Category Archives: Tournament Play

Information and advice about chess competitions.

Should I Withdraw from the Tournament?

The “¡No Más!” Tournament Withdrawal

I’m not talking about an early tournament withdrawal because of another commitment, or because you’re feeling legitimately ill. I’m also not talking about scheduling a last-round bye in advance. Let’s exclude withdrawing in order to return as a re-entry, too.

I’m talking about those cases where you could continue, but don’t want to — usually, because you’re having a bad performance and want to “stop the bleeding.”

Don’t worry, I won’t judge you. I’ve made this kind of quick escape more often than I can count. Plenty of my tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club have ended with this sequence:

  • I have a hopelessly lost position…
  • Repeatedly shake my head, make faces to no one in particular, and finally stop my clock…
  • I quickly shake my opponent’s hand and reset the pieces before others see the carnage…
  • Run to the pairing sheet…
  • Mark the win for my opponent…
  • Write OUT next to my name and circle it…
  • Race out the door without saying a word to anyone.
Tournament Withdrawal at the Pairing Sheet

How to Tournament Withdrawal: Write OUT next to your name on the yellow pairing sheet and circle it! Photo: SportzCosmos

This way no one has to see me explode or make an @$$ of myself. I do that in private…

Hypocrisy? Fake Encouragement?

Yes, I realize this “procedure” goes against my recommendation to do a post-mortem analysis with your opponent…but do as I say, not as I do, OK? Anyway, I said that step is optional!

I don’t condemn the “bruised ego tournament withdrawal” because I know it’s not easy to play your best with a sub-optimal state of mind. In fact, I don’t try to cajole my students into carrying on if they really don’t want to. That could do more harm than good.

There’s always another tournament. We can recharge and come back stronger next time.

Some parents and coaches won’t agree with my stance and will counter with platitudes like “never give up,” or “quitters never win.” My dad once threatened to never register me for a tournament again in my early years when I suggested withdrawing after a poor performance. I had to play, but didn’t learn some deep life lesson — I was just annoyed and lost badly.

Anger and disappointment can be powerful motivators. The same cannot be said of despair.

How to Calculate Cash Prizes

Experienced players can skip this post, but it might be helpful to newer players and to parents.

I would also encourage Organizers to keep in mind the following advice given to me by the late Mike Anders at the 2008 National High School Championship:

How do you split $100 three ways? Give each player $35 and thank them for coming!Associate National TD Mike Anders (1955-2013)

Important: US tournaments almost never apply tiebreaks for cash prizes, unlike with trophies! Every player’s points count the same.

Well, what are the prizes, anyway?

Guaranteed Prizes

Fully-guaranteed prizes are as advertized: they do not increase or decrease.

One possibility is to guarantee some of the prizes, say 1st and 2nd place, and calculate the rest based on entries, as we’ll see next.

The organizer could also guarantee a certain percentage of the prize fund, say, 70%. In that case he or she would be on the hook for at least 70% of each prize, assuming there is at least one player eligible to win it.

Based-on Prizes

It’s best to show an example. The Tournament Life Announcement (TLA) in Chess Life says:

$480 based on 32 entries

The event is unlikely to get exactly 32 entries, so the prizes will probably be higher or lower than advertised.

20 entries? Prize fund is $480 x (20 ÷ 32) = $300.

42 entries? Prize fund is $480 x (42 ÷ 32) = $630.

Each prize in the total prize fund is calculated the same way.

Now that we are sure what the actual prizes are, there are two magic words to prize calculation:

Add and Split

Let’s take the basic example of three prizes:

1st Place: $100

2nd Place: $50

3rd Place: $25

There is no issue if the top three places have different scores (for example, 4-0, 3½-½, and 3-1 in a four-round tournament). This seems to happen rarely, however!

Scenario 1
Player A and Player B both score 3½-½. Player C scores 3-1.

Players A and B do not both receive $100, and Player C $50! A player once got upset with me at the World Open when I explained that all players tying for 4th place do not get a full 4th place prize!

