How USCF Rule 29L1 got Changed

  • NM danheisman
  • | Aug 5, 2013

Alert: If you are interested in how rules get changed and/or tournament pairings get made, this article should prove fairly entertaining. If not, then just skip it, as the story may not be your cup of tea Wink.

Our Main Line Chess Club runs ongoing USCF-rated tournaments that last for five Tuesdays, and then we start another tournament. Except for our club championship, there are no prizes, so we can do things like give players who do not show up on a given week an appropriate bye. That way a master who does not play for the first four weeks would be given a 4-0 record, and can play an appropriately difficult opponent if he shows for Round 5. Ditto for anyone missing rounds - they get the score which they would probably have made if they had been there.

A few months ago one of our TDs, Al Pearson, suggested that we try the USCF "1 vs 2" pairing system, Rule 29L1, for a tournament or two. The idea of this alternative system is to ensure the closest possible matchups each round, unlike the normal Swiss System, which has as its core bringing the cream to the top. One point, which turned out to be important, was the Rule 29L1 specified that the "odd man rule" be handled exactly like in regular swiss system pairings. Let me explain:

Example 1: Swiss Pairings

In a normal swiss, the top half of each pairing group gets paired with the lower half. Suppose the Top 8 players A-H (in score, not in rating) in a Swiss-paired event with many players have the following ratings and scores after 4 rounds:

1. Player A 2236 4 points

2. Player B 2155 4 points

3. Player C 1856 4 points

4. Player D 2311 3.5 points

5. Player E 2241 3.5 points

6. Player F 2111 3.5 points

7. Player G 1952 3.5 points

8. Player H 2187 3 points

Then let's assume the colors work out for the pairings. We might see the Swiss pairings for Round 5:

Board 1: Player A paired vs Player B

...but what about the "odd" leader Player C?

On Board 2 C would get paired with the highest rated player in the 3.5 group, Player D.

The idea would be to give Player C the most difficult possible opponent so that the fewest number of players would likely have a perfect score and a winner could be determined. The other pairings might be:

Board 3 Player E vs Player F

...and the "odd" one at 3.5,

Board 4 Player G, paired down to the top rated player with 3, Player H.

So far, so good. Swiss ideas: H and D are favorites to help the cream rise to the top.

Example 2: "1 vs 2" pairing, current rulebook wording:

But in the "1 vs 2" pairing system the top half does not play the bottom half like it does in a swiss system. Instead the lower players mostly play themselves until they win enough games to be forced to be paired with a higher player. So a similar tournament, ,but run under the "1 vs 2", might find the Top 8 players (plus Player 14) look something like this:

1. Player A 2245 4 pts

2. Player B 1811 4 pts

3. Player C 1321 4 pts

4. Player D 2330 3.5 pts

5. Player E 2245 3.5 pts

6. Player F 1711 3.5 pts

7. Player G 1323 3.5 pts

8. Player H 2176 3 pts


14. Player N 1256 3 pts

Using the Rulebooks Rule 29L1 "1 vs 2" pairing with the same "odd man" pairing rule as in Example 1, we might see

Board 1: Player A 2245 vs Player B 1811

Board 2: Player C 1321 vs Player D 2330

Board 3: Player E 2245 vs Player F 1711

Board 4: Player G 1323 vs Player H 2176 etc.

These are great pairings under the swiss system where we are trying to knock down Player C and Player G by giving them the most difficult possible opponents from the next lower score group. But they are terrible pairings if you want to use the philosophy of "1 vs 2" where you are trying to find the most equal opponents and most competitive games.

So I made a proposed change to the USCF that we modify Rule 29L1 so that the odd man in a score group would be paired with the most appropriate player (taking into account normal color rules) at the next pairing group.

Example 3: "1 vs 2" pairing, proposed rulebook change:

Using the same players as in Example 2, the proposed rule would make the Round 5 "1 vs 2" pairings look something like:

Board 1: Player A 2245 vs Player B 1811

Board 2: Player C 1321 vs Player G 1323 (the most appropriate 3.5)

Board 3: Player E 2245 vs Player D 2330

Board 4: Player G 1323 vs Player N 1256 (the most appropriate 3)

Board 5: Player H 2176 vs Player I, etc.

This means Boards 2 and 4 are paired much differently with competitive games, the entire idea of the "1 vs 2" scoring system.

When I proposed this rule change to USCF, based on what had happened at our Main Line Chess Club, I expected it to pass as a "no brainer". After all, we had tried the rarely-used rule, found an obvious flaw, and the solution was rather logical and easy. Moreover, who else would care about this rare rule? They would pass it since no one would care to oppose it.

Imagine my surprise when, after I proposed the rule change, that in some quarters it was met by violent opposition. This opposition was especially vocal by an experienced and influential USCF TD who, if I remember correctly, admitted he had never used the "1 vs 2" system but argued mightily (and surprisingly) that the current wording was much superior! We finally agreed to disagree (at least I did...).

I was not planning to attend the USCF's annual meeting in Aug 2013, when this proposed change would be decided. So, when I made this proposal in the spring, I searched for someone to be an onsite "champion" of the proposed change at the Delegates Meeting. However, after a few attempts, I could not find anyone who was going to attend and was willing to help. Therefore, I surmised that, without me there to explain and support the proposed change, it would die on the vine. Oh well, I tried; their problem, but this rare pairing rule would not affect very many. The Main Line CC could still pair 29L1 the way we had fixed it - that would still be legal as long as we told everyone in advance (no one at our club cared that much either!). Then I forgot the whole thing.

