Comparative Analysis of Chess Tournaments in North America (Canada) and Japan

Jul 16, 2017, 8:02 AM |

Comparative Analysis of Chess Tournaments in North America (Canada) and Japan

(If anyone wants to read this in Japanese, I will make it depending on demand). もし、このブログを日本語でご希望の方はご連絡ください。希望者多数の場合は作成いたします。

Hi everyone,


Today, I would like to use this blog to compare Japanese Chess tournaments to the ones in North America. I hope that I will be able to answer many things that you are curious about, since I've played in Chess tournaments in all 3 countries. I've been playing tournament chess for 8 years - my first tournament on July 2009. 


My Current Ratings:

Japan: 1680

Canada: 1786

USA: 1758

FIDE: 1603


As you can see, Japanese ratings are slightly more conservative than the ones in North America. However there are more differences to be seen. 





Population breakdown



Japan is a relatively homogeneous country, so it is no surprise that most players are ethnically Japanese.

In a regular tournament, you will expect to see mature men (Age 40+), Students (middle school to University), and Juniors. It is a culturally accepted idea that Students are poor, so in Japanese tournaments anyone under University age (this includes Uni students as well) only have to pay half price of the entry fees. This explains the surge of college age students and their disappearance from the Japanese chess world once they graduate from college. Mature men can afford to pay the full price hence we see them in tournaments. Scholastic tournaments are rare and are usually not rated by Japan Chess Association. I estimate Male to Female ratio as 10:1




Canada is ethnically multicultural but diversity is not reflected in chess tournaments as if you are not ethnically Chinese, Indian or originally from Former Soviet Union countries you are in a minority (of about 10% of tournament population). Here, participants are mostly seniors (aged 50+), and juniors (U18, but most are U14). This again reflects on the discounts given to the two groups mentioned above whose entry fees are cheaper than regular fees. College aged players still play in tournaments  but are reduced in numbers. Despite the discounts, Juniors and Seniors are the richest groups as most kids have parents who are bottomless sponsors while seniors are generally wealthy.  Scholastic tournaments are the most common form of chess tournaments because so many kids play in chess tournaments. Females are still a rare sighting in tournaments. 9:1 ratio of males/female


Who runs the tournaments? How frequent is the rating update?



Almost all Japanese tournaments that are rated are ran by Japan Chess Association (affiliated with FIDE) themselves. Rating updates occur once every 2 months and get published on the 25th of the Months of even numbers (i.e. February, June, etc)





Usually big Chess Clubs host chess tournaments at a regular basis. Most of those “organizers” are affiliated with Chess Federation Canada (affiliated with FIDE) anyway.  They submit the results to Federation who rates those tournaments. In Canada, rating updates occur every Thursday.

Popular time controls and tournament structure



The most common structure is G 50|30, 3 Rounds per day, 2 days for a total of 6 Rounds. A tournament hosted by Japan Chess Association is almost always run on a “Long Weekend”.  Pairings are done (accelerated) swiss style.




A typical weekender has 5 Rounds, all G 90|30. 3 Rounds on Saturday, 2 on Sunday. Depending on location, some have a round on Friday night, with 2 Rounds on each weekend day. Swiss pairings used. Tournaments happen almost every weekend.



Prize Money



1st: 10,000 JPY ($88 USD)

2nd: 6000 JPY ($53 USD)

3rd: 4000 JPY ($35 USD)

Per section.

This is permanent (number of entries does not influence the prize money)

Prize Money is dependent on amount of entries. Generally winning clear first in an Open section nets 1,000 CAD ($776 USD), while the same in lower section about 300-400 CAD ($233 USD- $310 USD).

Entry Fees


A typical Long Weekend tournament costs 6000 JPY ($53 USD). As mentioned, Students including and under University pay 3000 JPY ($26 USD). The price is the same because the organizers are always the same.




Entry Fees depend on the organizers. A reasonable price without discount would be anywhere between 60 CAD-80 CAD ($47 USD-$62 USD). They have a system where if you register/ pay early you get a discount. In addition, juniors, seniors and women almost always get discounts.



Location analysis



Most tournaments are held in Tokyo where the headquarters of Japan Chess Association lies. This means those from the countryside travel to Tokyo for tournaments. Food is not an issue as convenience store is ubiquitous and there are lots of restaurants nearby. Players generally purchase Japanese-style Bento boxes prior to coming to tournament hall and eat at the Skittles room.





In Ontario - there are three main chess cities - Toronto, Ottawa, and Windsor and most tournaments are held there. Players generally travel for chess tournaments. The main method of transportation is by car, and this is essential as usually the nearest restaurant is a few kilometres away from the tournament hall. Tournaments in the city are much better in this aspect.  



