the full tree after each move. This is too slow to be usable for me.

I understand that ScidvsMac is more of a true database application and is fast for large databases by using a native database format. However, with 64 bit only OSX catalina it is buggy and slow according to known issues

macOS Catalina and later are only supported by the buggy and slow 64 bit version.

64 bit ScidvsMac uses Cocoa Wish, which is improving, but still very buggy.

I have Hiarcs Chess Explorer and it is fast with a pgn database. It's opening explorer is best for finding games and understanding the most popular moves in a database. I'd like to be able to annotate moves in the explorer window rather than having to go to a game to see pgn annotations.

My preference is to have something without an install. I tried ChessTempo's opening training which works fine, but only supports 60,000 positions at the highest level of membership. I need 500,000 positions.

chessply looks interesting but it not finished. And based on the video it supports only small databases at this time.

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