When players like Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand finish their move, they sometimes look up while they wait. Shouldn't they be looking at the board to see their next move?

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    actually they don't really look up at the ceiling? see here eg 4:08
    – BCLC
    Nov 2, 2021 at 22:08
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    You never saw "Queen's Gambit", did you? (SCNR) Nov 3, 2021 at 8:49
  • 1
    No, it's a fictional story, but youtube.com/watch?v=wqJmzBNDvwk&t=248s is a good explanation for why. Nov 3, 2021 at 12:52
  • Possibly easier breathing: hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2018/4518269 Obviously, that study chose am extreme head forward/down posture, so the real life effects might not be as pronounced, but players might still assume that posture without being consciously aware of any improvement. Otherwise, closing the eyes while keeping the head down might be another option. In addition, there might be benefits for blood circulation, which might also be subconsciously "known" as an advantage.
    – Klaws
    Nov 5, 2021 at 11:34
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    Ceiling stockfish
    – qwr
    Nov 5, 2021 at 21:27

2 Answers 2


When you're that good at the game, you do not need to look at the board to have a complete understanding of the position. Especially just after your move is when you're more likely to be visualizing positional considerations and not directly calculating variations. So your thoughts are more general and do not depend on the specifics of the current position.

Moreover, looking at the pieces on the current board can be a distraction from the lines you are visualizing in your head. If a bishop is on d3 on the board in front of you, but you are calculating what happens when you play Bxh7+, you can sometimes get confused and falsely visualize having another bishop on d3 if you directly look at the board while calculating.

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    One of the other factors of this, is that for the average person, looking up is generally a result of visual cognition, looking down is generally a result of affective cognition.
    – balupton
    Nov 3, 2021 at 6:48
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    Also, if you're looking down for hours at a time, you'll get a really annoying neck cramp. Nov 3, 2021 at 14:43
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    @balupton Citation needed. Nov 3, 2021 at 20:14
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    @NoseKnowsAll, Hey are you the guy with all those Lichess studies?
    – srk_cb
    Nov 4, 2021 at 2:11
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    I don't know if this is worth making an answer for, but another explanation might be to avoid the gaze of your opponent, which some might find distracting or intimidating. Likewise, looking to one side or the other, you're likely to see the other games being played in the room, also a distraction. Up is the one direction where you're guaranteed not to see any people - just blank, un-distracting ceiling. Nov 4, 2021 at 13:35

Many many people will look off into the distance or up in the sky when they are trying to recall something or to visualize something. At least at the start of a chess game, strong players are often trying to visualize and recall the exact move order of one or more "opening lines" that is favorable to their color. These are a very precise series of moves that must be executed in the exact order to assure arriving at a position where they will have an edge or where they have decided to introduce a novel move. So there is a lot of mental "making sure".

Also, there are usually monitors showing the position as a 2D diagram over each pair of players on the stage, and some players actually prefer that view to a 3D view.

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