Gentle Readers: Etiquette in Live Chess Games

Nov 16, 2010, 7:09 AM |

According to Wikipedia, etiquette “is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class or group.” More simply put, etiquette is a set of rules about how to act in public. Even more simply put: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Live chess is no different from any other society. It has its codes of behavior. While some behavior rules are right there in the terms of service and the FAQ, no one would want a TOS that dictates every little thing. It’s better for the society – the 4000 or so players on live chess at any given moment – to form its own codes. As you’ll see, this can get messy, since not everyone agrees on every rule. It gets even more messy at the edges between “personal preference” and “group expectations.” But read on, gentle reader.

You log on. You make a seek. The server matches you with some stranger from heaven-only-knows-where. You have a board, pieces, a clock and a game chat window. Looks easy enough. I mean, how hard can it be to negotiate this social situation? You’d be surprised.

For starters, not everyone wants to talk while playing chess. Some players have game chat turned off. Permanently. That’s OK. Don’t take it personally. Remind yourself that many, many people are here to play chess, not to satisfy their social needs.

Oh, you don’t want to chat while playing? And some sociable person (“Hi! ASL?”) has just parked their digital self on the other side of your chessboard? Remind yourself that many, many people are here for social interaction. A simple, “Hi, sorry can’t talk while playing” might suffice. If it doesn’t, there’s some green text at the upper right of your game chat window that says “disable chat.” Click it.

Then there’s the clock. Considering that it’s an inanimate digital object, the clock sure can cause a lot of grief between two players. Remember this: when two people are at a board, it means they both agreed to the time control—they both decided it was OK to play with those clock settings.

Know how the clock works before you choose a game or set up a seek: U 10 | 5 means: “U” for unrated game, “10” for ten minutes base time per player, “5” means five seconds bonus time per player per move. In other words, each time I move, I get five seconds added. Each time my opponent moves, s/he gets five seconds added. This is one reason why the clock time goes up. Another reason the clock goes up is server lag—the server adjusts for slow connections.

No, your opponent is not “clock cheating.” Of all the thousands of members who have been banned from for cheating, not a single one has ever been banned for clock cheating, because no one’s ever done it. Given that fact, it’s extremely bad form to accuse your opponent of clock cheating.

Then there’s time management. Here’s the etiquette: I get to manage my time, you get to manage your time. If you sit down at my 30 | 5  game, do not tell me to hurry up and move faster. If you wanted a faster game, don’t accept my 30 | 5 seek. Also, do not tell me to “watch my time.” Respect your opponent’s ability to manage his or her own clock. If I run out of time, good for you. If I’m running out of time, it’s an annoying distraction to have to read your chat line telling me what I already know.

There’s also time mis-management. Player sits down at 10 minute game, trades queen for pawn in first minute. Player stops moving and lets clock run 9 minutes until he loses on time. Everyone agrees on this one: this is extremely bad form. Behave like this, and it will get you blocked each time you do it, as it should. People come to to play chess, not to watch you sulk and hope your opponent will resign and take the point loss. If you are down a piece or two in the opening, you’ve got two legitimate choices: play it out (it’s your right to make your opponent earn the win) or resign.

Likewise, offering a draw when you are 10 or so material points down will get you an LOL, as it should. Would you take a draw if you were 10 material points up? Didn’t think so.

Disconnections are handled differently. servers give each player two minutes (or the remaining clock time) to reconnect. If your opponent drops his/her queen and disconnects, there’s no need to get angry or make accusations. There’s really no way for you to know how or why your opponent disconnected.  Just wait two minutes and the opponent will either reconnect, or you’ll get the win on time.

Just as in over-the-board chess, it's considered courteous to say "good game" at the end of a Live Chess game. This usually takes the form of a "gg" in the game chat from both players. Odd as this may see, one says "gg" even if the opponent gets mated in four moves, though I suppose "thanks for playing" might be a good alternative in those situations. (Hat tip to Clearcanada for reminding me about this custom).

Please realize that opinion varies on rematches. Some players ardently believe that anyone who accepts a challenge must be willing to play at least two games with each opponent: one as black and one as white. (Rematch will automatically “flip the board.”) But not all players believe this. I, for one, look at Live Chess as a big chess tournament. I want to get paired against a different player each time, whether I win or lose.

Challenges can also be….challenging. It is the right of every player on Live Chess to choose whether or not he/she accepts a challenge. We have ratings here in part so players can judge one another’s ability. Thus, I don’t need to play you to prove my ability. If you are rated 400 points higher than me, and I reject your 1 | 0 challenge, please accept this and move along. It’s probably nothing personal, and even if it is, there are 3000 or more other people who can play you.

Repeatedly challenging someone who has rejected your challenge is also bad form. “Decline” means “no.”

If you can remember all this, you’ll get along just fine in society. But there’s really only one thing you need to remember: When in, do as the chess.commoners do.