Players A and B share 1st and 2nd place equally: $100 + $50 = $150. $150 ÷ 2 = $75 each.

Player C receives $25.

Scenario 2
Player A scores 4-0. Players B, C, and D each score 3-1.

This time Player A receives $100. Players B, C, and D share the next three prizes, if they exist. There are only two prizes, so those two prizes are split three ways:

Players B, C, and D share 2nd and 3rd place equally: $50 + $25 = $75. $75 ÷ 3 = $25 each.

Class Prizes and Under Prizes

Open tournaments often feature additional prizes beyond “place” prizes. This is to give lower-rated players a chance to win something for their efforts as well.

Compare the following prizes:

Class A: $35

1800-1999: $35

Under 2000: $35

The first two prizes are synonymous, because Class A is defined as 1800-1999. A tournament ad could use either wording.

The third prize is not the same as the first two! It’s available to any rated player Under 2000, so a 1680 who has a good event can win this prize for himself or herself. If the Organizer wants to make unrated players eligible for this prize, it should read like this:

Under 2000/Unr: $35

Note: One cash prize per player. A player can only win the highest prize available to them, not multiple cash prizes. So if they go 4-0 they get 1st Place (using $100 as before), and someone else gets the Class or Under Prize.

It is possible to win a cash prize plus other prizes such as a trophy, plaque, qualification, or free tournament entries.

One Last Example


1st Place: $150

2nd Place: $100

3rd Place: $50

Under 1800: $50

Under 1600: $40

Final Standings:

Amy (2231): 4½

Bob (2174): 3½

Charlie (2071): 3

Diana (1993): 3

Edward (1770): 3

Frank (1692): 2½

Gabby (1575): 2½



How are the prizes calculated?



Amy gets 1st Place ($150), and Bob gets 2nd Place ($100).

Charlie and Diana are only eligible for 3rd Place, but Edward is eligible for 3rd Place and Under 1800. We figure out which prize is larger for Edward: either 3rd Place + Under 1800 divided by three players, or Under 1800 alone. Clearly, it’s the latter. Therefore:

Charlie and Diana share 3rd Place ($50) and receive $25 each.

Edward gets Under 1800 ($50).

Gabby gets Under 1600 ($40).

This is by no means an exhaustive treatment, but I hope it demystifies prize-giving for those new to tournament play! Good luck!

How to Offer a Draw in Chess

You Can Offer a Draw in Chess?

If you’re new to chess, you may not know that a player can offer a draw for any reason, almost whenever they wish. Fans of other sports and games argue that this should not be allowed, but there are a lot of positions in chess that are impossible to win. Many more can’t be won without a lot of help from your opponent.

But Why?

Players can sensibly agree to a draw when it is clear no other result is on the cards.

Of course, if you’ve been a fan of chess for any length of time you know that draws can often puzzle observers…even anger them!

Players sometimes agree to draws because they are afraid to lose, or because they want to secure a prize or other achievement (such as qualification to another tournament, or a norm).

Last-Round Scenarios

While pre-arranged draws are illegal (players agreeing to a draw before even starting a game; both players can be forfeited, each receiving zero points), two players often have an incentive to not risk losing.

A common example is two players leading a four-round tournament with a 3-0 score who are paired in the last round. By making a draw they each get to 3½ and will share 1st and 2nd place, unless a player with 2½ also wins to catch them.

Losing would give them a much lower place, whether in a cash or trophy event.

Another example is a last-round game where one player wants a draw to secure a prize, and the other needs a half point for a norm.

The vast majority of chess players have to pay their own way.

Most players have to pay their own way.

I am never against these kinds of draws in open tournaments as a player must pay their own expenses. Fans shrieking in horror won’t compensate the “brave” player who goes for glory but loses and gets almost nothing.

An invitational event where players receive conditions (money and other compensation just for showing up) is another matter — players in these events have more of a responsibility to the organizer and to fans.