But tonight, out of the blue, I got an email from TD Tim Just, the co-editor of USCF Rulebook V - he said my motion had passed! How could that be? I emailed Tim back and wrote "I thought it would die without a live champion." Tim replied "I was the live champion - you can watch it on YouTube!Smile

That was the unexpected news I got from the USCF meetings. The expected news was how my The World's Most Instructive Amateur Game Book fared in the Chess Journalists of America's Book of the Year voting. It was the only category for which I was entered this year (Multi-award winner Novice Nook was taking the year off) Haven't heard about that one yet...

PS: Al gave up on the "1 vs 2" idea after we tried it for a couple of events (even with the fix!) and we went back to Swiss "Accelerated" pairings.

PPS: My book did not win, but my publisher Mongoose Press won anyway for another book, Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins. Congrats to both!


  • 23 months ago


    I thought they made the Accelerated Pairing for the 1st two rounds back in the 90's, to make things more fair.



  • 3 years ago

    NM danheisman

    Kingpatzer - Thanks. I think the USCF's stance is that you can do pretty much anything you want to the rules (within reason, if you want the event rated!), with the following caveats:

    1. For any major change, such as the one you are suggesting, that has to be in the TLA and any advance publicity. The idea is that no one should set aside time and travel to your event only to find the use of some big, non-standard rule(s) that would cause them to turn around and go home, wasting their time, and

    2. For any minor rule change (such as the common variant allowing a player to record his move first if he is not using an electronic recording device, so long as he only records it once and makes any changes to his scoresheet after his move. The normal USCF rule is FIDE equivalent: you cannot record your move until after you make it on the board), then you should announce it at the tournament before the first round and post it on the wall. I think most variants listed in the USCF Rulebook would likely fall under this category.

    Note that in a Tounament Life Announcement (TLA) one writes "5SS" meaning a five-round swiss. If you were using "1 vs 2" pairings (I can't see that for any but the most friendly events, as was pointed out earlier), then "5SS" would no longer be the correct wording. You would probably have to spell out "5 rounds '1 vs 2' pairing system" or, in your case "5 rounds, the first two with '1 vs 2' scoring system' and the final three rounds with swiss"! Smile. Unless you are planning this as an experiment, I don't see that likely happening, just as I didn't think anyone would seriously object to our proposed (and now passed) change, since the "1 vs 2" pairing system is very rare, and the rule change (as USCF happily agreed) is quite along the intended "friendly" intentions (i.e., not intended to necessarily help produce a sole winner, but rather make as many games as possible competitive). But if you do run such an event, feel free to let me know how it went Smile.

  • 3 years ago


    Dan can you use 1 v 2 for say the first two rounds, then use regular swiss pairings for the later rounds? It seems to me that such a system would make everyone happy, but I don't know if TDs are "allowed" to change pairing systems in the middle of a tournament. 

    I would imagine they can provided it is published in advance that this is how the TD will do things.  

  • 3 years ago

    NM danheisman

    Cryptochess - Thanks. You assume correctly: there was never any intention of using "1 vs 2" for the Club Championship or any event with prizes (we only have one of those a year). The main intention of the club is to promote players of all levels and have fun with competitive rated games. "1 vs 2" was not designed for prize events, so IMHO correcting this particular "odd man pairing" aspect is not a problem in determining ultimate prizes, since anyone should use a different pairing system if that were the goal.

    One of the reasons Al dropped "1 vs 2" was not because a 1300 could win (very few in our club, even the top players, would care about that since there are no prizes, even though when the 1300 got to 4-0 in our club the only players he could play would be much higher, as seen in practice) but because he wanted to give young players the chance to play good players when they win, and the swiss does that better. So with the "1 vs 2" change that USCF approved (and we were using) we better accomplished the competitive goals but not as much the "promote young players". Also the "1 vs 2" system works best in the first round (when it works perfectly) but gets more difficult in later rounds.

  • 3 years ago


    To be the honest, the Swiss system is also  not perfect. I was overtaken by a another 2200ish player (I was rated about 2250 back then) because I won my game in the penultimate game and had 4/5 (he had 3.5/5). Based on Swiss system, I played a 2450 rated IM because he was the closest rated person with 4/5. I lost my game, whereas the 2200 rated guy was the highest with 3.5/5 so he played the lowest with 4/5, who turned out to be 1900 and won his game easily. So he finished higher than me precisely because he had a worse result last round (if we had switched the results, we would have got opposite opponents).

  • 3 years ago

    NM gbidari

    Thanks Dan!

  • 3 years ago

    IM Cryptochess

    Frankly I would also strongly disagree with the rule change. It makes very little sense to me to have a 1321 win the tournament (to use your example) by beating other 1300s over a 2330 who "only" scored 4.5 after playing (presumably) other masters. Of course, in some situations like the one where you describe where the "tournament" is mostly just intended to organize a couple of competitive games rather than determine a "winner", the proposed change works well, but if the intent is actually to determine a winner (e.g. your club championship) then the "fix" causes many more problems than it solves.

  • 3 years ago

    NM danheisman

    Gbidari - Not an expert on your question but, if I may hazard a guess, it is because the USCF Rulebook has more than just rules for playing; it has rules for directing, organizing, spectating, types of equipment, etc. And, of course, USCF tends to put in some rule nuances - and TD Tips - that FIDE leaves as "general discretion" to the TD.

  • 3 years ago

    NM gbidari

    It's curious how the FIDE rulebook is the size of a pamphlet but the USCF rulebook is now as thick as a novel. Anybody know why such a difference?

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