Sections – i.e. Open, U2000, etc

After players register, the organizers split the pack into 2 groups, section A and B, depending on rating. Section A consists of the top to the middle of the pack, while B contains the lower half of the participants. Forced byes are generally avoided.



Tournaments are sectionalized, meaning a low rated player never have a chance to play against a Grandmaster. Common sections are Open, U2000 (sometimes U1900), U1600. Players have the option to pay extra money to play in the higher section despite not meeting the rating requirements. This “playing up” is quite common and it is not surprising when ⅓ of the participants are lower rated than the “floor”. I.e. a 1500 playing in U1900 section despite the tournament having a U1600 section.



Foreign Players



In Junior tournaments, foreign-trained Japanese kids (those who are ethnically Japanese but regularly live in other countries and come to Japan for the summer) dominate the chess market. Non-Japanese players can be sighted in tournaments and in fact the 2016 Japanese Olympiad team included a Chinese-Japanese player and a Ukranian-American player.



To be honest, it is impossible to tell who is “Canadian” and who is a foreigner in this country. I.e. My FIDE flag is Canadian, but I consider my nationality to be Japanese. Foreign residents do come play in tournaments but there is not much distinction between them.


Not an issue - nobody bothers cheating for a such a low prize money. Cheating is unheard of.



There are some anti-cheating measures in effect (zero tolerance rule when phone rings during game, etc), but prize money are not as high for serious cheating.



Sets and Clocks



Players must provide their own chess sets and clocks. If not, they can borrow one for a small fee.




Most tournaments provide the players with chess sets and clocks.

Goods and Services



Refreshments are not provided in Japanese tournaments. Organizers sell chess notebook to record moves.





Most organizers provide coffee and doughnuts at the tournament. Sometimes chessbooks are on sale there.  



Frequent Chess Openings



Japanese players are very booked up in openings. A foreign friend visiting Japan called it “safe and solid”. 1.e4 e5, French and Mainline Slavs are a frequent guests in Japanese tournaments. TLDR - alot of 1.d4 games.



Have something ready against the London System when you are playing the Black pieces!



Chess, remains to be an old man’s game. We still see kids (ill use kids to refer to those under 12, while juniors for those 12-18) at tournaments, but this is mostly due to their parents’ influence (Who paid their entry fees, drive them to tournaments, provide them with food, etc).  In Japan, the transition from Primary to Middle School is a big milestone and school suddenly become a huge part of a Junior’s life. Therefore Japanese juniors participate in tournament as a member of the school’s chess club, rather than individually. Cross-culturally, women are outnumbered by men in chess tournaments. Japan should seriously consider providing discounts for female participants in chess tournaments.


Time controls are quicker in Japan, although North America offers a separate rating system for “Rapid” chess which has faster time controls. Prize Money is bigger there meaning there are more likelihood for cheaters. Entry fees are roughly equal without discounts and major cities are where most tournaments occur.

By not having too many sections, Japan does not offer the player a chance to manipulate their rating. It is fair to say Canadians are obsessed over their rating, given by the amount of players that choose to play up a section in tournaments. This aspect (and maybe prize money) is probably the biggest difference between chess tournaments in America and Canada.


I hope you enjoyed my analysis. I tried to not be or sound biased in any way and hope to state facts from what I have observed in tournaments in those 3 countries. Please feel free to get in touch with me for any clarification/ further information on this topic.




Skittles Room in the Ontario Open 2017 (May 20-22, 2017) at RA centre, Ottawa ON. Canada



Playing Hall of the Ontario Open. Venue resembles a hotel room. Very well organized tournament, with clocks and sets provided by the organizer. 



Playing Hall of Summer Open 2017 (Jul 16-17, 2017) Kamata, Tokyo, Japan. 


Skittles Room at Summer Open. People usually analyze games together and the room is used for some off-the-board bonding. wink.png


Pairings Sheet at Summer Open. The names are written in Japanese letters, which many people (esp. foreigners) do not like. There has been some controversies about this, but I wasn't present at the time so I don't know the outcome. 



Lastly, if you are a non-Japanese considering to play some chess in Japan please visit Tokyo Bilingual Chess Club! Their establishment is laudable, and are truly hoping to promote chess to the English (and maybe others!?) speaking community in Tokyo (or maybe Japan-wide? we'll see!)


For those that made this far, THANK YOU SO SO MUCH for taking your time to read this. Feel free to ask questions comment, whatever. Otherwise, I will see you guys at the dance floor