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Returning to the board requires experiments

11 May 2020

Playing chess over the board will be restricted by Covid safeguarding rules for the foreseeable future. According to a Harvard study we may have physical distancing until 2022. In order to find out how we can play over the board safely, ChessTech editor Stefan Löffler initiated a small tournament in a Vienna park. He reflects on the findings and calls for more experiments.

Distancing rules require over-the-board players to stay aware of the distance to our opponent
Distancing rules require over-the-board players to stay aware of the distance to our opponent

Due to its low infection rate Austria has allowed small events for up to ten people and lowered the required minimum distance between people who are outdoor to one metre. With permission from the Ministry of Health, we selected an outdoor venue to review the elements of playing chess. The venue was far from optimal but we think that we learned a lot.

We played in a less-frequented park in Vienna. There was some background noise but not enough to distract the players. We were four players with an average rating of 2350, and one arbiter, all healthy and without Covid-19 symptoms. The players and the arbiter filled out evaluation sheets.

We all carried masks but didn’t wear them during play. Oxygen is required for the brain to work properly. All of us wore single use latex gloves throughout the tournament. Nobody found them comfortable. We used LEAP clocks but the displayed time could not be monitored from more than a metre away by the arbiter due to sunlight.

We played with a time control of 10 minutes plus 5 seconds per move. One player overstepped the time limit, suggesting that this may be too little when you need to avoid leaning over the board thereby violating the one metre distance rule. The arbiter warned us when we moved too close to the board, yet we kept the minimum distance 99 percent of the time. The quality of the games seemed decent. The consensus was that the games were different and more enjoyable than the online chess of recent weeks.

If others want to experiment in an open air venue, and have at least three people so that one of them can take observations while the others play, here are some open questions:

  • Which gloves are best suited to be comfortably worn during a full play session?

  • Which chess clock displays can be seen well in sunlight by the players and by an arbiter?

  • What is the minimum time limit for players who must not lean over the board?

  • What are suitable play settings for keeping a face-to-face distance of 1.50 m or even 2.0 m?

Many more tests of settings and equipment are needed. We will gather your inputs and publish them here. Please report your experience, including a picture, to