Anti-Draw Rules

To short-circuit early draws, some tournaments employ Sofia rules which prevent draw offers before move 30 (excluding move repetitions). These “anti-draw rules” are so named because they were popularized by the M-Tel Masters super tournaments held in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia from 2005-2009.


Unlike draw claims, a draw offer involves you and your opponent, and not the arbiter. Here’s how you do it.

  1. You can only offer a draw when it is your turn!
  2. Decide on your move.
  3. Play your move on the board.
  4. Write down the move on your scoresheet, followed by =.
  5. Offer your opponent the draw. “I offer a draw” is fine.
  6. Press the clock, stopping your time and starting your opponent’s.

Now your opponent considers the offer. They may:

  1. Agree to the draw.
  2. Decline the draw verbally.
  3. Decline the draw by touching a piece.

The opponent can also do nothing, but eventually they must take one of the actions above (or run out of time). Once you have offered the draw, leave them alone to think. Don’t ask them if they heard you!

Note that with a draw claim you never start your opponent’s clock (and sometimes don’t even play your move on the board). WIth a draw offer, you always start their clock after offering the draw.

One More Thing

If your opponent has declined your draw offer, don’t offer another one unless the position has changed significantly. There’s no formula for this, but:

  • If your position deteriorates, your opponent definitely will not accept a draw!
  • If your position improves, there is no reason to offer another draw!

My rule of thumb is: never make two draw offers in a game unless your opponent has made one in-between (that you declined).


Draws are part of the game, no matter if some fans like it or not. I hope this post has shown you how to properly offer a draw to your opponent…whatever your reasons!

How to Claim a Draw in Chess

Draw claims are less frequent than before

Nearly all games today are played with time delay or increment. As a result, “quickplay finishes” (FIDE) or the notorious claims of “insufficient losing chances” (USCF) are mostly a thing of the past. The players decide the result of the game between themselves, as it should be.

Draw claims are a lot messier when not using time delay or increment. Photo: Caissa Chess Store

Draw claims are a lot easier with digital clocks, which unfortunately means beautiful clocks like the Garde are less common. Photo: Caissa Chess Store

Still, knowing how to properly claim a draw is important for a tournament player in two main instances:

  • The 50-move rule
  • Triple occurrence of position

Note that this is different from offering your opponent a draw — I’ll cover that in a future post.

Draw claims don’t involve the opponent. You call over the Arbiter or Tournament Director, who then makes a ruling.

You can only claim a draw on your turn, with two possibilities: the key position has already appeared, or your next move would bring it about.

The 50-move rule

If 50 consecutive moves (by white and black) have been made without a pawn move or a capture, a player having the move can claim a draw.

Scenario A
50 consecutive moves have already been played without a pawn move or capture.

To claim a draw: Pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim.

Scenario B
Your next move will complete 50 consecutive moves without a pawn move or capture.

To claim a draw: Write down your next move, pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim. Do not play the move after writing it down!

In both cases, it is important to not start your opponent’s clock! If you do, it is now their turn and you cannot claim! There are no retroactive claims; If the position changes into one where a claim is no longer possible, you’re out of luck!

If neither player has made a claim after 75 consecutive moves without a pawn move or capture, the Arbiter steps in and declares the game a draw.

Triple Occurrence of Position

If an identical position has appeared on the board for the third time, the player on move may claim a draw. The position need not recur consecutively, but identical moves must be possible all three times. When thinking of Identical possible moves, also consider castling and en passant.

Scenario C
An identical position has occurred for the third time.

To claim a draw: Pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim.

Scenario D
Your next move will bring about an identical position for the third time.

To claim a draw: Write down your next move, pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim. Do not play the move after writing it down!

Once again, do not start your opponent’s clock!

If neither player has made a claim after an identical position has occurred five times, the Arbiter steps in and declares the game a draw.


Write down your next move (if necessary), pause the clock, and claim. Do not play the move you have written down, and do not start your opponent’s clock!

May you always make correct draw claims!

