Whenever I see photos of professional chess games, the players are always dressed impeccably and it's uncommon to see someone even missing a jacket.

Maybe this is a dumb question, but I don't understand why they dress so professionally, when they would be more comfortable (and perhaps perform better) in something else?

Is it to seem threatening to their opponents? Is it to make themselves feel more confident? Do tournament rules require it (but if so, why)? Is there any history or tradition behind it?

In case you've never noticed, I've included some images below.

Aronian and Caruana

Aronian and Caruana at the previous Candidates tournament


Anand and Carlsen

Anand and Carlsen at the 2013 World Chess Championship

  • 3
    Players contract might include dressing code. – SmallChess May 8 at 7:21
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    The vast majority of grandmasters don't wear suits at tournaments. Only at the most prestigious tournaments (World Championships, Candidates, Grand Prix) do they wear suits and then it is probably a contractual obligation. At last year's World Cup one Canadian player was told to change out of his beach shorts for the 3rd round and ended up defaulting his game and crashing out. – Brian Towers May 8 at 10:31
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    In their defense, at least they don't usually wear ties anymore! :-) – itub May 8 at 11:05
  • Chess, the Royal Game, used to be played primarily by Nobles and Kings, maybe some of this carried over into the stigmatism and etiquettes of the game. Some like Bobby Fischer seemed to enjoy dressing up, and some analysis of this may provide a hint of pride and self-empowerment. – TheAutomaton May 8 at 17:55
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    You might want to read about the Kovalyov incident at the last World Cup : en.chessbase.com/post/the-shorts-episode-at-the-world-cup/2 – Evargalo May 9 at 7:56
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The pictures you posted are of the top GMs in the world (Anand, Carlsen, Aronian, Caruana). These GMs almost exclusively play in elite invitational tournaments, normally with around 8-10ish players. As a result, these tournaments likely have a strict dress code because the organizers want to maintain the high prestige of the event.

For example, the Bilbao tournament is a double round robin with 4-6 of the top players in the world. It's regarded as a very strong tournament, solely based off these 4-6 players. So, imagine if the players showed up wearing casual clothes, like shorts and t-shirts. The players may be regarded by fans as "less professional", which will severely damage the reputation of the tournament.

Another reason top GMs dress in suits is that they are being endorsed, or want to be endorsed (look at Carlsen's shirt in the photo you posted -- he's advertising for Arctic Securities). If a company was looking for a chess player to advertise their brand, they'll prefer the player that looks better/more professional.

Conversely, most average GMs in open tournaments do not dress in suits. This is due to the 2 reasons mentioned above, except flipped. The prestige of open tournaments do not depend on how a select few players dress, since open tournaments have hundreds of players. Also, average GMs are not going to be endorsed by big companies, so they have no incentive to dress up (unless they want to).

  • Thank you so much for your answer! You wouldn't happen to have any sources? – Patrick Stetz May 14 at 23:20
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    @Patrick Stetz No problem... I don't have any formal/academic sources on the topic, since chess isn't big enough to attract much research. I answered based off personal experience in the chess world and the articles/biographies I've read over the years. Also I just used common sense: if you're one of the best in the world in your discipline, you'll probably want to profit off of it by attracting companies. – Inertial Ignorance May 15 at 3:19

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