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Should Shushing Be Acceptable In Chess?
Confident that a win is imminent, GM Magnus Carlsen makes a shushing gesture (before drawing GM Fabiano Caruana). Source: Saint Louis Chess Club via YouTube.

Should Shushing Be Acceptable In Chess?

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The Grand Final of the Magnus Carlsen Tour is ending this week. Will we see a player “shush” his opponent? After an exhausting match, will either finalist feel compelled to shush the other?

Although chess originated more than 1,400 years ago (according to the history on Chess.com), shushing is a recent phenomenon. And the shusher (this word may be added soon to the dictionary, and you observed it here first) has been more than one player but perhaps none more famous than World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen.


The famous shush by Carlsen in 2018. Source: Saint Louis Chess Club via YouTube.

Is Carlsen ready to spring a finger to his lips as the Tour ends, or will his opponent, GM Hikaru Nakamura, be the shusher? After all, when the world champion defeated GM Fabiano Caruana in the Clutch Chess International in June, Carlsen said: "I've been advocating doing the shush when you’ve got a good chance to win.” Read more to learn:

What Is Shushing?

Shushing—urging someone to be quiet—is a response few of us witness much less personally experience during our own chess events. We might think that this action is more appropriate in a library, a courtroom, or a nursery. However, it has made its entry amazingly into sports, most notably in games of the National Basketball Association and specifically by elite players such as Klay Thompson, the chess-playing friend of Carlsen and a superstar for the Golden State Warriors, Carlsen’s favorite NBA team.

Klay Thompson shushing the crowd
Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors shushes the crowd in Cleveland as his team pulls out a 21-point win in game four of the NBA Final in 2015. Photo: Bob Donnan, USA Today Sports.

How Common Is Shushing In Sports?

The prominent examples of shushing—yes, it’s common and becoming more so—include professional sports more than only basketball, and its use extends those as the collegiate level as well. Shushing has also grown in online games—not just to celebrate but to silence or infuriate an opponent. In addition to basketball, examples in other sports are numerous. Here’s a sample.

I've been advocating doing the shush when you've got a good chance to win.
—GM Magnus Carlsen

Shushing In Soccer

When Cristiano Ronaldo, playing for Real Madrid, resorted to gestures to rile up Barcelona’s fans in 2015, Javier Tebas, president of Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, warned all teams: “We have to be careful with provocative gestures by a player when he scores a goal or with any other provocation or conduct that could incite violence among spectators. It must be sanctioned, from a fine up to a suspension.”

Coach Jose Mourniho of Manchester United in the Premier League gestures to silence his team’s critics.
Coach Jose Mourniho (left) of Manchester United in the Premier League gestures to silence his team’s critics in 2017 after beating Tottenham 1-0. Photo: Sky Sports.

Shushing In Golf

In 2017, at the prestigious Presidents Cup after sinking a putt, Si Woo Kim, a South Korean representing the International team, made the shushing gesture to the amazement of the broadcasters. It was not the first shush during a premier international golf competition.

Golfer Si Woo Kim displays the shush gesture at the Presidents Cup.
Si Woo Kim displays the shush gesture at the Presidents Cup in 2017. Photo: Golfweek.

At the Ryder Cup in 2014, Patrick Reed, playing for the U.S., “shhhh’d” the crowd in Scotland after being heckled, as did Belgium golfer Thomas Pieters, representing Europe, at the next Ryder Cup in 2016. Of Reed’s gesture, USA Today described it this way: “It was bold, brash, unsportsmanlike and everything that’s great about the Ryder Cup. Rather than be cowed by the pro-Europe crowd, Reed went right at them.”

Patrick Reed shushes Scottish crowd during Ryder Cup
Patrick Reed shushes the Ryder Cup crowd in Scotland. Photo: USA Today Sports.

Shushing In College Sports

Even college sports are not immune to seeing a shush by a player. Grayson Allen, an All-American who helped Duke win the 2015 national championship game, was suspended by Coach Mike Krzyzewski, first in Allen’s second season and then again during his third, for intentionally tripping opposing players. Whether the coach counseled his player about shushing crowds at away games as he did at Wake Forest is not publicly known.

In college, Grayson Allen (now with the Memphis Grizzlies) was known for shushing and tripping opponents. Photo: The Spun.

Shushing In Online Esports

Although the media have described shushing as unsportsmanlike, is it really an offensive gesture? Evidently it is because EA Sports is removing this infamous gesture when it releases FIFA 2021 in October to control “toxic” behavior. In fact, fans as early as 2015 had petitioned for this gesture to be removed as a celebration. FIFA 20 has almost 100 celebrations, which were first introduced in FIFA 09.

What Prominent Examples of Shushing Involve Chess?

The most infamous shushing is probably when Carlsen shushed GM Fabiano Caruana in the 2018 Sinquefield Cup and then failed to win the game. When Caruana made a mistake in a critical position, Carlsen replicated Thompson’s famous shush without saying a single word. However, the stunt backfired quickly when he played the wrong sequence of moves and his position went from a winning “+1.95” to a meaningless “+0.60.” The game, provided below, ended in a draw as Caruana escaped with a miraculous defense. 

In the Clutch Chess International in June, Carlsen was back to making a shushing gesture after he had won the final match against Caruana. Later Carlsen said: “At the very least I've given my opponents more ammunition.” Between the Sinquefield Cup and Clutch Chess events, another famous shush occurred—this one by GM Anish Giri, who shushes the world champion at his namesake invitational event in April.

After a victory at the Magnus Carlsen Invitational in April, Anish Giri shushes Magnus Carlsen. Photo: Twitter.

As the finals of the Magnus Carlsen Grand Tour set to conclude, fans of both Carlsen and Nakamura are wondering if the winner will be tempted to shush his opponent. Just imagine how many are watching the event streamed online. Having just passed 500,000 followers on Twitch, Nakamura is without a doubt the number-one chess star on that platform. He has a golden opportunity to use the shush celebration if he pulls off the win, and Carlsen may expect it because he has said, “I’m sure I’ll see a lot of shushing when I lose games.”

To shush or not to shush? Will either Carlsen or Nakamura be tempted? As GM Gregory Serper tells is in his recent article ”What Is Good And Bad Etiquette In Chess?”‎:  “We live in a turbulent time in which morals and ethics are changing.”

I'm sure I'll see a lot of shushing when I lose games.
—GM Magnus Carlsen

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever been shushed during a chess game? Would you ever be tempted to shush your opponent?