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  • Writer's pictureIndy Chess

Your first rated chess tournament...


A chess tournament--especially ones with a hundred people (or even 300 people!)--can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. I know mine was! So here are some tips to help you know what to expect.


First, let's cover some playing rules:

  • Equipment: In USCF play, it is the responsibility of the players to bring their own equipment. It is the responsibility of the players to know how the chess clock works. Some TDs (i.e., tournament directors) will advertise that they provide equipment, but this is rare.

  • Notation: In a rated chess tournament, you need to notate your moves. There are certain TDs (learn that acronym!) who might let it slide for kids in 3rd grade and under or even 6th grade and under, but notating moves is important. I will write another post about how to notate moves, or search for it on YouTube.

  • Touch move: The touch move rule always applies. That is, if you touch a piece, you have to move it. Want to center a piece or remove a hair from one? Say "adjust" first before doing so, and etiquette says you should only adjust when it's your move (i.e., when you're "on move"). Made an illegal move? That's the only time you can move a different piece, but if your opponent makes a claim, it can be an automatic 2-minute penalty in the form of time added to your opponents clock.

  • Less than 5 minutes: If you OR your opponent has less than five minutes on their clock, neither of you have to notate. However, TDs will still encourage it, because how do you claim a draw by threefold repetition if you weren't notating?

  • Same hand: Use the same hand to move the piece, then to touch the clock. On your next move, you can use a different hand, as long as after each move you use that same hand that you used to move to touch the clock.

  • Castling: When castling, touch and move the King first. And remember, only use one hand to move the pieces then touch the clock.

  • Question during game: If you have a question during your game, you can pause the clock and raise your hand. If the TD is not nearby, you can go get them.

  • Black's choice: The player with the black pieces gets to choose what side the clock goes on. The TD can overrule you, however, if they have a reason (like to be able to see the clock).

  • Other: You can get up and walk around during your game, even go to the bathroom if you want! Just don't take your cell phone or any aids, or you could get disqualified. You can typically have drinks at the board, but no food. The key is to not be a distraction. Chess rooms are silent places!

Second, let's cover tournament pairings.

  • The most common form of a chess tournament is a Swiss (second most common is round robin), because it lets everyone play every round (well, unless there are an odd number of people). In chess shorthand, when you see "4ss" it means a 4-round Swiss system tourney. A Swiss tournament ranks everyone by rating (unrated at the bottom), then if we assume 16 players, it pairs #1 v #9, #2 v #10, #3 v #11, and so on. After round one, the TD (often using computer software) will pair winners against winners, and vice versa. A win is worth 1.0, a draw 0.5, and a loss 0.0. Each round the software tries to pair you against someone with a similar score. It will also try to alternate whether you play white or black each round, but that's a secondary priority, so you may double or even triple up.

  • Each round the TD will post the pairings on the wall. Make sure you know what section you are in, and look at the correct pairings chart. The far left column should have the board number. Then if your name is on the left, you'll play the white pieces. Right, means black pieces. If desired, write down the name and rating of your opponent on your notation sheet, then head to that board number.

  • When your game is complete, don't forget to go back to the pairings sheet on the wall and mark who won with a "1" and who lost with a "0" (or "1/2" for both in case of a draw/stalemate). Then sit around and wait for the next round pairings to be up. The TD can't pair a subsequent round till all games in that section are complete.

Here is an example of a pairing chart from an Indianapolis tournament. When it says "Krish Chouturi Jr. (1467 2.0)," that is his name, followed by his rating (1467), followed by his score (2.0) heading into round three. The round is listed along with the section name at the top. G/45;+5 is the time control. It means each player gets 45 minutes, plus 5 seconds added for each move (called the "increment").


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