Chess Tournament Play

Chess Tournament Play


A chess tournament is one of the oldest forms of being able to show your chess strength. I'll discuss some etiquette and must-know tournament rules that apply to USCF and FIDE. 

Over-the-board (OTB) Chess Tournaments that are rated give you a way to meaningfully track your improvement as a chess player.  In addition the competitive environment can often help you bring out your best chess. 

Must Know Rules:

1. Touch Move - if you touch a piece you have to move it (only if legal), refrain from touching a piece with your pencil or other materials besides your hand. Note that you must hit the clock with the same hand you move with. You may adjust a piece on your own time by saying 'I adjust'. I suggest you do this in the earshot of those playing next to you or a spectator in the case that a dispute arises. Note if you knock over a piece on accident you do not have to move it, touch move applies to touching a piece with intention to move it (note this is arbitrary and your opponent may freakout if he is a poor sport). 

2. Let go move - if you let go of a piece your turn is over and you can't choose to move the piece elsewhere

3. Chess clock - Chess clocks give you and your opponent an amount of time to make all your moves during a chess game. After moving, hit your clock. Do not slam the clock, even when in time pressure. Understand the time control you are using for the chess tournament. Make sure you know how the clock you are using works and is properly set prior to starting a game. If your time goes to zero, you lose once your opponent claims it. If your opponent runs out of time you must claim he lost on time before you are checkmated. If you and your opponent are both out of time the game is a draw.  

4. Touch Capture- if you touch an opponent's piece you must capture it (if it's a legal move). If you are moving a piece and you intentionally knock/move an opponent's piece out of it's square you must capture the piece. 

5. Taking notation - you must take notation until either you or your opponent are under 5 minutes. Sometimes with a large increment (usually 15 seconds or more per move, you are required to take notation the whole game even if under 5 minutes on the clock). Note that in order to make a claim of threefold repetition or 50 move rule for a draw, it's important that you kept accurate notation.

6. When a tournament director comes to a final decision, go with it.

Chess Clock Terminology
Tournaments generally implement uniform time controls so games end in an appropriate manner. G/30 refers to each player getting 30 minutes each on their clock. G/30+5 delay, refers to players getting 30 minutes each on their clock but each move their 30 minute time bank does not go down for 5 seconds. G/30+5 increment refers to players having a 30 minute time bank but GAIN 5 seconds per move. The difference between increment and delay is that the delay gained each move only applies to that move, whereas time gained from increment actually increases your time bank. 

Correct way of moving   

Move the piece. Note that you should only move with 1 hand, this applies for captures as well. You must hit the clock with the same hand you moved with. If castling you must touch your king first, lift him off the board and place him on the square he goes when he is done castling, then put the rook on the other side of the king. If you touched the rook first, you may be forced to simply move the rook.

If you pick up a piece and haven't let go of it yet, you may put the piece back on its original square to decide just where you were going to go, however you must still move that piece. 

After you make your move you should hit your clock. Note that if you moved quickly/in time trouble you must correct any pieces you accidentally knocked over before hitting your clock. After that write the move down. I suggest you always make the move/hitting clock before writing your move down. The only exception to this is claiming the 50 move rule when your opponent is able to checkmate you on the 51st move. If such a case arises do not make your 50th move on the board but rather simply call over the tournament director, write down your intended 50th move, and claim the 50 move rule for a draw. Do a similar thing for claiming a threefold repetition, as when you are the one to make the last move for the threefold repetition your opponent may simply move very quickly before you make the claim, thus nulling your ability to have a draw based on threefold repetition.   

Offering a draw

Note that this section applies to you and your opponent having an arbitrary draw, rather than a draw based on stalemate, 50 move rule or threefold repetition. The correct way of offering a draw is to make your move and offering the draw, then hitting your clock and writing down your move as normal. Do not offer a draw while it's your move as your opponent may simply take a long time lowering your time to finally decline it. Refrain from offering a draw if your opponent already declined one, if they want a draw they will offer it to you.


1. Do not talk in the tournament hall while games are in progress. 

2. Look over a concluded game outside rather than inside the tournament hall. 

3. Refrain from making obscene gestures, cursing, mumbling, shaking the table etc during play.

4. Do not eat at the board, however drinking is alright. It is a distraction to have a meal at the board and it lowers your playing strength as well as annoying your opponent.  Note that occasional handful of chips or other dry food once every 10 minutes doesn't fall under this, I'm referring more to a sandwich with crumbs going everywhere.  

5. If you are spectating, do not get within 5 feet of the board or players.  

6. Wash your hands whenever they get dirty. 

7. Look in the mirror before you play, rinse off food marks around your mouth etc if you are a dirtier person pretty please.