Home Africa Report Online Chess VS Over-The-Board Chess: The Chess Apocalypse?

Online Chess VS Over-The-Board Chess: The Chess Apocalypse?

by khisho

One time, a certain student was asked if he was working at translating his social media popularity into real life, he answered: “Social media is real, I don’t have to. It’s not virtual”. He wanted it to sound there is no demarcation between social media life and real life. He said, if you got a million likes on Facebook, that’s it, you are a celebrity. It doesn’t matter whether  you are known in real life or not.

But we chess players, know better, online chess training is different from physical over-the-board chess training, but should the rise of one mean the death of the other?

Here are 2 cases of individuals whose chess lives are emblematic of this demarcation. A vital element on any chess player’s training is testing out your ideas against another player.

Top Malawian player, Ernest Matola’s Saturday programme goes like this: 6am to 8am – playing chess on Lichess.org or Chess.com , then he  goes to do other private things not related to chess . From 7 PM to 10 PM he is back for chess ventures on either Lichess.org or Chess.com.

It doesn’t matter whether he plays it on his large tablet or his personal computer, he is okay, provided it is online chess. He says he actually prefers online chess to physical over-the-board (OTB) contests.


Ernest Matola with his modern tool box.

Besides, it is cheaper for him to arrange a match on Lichess than a physical contest, where he is also usually supposed to buy the drinks, not to mention transportation and other costs.

This method, juxtaposed with the programmes of pre-online chess players, is becoming exceedingly common. For an example, Zambian FM Nase Lungu, would in those days, have a  programme that would involve a whole  afternoon of chess, and sometimes overlapping into whole night chess sessions with his buddies spiced with stakes, jokes and music – people of different times indeed.

In recent years, online chess training has become fashionable in Africa. This surge in interest can be said to be as a result of the increase in internet providers across the continent, with smart phones making things a lot easier. As most African players do no receive coaching and are all largely self-taught, online chess tools and opponents are very convenient. All a chess player needs is to sign up on some website like the ones already mentioned, and he will always find an opponent waiting at any hour or even minute of the day.

But the question is: will the online chess training culture, which is steadily on the increase, one day checkmate the entire culture of OTB chess training and play, and relegate the physical chess board to the museum?

There are differing views on this matter. Some chess experts are of the view that physical chess training is gradually becoming extinct and online chess training is taking over. They say these days people prefer online chess training to OTB chess training. But will physical chess training really one day be sent to oblivion?  Or, to put it more ecclesiastically, are we indeed heading for the dreaded checkmate on physical chess training in what I’m dubbing “The Physical Chess Apocalypse”?

image credit Lou Balch

The Four Knights of the Apocalypse|Image credit: Lou Balch

Moreover, if at all it happens, that online chess is taking over, will it be a tragedy or an improvement, if physical chess training were kicked out of the chess culture syllabus?

Zimbabwean top player Vitalis Mapuranga, who studied a component of Sociology in college, thinks it will be a great tragedy if OTB chess training were kicked out completely. He says, OTB chess helps in socialization. Players have ample time to share ideas than online chess where players are usually unable to share ideas and chat on other issues. He emphasizes that online chess has got negative impact on socialization of the human being in the long run. So he thinks if this happens, humanity will not benefit from chess to its fullest.

“People usually play online chess when they are tired, and want to relax “, he added

Another advocate for OTB play also sensed it as a tragedy as chess will lose treasures from the bowl of chess psychology. She argued that physical chess helps boost up your psychology, a useful element in play.

The head of Chess Nigeria Online, David Odunaiya, however thinks the two chess cultures will continue to co-exist like forevermore as they complement each other quite well.


David Odunaiya

“One cannot live without the other. Top players will be the ones that combine the 2 chess cultures well “, he argues.

The other question is: if this online chess takes over, should it be treated as the tragedy that Vitalis Mapuranga is talking about, what are the chances that this tragedy will happen?

Akande Temitope from Nigeria thinks the fear of such a tragedy is being exaggerated and pointless as online chess is not as big a crowd-puller that our journalist are portraying it to be. Ironically, he thinks online chess is gradually losing popularity. “People are put off because of cheating on online chess”, he said. As he thinks online chess may not be a threat to OTB chess in the near future nor in the long run.

A good section of people also said online chess will never compete with physical chess in terms of popularity. In normal OTB chess, people can stake, joke, share ideas, and psychologically tease their opponent as they play the game. which adds flavor to the game.

2018 Namibian Champion Charles Eichab says online chess is not capable of dethroning OTB chess as it has some artificial element in it that are an obvious give away. Some players thrive on issues like a good mouse technique and strong internet which have purely nothing to do with chess. But however, he conceded that online chess is more flexible and more accessible hence making it more attractive to younger players, but not to the extent of dethroning OTB chess.


Charles Eichab, 2018 Namibian Chess Champion

When the president of the Namibian Chess Federation, Mr Israel Shilongo was asked about this, he laughed off the idea of online chess overtaking over-the-board chess. He called it a big impossibility that cannot be done, even if we borrow some years from infinity.

“The entire human village must be technologically advanced from the deepest villages in Okongo, Namibia to the Emperor State Building in The USA. The network must be on top of the range to not interfere in check mate, talk less of other aspects to it. There is no threat to over-the-board chess. It has been in existence for more than 2000 years”, said Shilongo.


Israel Shilongo

Abel Nyoni of Zimbabwe thinks over-the-board chess will always thrive, but not in countries inflicted by war where it is more practical to play online chess.

However, David Wabwire of Uganda thinks the statistical trends show OTB chess has lost it already as there are more games played on the internet per year than Physical chess games.

Head of LiChess Malawi Hope Mwazozo also thinks online Chess is definitely winning as it has more advantages over physical chess.

“In online chess you don’t need to have an expensive chess clock or board, and you get to play actual human beings from all over the world, which exposes you to different lines or playing styles”, he said.

Somebody said online chess is becoming more real and entertaining than physical chess.

From the points and opinions above, it shows over-the-board chess and online chess will continue to coexist as they complement each other quite well. One can be training in thematic tournaments online, to perfect some openings and defenses and apply them in real life chess, where it is more important. It is more satisfying to see the reactions of players you beat over-the-board than online where the only courtesy you get is an occasional “GG” (good game) from your opponent.

So it is important that we combine both OTB chess tournaments and online chess events to get the best out of our game.








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Eminent April 20, 2018 - 1:49 pm

OTB over online any day.

Eddie April 20, 2018 - 7:09 pm

I laughed at “impeccable mouse techniques”
The dynamics keep piling up
“Some players thrive on issues like a good mouse techniques”
Online chess is less tense, that’s all.

Jack November 8, 2019 - 4:47 am

The other up side of on line play is that the computer keeps it everyone honest.. O t B players will some times make in unintentional illegal moves or fail to notice a player is in check, particularly when alcohol is a factor. But one may miss the ability to talk trash and use other “psych out “techniques that can only be done up close and personal. So yeah. Same dog different flees


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