Confessional Booth At Chess Tournaments: What Is It? How Is It Used?
Pia Cramling shares her innermost personal thoughts in the confessional booth at Norway Chess 2024. Image: chess24 via Twitter.

Confessional Booth At Chess Tournaments: What Is It? How Is It Used?

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Have you been observing the Norway Chess tournament and wondering what is a confessional booth? Do other tournaments have such a feature, and how did it become so prominent for this tournament?

Initially known as the confession box, this anomaly in chess tournaments has become a mainstay for Norway Chess. Here’s a sample of how GM Hikaru Nakamura shared his thoughts in a confessional box during round six of Norway Chess 2023.

Do you realize how much a confessional booth can add to a tournament? But what is it? How is it used? Here’s what you should know about the confessional booth.

When Was A Chess Confession Box First Used?

Norway Chess, an annual closed tournament begun in 2013 and held in the Stavanger region of Norway, invites the world’s best players. Before the women’s event was added in 2024, Norway Chess typically invited the top 10 on the FIDE rating list. However, in 2024 six men and six women players were invited to compete in the Open and Women’s section respectively.

In earlier years, the final player invited earned the right to participate as a wildcard by winning a preliminary event. In 2015, the EnterCard Scandinavian Masters Tournament in May determined the wildcard, who was GM Jon Ludvig Hammer. This event is important because it is where the confessional booth was first used at Norway Chess.

Hammer in confession box
“It ain't over till it's over,” said Hammer in the confession box in 2015. Some described this scene as the chess TV moment of that year. Photo Linnea Syversen/Norway TV2.

In 2015, the qualifier was a brand-new event. It was held in a studio of TV2, Norway's largest commercial television station, in Oslo and broadcast live nationally on TV2's sports channel in prime time. Adding to the drama, GM Magnus Carlsen was a commentator. Carlsen also added more magic by instituting the confession box.

How Did The Idea Of Having A Confession Box Develop?

Event co-organizer Tarjei J. Svensen (now’s lead journalist) explains: “The idea was suggested by Team Carlsen for TV2. It has been rather well received by the players and the viewers.”

TV2's studio during Norway Chess 2016
TV2's studio during Norway Chess 2016 had a great background. By this tournament, the use of a confession box had already been well established. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

How Should Chess Players Use A Confession Box?

According to Svensen, the players “could do this whenever they wanted, and it was a completely voluntary thing, but all the players had used the opportunity to do it, sometimes even more than once per game.

Typically, the confessional booth is located in a room next to the playing hall, and players are encouraged to give thoughts about their ongoing games. After Hammer had defeated GM Laurent Fressinet, who earlier had been sharing the lead with him in the 2015 qualifier, he reflected on the complicated middlegame where Fressinet was completely winning until he blundered a piece and then was checkmated. (See game diagram below.)

Hammer’s thoughts in the confession box cemented its future as a valued, indispensable component of Norway Chess. His engaging comments were even termed the chess TV moment of 2015.

Has A Confession Box For Chess Players Ever Been In A Religious Space?

The first confession box was simply an unadorned space in a TV studio with a backdrop of sponsor logos. Following the qualifier, all rounds of Northway Chess 2015 but one were played in Hotel Scandic Stavanger Forus. However, round four was played in Utstein Abbey, Norway's best-preserved medieval monastery. Located on the southern shore of the island of Klosteroy in Stavanger municipality, it was built in the late 1200s. Finally, the setting matched the spiritual needs of a confessing player. What a perfect place to reveal chess sins!

Utstein Abbey
Utstein Abbey has been the most fitting scene for a chess confession box. Photo: Wikipedia.

Does A Chess Player Have To Enter A Confessional Booth?

The confessional booth is completely voluntary. Because a game is underway, there is no contact with a player in the booth. When a player shares their thoughts, nobody else can hear them.

As the confessional booth concept has evolved, it is now understood to be an area where players deliver a one-way monologue to the camera—without being asked or prodded by anyone.

Is A Confessional Booth Permitted By Chess Rules?

The continued use of the booth indicates that the worldwide chess community embraces the concept and has no reservations, particularly since Norway Chess is such a prominent and prestigious event. When the confession box was first used in 2015, Joran Aulin-Jansson, the main organizer of Norway Chess that year, said that the laws of chess permit this unusual feature.

Carlsen in confessional booth in 2019
Carlsen uses the confessional booth to give castling advice at the Sinquefield Cup in 2019. Image: Grand Chess Tour via Twitter.

