Online chess vs over-the-board chess

Posted by Estelle Oberholzer on

The Economist reports that traffic on has more than doubled during lockdown. Log on at any time, and you'll find tens of thousands of games in progress. It seems that chess has a new normal. In the age before the internet, chess players had to leave the house to find an opponent. Now, anyone with an internet connection can play against an endless array of players from all around the world.

However, it is not exactly the same thing to study and play chess on the internet versus playing over-the-board chess. We look at some of the differences that could affect your play.

Yes, we are still talking about the same game with the same rules and time limits, but the board and pieces are different. A fundamental part of chess is pattern recognition – and while the pattern is undoubtedly similar when comparing online chess vs over-the-board play, it is not exactly the same thing. 
Your brain conditions itself to recall patterns more efficiently and effectively. As you click the mouse and concentrate on the screen, your brain will remember past experiences to assist your decision-making. This pattern recognition will help your over-the-board play, but it might not work quite as well. 
GM Anish Giri
GM Anish Giri explained that he spent a good deal of time playing chess online because otherwise, he would not have had the opportunity to play against other strong GMs due to his location. However, he quickly said that this was simply a training exercise, and he preferred to train and play with over-the-board chess for this very reason.

(photo: World Chess) 


Playing in a crowded and nervous tournament hall, fighting it out with an opponent, is very different than sitting in your underwear yelling at the computer at 3 in the morning. That's why it's important not to get too used to the convenience and ease of playing chess online. 

Judit Polgar

When playing in a tournament hall, your opponent might do everything in their power to disturb you, to make you panic, to make you scared and to lose the game finally. It happens all the time. Like Judith Polar said, "chess is thirty to forty per cent psychology. You can't have this when you play a computer. I can't confuse it." 

While playing online, most people commonly play so-called quick chess, with a time control of fewer than 15 minutes per game. Yury Markushin, from The Chess World, says that this kind of chess offers no real value for improving your standard time control chess. 

Why? These players generally do not pay much attention to their opening because, in 15 minutes, it is tough to exploit mistakes. However, in standard time control over-the-board chess, players have loads of time to think about why that knight is badly positioned in the corner or why that isolated pawn is a weak part of the opponent's defence.  

In quick chess, pawn weaknesses or bad placements aren't a big deal because trying to think about all that will mean flagging out first and losing on time. Even if you're a piece down, you still have a high chance to win the game. However, if you're a piece down in standard time control over-the-board chess, you are in deep trouble.

Online chess vs over-the-board chess

There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing chess for fun and playing quick chess during your free time. However, if you're taking chess a bit more seriously, you should consider playing less online chess and dedicating more time to real studying. 

While this is difficult in lockdown, getting an electronic chessboard will help to eliminate some of these issues. Need convincing? Read one of our earlier post on why you should buy an electronic chessboard. Alternatively, look at the DGT Centaur. The sensor board lets you move pieces in a natural way and adapts to your level as soon as you make your first move.

chess during lockdown online chess

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