17 Hand Positions Every Tournament Chess Player Must Know

  • pete
  • | Jul 7, 2014

When you play chess online, it doesn't really matter what you do with your hands. But when you play chess at a tournament, sitting across the board from a real human opponent for up to seven hours each game, you MUST master the 17 key hand positions that every top chess player knows. 

1. Hidden Hands

While they seem innocent enough, hidden hands show a lack of transparency and a possible threat brewing.


KIF_2072 by Andreas Kontokanis |CC

Hidden hands, however, can quickly devolve into despair if you're not careful.


via imgur

2. The Bridge

The bridge indicates serious concentration and may tip off to your opponent that you have an idea worth thinking about.


Ill Elena Semenova by Andreas Kontokanis |CC

3. The Collapsed Bridge

The collapsed bridge occurs when the level of concentration is so high, the standard bridge simply cannot support the weight of calculation. If you see this across from the board, beware!


DSC01802  by Adam Raoof |CC

4. The Neck Pole

Everyone needs a little support, right? You'll see the neck pole when a player's chess position could use some shoring up.


ALEXANDER by Mariano García Díez |CC

With the double neck pole, you get double the support.


KIF_2479 by Andreas Kontokanis |CC

5. The Mask

What are they hiding under there? Are they trying to obscure their faces, or their tactical ideas? Probably a little bit of both.


Marina Makropoulou by Andreas Kontokanis |CC


Chrisafis Argyris by Andreas Kontokanis  |CC

6. The Thinker

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin is a world-famous bronze sculpture that depicts stoic philosophy. Chess players employing this pose will usually be as still and hopefully as thoughtful.


DSC00924 by Adam Raoof |CC

7. One-Finger Lip Bridge

This classy hand position demonstrates equal parts contemplation and sophistication.


Wanstead Festival 2008 (21) by jimjarmo |CC

8. Wings of Glory

Chess players happy with their position will often kick back and display the wings of glory. Who could be happier at the board than the world champion, Magnus Carlsen?


Magnus Carlsen by Mikel Larreategi |CC

9. Palm/Cheek

This hand position projects a serene exterior that could be hiding violent tactical ideas. Don’t get lulled to sleep if your opponent adopts this pose.


Endress Anna by Andreas Kontokanis CC

10. Power Fist

The power fist is often accompanied by a power stare, as your opponent hopes to shake your confidence by looking directly into your soul. Don’t be intimidated by this bit of false bravado.

via overthinkingit.com

11. Mindreader

Can you gain psychic powers simply by placing your index finger above your eye? Probably not, but it doesn’t stop these players from trying.


via vintagecomputing.com


Morgan Daniels, PhD by Adam Raoof |CC

12. Nailbiter

Nailbiters are almost certainly anxious. Look for hanging pieces or mates in one.


David McNish by Adam Raoof |CC


Jacob Cohen-Setton(1) by Adam Raoof |CC

13. Knucklebiter

Instead of biting their fingernails, some players their knuckles. Is Vladimir Kramnik nervous, or just hungry?


via huffpost 

14. Thumb Post

This moderate pose says that the player needs a little bit of support: about one thumb’s worth. This hand position is good for middlegames with chances for both sides, although the side facing Kramnik usually does not have that luxury.


via fide

15. Earmuffs

Kramnik's versatile playing style is rivaled only by his diverse repertoire of hand positions. Here, he seems to be saying "Quiet, please. I am thinking about how to mate you."

via Google

16. The Clutch

This hand position implies the game is causing a headache for the player employing it. Try to make his day even more difficult by playing accurate moves.


via huffpost

17. Star Face

Maybe if I can’t see any of my opponents’ pieces, they don’t exist?


via mlive.com

So which hand position reigns supreme in tournament chess? Whichever one works best at the time. Even when two conflicfing positions match up, it's hard to tell who was the real hero: the hands that moved the pieces, or the mind that told them what to do.



Which hand position is your favorite? Which one do you rely on in your tournaments? Make your case in the comment section. 



  • 4 months ago


    Thanks for restoring! 15 of Kramnik looks good, better even than 10, because there is an actor, not chessplayer.

  • 4 months ago


    Where's crossed arms? Me and my opponents usually cross our arms.

  • 5 months ago


    mcris: Excellent question! Per comment below, #15 gone now 5+ months :)

  • 5 months ago


    What happened with 10 and 15?

  • 5 months ago


    Haha !! thanks sir ~ Smile

    Wow gotta watch out for some hand/arm gestures !!

  • 10 months ago


    Is it possible to reload... #15.Earmuffs (the image or picture!)

  • 13 months ago


    "Wings of Glory" lol

  • 16 months ago


    Star Face all the way!

    Looking good Ben!

  • 17 months ago


    I always have ''Hidden hands''.

    If I can't see my hands then they can't take my attention! :)

  • 17 months ago


    My interpretation:

    Hidden hands: Very focused

    The bridge: Mostly girls do this, it means they think they have a sneaky plan up their sleeves.

    Collapsed bridge: Very tired, trying to maintain concentration, but failing ultimately.

    Neck pole: Look at my pieces! There not doing so good.

    The mask: Oh no! What's happening?! I need full concentration to win. Implies critical calculation.

    The thinker: I know what you're planning.....

    One finger lip bridge: Mmm Mmm Mmm

    Wings of glory: Oh yeah.

    Palm/cheek:  Maybe if I collapse my brain/face I will think better.

    Power fist: In deep thought.

    Mindreader: I'm a genius and chess mastermind....

    Nailbiter: This doesn't look good!!!!

    Knucklebiter: In a dilemma between multiple move plans.

    Thumb post: I'm too classy to use a knuckle.

    Earmuffs: An extreme version of the palm/cheek.

    The clutch: Divine inspiration would be nice.

    Star face: In total shock, feels hopeless because of a blunder, or other inaccuracy.

  • 17 months ago


    Great article, had me in stitches! Love the Power Fist...I'll definitely try that out in tournaments. Best of all...I tend to give my opponent a kick and politely make an excuse and apologise...just to show who's boss on the board!

  • 17 months ago


    Double neck pole all the way

  • 17 months ago


    I sometimes do the lip-bridge, but most of all collapsed bridge. Though I am not leaning over, I am just sitting upright. Classy!

  • 17 months ago



  • 17 months ago


    the thumbs up! cause my opponent is gonna win and I might as well give them my blessings

  • 17 months ago


    Usually I start with the knucklebiter, but it usually transposes into the hand-pole

  • 17 months ago


    very nice and funny!

  • 17 months ago


    This looks familier. Anyone else shadow box during bullet?

  • 17 months ago


    Very cool article... I noticed the "Sneaky Bird" wasn't there... a very unsportman like move where the player "innocently" itches nose, side of face, but really is flipping the bird at his opponent. 

  • 17 months ago


    Haha, this is brilliant :) Never even noticed it before but I am a chronic 'One Finger Lip Bridge' player with an occasional 'Clutch' thrown in 

Back to Top

Post your reply: