# USCF Rule 15A

• 2 years ago · Quote · #1

This is a little different from my usual topics, so bear with me. I shall discuss a rule in the USCF rulebook 5th edition that I don’t think is discussed enough.  Rule 15A, which deals with Scorekeeping during a game, reads as follows:

“In the course of play each player is required to record the game (both the player’s and the opponent’s moves), move after move, as clearly and legibly as possible, on the scoresheet prescribed for the competition. Algebraic notation is the standard, but descriptive or computer notation is permitted. The player may first make the move, and then write it on the scoresheet, or visa versa,” (USCF Rulebook pg.55).

The discussion that needs to take place over this rule is the visa versa part. Should players be allowed to write down a move on their scoresheet before committing having made it on the board? A majority of people in positions to change the rule clearly don’t see an issue with this, else the rule wouldn’t exist.

I am well qualified to discuss this because I have had the unique experience of being on both sides of this debate. I spent two years making the move before writing it down and later switched in 2009 when I learned the rule had changed again. Recently in 2013 I’ve had a change of mind and have switched back to moving first, then writing it down and I am working hard to make the necessary adjustments to my habits.

This change was brought on by the by the realization that I had been handicapping myself because I had been in the recent months, but not at first, writing the move down and morally binding myself to the move, even if it is discovered to be a blunder, as will be seen later on (16...Bd6??). I then reasoned that there is no big difference and decided to shed myself of the handicap that could be created by a hasty decision.

I wouldn’t have a problem with players writing the move down first, if one little clause were added to Rule 15A. The move written on the scoresheet is binding. In other words, the player must make the recorded move. If this binding clause were implemented it would discourage the writing of moves before making the move on the board, without making the practice illegal.

The discouragement would be welcome as now instead of writing the move down conferring an advantage to that player, as it does now, it instead becomes a slight handicap in that the opponent will now know for sure which move the player will make.

When most people discuss 15A they invariably mention that it can be seen as violating the rule against making notes on the scoresheet. This is in my opinion one of the weakest claims against the visa versa line in 15A. There are much better reasons pertaining to fairness and equality of the playing situation on and at the board that make allowing a visa versa seem a ridiculous notion.

The writing of moves first confers several advantages to the player who utilizes this method to keep score. Firstly, the largest edge they have is that they can write down a move they fully intend to play and can reexamine the board in an attempt to find something better or avoid a catastrophe they would have overlooked if they had to play the move first.

This segues into the second argument: If a problem is found with their written move, which they had the intent of playing when writing it down, they are allowed to scratch it off and look for a new move. And guess what? If they find a problem with the new move, they’ll shamelessly repeat the above process until they find something that is playable.

In this way they can cycle through their list of pre-determined candidate moves and reduce the risk of committing errors by being able to check each prospective move with a fine-tooth comb, all from the safety of their scoresheet.

When compared to a player who must do all of this in their head, having the write-first-move- later mentality unbalances the playing field significantly.

A part of me thinks the visa versa clause is there only to abate the many Scholastic coaches who preach to their students endlessly that it is better to write the move down, in pencil, before making it on the board and then if they feel the need to change it they can do so.

There is the dark side to writing moves first, especially for the younger players. Even if it helps to temporarily play better chess, it has long-term effects in that it doesn’t teach one to own their moves and most importantly, they won’t have any confidence in their candidates. Confidence is the most important element in finding good moves.

A revision is called for concerning Rule 15A and a clause about the written move being binding needs to be added in. It gives the player who uses this method an unfair advantage over the competition and the playing field needs to be leveled in some way. Binding the move is a better solution than outright making it against the rules to record moves first as it allows players to not change their habits while taking away all of their advantages usually gained by writing the move first, now for some practical examples, of this rule and various players’ opinions on it.

The first example needs no introduction. Kotov in his classic book, Think like a Grandmaster advocated writing the move down first before making it when he wrote “When you have finished analyzing all the variations and gone along all the branches of the tree of analysis you must first of all write the move down on your score sheet, before you play it.”  -  Alexander Kotov

Tal, in recalling his game versus Fischer in the 1959 Candidates tournament had the following to report to the Soviets, as written in The Russians versus Fischer “A famous position, for it was here that our well-known psychological duel took place. Every player has his habits.  One first makes a move and then records it; another, visa versa. By the way, Fischer afterwards strong objected to that ‘visa versa’ arguing that a score sheet was not a school exercise board. But in that game Fischer first wrote down 22.Rae1!, undoubtedly the best move. Moreover he wrote it not in the English [descriptive] notation he usually employs but in European [algebraic], almost Russian, manner! He then none too skillfully placed the scoresheet so that I could see it….”

We now have the opinions of three world class champions on this matter. Kotov feels strongly that one should first record the move. Fischer takes the opposite approach, that a move should only rightfully first be made on the board. Tal is the middle ground, where his comment about visa versa alludes to the fact that he doesn’t really care which way his opponent’s choose to keep score.

Now the next game is where I made a blunder and stuck with it because I had written it down already.

Next there is a recent game in which my opponent crossed out moves at least twice that otherwise would have lost the game immediately.

I hope you enjoyed the content of this article. Feel free to post your reactions and opinions below.

• 2 years ago · Quote · #2

I agree!

• 2 years ago · Quote · #3

I was sort of hoping for the Cliff Notes version.

Meh, I guess I agree with Tal.

• 2 years ago · Quote · #4

@EscherechsE Sorry, as a rule I don't do Cliff Notes versions anything.

• 2 years ago · Quote · #5

I believe 15A has been addressed through USCF's rule committee. The USCF now follows the FIDE rule, make the move and then write it down. Since the rulebook was written quite awhile ago updates passed by the rule committee is usually sent out to TDs and I think placed on their website. At least that is what was done when I was a TD, but I have since not paid not much attention to the website. Some day some one will publish a new USCF rulebook (don't hold your breath).

• 2 years ago · Quote · #6

Writing down a move so as to allow oneself to consider others while having the edge of a written reminder of the best move found up to that point is note taking.  Period.  That the rules allow that form of note-taking is a shame.

• 2 years ago · Quote · #7

JPE1973 nicely sums up the main point.

As I said above, if the move were binding, I wouldn't have a problem, because then the practice would probably disappear entirely.

The USCF board of revisions had it right sometime around 2006 when they struck the visa versa clause from the books. Later they changed it back without, to my knowledge, any explanation for doing so.

Not long after, the USCF officially endorsed the Monroi device. Those using the device, according to the rules, must first make their move on the chessboard before recording it with the device. Of course at the same time they still didn't bother to alter 15A so it’s in sync for those who prefer to use paper score sheets.

The blatant allowance of an unfair advantage to the player who records his or her moves first makes me wonder if those in charge of revising the rules have ever played tournament chess or have they forgotten how chess is supossed to be enjoyed on a level playing field?

-FF10

• 2 years ago · Quote · #8

Well then, I guess you should start lobbying the USCF guys. Of course, you'll be fighting pretty much the entire scholastic chess program, which to my knowledge is still teaching the youngsters to write down the moves first (I think in part as an attempt at getting them to think first before moving. You know, sit on your hands, and all that rot.) I don't think the USCF would admit it, but I think the scholastic instructors was the main reason they backtracked on Rule 15A. (In addition to the fact that many adult tournament TDs refused to enforce the "move first" rule.)

Like I said before, I don't much care either way, but good luck in your fight. (btw, I move first, then record the move.)

• 2 years ago · Quote · #9

@DeweyOxberger, Admittedly, I never thought about laughing at them. Since it isn't within my power to get the rule changed, mostly for the reasons pointed out by EscherehcsE in post #8, I'll have to take your advice and laugh.

Thanks-FF10

• 2 years ago · Quote · #10
mnag wrote:

I believe 15A has been addressed through USCF's rule committee. The USCF now follows the FIDE rule, make the move and then write it down. Since the rulebook was written quite awhile ago updates passed by the rule committee is usually sent out to TDs and I think placed on their website. At least that is what was done when I was a TD, but I have since not paid not much attention to the website. Some day some one will publish a new USCF rulebook (don't hold your breath).

I remember being in a local tournament a little over a year ago and having the tournament director announce this update.

• 2 years ago · Quote · #11
EscherehcsE wrote:

Well then, I guess you should start lobbying the USCF guys. Of course, you'll be fighting pretty much the entire scholastic chess program, which to my knowledge is still teaching the youngsters to write down the moves first (I think in part as an attempt at getting them to think first before moving. You know, sit on your hands, and all that rot.)

I stopped teaching this process, and modified my own tournament behavior the week that the USCF announced they were altering the rule to conform to FIDE.

Roughly two months later, USCF retracted the change. Nonetheless, I still teach and practice move first, then record.

There are many other ways to teach children to think before they move. Writing the move first teaches them habits they must break if they ever advance to international competition, or if the USCF reverses itself again.

In my state, which has the nation's largest annual state elementary tournament, we use a regional rating system, rather than USCF. Thus, casual players do not need to join the USCF, tournaments cost less, and larger numbers of children play chess. We still follow USCF rules, except that most games begin without a clock, and get a clock when only a few games remain.

• 2 years ago · Quote · #12

Couldn't you just pretend to write the move down, move, and then actually write the move down? Seems like it would help just as much in blunder checking as actually writing the move down before you move.

• 2 years ago · Quote · #13
Ziryab wrote:

There are many other ways to teach children to think before they move. Writing the move first teaches them habits they must break if they ever advance to international competition, or if the USCF reverses itself again

If you look at the rule changes posted on the USCF web site, you might notice that a "Variation I" has been added:

"15A. (Variation I)  Paper scoresheet variation.

The player using a paper scoresheet may first make the move, and then write it on the scoresheet, or vice versa. This variation does not need to be advertised in advance. The scoresheet shall be visible to the arbiter (tournament directors) and the opponent throughout the game.

TD TIP:  TDs may penalize a player that is in violation of 20C. "Use of notes prohibited" if the player is first writing the move and repeatedly altering that move on their scoresheet before completing a move on the board."

My interpretation is that the TD has the latitude to decide whether it will be done "the FIDE way" or just leave it up to each player. So it seems the rules committee just "punted" the issue down to the TDs. And maybe that isn't so bad...

• 2 years ago · Quote · #14

Go to the USCF Home Page, www.uschess.org, and under "Announcements" on the right side, go to "Rulebook Changes updated (pdfs)"

In there is the following modification, so what you are reading in the book is no longer valid:

Method of keeping score

(15A). In order to comply with FIDE laws and with the advent of electronic scoring devices, 15A was modified to require that the move be made prior to recording as the standard. If an event allows recording prior to the actual move on the board warnings are given regarding the use of that recording as note taking or as a memory aid (20B and C). (Aug 2006, modified Aug 2007)

• 2 years ago · Quote · #15
ThrillerFan wrote:

Go to the USCF Home Page, www.uschess.org, and under "Announcements" on the right side, go to "Rulebook Changes updated (pdfs)"

In there is the following modification, so what you are reading in the book is no longer valid:

Method of keeping score

(15A). In order to comply with FIDE laws and with the advent of electronic scoring devices, 15A was modified to require that the move be made prior to recording as the standard. If an event allows recording prior to the actual move on the board warnings are given regarding the use of that recording as note taking or as a memory aid (20B and C). (Aug 2006, modified Aug 2007)

That's on page 4 of the pdf. Try reading page 11.

• 15 months ago · Quote · #16

v interesting... food for thought ... tqvm

• 7 months ago · Quote · #17
EscherehcsE wrote:
Ziryab wrote:

There are many other ways to teach children to think before they move. Writing the move first teaches them habits they must break if they ever advance to international competition, or if the USCF reverses itself again.

If you look at the rule changes posted on the USCF web site, you might notice that a "Variation I" has been added:

"15A. (Variation I)  Paper scoresheet variation.

The player using a paper scoresheet may first make the move, and then write it on the scoresheet, or vice versa. This variation does not need to be advertised in advance. The scoresheet shall be visible to the arbiter (tournament directors) and the opponent throughout the game.

TD TIP:  TDs may penalize a player that is in violation of 20C. "Use of notes prohibited" if the player is first writing the move and repeatedly altering that move on their scoresheet before completing a move on the board."

My interpretation is that the TD has the latitude to decide whether it will be done "the FIDE way" or just leave it up to each player. So it seems the rules committee just "punted" the issue down to the TDs. And maybe that isn't so bad...

I have actually had this problem in a USCF game.  I had a kid making a tree diagram of partially scratched out moves.  The tourn director didn't do anything about it because they were scratched out, though the reality was that the moves were still visibly written witha couple of scribbles over it.

Uniformity is the only thing I want.  I have written down moves and scratched them out completely, deciding on another move, so don't get me wrong.  My concern with the rule is that writing down something beforehand means that you actually do have a note, and that you might be examining other lines mentally while trying to remember another move.  They should put a number to the rule.  A solid, arbitrary "no more than 2 scratched out moves are permitted, even if the third written move is a pre-move recording error."  Just a thought.

• 7 months ago · Quote · #18

With the USCF still screwed up, and still having this stupid ambiguous rule in the 6th edition, my rule of thumb is the following:

If you are playing me, and you write your moves first, you are fine until you cross out or erase a single move (or many any different move than what you wrote first), then I stop the clock and go to the TD claiming a violation of rule 20C (Note Taking).

If you are facing me, and don't want the TD called on you, play it safe and make your move first!  If it's a FIDE-rated event, then first occurrence of writing the move first leads to a TD call as FIDE-rated events now require following all FIDE rules, even if it's primarily a USCF event, and FIDE absolutely forebids writing the move first EXCEPT the 3rd move of a 3-fold repetition claim.

• 7 months ago · Quote · #19

In principle, I agree with ThrillerFan.

In practice, I'm less certain. A few of my students have learned this accursed practice from other teachers. Many of my opponents are personal friends. While we play by the rules, except for occasional small talk,* I'm tolerant of lapses that take advantage of gray areas, despite what I think of the fact that the USCF has waffled in a bad way.

* "I hate you right now," an opponent told me today. "I'm glad," I replied. We were in a tense game on board four during round four. He was ahead two pawns, but I was holding a fortress-like position. We had gone drinking together last night to toast his father, who 23 years ago created the tournament we were playing in and who passed on in 2001, and another old friend and TD who died one year ago.

I offered a draw at one point. We had been talking last night about how his Dad always said to refuse all such draw offers. He beat a FIDE Master yesterday, who had offered him a draw once it was clear that he was worse. Naturally, when I'm down two pawns but he's not making progress, I offered a draw.

He eventually forced the queens off the board, giving back one of the pawns. My fortress broke down and he had a queening threat. My king was able to get there in time. Then, the fact that my dark-squared bishop was better than his--all my queenside pawns were on light squares, fixing his queenside pawns on dark squares--gave me the better ending. I won on time.

I stopped recording after 75 moves because I was down to four minutes. Our game probably lasted 100 moves.