Chess Terms
Knockout Tournament

Knockout Tournament

Knockout tournaments are very popular in most sports, but are they a thing in chess? They sure are! Read on to find out about how knockout chess tournaments work.

What Is A Knockout Tournament

The basics of a knockout tournament are fairly simple: Players face each other in a one-on-one matchup, the winner advances to the next round, and the loser exits the tournament.

Matchups are decided based on seeding, which ranks the players in the field in some non-arbitrary way such as rating or previous results. The highest seed then plays the lowest seed, the second-highest seed plays the second-lowest, and so on.

The schedule of a knockout tournament, starting with the first round and pre-scheduling which winners play each other in the future, is known as the bracket.

The final bracket of the 2022 Speed Chess Championship. Nakamura won by defeating Paravyan, Aronian, Nihal and Carlsen.

Within this simple format, however, there are multiple subtypes. Matches can range from a single game to three-hour matches of 20 games or more at varying time controls, as in the Speed Chess Championship (SCC).

Most knockout tournaments use what is called "single elimination," where the match loser instantly exits the tournament. Some knockout tournaments, however, use what is called "double elimination" in which a player must lose two matches before exiting. After losing one match, players enter a second bracket, in which losing again ends their tournament.

Why Are They Important

Knockout tournaments are some of the most exciting in chess. From 1999-2004, the FIDE World Championship was a knockout tournament, and the biennial FIDE World Cup still uses this structure.

GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda, left, won the 2021 World Cup, an elimination tournament. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Some of's biggest tournaments also use the knockout format. The 2022 Global Championship and all of the Speed Chess Championships are the most notable examples. The bulk of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour will be played in a knockout format as well.


Knockouts are the most dramatic type of chess tournament, as players try to avoid the threat of elimination for as long as possible. A very famous SCC semifinal match between GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren shows the knockout format at its best, as Ding nearly pulled off a terrific upset.


The main drawback to the knockout format comes in single eliminations with short (two- to four-game) matches. In these setups, the "best" player often doesn't win. For example, of the four winners in FIDE's knockout world championship, only one—top-seeded GM Viswanathan Anand in 2000—ranked as a top 15 player in the field beforehand. The other three champions were seeded 36th, 19th, and 28th.


Now you know what a knockout tournament is as well as how and why they are played. You can also read about other tournament formats at the following links.

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