My First Chess Tournaments

Friendly competition can inspire a beginner

I changed schools entering 7th grade (M.S. 141 forever!) in Fall 1995 and began studying chess on my own the previous summer. Early in the school year I learned that Mr. Yurek, one of the school’s math teachers, sometimes organized informal chess tournaments after school.

The 1st place ribbon looked just like this.

1st place looked similar to this. Photo: Jones Awards

The tournament was conducted in knockout (elimination) style. Each match was a single game where we would “toss” for color (hide-pawns-behind-the-back). I still remember the excitement I felt when Mr. Yurek created the bracket and announced the pairings for each round!

The winner of the final would get the 1st place riboon, and the runner up would get the 2nd place ribbon. If you were knocked out, you could hang around and play casual games or just go home.

Department-store chess set

We used chess sets like this. Photo: Walmart

We didn’t have regulation tournament sets, and used the “checkerboard” chess sets one would find in a department store with the flimsy plastic pieces. We were careful with the equipment, however, and it wasn’t a big deal. To that point, I had never even seen a tournament set of the kind that would become so familiar to me. As you can guess, we didn’t use clocks or keep notation.

I remember blundering and getting knocked out by Lee in my first tournament. That lit a fire under me and I studied for the next event like never before! I was also less nervous and more careful, earning my first blue ribbon.

Many more would follow after that. I finished 7th grade with a 29-4 record, only being KO’d one other time that year (two losses came from casual games, which counted in our overall record).

I was the top player on the chess team.

Rated Competition

My first issue of Chess Life, featuring the 1995 Intel/PCA World Championship Match Kasparov-Anand at the World Trade Center(February 1996)

The February 1996 issue of Chess Life. Kasparov vs. Anand, 1995 Intel/PCA World Championship Match.

That holiday season I was gifted a USCF membership by a family friend. I was so excited to get the membership card and my first issue of Chess Life magazine!

In March 1996 my team played in a rated tournament at P.S. 9 in Manhattan. I remember walking into the auditorium and seeing the gleam of trophies on the stage. Every player who scored at least 2½ points out of 4 would get one.

I lost my first rated game in 17 moves to a kid rated 550; some kind of Italian Game or Two Knights Defense that went badly!

I won my second game, and for the life of me I simply cannot remember anything about it, despite the fact that it was my very first victory in rated play. Maybe it says something about me that I remember my losses more than my wins?

What I remember vividly is my state after losing from a better position to another ~500 in Round 3. Not winning, but better. For one of the only times in my career I was on the verge of tears. I wouldn’t win a trophy, and I was devastated. This is why I never, ever judge my students when their emotions overwhelm them.

I also remember channeling my rage against my unlucky Round 4 opponent, by far the highest-rated I faced, at 739! He was also the brother of my first opponent. I had white in some kind of Sicilian and just annihilated him.

The Journey Continues

My first provisional rating was 659. Once again, I was determined to improve and placed 2nd in my second tournament, also at P.S. 9. I got my trophy, finally.

Looking back, it’s amazing to me that my chess personality hasn’t really changed in 25 years!

In preparing for future tournaments, I also developed a quirk that remains with me to this day. I taught myself to move the pieces and press the clock with my left hand, while I keep score with my right hand! Many times over the years my opponents have been surprised when I have the black pieces and choose to have the clock on my left side!

What memories do you have from your first competitions, rated or not? Do you have largely the same chess personality as you did early in your chess career?

How To Review a Game During a Chess Tournament

A game review during a lesson, is very different from a review that takes place during a chess tournament, with emotions at their highest. Post-game review at scholastic tournaments is what I will focus on here.

My Best Advice

This post is intended to give advice for inexperienced coaches (and parents serving as coaches). The most important advice I can give? Know your students! Everyone deals with winning, losing, and tournament pressure differently. Adjust accordingly…or your students will tune you out.

A Common Scenario

Your student just finished their tournament game and is back in the team room to review it. How can they get the most out of the review and take those lessons into future contests?

