Is over-the-board chess better than online chess?

There has been a raging debate lately prompted by the explosion of online chess platforms when it comes to popularity, that over-the-board chess is better.

People who are used to competing in a physical setting are claiming that there are nuances that make online pretty bad, and I have wondered about this myself.

Is that really true? Is over the board chess better than online? This is what I know:

Online chess is more convenient for beginners since it is more accessible, the analysis is simple with computers, and writing chess notations is also not required.

Over-the-board chess on the other hand is better for competitors since there are many cheaters online and longer time formats are more competitive.

As someone who has experience with both of these mediums I think I can make a fair opinion, although you are welcome to think for yourself. These are just my thoughts and you can make your own insights adding to my arguments.

With all of that in mind, let’s begin.

Why is online chess much more convenient for players?

Playing chess online is much more convenient than over-the-board since it can be accessed anywhere without buying any products, the chess notations are automatically recorded, the profiles of the opponents can be easily viewed, and the analysis is simple with computer evaluations.

If you are only playing chess online there aren’t any physical setup required for you to get started and compete, a simple phone and internet connection is all the requirements for playing.

There aren’t any products that one needs to buy just to play a game, such as a chess clock, chessboard, or chess pieces that are normally prerequisites of over-the-board play.

This is the best thing about playing online, which is its availability, one can access advanced time controls and various game modes even without a clock or chess set.

Such are premium features that wouldn’t be enjoyed by the user if they don’t have the money to spend, online play is very cost-effective.

Not only that you can smoothly play anywhere with these platforms, but there is also not a lot of up-front investment in order to participate, it is a huge convenience.

Online chess presents the nature of automation

Playing chess online is much more convenient in a way that one does not need to constantly write chess notations to record their games, there is an automatic profile where the opponent’s archive can be viewed, or even check the moves with a chess computer easily.

If you are a beginner that doesn’t have a lot of knowledge in writing chess notation it can be a slug to study (although is necessary to learn) but online just makes it much easier for the writings.

The opponent’s profile can be easily studied by just going to their account page with all their previous games, records, and everything you need to learn from them.

Chess analysis using chess computers has become much easier since it is already embedded in the platform. The point is that it is much more user-friendly than if you do things manually. 

There are lesser chances of making mistakes when everything is taken care of by the system, due to this the games flow more smoothly.

It is much easier to find competition online

If you are on the task of finding players who are skilled in chess on the street for example, then you will find it difficult as I did, chess is just not as popular as other competitions out there.

Finding actual good players at least, you will have to engage in tournament play if you were to look for these people and even then it’s likely that you will be playing against the same guys over and over again.

It is easier to find an opponent online due to the large pool of players that are available for matching, it is much harder to gain experience in over-the-board chess since you have to be in tournaments to find good competition.

Playing online will give you chances of even meeting titled players that you can test your skills against for free, something that is rare to occur over-the-board.

I’d say that without online play I wouldn’t be able to polish my expertise in the game, it’s just hard to find rivalries when you are limited by your location, time, and tournament access.

In online chess you are able to change the appearance of the board and pieces

There are certain pieces to board color combinations that are distracting to the eyes of the players, preferences in visual actually play a role in the results.

In my first tournament for example the pieces are very cheap-looking and hard to distinguish from each other making me think longer than I should have normally.

Over-the-board game’s appearance of the pieces is way different from the interface that is present online, there is a standard unlike on the internet where the designs to be used can be edited.

These edited versions can actually be better in providing a suitable piece-design interface that would be convenient to the eyes of the users, so I give online chess this one.

Online chess is much fairer when it comes to rules

Online chess play completely eliminates the possibility of losing to some kind of ludicrous rule available in physical presence, things like touch move, writing motivational notes, ignoring a check or checkmate, and accidentally moving the piece to a wrong square can make you lose instantly.

And yes you read that correctly, writing motivational notes can actually make you lose a tournament round since it is prohibited as discussed by my other article (will open in a new tab).

There are many ninja rules out there that can take you out of the round at any moment if you don’t have experience in over-the-board play, I personally think that some rules are unfair.

This is obviously not the case online since it is played virtually, most rules do not subscribe to the limitations of the physical world and therefore these ninja moves are no longer a factor.

Why is over-the-board chess more challenging than online chess?

Playing chess over-the-board is much more difficult than online since there will be psychological challenges in terms of the opponents and the events, plus the rating system is much harder to earn with limited games along with rating gain unlike in online chess platforms.

One of the gifts that online games give to users is the inability to see the appearance of the opponent in the interface, you will not be able to experience their emotions and intimidation.

There are many more psychological factors in play when it comes to over-the-board chess where you can view your opponent’s body language and respond to their tantrums, unlike online where you cannot see them physically.

