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What size is a tournament chess board?

tournament chess

Choosing a Tournament chess board is not as simple as you may think. Different countries and different chess authorities use different size boards and Chess men.

If you are sitting across the table from a contemporary FIDE Grandmaster like Magnus Carlsen or Yifan Hou in yet another GrandPrix match( You wish ) what standard of chessboard do you play on?

Before you get out that embarrassing old magnetic travel set, let’s take a look at the tournament standard chess board. This is the type of chess board on which true champions are made!

In this article, we will address:

  • The key chess board features and geometry.
  • What size is a tournament chess board?
  • A comparison of the tournament board to other standardized chess board sizes.
  • The pieces to use with a tournament chess board.
  • The importance of spacing on a tournament chess board.

Understanding tournament chess board sizing and dimensions need not be daunting, but it’s important to remember that not all chess boards are the same.

Pieces need to be properly matched to a chess board and with a near-unlimited number of combinations of boards and pieces, knowing the tournament size will help you select the chess board and set combo that works for you. 

By the time you have read through this concise guide to tournament chess board dimensions, you will be ready to set up a championship board for the world’s finest. Enjoy!

Basics of chess board dimensions

Almost everyone is familiar with the classic 8 by 8 grid that makes up a four-square chess board. Originally these would have been inlaid pieces of light and dark wood, but now a variety of materials are used for the job.

The 64 alternating squares are equally sized and divided between black and white. A fully set up chess board will have half the squares occupied by the two opposing sets of 16 pieces with 32 squares available in the middle of the board for play.

  • Horizontal rows of alternating squares are called ranks.
  • Vertical columns of alternating squares are called files.
  • Diagonal strips of squares are known as diagonals.

Contemporary chess uses a system of coordinates known as algebraic chess notation to denote particular squares, making it easier to record moves.

The size of these squares is critical to the tournament chess board size and also should determine the size of chess pieces that are used to play.

This video will show you a quick method of knowing if the board is the right size for the chess men.

What size is a tournament chess board?

The tournament boards that are used for formal Over The Board (OTB) play, frustratingly have several different specifications and vary from country to country as you see below. The leading organizations for competitive chess only specify a range of square sizes rather than settling on a single square size:

  • The United States Chess Federation (USCF) specifies that the square size of a tournament chess board should be between 2 inches and 2.5 inches in length/width, with the standard tournament set having a square size of 2.25 inches in length/width. Anything within these measurements meets the mark.
  • The World Chess Federation (FIDE) states that the square size of a tournament chess board should be between 5 and 6 centimeters (1.97 inches to 2.36 inches) in length/width. Most boards used in their championships have a square size of 2 inches in length/width.
  • The English Chess Federation follows FIDE standards for the sizing of their tournament chess boards, with 5 to 6 centimeters being the specified size.
  • The European Chess Union also follows FIDE regulations for tournament chess board dimensions.
  • The old Soviet Union tournament chess board had a square size of 6 centimeters.

The official World Championship FIDE Tournament chess board, first debuted in 2013 in London, is 19.5 inches (50 centimeters) square with a 2 inch (5.08 centimeters) individual square size. It is made from Rosewood and Maple veneer and embossed with the hexagonal World Chess official logo.

FIDE World Championship Chess set and board

Available on Amazon

Tournament boards and tournament chessmen must go together

For a tournament board to be used legitimately, the chess set used on it must be of complementary size. The chess set you use for tournament chess matters, as the type of set that players can take with them to tournaments is subject to specific regulations. The relevant bodies also state the size of the tournament chess pieces by specifying a  recommended king height or base diameter in centimeters or inches.

  • The World Chess Federation states that the height of a king should be 9.5 centimeters (3.74 inches).
  • The United States Chess Federation bases its tournament chess set dimensions by the diameter of the king’s base of 1.5 inches (3.81 centimeters). The king’s height can be anywhere between 3.75 and 4.25 inches (9.52 to 10.8 centimeters).

Standard USCF Chess set and board

Standard USCF Chess set and board
Available on Amazon

Key tournament chess board and chessmen rules and guidelines

So to refine your tournament-level chess board setup you will need to ensure that your pieces are correctly sized and do not occupy too much or too little space on their square.

  • Too little space can be a personal choice for some players (perhaps a little bossy), but an overcrowded board is not good form. Pieces that are too close together are easily knocked over when in play, which does not make for a refined match!
  • Too much space is also a problem. A ratio of the piece to the square of 50% or so will leave way too much space between the pieces.

To get this right, you will need to size the king’s base diameter to the dimension of your particular tournament chess board you are playing on. This measurement mentioned above is the diameter of the bottom of your king piece, the part that it actually rests on.

  • According to both the World Chess Federation and its US counterpart (USCF),the base diameter should be 40 to 50 percent of the height of the king piece.
  • Also, the king’s base diameter should occupy 75 to 80 percent maximum if the square it occupies. This relationship is key to ensuring that the tournament board and set have correctly spaced pieces.

By following these principles you will end up with a well-spaced chess board, ideal for over the board play. For example, If you have a tournament square size of 2.25 inches (5.7 centimeters), for an ideal ratio of base diameter to square size of about 75% your king piece should have a base diameter of 1.75 inches (4.44 centimeters) and a height of 3.57 inches (9.5 centimeters).

Unofficial tips and tricks for spacing your tournament sized board and set

  • Use your pawns to check if your tournament board is the right size.

This spacing test involves fitting four pawns into a single square. This should be possible with most tournament boards and sets. A properly sized USCF tournament board and set of pieces will pass this test.

  • If you like your board to be a little roomier, why not make your measurement with two pawns?

By spacing two pawns to a square you will have a more densely packed board.

  • Is your tournament chess board overcrowded?

Grab your king, queen, and a third piece of your choice. Place the king and queen on adjacent diagonal squares on your tournament board. If you can freely pass your third piece between the king and queen your board is unlikely to be overcrowded.

Rounding up

The sizes, rules, specifications, ratios, and hacks for setting up a tournament chess board can become overwhelming, but if you make practicality your focus, you will find it relatively simple to gauge a board and set combination that will be suitable for tournament levels of over the board play.

It’s important to remember that these regulations are actually in place to make it easier to do what you love, play more chess! Also, if you are playing for fun, there is no need for a massive tournament standard board and pieces, a regular roll-up board and plastic pieces will do just fine!

If you are set on conquering your national and international rankings with competitive play it is well worth getting yourself a chess board of champions, or tournament chess combination set to exercise your mastery of the game with all the space you need.