I Got a TD Promotion …


In a May 2020 post, I briefly talked about USCF tournament direction: how to become a tournament director, what a neophyte could expect in their first events, and the different levels of TD.

To review, the levels are, in ascending order:

    • Club Tournament Director
    • Local Tournament Director
    • Senior Tournament Director (SrTD)
    • Associate National Tournament Director (ANTD)
    • National Tournament Director (NTD)

The tiers are appropriately named, in my view: “Club” and “National” describe exactly the level of events these TDs are qualified to lead!

Club TD does not require an exam; to promote to the higher levels, you need tournament “experience credits” that qualify you to take an exam, each requiring a passing score of at least 80%.

Early Career

In February 2002, as an 18-year-old, I began my directing career as an assistant at The Right Move scholastic tournaments in New York City. I wasn’t officially a TD at the time, and my biggest responsibilities were moving the tables before and after the event, setting up and packing up sets, crowd control, and going out to get the staff lunch. A well-earned $50.

That summer I became a Club TD; in June 2003 I became Assistant Manager at the Marshall Chess Club and began directing constantly. Sometime later that year I took and passed the test for Local TD.

By 2005 I had enough experience credits to test for Senior TD, and passed my exam to earn that rank in April 2005.

One (or Two) Tournaments Short

I continued directing scholastic and adult tournaments heavily through mid-2010 before taking a salaried job that allowed me to cut back.

By 2009 I had fulfilled all the requirements to test for ANTD except for a a Category R tournament – a round robin event with 6 players with an average rating of 1400 (this was lowered at some point from 8 players with an average rating of 1800).

Not only that, I fulfilled all the requirements for NTD as well, except for the Category R tournament and a Category N tournament – an event that awards a National title (with some further stipulations).

I could have organized a round robin … or been more proactive about getting on the staff of National events. I guess I have a habit of leaving unfinished business

So I remained a Senior TD. One told by several NTDs that he had the chops to be an NTD himself.

FIDE to the rescue

I hoped that by becoming a FIDE Arbiter I would have opportunities to run my own round robins and clear the Category R requirement for ANTD.

It happened even before my title became official in September 2021!

Alex Ostrovskiy contacted me in August about running a norm event around Veterans Day – this became the recently concluded New York Invitational.

Almost immediately after all the tournament paperwork was submitted, I requested the ANTD exam from the TD certification group (there’s a quite detailed form where you list your experience credits). Chris Bird sent me a form of the test (is there anything he doesn’t do at USCF!?).

It was a doozy.

The Test

USCF 7th edition rulebook
You’ll need this for your next TD exam!

I read through the test and let it marinate in my brain for about a week before tackling it. Besides, I wanted to mentally prepare for my upcoming stint at the National Chess Congress following Thanksgiving.

I was on staff with NTDs David Hater (Chief), Bob Messenger, Boyd Reed, and Harold Stenzel but I didn’t tell any of them what I had just undertaken or ask them any questions. Additionally, I teach for NTD Sophia Rohde, but didn’t tell her I was doing the test until I already sent it in!

It was my mission, and my mission alone.

When I got home from Philadelphia, I started. How do you eat an elephant?

Obviously, I won’t discuss test questions here. But I will say that it’s a mix of the practical and the technical, and the bulk of the test relates to how you would resolve realistic disputes that could arise during an event.

I spent many, many hours on the test over the course of a week; when I finished writing my answers the length was more than nine pages!

Challenging as it was, I found the exam itself to be well-written.

However, I find USCF rules to be much more ambiguous than the FIDE Laws of Chess which left me quite unsure of some of my answers. You have two months to submit the test, but at some point I decided there wasn’t too much more I could do, and I sent it in December 6.

Chris confirmed receipt of my exam and informed me that he had send it to a grader. Gulp!

The Local and Senior tests are multiple choice; ANTD or NTD promotion requires essay exams that are sent to an NTD grader – you aren’t told who, and I believe the grader doesn’t know the identity of the applicant.

