Does Playing Online Affect Your Over the Board Chess? 

On my first tournament I was quite confident, I have a good rating on my lichess account after all.

My thoughts are somewhere along the line of “I will sweep the competition”.

Since I have performed great online, then that must mean that I will also perform great on a real chess board. There is no reason to think that I will play great on one format and play poorly on the other.

In short, I was completely wrong. I was matched against a strong over the board player in round 1, it was a disaster.

I was completely outplayed and then I realized that it is not as easy as I think. This will be the topic for today, whether one’s frequent games online can actually affect their over the board performance?

I have experienced the answer, but there is actually a plot twist here. I think that this article will be interesting. With all of that in mind, let’s begin.

Is there a difference between playing chess online and playing it over the board?

Some of you may think that there is really not that much difference between online and over the board play.

It is understandable that you think this way, but it is completely wrong. Playing online and over the board are two completely distinct experiences. For one, games that are played online are much more accessible to the players.

If you are going to play over the board you have to travel far distances in order to participate, each game holds more value.

This is why ratings are much more inflated in online chess platforms, you can easily play a game or three without having to travel.

The second difference is the fact that there are many cheaters in online chess platforms. There are many ways to cheat in chess, but taking it online just provides an easier route of escape for cheaters.

In over the board tournaments there are strict regulations to manage cheating, this is more effective than the anti-cheating systems online. Cheating online is just much easier since anyone’s identity can be anonymous.

The third difference which you may find weird, is the 2d and 3d view. In online games the perspective is mostly in 2d, in over the board games the perspective is in 3d.

You may think that there is no difference between the two, but trust me there is. I find that my experience in 3d has become more difficult (will elaborate later).

These are the major differences between the two modes of playing, and they can affect your experience between each other. 

Does playing chess online negatively affect your over the board performance?

Yes, playing online will have some negative impact on your over the board performance.

As I have mentioned before, since each game holds less value online, you are more likely to risk it. Each game is not as important, therefore your approach will revolve around a more riskier playstyle.

There is a reason why the greatest over the board players draw most of their games, it is just the most effective approach right now.

Players who are used to playing online find it more difficult to incorporate a safer playstyle. Since they don’t value each game as much, they are more likely to flop in over the board games.

Next are the cases of cheatings, this could also affect a player’s performance over the board. I’d see that it is not as bad as the others, but it could still be a factor.

If you are used to meeting online cheaters, you are less likely to be upset when your non-losing streak is broken. Over the board games are not really about winning, it is just not about losing (since you can draw).

If you are used to meeting online cheaters then you will not be used to the culture that is at least not trying to lose.

Lastly, I think that the 2d and 3d difference can also affect your performance over the board. As someone who is used to playing in 2d mode (online) it is significantly harder for me to understand the position in 3d.

Lately I have become better, but at first it was a disaster. I couldn’t understand the pieces as much and I sometimes even hang a full piece (which is unacceptable).

I couldn’t plan as much since I am used to the 2d icons. It took me a while to get used to 3d, I am sure that there are others who share the same sentiment. 

Has there been cases where a chess player is both good at otb and online chess?

The thing is, there are players who are not as affected with the difference between online and over the board, they can play well with both.

Some of the chess players that come to mind are Hikaru, Anish, Firouzja, and Magnus. Hikaru is probably the ultimate model of this. The guy has been playing so many online games nowadays that it is crazy, yet he still plays superb in over the board games.

At the time of this writing he has even participated in the world chess candidates tournament, which is unthinkable.

In fact, he could have secured second place if he didn’t go for a win (he chose to push for first place and ended up losing the second place spot).

Since Magnus will not be defending his world championship title, Nakamura would have played for the world title if he had secured the second place.

For someone that almost exclusively plays online to come to the candidates and do this, it is impressive. It is not only hikaru though, there are also many players who play well in both formats.

I think that they are the best examples that online games wouldn’t really affect your over the board performance if you approach it the right way. 

Then why are over the board players so critical of online chess?

I think that the reason over the board players criticize online games so much has to do with the difference between the two formats. Imagine crushing the over the board ratings, you will feel proud, you will feel special.

Then you look at the online ratings and you see players who have easily surpassed the fruits of your hard work.

Suddenly you are no longer special, you will be compared to players that have easily acquired the same rating. Over the board chess is really much more difficult than online chess, you couldn’t play as many games.

Online ratings are inflated, this is true. However most people have never really experienced over the board play, it is easy for them to undermine it. People usually downplay the hardships of over the board players, which probably annoys them.

This is why they criticize online players to be significantly weaker than over the board players. Bring everyone down, so you can raise yourself up.

I think this is what’s really going on, which is why there is so much criticism. 

Which players are good over the board but bad at online chess?

We must not ignore that there are also cases where a strong over the board player finds it hard to play online. Although there are not as many cases as the other way around, it still exists.

The worst is probably Vladimir Kramnik, who is probably done with online chess right now.

He had expressed concerns about the nature of pre-moves in online chess. This is after the time he had lost a winning position against Vincent Keymer who had kept on pre-moving until he lost on time.

For you online folks here, you might know that this is a necessary element of online chess, over the board players on the other hand, don’t know this.

It is hilarious how Kramnik reacted to losing his position against Keymer, I am not sure if he will still participate in other online tournaments because of this.

Another lesser known example is that of Levon Aronian, which some of you might not notice. Levon Aronian is a super grandmaster, basically one of the best players in the world.

He has really struggled getting results online, probably because he is not used to it. The guy has mostly played over the board in all of his life, switching avenues so suddenly may have affected him more than the others.

You see, the effect is not the same with everyone. There are those that do fine and those that didn’t.

The effect can be relative (different depending on the individual). Some are not affected, some are really struggling. 

Should you play both? Or should you focus on one format at a time?

In my opinion there is really nothing wrong with playing both at the same time. As I have said earlier, eventually I found a way around it and have gotten used to over the board play.

I don’t really like the idea of focusing on one format at a time, I think that it will further alienate you to the other format. It will be extremely helpful to switch the format every now and then.

This would allow you to get used to both formats as you are experiencing them both at the same time.

You would probably play more online games since they are more accessible (which is fine), but don’t forget to experience over the board once in a while. I’d say you should spend a day or two just playing over the board games.

If you are planning to participate in official tournaments in the future, you would also need to get used to the over the board experience.

The difference between online play and OTB might hit you hard the first time if you are not used to it. Another alternative is just switching the lichess/ board to 3d in the settings (which is an option).

As concluded by my other article, creates more competitive players than lichess. See it for more information.

But I suggest getting a real board and playing OTB for real sometimes. You would need to play it for real to truly understand the difference.

I think you should find the right balance for you, over time you would get a feel on what mix is the most comfortable. This will allow you to get the best of both worlds, it is amazing. 


In short, there is a difference between over the board and online play. These differences might affect a player’s performance with each of these formats, the effect can be relative though.

There are some chess players like hikaru nakamura who are able to become superb in over the board and online play.

Some other examples are Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri, and Alireza Firouzja. On the other hand, there are also those who are great over the board but play poorly online.

The examples are Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian. What is clear though is that over time, players will get used to the two formats.

It will affect their experience at first, but they can become better if they choose to adapt (which is my experience). That is all for this article, thank you.