There's lots of chess game review at SuperNationals! Photo: USCF

There were lots of chess games reviewed at SuperNationals VI! Photo: U.S. Chess Federation

The Carrot and The Stick

Sometimes a student will do just about anything to avoid reviewing a particular game. This is likely because they are ashamed of one or more mistakes they made and are worried about their parent or coach’s reaction — especially if they have repeated a previous mistake. It is YOUR JOB to reduce this pressure and reassure them.

Earlier I said my best advice was to know your students. My next-best advice might well be: know their parents!

I often tell my students that no matter what mistakes you made in your game, I have made those same mistakes myself! And it’s true.

You can always find something positive to say about a student’s game, and you can always find something for them to improve next time. You have to read their emotions to get a feel for how you should conduct the game review.

Always remember that you are a human coach teaching children, and not a chess computer. Spitting out variations is rarely the most helpful approach unless you have a very strong student who also responds well to this kind of analysis.

Game review is more art than science. More persuasive essay than mathematical proof.

Dealing with Losses and Wins

If your student just lost a long, tough game, this is not the time to get into the minutiae of their errors! Broad strokes will do. The art of a chess game review is in what you emphasize.

Maybe they played too fast at some point and missed a tactic. Ok — ask them to show you the correct sequence and remind them to slow down in critical moments. Then move on. Don’t harangue them for ten minutes about it.

Perhaps your student won a game they are pleased with, or upset a higher-rated player. They may not be fully “present” after experiencing such a high.

This is also when they are least likely to accept your critiques, so find one or two main “things to remember” and refocus them for the next battle.

Final Thoughts

Don’t expect to uncork brilliant coaching points during a tournament — the performance has arrived and rehearsals are over. At this point you are managing psyches and emotions — of students and parents. Be kind, be honest, and be understanding. There are always more tournaments, and your game reviews may play a bigger role than you think in determining if your student plays next time.

Tiebreaks in Scholastic Tournaments

Many players, coaches, and parents are confused by tiebreaks in scholastic tournaments. So let’s talk about types of chess tournaments and how we decide the winner, shall we?

What is the fairest kind of chess tournament?

Certainly, the round robin (RR). Each player faces everyone else in the tournament, and it’s hard to blame anyone but yourself for your final place! A double round-robin (DRR) is even better, as each player meets their adversaries with white and black.

The largest high-level RRs were the Amsterdam 1964 and Palma de Mallorca 1970 Interzonal Tournaments held as part of the World Championship cycle. Each of these events had 24 players contesting 23 rounds.

“TB” above is Sonneborn-Berger: add the score of each opponent a player has defeated, plus half the score of each opponent the player drew. Today, most wins is sometimes used as first tiebreak. Crosstable: ChessBase.

“TB” above is Sonneborn-Berger. Today, most wins is sometimes used as first tiebreak. Crosstable: ChessBase

The Zurich 1953 Candidates Tournament was a 15-player double round robin — a monster 30-round event with each player contesting 28 games plus two rounds off.

Clearly, RRs are impractical for tournaments with a large number of players!

When are tiebreaks are needed?

A prominent use of tiebreaks in scholastic tournaments is Nationals. Photo: U.S. Chess Federation

A prominent use of tiebreaks in scholastics is Nationals. Photo: U.S. Chess Federation

To accomodate a large number of players, you need to run a Swiss. Large Swiss-system tournaments are bound to have multiple players with the same score. Ties for first place are common, as well. So what determines the final ranking?

This is especially important when we have indivisible prizes like trophies. Money can be divided equally, so most cash events don’t bother with tiebreaks.

What tiebreaks attempt to measure

Take a four-round tournament with 60 players. If five players tie for 4th place with three points, how do we rank places 4 through 8?

The players will have faced different opponents. Tiebreaks try to determine whose result was “better” among tied players, by figuring out who earned their points against the strongest competition.

There are many possible ways to judge “strongest competition.” Either the tournament will spell out the tiebreaks used in advance or, in the United States, it will be the default M-S-C-O.