If you score 80% you pass; if you score 70-79% you can request a re-grade by two other NTDs at which point I think you pass if two of the three graders gives you 80%.

I scored exactly 80% and passed. Even after receiving feedback about the answers I lost points on, I must admit I still have lots of questions. I wish I could talk to my grader to clear up my misunderstandings. Oh well …

Next Step

Do a National Tournament and go for NTD. When? I don’t know. But it won’t take me 16 years, that’s for sure!

My Arbiter Journey: End of the Beginning

Prospective arbiters — read this! For everyone else, it may not be that exciting…

Rekindled Ambition

As recently as two years ago, I did not think I would pursue becoming a FIDE Arbiter or International Arbiter.

I did pass a FIDE Arbiter seminar in 2010, and worked a few tournaments as a Deputy Arbiter in 2009-10. I somehow didn’t get the FA title, however, and over the years didn’t decide to pursue becoming an arbiter.

When I was approached about being Deputy Arbiter for a Grandmaster Norm round robin tournament to be held in August 2019 at the Chess Max Academy in Manhattan (i.e., close to home) my interest in becoming an arbiter returned.


A Small Part of History

IA Grant Oen, responsible for FIDE Events in the USA at the time, informed me that I had to become a National Arbiter before I could officially work FIDE events. For this I needed to take and pass a National Arbiter exam with an 80% score. This exam is written and graded by the USCF, and only Senior TDs or above can take it (Associate National TD and National TD are the two higher ranks).

After working on the exam for about eight hours, I sent it back to Grant and I passed with a 93% score (112/120). Now I had to do another FIDE Arbiter seminar and get three tournament norms since my efforts from 2009-10 were long expired.

FA seminar norms are good for four years, and FA tournament norms expire in six years. Since the early 2000s, player norms (e.g. for IM or GM) never expire, and players sometimes achieve norms decades apart.

Abhimanyu Mishra and his dad Hemant with Max Dlugy. I encouraged them to pose for this photo, and I believe I took it with Hemant’s phone!

After a positive experience and earning a norm in the first GM norm event, I assisted in another in November 2019 where I got my second norm. I worked under IAs Eduard Duchovny (USA) and Diana Tsypina (Canada), respectively.

At the end of the second event, I got to meet FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich! Brandon Jacobson earned a GM norm, and Abhimanyu Mishra became the youngest International Master in history by achieving his final IM norm with an ultra-solid nine draws in nine games!

Mishra actually earned his first IM norm in the August event, and in July 2021 he became the youngest GM ever.

These events would actually qualify for International Arbiter (IA) norms, but one must have the FA title before earning IA norms, and you can’t reuse FA norms in an application for IA! C’est la vie.


Other Technicalities

We’ve seen that a successful FIDE Arbiter application needs a seminar and passing an exam (with at least 80%), and three tournament norms. But the three norms must include two different types of tournaments (the most common event types are Swiss-system, round robin, or team). A candidate can use only Swiss tournaments if one is a Swiss event with 100+ players, at least 30% of them FIDE rated, and at least seven rounds.

In addition, participants from at least two FIDE federations need to participate, unless the event is a National (adult!) Championship (open or women, individual or team). And I didn’t expect an invitation to assist in the U.S. Championship or U.S. Women’s Championship anytime soon!

Well, those are round-robins anyway. I had two round robin norms, so I needed to find a Swiss to assist in — the requirements for team events are even more strict, and very hard to achieve for US-based arbiters because we are probably the only major country that does not have a National Team Championship.

But first … pandemic!

The world shut down, including over-the-board chess tournaments. In May 2020 I participated in an online FIDE Arbiter seminar and passed the course successfully.

I now needed the Swiss, and I was pretty determined to get it done as soon as things began to reopen. I did not want to let it linger.


