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How to sit at chess

What is the best chair for chess? How should you sit at the board? And in front of a screen? Conrad Schormann has the answers.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave sticked to the green giant  at the Candidates Tournament, but used an extra cushion to rest his lower back.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave sticked to the green giant at the Candidates Tournament, but used an extra cushion to rest his lower back. (Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE)

Giant green leather chairs were foreseen by the Russian organisers of the the recent Candidates Tournament. Most players considered them too big and too comfortable, and asked to have them replaced. Ironically, winner Ian Nepomniachtchi and runner-up Maxime Vachier-Lagrave were the only participants that stuck to the green giants. By the end of the event, the eight grandmasters used six different chair types. This was duely noted by mainstream media as it had been on earlier occasions when the world chess championship was at stake.

Garry Kasparov inspected almost fifty chairs ahead of the 1987 title match. In the end, he chose one of the most simple models.

The chairs of Karpov and Korchnoi played a role in their psycho war during the 1978 world championship.
The chairs of Karpov and Korchnoi played a role in their psycho war during the 1978 world championship.

Back in 1972 Bobby Fischer liked none of the chairs the Icelandic organisers offered him. Eventually, the American had an ES 104, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, flown in from New York. Six years later, Viktor Korchnoi arrived on the Philippines with a green Stoll Giroflex, one of the first Swiss-made swivel chairs. Anatoly Karpov made his own arrangement. During the 14th game Korchnoi complained that Karpov was deliberately turning excessively on his chair in order to distract him, Korchnoi. The referees forbade Karpov to spin while it was his challenger’s turn to move. His successor Garry Kasparov inspected almost fifty chairs ahead of the 1987 title match. In the end, he chose one of the most simple models.

With the advancement of office furniture technology, more and more players chose high-quality office chairs as their preferred furniture. During the 2013 world championship match Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen both sat in “Aerons”, a high-end office chair from the US producer Herman Miller.

Carlsen and Anand on Aeron chairs by Herman Miller during the 2013 world championship match
Carlsen and Anand on Aeron chairs by Herman Miller during the 2013 world championship match (photo: FIDE)

Carlsen optimised his sitting technique, leaning his lower back against the chair, knees apart and both feet firmly on the ground.

Carlsen is probably the first world champion who has had a closer look at the science of sitting properly. The current world champion once pointed out that many rivals lean over the board at their peril. According to the Journal of Physical Therapy Science this can lead to a thirty per cent loss of lung capacity. Carlsen learned to avoid leaning forward from Keith Overland, former president of the American Chiropractic Association, during a visit to the Olympic Training Centre in the US. A 30-degree forward tilt increases the load on the neck by almost 60 pounds, says Overland. Back and neck muscles have to do unnecessary extra work, resulting in headaches and the brain being undersupplied with oxygen.

Leaning forward as much as challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi isn’t how you should sit at the board.
Leaning forward as much as challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi isn’t how you should sit at the board. (Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE)

Carlsen optimised his sitting technique to spare the muscles and feed the brain. At the board, the Norwegian leans his lower back against the chair, which leads to a natural posture. His knees are slightly apart at the board, both feet firmly on the ground. The world champion has identified this position as ideal for maintaining mental tension and not expending unnecessary energy on muscular activity.

With the advent of online and hybrid chess, also practised while sitting but with eyes straight out to the screen, a new type of chair enters chess: the gaming chair. The Italian teams won both the men’s and the women’s edition of the Mitropacup seated on MaxNomic chairs. In September 2020, Secretlab, a Singapore-based company specialising in eSports chairs, announced a partnership with Chess.com to provide chess streamers with chairs. At the Champions Chess Tour players are seen on all kinds of chairs. There hasn’t yet been sponsorship deal with a gaming chair producer, but it is probably just around the corner.

Tea Gueci from the Italian Mitropacup team in her gaming chair.
Tea Gueci from the Italian Mitropacup team in her gaming chair. (photo: Italian Chess Federation)