This is a shorthand way for Tournament Directors to remember which tiebreaks to apply, in order, especially in scholastic tournaments. They are:

Modified Median



Opposition Cumulative

If Modified Median doesn’t break a tie, we move on to Solkoff, and if necessary to Cumulative and then to Opposition Cumulative.

Let’s calculate some tiebreaks!

For reasons that will become clear, let’s start with Solkoff (referred to as Buchholz elsewhere).

For this, add up the scores of a player’s opponents in the tournament. The idea is that a higher-scoring field of opponents represent stronger opposition compared to other competitors with the same final score.

(Unmodified) Median removes both the highest and lowest scoring opponent’s scores in the Solkoff calculation (referred to as Median Buchholz elsewhere).

So what is Modified Median then?

Starting with the Solkoff tiebreak, we have a choice of three possible calculations:

If the player scored exactly 50%, we remove both the highest- and lowest-scoring opponent’s scores from their MM calculation (same calculation as Median score).

For a player scoring higher than 50%, we remove only the lowest-scoring opponent’s score.

For a player scoring lower than 50%, we remove only the highest-scoring opponent’s score.

With all of these, subtract a ½ point from any opponent’s score that includes an unplayed game.

Yes, players on 50% often have lower MM scores than players with less points, but this doesn’t matter because they’re only being compared with other players on the same score.

Cumulative is the cumulative score of the player after each round of the tournament.

The best way to explain this is with an example.

Two players finish a four-round Swiss-system tournament with three points. Player A loses in Round 1 and then wins their final three games. Player B wins their first three games and only loses in the final round. What will their Cumulative scores be?

Player A: 0 points after R1 + 1 point after R2 + 2 points after R3 + 3 points after R4. Total = 6

Player B: 1 point after R1 + 2 points after R2 + 3 points after R3 + 3 points after R4. Total = 10

By losing early, you’re pushed down in the standings and face weaker opponents, while a player who wins early but finishes on the same score faced stronger players throughout the event, and lost to higher-scoring players.

A player who loses early and makes a comeback is sometimes referred to as a Swiss gambit — an early loss (or draw against a weaker player) to face lesser opposition the rest of the event. Of course, an early loss is rarely intentional! If you think someone is losing on purpose, tell the TD.

Opposition Cumulative is the sum of cumulative scores of all opponents a player has faced. This fourth tiebreak doesn’t come into play often, but I’ve seen it happen.

Final thoughts

Calculating tiebreaks in scholastic tournaments is not arbitrary, nor is it voodoo! Having some knowledge of how tiebreaks are applied and why can calm a lot of frustrated kids and parents when needed.

Should I “Play Up” in a Chess Tournament?

Unless you enter a quad, you will most likely compete in a Swiss-system chess tournament. That means you could face players with a range of ratings. A club event might only have one or two sections, but larger events routinely have many sections.

Sometimes, you have a choice of sections — your “natural” section, and a higher one (“playing up”). Which should you choose?


A player with a 1550 U.S. Chess Federation rating wants to enter a 5-round, multi-section chess tournament. Each section is 200 points apart, starting at Under 1200.

Their “natural” section would be Under 1600, as they are rated too high to enter Under 1400. They could, however, enter the Under 1800, Under 2000, or Open section if they wish. That’s because “Under” sections only specify an upper limit, not a lower limit.

What should our 1550 player do?

Choosing your section in a multi-section chess tournament

If you’re trying to finish high in the standings, play in lowest section you can.

If you’re trying to gain experience and/or going for a big rating gain, play up one section.

Why is this? You should score more points against lower-rated players than higher rated ones, giving you a higher place in the event. However, you will also gain less rating points from facing “weaker” players, while risking more. Stay in your section if the goal is to win money or an important title.

If you play in a higher section, losing even a string of games won’t affect your rating much. And if you score 50%, you’ll likely gain a lot of rating points. Of course, you can’t expect to finish high in the standings if you take this path.

Psychology Matters

Our 1550 playing in Under 1600 would expect to score at least 3 points out of 5, and would be aiming for 4 points or more. Scoring 50%, 2½ points out of 5, would be a disappointment. Expectations like this can create pressure.