Not the World Open

A five-round Swiss would have been good enough to complete my FIDE Arbiter title, but with such events it can be unclear in advance if enough players will enter such that the requirements listed in the previous section are met…

Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown, the event site. Photo: visitphilly.com

When the school year ended in mid-June I contacted IA David Hater, who hires TDs for Continental Chess Association tournaments, and got on the staff of the 2021 Philadelphia International. It would be my first CCA event since 2010!

Held directly before the World Open at the same location, this event draws dozens of titled players — FMs and IMs pursuing norms, and GMs playing for prize money and guaranteed cash for participating (as they afford opportunities for others to earn norms by playing them).

I arrived in Philadelphia on Friday night, June 25. The tournament ran from Saturday, June 26 through Wednesday, June 30. Two rounds per day Saturday through Tuesday, and the final (9th) round on Wedesday.

Overall, I had a great experience!

There were no disputes throughout the entire nine rounds. The atmosphere was serious but cordial, and the toughest part of my job was setting clocks and making sure players didn’t leave without submitting their scoresheets (FIDE requires this)! The players were outstanding, too, when it came to respecting the mask-wearing requirement of the event.

FM Vincent Tsay earned his second IM norm, and in fact clinched it without even needing to score in the final round! He ended up drawing tournament winner GM Vladimir Belous anyway. Belous scored 7 points out of 9, along with GM Hans Niemann and IM Andrew Hong, but received a small bonus for having the best mathematical tiebreaks.

At the end, it was appropriate that my final FA norm certificate was issued by one of my long-time mentors, IA Steve Immitt, who was the Chief Arbiter of the event.

The current US Chess FIDE Events Manager, IA Chris Bird, helped ensure all my documents were in order, arranged for me to pay the 50 euro fee to USCF, and sent off my FIDE Arbiter application to Baira Marilova at the FIDE Elista office.

The application now appears on the FIDE titles page, to be hopefully approved at the next FIDE Council meeting, which I believe meets in early August.

After that: my pursuit of the International Arbiter title! Stay tuned!

Thoughts on Lichess and Others

A pleasant surprise

Lichess logo
Lichess seems to be taking over, and deservedly so.

Nearly a year ago, I said that I still preferred to play on the paid Internet Chess Club (ICC) because of the consistent good level of professional competition. I knew that GMs, IMs, and other strong players used Lichess, but I wondered if the site was merely had some really strong players, and a bunch of weak opponents for players like me in the 2000-2200 range.

I was also concerned about opponents on free sites not always … shall we say … playing fairly.

Well, I have now regularly used Lichess for the past few months, and must admit to being converted. In fact, I rarely log into ICC any longer.

There are many features I have not felt a need to try yet, but I can recommend playing and solving puzzles on the site. I haven’t yet had the thought that my opponents are dishonest, and the puzzles are typically quite good.

I also recommend it as a platform for (virtual) classroom tournaments. In my opinion it is far superior to ChessKid.


Internet Chess Club
Official tournaments: a new lease on life for ICC?

I’m ready to proclaim something I never thought I would: after all these years, I don’t think I will renew my Internet Chess Club membership when it next runs out, and I’ll stick to Lichess.

One thing ICC does still have going for it: official online tournaments. They do them very well! There’s a reason the recent NYS Girls was held on iCC, the City Champs will be held there, and the Continental Chess Association has been holding online events there for several months.

ChessKid is a wonderful concept, but needs a lot of improvement before it reaches the level of ICC, Lichess, or even its parent chess.com. Their issues for me are mainly about ease of use for children in getting a game, and flexibility for coaches in setting up and adjusting tournaments.

I hope its developers continues to work, because it has promise. The more good chess sites, the better for the long-term growth and health of chess.

Cheating in Chess Tournaments?

Cheating in chess tournaments is not very common. The vast majority of players don’t see value in winning a game through dishonesty and want the satisfaction of earning their successes. Still, we can’t put our heads in the sand — some people lack ethics, and there are issues to discuss.