Have Other Chess Tournaments Used A Confessional Booth?

The booth has been used prominently in other events. For example, at the Sinquefield Cup in 2019, Carlsen gave advice in the booth about castling during opening play. A year earlier at Sinquefield Cup, GM Viswanathan Anand admitted during round one in the confession box that he had found it difficult to respond to the position on the board in his game against Nakamura. (See video below.)

Even tournaments championing chess variants have featured a confessional booth. The 2024 Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge, which Carlsen won by defeating Caruana in the final match, was a super-tournament with top-level classical games in Chess960. In the confessional booth Carlsen, GM Levon Aronian, and GM Vincent Keymer enlivened the first half-hour of each day with their appearances. 

Who Was The First Woman Player To Enter A Confessional Booth?

GM Pia Cramling is the first woman chess player to use a confessional booth. On June 2, 2024, in round six of the Women’s Norway Chess 2024, Cramling entered the booth after making her 15th move, Qe7, during her classical game against GM Humpy Koneru

Perhaps the booth truly is a magical place. Cramling then went on to collect her first match win of the Women’s Norway Chess 2024 by defeating Koneru.

Is The Truth Always Spoken In A Confession Box?

In 2020 during round eight of the Norway Chess tournament, Carlsen seemed to suggest in the confession box that he wasn't well prepared to play against his compatriot GM Aryan Tari. This prompted interviewer WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni later to ask how serious his remarks are in the confession box. Carlsen answered: "I'm generally too dumb to lie. Mostly I'm telling the truth!"

I'm generally too dumb to lie. Mostly I'm telling the truth!
—Magnus Carlsen

One of the most candid comments in a booth came during round six of Norway Chess 2024 when GM Fabiano Caruana said, "I hope that I'm not mixing up my lines!" In a game as Black, he was able to force a draw despite being up a full rook down against Nakamura.

Caruana in confessional booth
Caruana appears to be enjoying his time in the confessional booth while his game with Nakamura is underway. Image: chess24 via Twitter.

What Unusual Comments Have Been Made In A Confessional Booth?

In round five at Norway Chess 2023, Carlsen played an ambitious line of the Catalan Opening and sacrificed a pawn without the prospect of winning it back immediately. In the confessional booth, he mentioned that he had a two-pronged plan: shaving his beard and sacrificing pawns.

At the same event, Nakamura commented in the booth after the initial opening moves that he thought GM Anish Giri, his opponent, was surprised by his knowledge of the line that they were playing.

Tweet about Nakamura in confessional booth

How Has Humor Been Part Of A Confessional Box?

During round 1 of Norway Chess 2024, Nakamura used his time in the confession box to tease his competitors such as this comment about Carlsen: “Mangus was busy eating noodles or something in the backroom and letting 10 minutes click off his clock against Ding. I don’t know why but he is. Ding is super confused…. Mangus is just chilling ‘cause losing 10 minutes on the clock while he’s eating – he’s got him some energy.” (See video below.)

What are your thoughts about a confessional booth at chess tournaments, particularly events with top players? Do you think it is distracting, or it provides valuable insights into what the players are thinking?

Ray Linville

Ray Linville’s high point as a chess player occurred when he swiped the queen of GM Hikaru Nakamura in a 60-second bullet game in 2021.  This game was reported in a “My Best Move” column of the Chess Life magazine, published by the U.S. Chess Federation.

At, he has been an editor (part-time) since 2019 and has edited news articles and tournament reports—including those of the Candidates and World Championship Tournaments and other major events—by titled players and noted chess writers as well as Game of the Day annotations by leading grandmasters. He has also been a contributing writer of chess terms, e-books, and general interest articles for

He enjoys “top blogger” status at His blog has won the award for Best Chess Blog from the Chess Journalists of America for several years. In addition, he has also been the recipient of first-place CJA awards for feature article, humorous contribution, online review, and educational lesson as well as honorable mention in the categories of personal narrative and historical article.

This blog has won the award for Best Chess Blog from the Chess Journalists of America. In addition, I have also been the recipient of first-place awards for online review, feature article, humorous contribution, and educational lesson as well as honorable mention in the categories of personal narrative and historical article. Articles that won these awards are:

In addition, my article "How Knight Promotions Win Chess Games" was selected by as "Blog of the Month."

Be sure to check out these articles as well as others that I have posted. I hope you enjoy reading what I have written and will follow this blog to see my future posts.