If our 1550 played in Under 1800, 2 points out of 5 would be decent, and anything more would be a success. While that does create less (internal) pressure to perform, it can also lead to not giving your absolute best.

There’s no right answer. It all depends on the psychological makeup of the player. After playing in your section a few times, and playing up a few times, you’ll get a sense of what usually works better for you.

For most of my career, I “overscored” against weaker opponents. At one point I had a career mark of 88% against players rated 200 points below me—when I statistically should have been scoring about 75%. So I scored 7 points out 8 against such players, instead of 6 out of 8.

On the other hand, I underperformed badly against players rated 200 or more points above me!

Why did this happen? Deep down, I believed too much in ratings, even though they’re just probabilities. Facing a much lower-rated player, I expected to win for sure if I didn’t play terribly. Being paired against much higher-rated opponents intimidated me before the game began.

Still, I usually played up when I had the chance! While I had some successes, more often than not this was a bad strategy for my psychology.

Chess tournament sections: an important distinction

USCF chess tournament rating classes

The USCF rating classes. FIDE awards Grandmaster titles.

If the tournament instead had Class C, Class B, Class A, and Expert/Master sections, only players in these categories could enter the specified section. The chart on the right gives the rating ranges for each “class.” All players rated less than 2000 are called “class players.”

The Quad Chess Tournament

What is a quad chess tournament, anyway?

Quad is short for quadrangular, a four-player chess tournament. Each player plays one or more games against the other three players. These are popular for good reason, but let’s get into some details first.


If 20 players enter a tournament before the start, the tournament director sorts the players by rating from highest to lowest. The four highest-rated players form Section 1, the next four highest-rated are put into Section 2, etc. If the number of entries is not divisible by four, the lowest section becomes a Swiss.

21 players: four quads, one five-player swiss (try to get an extra, “house,” player)

22 players: four quads, one six-player swiss (this is ideal if you don’t have even sections)

23 players: I would make four quads and have one seven-player swiss. You could make five quads and have a three-player round-robin, but each player would only get two games.


There are two ways you can pair the quad: force the colors for every round, or let the players toss (choose) for color in the third (final) round.

To force colors, give Player 1 white in the first two rounds (as larger round robins are done):

Round 1: Player 1 (white) vs. Player 4 (black); Player 2 (white) vs. Player 3 (black)

Round 2: Player 1 (white) vs. Player 3 (black); Player 4 (white) vs. Player 2 (black)

Round 3: Player 2 (white) vs. Player 1 (black); Player 3 (white) vs. Player 4 (black)

More common in the United States is to let players toss for color in the final round:

Round 1: Player 1 (white) vs. Player 4 (black); Player 2 (white) vs. Player 3 (black)

Round 2: Player 3 (white) vs. Player 1 (black); Player 4 (white) vs. Player 2 (black)

Round 3: Player 1 vs. Player 2 (toss); Player 3 vs. Player 4 (toss)

Quad chess tournament results sheet

The US Chess Federation‘s useful quad results sheet.

Pros and Cons of quad chess tournaments

The biggest advantage of quads is that mismatches are less common. Each group of four players is typically within 100-200 points of each other, making for a competitive event. It’s normal for a player with an 0-2 record to defeat the leader who has won their first two games!

On the other hand, the mismatches that characterize Swiss-system events create opportunities for big upsets — and big rating gains. With four closely-rated players, only a 3-0 score is likely to give you a large rating bounce. And you’ll likely be disappointed in your rating gain with a 2½-½ score.

Something else to consider is that in a quad you need every player to complete all three games. In a Swiss-system event players can withdraw at any time (if they alert the director beforehand).

I enjoy playing quads when I have the chance: every game is a challenge, and it feels good to come out on top among your “peers.”

Quads are great for teachers and tournament directors

If you have a small club or a kids’ chess class, quads are perhaps the best choice of tournament setup. They’re very easy to run, can accomodate a lot of players, and you don’t need to know how to pair a tournament. If you want to become a tournament director, running quads is a great way to get a feel for directing.