Cheating before the game

The goal of these players is to play in an easier section than they should be allowed to.

Hidden ratings

"The Turk" made its debut in 1770 and was one of the famous early instances of cheating in chess. Photo: Carafe at English Wikipedia
“The Turk” used hidden players, not hidden ratings, to cheat in chess! Photo: Carafe at English Wikipedia

This kind of chess cheating is especially an issue in sections with rating-based prizes.

Players are required to disclose all ratings they have upon tournament entry, and the director normally uses the highest one to determine section and prize eligibility. If a player is revealed to have another, foreign rating, they can be moved to a higher section or leven expelled from the event.

Please note: TDs are interested in over-the-board tournament ratings only; online ratings are meaningless.

Rating manipulation

A sandbagger is a player who throws games over time to lower their rating. They hope to later use this lower rating to enter a tournament with a large prize fund, playing down one or two sections. It’s also becoming more common in high-stakes scholastic tournaments thanks to unscrupulous coaches.

Events with large prize funds have strict eligibility rules to combat this practice. The Continental Chess Association even updates a list of players with assigned minimum ratings regularly. This list is so respected that other organizers use it in their events!

Sandbagging is best stopped by observant opponents and TDs. Fortunately, with the regular publication of ratings online, cheating of this sort is tougher to pull off in the past.

What isn’t chess cheating

Remember: once rated, always rated. I have seen cases where players haven’t played a USCF-rated game in decades and decide to play again. Their last rating is still valid, and they are not unrated. Whether they are stronger or weaker than their old rating indicates is irrelevant.

I competed against a player in high school who stopped playing for several years; his last rating was in the 1400s. I heard rumors he was still improving and years later he entered a few events with large prizes, finding success. This is perfectly ok. He didn’t have a hidden rating and entered sections his old rating allowed. Of course, his rating quickly caught up to his skill level.

Cheating during the game: Illegal Assistance

When this kind of chess cheating is uncovered, it becomes worldwide news. The penalties are very severe, and rightly so.


Igors Rausis used his phone for cheating in chess tournaments. Photo: nypost.com
Igors Rausis caught using his phone cheating in chess tournaments. He announced his retirement soon after. Photo: New York Post

Recent high profile cases include Gaioz Nigalidze (2015) and Igors Rausis (2019). Both were caught using chess software on mobile phones during gamets. FIDE revoked their Grandmaster titles and banned them for three and six years, respectively.

Most tournaments require players to not have their phone on them. Phones can be placed in a designated location near the board or given to directors before the game. When staying at a hotel during a tournament, I leave my phone in my room and don’t even bring it to the game.

Recently I assisted in a couple of GM norm round robins. The players came into the venue handing me their phones without me needing to ask! I emphasize again: the vast majority of players are honest and look to avoid even an appearance of wrongdoing.

Before the rise of powerful chess software, players could cheat by getting hints from players, spectators…even yogurt!? Such allegations are not easy to prove, but three French players were suspended in 2012 for cheating in chess tournaments by using signals to relay moves. This requires one or more accomplices, making it less frequent than other forms of cheating.

Cheating after the game

This kind of cheating in chess tournaments does happen occasionally!

False results

Sometimes a player posts the wrong result. This can happen accidentally, but I am familiar with players intentionally posting the wrong result, or even changing a correctly posted result!

The way to combat this is to post your result on the pairings sheet with your opponent. If they leave the board and get to the chart before you, make sure you double check what they have posted.

Many scholastic tournaments have a scorer’s table where the players give the game result to directors near the exit. Remind your child to always go to the scorer’s table with their opponent! You don’t want to deal with episodes when the players go separately and one child gives the wrong result, intentionally or not.

The bottom line

Don’t become paranoid about cheating in chess tournaments. Be vigilant, report suspicious behavior, but realize that cheating in tournaments is far from the norm. Fortunately, the people responsible for running tournaments have risen to the challenge, and arbiters now receive anti-cheating training.