Tournament Chess Board Options

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.

vinyl chess boards
Vinyl boards are available in a variety of colors.

When I first began playing chess in the late 1990s, most tournament chess boards were made of vinyl. I suspect it is still the most popular material of choice.

These boards are easy to clean, easy to roll or fold, and provide a decently-thick playing surface. I’ve considered other options, but I keep going back to ol’ reliable.


mousepad chess boards
Mousepad boards: gaining in popularity.

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.


silicone chess boards
The lightest option, and the easiest to store and clean…but also the thinnest.

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!

Author: Andre Harding

Since 2003 I've taught chess to thousands of students in public, private, and charter schools in the New York City area, and have given countless private lessons. I also direct USCF- and FIDE-rated chess tournaments.

4 thoughts on “Tournament Chess Board Options”

  1. Most of the comments on these updates seem to go to Facebook, but my own thoughts are too important to allow to scroll so rapidly into oblivion. Though it’s true I do sweat these periods of “awaiting moderation”.

    I own a wooden board, but I don’t have pieces worthy to play on it. Not sure when or where I picked it up. In any case, I can’t see bringing such a set to tournaments. Aside from the inconvenience, you’re too vulnerable to ridicule if you lose a bad game. “Nice set, though!” Then there is the danger of theft. I remember a case at a World Open tournament, in 1987, I think. This was an U2400 section with a pretty decent top prize, and there was a game on board 1 or 2 between the Canadian George Levtchouk and the Israel Dov Gorman, penultimate round. Levtchouk’s board and pieces, and a pretty nice set. There was a dispute about repetition of position, and the proper way to claim a draw. Levtchouk was determined not to have done it properly, and as a result, lost on time, and as a result of the dispute (which was conducted largely away from the board), also lost his chess set.

    So I have a couple of boards I might take to a tournament, one a standard green and white vinyl, and the other more of that mousepad type. Nice board, and it still retains its industrial aroma after some twenty-odd years. As for colors, it might just be what I’m used to, but anything other than green or brown for the dark squares looks weird. I share Tom Malloy’s æsthetic objection (see Facebook) to the coördinates’ being printed, but it only really bothers me when each individual square is labeled. I think there was more of that when algebraic notation was new here. Another issue in those days was that if you didn’t arrive at least a half hour before game time, you’d often need to tack down the first rank on each side. Board curl seems much less of a problem today. Is vinyl different from what it used to be? Is anyone here a chemist?

    1. Ridicule would be a serious concern when losing on a “fancy” set in a tournament! I notice high-rated players tend not to care very much about the set or clock they play on…

      That’s a wild story about theft! But at the World Open, it figures, I guess.

      The choice of vinyl board is very important. The very first one I got in 1996 must have been some kind of lemon, because the squares discolored badly, and quickly. After that I’ve had much better luck. And I keep the board flat by rolling it with the playing surface facing outward.

  2. Pretty ingenious, rolling the board up the other way. And it seems like the kind of thinking that carries over to other areas.

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