Choosing the right tournament chess board is a topic I’ve thought about over the years, trivial as it might seem. After last Friday’s post, I decided to share my thoughts and get your opinions as well. Let’s go through different options — what is your ideal tournament surface?
I’m also assuming we’re playing in tournaments where we have to bring our own equipment. I won’t discuss square size because there aren’t a range of options here. FIDE regulations state that the side of a square should measure 5 to 6 cm (roughly 2.0 to 2.4 in).
Here we go:
Fold-Up, Roll-Up, or Neither
By “neither,” I mean a hard, one-piece tournament chess board like the one I discussed last week. These tend to be the most aesthetically-pleasing boards, but they’re obviously not the most convenient. Choose this route only if you’re driving to a tournament, and a nice playing surface is an important part of your enjoyment of the game.
Personally, I would consider this option if I drove to a tournament and stayed in a hotel for a few days or longer. However, I rarely see players use these kinds of boards in competition.
Another seldom-chosen option is the fold-up board. I imagine the “crease” in the middle of the board is distracting, even though these boards can be very attractive otherwise.
By far the most popular choice is the roll-up board, and with good reason: these boards are cheap, compact, and easier to clean than other types.
Apparently black-and-white is not good for the eyes over a long period of time. Most players opt for a green-and-white surface, but other choices are popular as well. Next time, I might choose brown-and-white — just to be different. I’m tired of green and I’ve never been a fan of blue or burgundy.
Of course, roll-up boards are so cheap you can buy more than one and choose a color that fits your mood…
Assuming you go with a roll-up board, you still have to consider the material of your playing surface.
A vinyl roll up board.
When I first began playing chess in the 1990s, vinyl was the material of choice. I suspect it is still the most popular type of board purchased: it’s easy to clean, easy to roll or fold, and provides a decently-thick playing surface.
A mousepad board, in purple.
Recently, rubberized surfaces akin to a computer mousepad have become an option. They lay very flat, don’t move easily during play, and don’t develop creases like vinyl boards sometimes do.
The main issue with mousepad boards is they stain easily and can’t be wiped off as easily as other boards. I primarily don’t like them because of their texture.
A silicone roll-up board.
Another alternative is silicone boards. They can be twisted or mashed into any shape, and wipe off easily, like vinyl. It seems to me that silicone boards grip the playing surface they’re laying on better than vinyl boards do, but not as well as mousepad material.
I haven’t converted to silicone because I don’t like the thinness of the surface, and I’m not a fan of the texture. Still, I do think they will only grow in popularity in the coming years.
A tournament chess board is a very personal thing! You’re going to be spending a lot of hours with it, and I think it’s important to use a product you like. What do you like to play on during a tournament game? Is there anything I have left out? Please comment!