If you have only been playing casually then you would know that sitting on the chessboard while a game is on play is a must, however, tournament chess is different. Walking around is actually permitted, there are only a few exceptions.
As someone who has participated in chess tournaments here is what I know:
Competitors in chess tournaments are allowed to walk around a limited space even when their game is active, this is not only allowed but is the standard in most prestigious tournaments. The only exception is with blitz tournaments where is customary to remain seated while the game is active.
This is an important rule to understand if you are someone who can’t be satisfied sitting in one place, you might need to walk around here and there during tournaments. I will discuss what I know in this article, keep on reading if you are interested.
Chess players are allowed to walk around during their chess games
People who have not watched a lot of chess competitions would think that walking away from the chessboard is rude, and even forbidden by rules. This is actually not true if you look at the most privileged tournaments; this is a common practice.
Walking around especially in longer time formats like classical is not just allowed but actually common, players need time away from the chessboard to think properly. Even in world chess championship matches players are allowed to walk around and even have their own resting place.
Staring at the same position for consecutive minutes (sometimes even hours) will drive people crazy, it doesn’t matter if the player is a grandmaster or not. Humans have a tolerance for looking at the same thing, we need uniqueness every now and then.
Sitting at the board for an extended period of time is a recipe for mental and physical exhaustion, competitors need to play multiple times in a day which warrants a fair bit of rest. If you are in a tournament with a rapid/classical time format do not be afraid to walk around, you will not be penalized.
Chess players in a tournament can only walk around a limited area
The next question is whether walking around can give a player an unfair advantage against their opponent, I am talking about cheating. When people are over the board their opponents can view their movements, walking away may introduce blind spots.
This is why players can only usually walk around a specific area, these are usually open spaces where the arbiters can observe a competitor’s actions. Players within the tournament are more comfortable in general if they can see all the participants being observed, they can focus on the games.
Players in a tournament can usually walk only in a specific area of the playing hall, going further is prohibited since cases of cheating may be encouraged. Most chess events give reasonable space for players to walk around or even sit when they’ve become exhausted.
Digital access is nullified before players can enter the playing venue (suspicious notes are also confiscated), but people have been creative over the years. A rule limiting the player’s movement is warranted in order to prevent cases of cheating.
Chess players usually don’t walk around in faster time formats
Walking away from the game is allowed in longer time controls, we have already talked about this. But what about faster time controls (especially blitz?), there are many things about it that make the answer different.
The only exception to the walking norm is in faster time formats, almost nobody leaves their game since the time can run out quickly. Are there penalties for leaving the board in faster time controls? No, but it would be considered rude in most instances.
There will always be no reason for players to walk away from the board when they have only five minutes left on the clock, it is as if they are taunting the opponent. If a player really wants to win they wouldn’t allow even a single minute to be a waste in blitz.
There aren’t any specific penalties in the rulebook, however, the arbiters may penalize the player for bad ethics (rude behavior) which can compromise the player’s success. If the reason is important it may be excused, but there will be almost no reason for a player to walk around in blitz formats.
Chess players should walk around during games in order to prevent health issues
Walking away from the chessboard is beneficial for one’s vitality since players would need a rest, however, we also want to prevent the extreme health issues of prolonged sitting. There is a physical recoil in sitting for consecutive hours well being mentally challenged.
Many countries around the world have mandated businesses to allow their employees a good sitting/standing hour, this is to prevent complications. Chess tournaments go on for consecutive days, excessive sitting may pose some concerns.
It is bad for the backbone, since chess players participate in tournament after tournament they will be exposed to excessive sitting throughout their career. We will end up with grandmasters who have horribly deformed postures if we are so strict about walking around.
This practice of walking away from the board exists even in the old times, it is tradition to let players do this. People have become aware of the health issues that prolonged sitting can bring which is why walking around is allowed, we don’t want to punish our best chess players.
The practice of walking away from the chessboard is tolerated because of health issues imposed by prolonged sitting, especially in classical time format which lasts for hours. Also mentally it is hard for some people to only look at the same thing for consecutive hours, a walk can be a good break.
Walking away from a chessboard when a game is going on may seem rude since people should focus on their opponent, however, this logic does not work on chess. There are many health issues that can emerge from excessive sitting, this is why walking around is allowed.
If you’re new to the tournament most likely walking around will not be that big of a deal, however, you should ask the general arbiter just to be sure (some places might impose different rules). That is all, thank you for reading.