There are much more subtle distractions that your opponent can throw at you in a physical setting, these factors are completely eliminated in an online environment.

Your opponent can get upset or challenged by the decisions that are being played on the board so they would try to get a reaction from you, waving these emotions is a key trait of a successful player.

Players don’t have to deal with these kinds of spectacles online since the medium doesn’t support this kind of interaction (even trash talk in chats could be removed).

Trust me it could get intense in a competitive scenario such as a tournament where everything counts, this can be demonstrated when Cheparinov (chess player) refused a simple handshake from his opponent:

As you can see the tension is high, this is actually a common dilemma in a competition where everyone has pride in their abilities, they don’t want to lose and emit concessions.

Players are sneering at each other to prove that they are the bigger fish in the rankings, you have to deal with something like this at over-the-board play.

Online ratings are adjusted to be naturally high

The rating system that you can find online is adjusted to be much higher than the one in real life, this is to accommodate the larger end of the chess population which are mostly beginners.

If you think that you are a competent player after gaining decent ratings online, you will be disappointed with the difference in over-the-board ratings, it is so high.

This is a good thing for players that are looking for challenges (over-the-board), they are being put in an environment where the achievements (ratings) are much harder to earn.

You actually have to work for your place in the rankings by studying harder and competing more efficiently, there is no soft treatment that will keep the undeserving players.

This is adding to the fact that you only have limited opportunities to gain ratings in physical settings since the games are not as accessible as on the internet.

Not only that the ratings that can be gained online is significantly much higher but also due to the availability, it is much easier to reach prominent numbers.

This is why a 3000 Elo rating is common for super-grandmasters in their chess.com accounts while they would never get close to it in real life (Magnus is the closest with almost 2900).

Why is over-the-board chess better for competitors?

There are tendencies in online chess that make over-the-board better for competitors, like the number of cheaters in chess platforms, the use of flagging making opponents run out of time instead of trying to win, and the dominance of faster formats that promotes surface-level thinking.

One of the things I hate about playing on the internet is the potential meetings with cheaters that are just looking to waste your time, they would abuse the computers as much as they can until they are satisfied.

Online platforms are just full of cheaters that constantly use these computers, this makes internet ratings useless as one might encounter a cheater that is an unknown variable to the results.

It is much harder to quantify your progress as a competitor since there exist some opponents that you cannot possibly beat without being a professional.

Actual chess tournaments are rigorous in ensuring that no such cases are present in over-the-board games, the physical environment offers protection where people are able to test their skills much more accurately.

On this note if you want to learn the signs of how to identify cheaters in chess, this article (will open in a new tab) should provide all the details of that.

Flagging is a reasonable win condition online

Flagging basically means moving in a way that is faster than normal in order to pressure the opponent in running out of time rather than actually beating them positionally.

Flagging is a common tactic online that is less practiced in over-the-board play, this mechanic is being abused with the existence of pre-moving that is playable in chess platforms.

People no longer solely focus on beating their opponent with the knowledge and experience that they attained, rather they want a speed game without much thinking.

The problem with this is it will lead people to believe that this is the way to play chess when it is actually not, they are much less likely to study things that work and instead rely on flagging.

Once you face an opponent that is even decently skilled they would manage their time much more efficiently, so this technique would not even work in serious games.

Online games are fast games

The time controls dominant online are usually on the faster end, it is much harder to improve in an online environment than over-the-board where longer controls are much more prominent.

Again there’s an issue with this since faster time controls are usually not enough to introduce beginners to the elements of chess, adding to the fact that beginners are the major population of these platforms.

You’ll usually learn planning, strategy, tactics, and deep thought processes in medium or longer time controls then transitioning those learnings to faster chess.

Internet platforms get this the other way around with mostly enticing beginners to play faster and faster controls without even trying the longer ones.

In over-the-board play you are forced to accommodate lengthy time formats in order to compete well, eventually gaining enough skills to make you a complete player.

This is harder to accomplish online since it attracts tactics, attacks, and bullet chess that would give results fast but is unhealthy to progress long-term.

Do you now know which chess is better, over the board or online?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the platform that can be the best will depend on the needs and wants of the individual, there is no clear-cut answer to this.

If you just want to pass time and be entertained then sure, online chess is much more convenient for these types of people.

However, if you are a serious competitor that wants to excel in a field they’ve chosen then over-the-board is definitely the medium to focus on, it is just more practical.

Though there is a middle position here which is playing online in a way that would eliminate some of its disadvantages, simulating over-the-board conditions.

Maybe it is playing with a longer time control, or raising your standards for rating achievements, it is possible. Hope you’ve enjoyed this article, sleep well and play chess.

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