How Does the Environment Affect Your Chess Playing Skills?

How Does the Environment Affect Your Chess Playing Skills?

It is Not Just About How You Play, it is About Who and Where You Play as Well.

How Does the Environment Affect Your Chess Playing Skills?

How Does the Environment Affect Your Chess Playing Skills?

When you think of a chess match what do you see? You probably think of 2 equally matched, great chess players, sitting across from each other playing in complete silence except for the occasional tap of the chess clock button. And yes, at times chess is played this way. However, it is played in so many other ways as well. It is played outside in parks, in classrooms, at kitchen tables, on a computer, and it has even been played underwater! It is played by a single person, two people alone or by a huge group at a chess tournament. It is played by people who know each other well and by complete strangers. People of similar skill and age or by two people who have vastly different experience levels both in life and chess. Here we will look at how playing in different environments and situation can have an effect on chess players.

Chess and Concentration

The one aspect of playing chess that everyone can agree on is that you need concentration. Being able to concentrate on the pieces on the board, the possible moves, the combinations of outcomes based on those moves and more are all fundamental elements of playing chess. While people may not always agree on the best environments to play in to stimulate concentration everyone will tell you the ability to concentrate and focus on the game at hand is important.

Quiet vs Noisy

At the highest levels of chess, competitors ideally want to play in as much silence as possible. When you are a very good, high-level chess player the ability to focus without noise is important. There are even groups experimenting with building special rooms that are temperature controlled and almost completely silent for Grandmasters to play in. Since it is very hard to achieve total silence in normal circumstances and especially at big tournaments with lots of people some competitors use noise-canceling headphones to personally block out as much of the clatter as they can.

All that said, chess is also played outside and in coffee shops and in a wide range of other places where there is lots of noise. Some players will say that this actually makes them play better and aids in concentration. Many players do like some level of background noise whether it is from soft background music up to the normal noise out in the world. Some players will claim that the more noise around, the more they are forced to focus on the task at hand and not let their mind wander.  Everyone is different so it stands to reason that the acceptable level of noise while playing chess is different for everyone.

Speed of Play

There are three main types of chess that are played in most competitions. Those are blitz, standard, and compensation. All three types have different ways of using the clock to control how fast the game is played. Blitz is the fastest and is designed to be played in an hour or less with some games only have a few minutes on the clock. Their other types are slower and the games can take a few hours. People generally have one style that they like best and are best at playing. Again, different things work for different people. Players whose mind works fast and are decisive tend to favor faster chess. Players that are more considered and deliberate gravitate toward the slower games. If players who like to play fast are forced to play slow, they can overthink their moves. If slow players have to play fast they can make poor decisions because they do not have time to consider all the outcomes.  There is no right or wrong answer to which is better but most players have a strong opinion on which style is best for them.

Human vs Computer Chess

Playing chess vs a computer is fun, rewarding and very popular. There are all sorts of sites and programs where you can take on Artificial Intelligence designed to play chess. These computers quickly process millions of moves and options to pick one and make it. Chess computers have even beat Grandmasters and World Champions in the past. Playing a computer is a very different experience than playing a person. Humans are unpredictable, individual and creative while a computer, no matter how good it is will not be. Many top players suggest playing a computer to hone your skill and to find flaws in your game. You can increase the level of difficulty with a computer game so it is very good (and fun) to train with but almost all say that to reach the highest levels you really have to play another human being.

Human vs Human

When you play in tournaments you will be sitting across the chessboard from a real, live person. That is the only real guarantee though. Who you play against can vary widely both in tournaments or when playing for fun. Grandmaster and current #1 world chess player Magnus Carlsen is known to play (and beat) multiple people at once. But, in most cases, people play 1v1. Who that person you are playing is, their skill level and even your relationship can dictate how your game changes. There are stories of young kids beating grandmasters who were overconfident and sloppy while playing because of their opponent. If you know a player and play them often you will play them much different than a stranger who you are just meeting. One of the keys to chess though is figuring out your opponent. No matter who it is on the other side, the player that can get to understand who their opponent is and how they play faster will very often be the winner.


To answer the question posed in the headline, the environment you play chess in can affect so much of a players’ game. The interesting thing though is different environmental factors effect players’ games very differently. The key is as a chess player is to figure out your style and your ideal environment and try to best replicate that.


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