The Swiss-System Chess Tournament

What is a Swiss-System Chess Tournament?

The Swiss-system is the method of pairing players together in a chess tournament. It’s used for most events and can accomodate hundreds of players if necessary. In the United States, think of the World Open, or Nationals. Internationally, think of Gibraltar or Biel.

In a round-robin event everyone plays each other, so a 10-player event would require 9 rounds. The most basic type of round-robin tournament is the quad.

A Swiss-system tournament could have 200 (or more) players in the same 9 rounds! The more complicated part is figuring out who plays who in each round.

SwissSys is a popular software package manage Swiss-system chess tournaments

Homepage for Swiss-Sys tournament software, which I have used since 2003.


There can be one section, or many sections to accomodate players of different ages or rating levels. Scholastic tournaments with three, four…even eight or more sections is common.

Every tournament has different criteria for a section. Rating-based sections might be as follows:

Open; Under 2000; Under 1600; Under 1200; Unrated

“Open” means open to all. A grandmaster could enter this section, and so could a new player without a rating. Typically, the players in this section will include everyone rated too high for the lower sections, plus lower-rated competitors who “play up.”

[Note: a section name like “Master,” “Premier,” or “International” typically means that only players rated 2000+ or 2200+ can play in it.]

The “Under” sections are open to anyone with a rating below the number given.

The “Unrated” section is open to players without an established rating (26 or more rated games).

Scholastic events often have names like “Novice,” “Primary,” “Reserve,” and “Championship.” The grade/rating requirements for these sections are varies from tournament to tournament, so read the descriptions carefully and talk to your child’s teacher or coach!


I’m going to briefly explain “how the sausage is made.” Feel free to skip this part!

First, each section is independent from any other sections.

Within each section, the director sorts all the entries from highest-rated to lowest-rated.

The top half plays against the bottom half. So if a section has 20 players, the top half (by rating) is players 1-10 and the bottom half players 11-20. #1 plays #11, #2 plays #12 … #10 plays #20.

We randomly choose a color for player #1. All the odd numbered players get that color, while all the even numbered players get the opposite color.

Pretend Player 1 got white in Round 1. After the first round, suppose our results are like this (each player listed first had white):

White PlayerBlack PlayerResult

Here are our standings after Round 1:

PlacePlayerR1 Color and OpponentTotal Score

In Round 2, and all future rounds, we sort the 20 players first by score, then by rating. Within the 1-point group we again pair top half vs. bottom half as in Round 1, and do the same for the other score groups (½ and 0 point players). The result of this is that by the later rounds, similar scoring players will face each other, including the top contenders.

Swiss-system pairings try to answer the question “Who is the best player in this tournament?” without having everyone play each other.

Making correct pairings is usually messy. We need to avoid rematches, balance out colors, and alternate colors. So a player with white in one round would normally get black in the next round.

All of this makes pairing complicated, which is why it’s typically done by computer pairing programs nowadays. Still, a good tournament director will be able to explain a particular pairing to a player.

Pros and Cons of the Swiss-System Chess Tournament

Looking at our Round 1 pairings, you can already see the biggest problem with Swiss tournaments: lots of mismatches!

Early rounds of Swiss events tend to be non-competitive. I’ve directed plenty of tournaments where the higher-rated player wins every single game in the first round. Round 2 can be similar, and only by Round 3 do we see more balanced matchups.

Another problem for those seeking prizes (money, trophies, or otherwise) is that in a lot of Swiss tournaments, most players will not get a prize even if they have a good tournament. 3½ points out of 5 is probably not enough. Even 3 points out of 4 may not be enough.

On the plus side, a lower-rated player can gain lots of rating points with a couple of upsets. Young players who study hard can make a lot of hay playing in these events.

Of course, the biggest benefit is the large number of players who can fit into a Swiss-system chess tournament. With Swisses, the only limitation an organizer has for entries is the space of their venue.