Tag Archives: Tournament Director

Tournament Chess Board Options

Choosing the right tournament chess board is a topic I’ve thought about over the years, trivial as it might seem. After last Friday’s post, I decided to share my thoughts and get your opinions as well. Let’s go through different options — what is your ideal tournament surface?

I’m also assuming we’re playing in tournaments where we have to bring our own equipment. I won’t discuss square size because there aren’t a range of options here.  FIDE regulations state that the side of a square should measure 5 to 6 cm (roughly 2.0 to 2.4 in).

Here we go:

Fold-Up, Roll-Up, or Neither

By “neither,” I mean a hard, one-piece tournament chess board like the one I discussed last week. These tend to be the most aesthetically-pleasing boards, but they’re obviously not the most convenient. Choose this route only if you’re driving to a tournament, and a nice playing surface is an important part of your enjoyment of the game.

Personally, I would consider this option if I drove to a tournament and stayed in a hotel for a few days or longer. However, I rarely see players use these kinds of boards in competition.

Another seldom-chosen option is the fold-up board. I imagine the “crease” in the middle of the board is distracting, even though these boards can be very attractive otherwise.

By far the most popular choice is the roll-up board, and with good reason: these boards are cheap, compact, and easier to clean than other types.


Apparently black-and-white is not good for the eyes over a long period of time. Most players opt for a green-and-white surface, but other choices are popular as well. Next time, I might choose brown-and-white — just to be different. I’m tired of green and I’ve never been a fan of blue or burgundy.

Of course, roll-up boards are so cheap you can buy more than one and choose a color that fits your mood…


Assuming you go with a roll-up board, you still have to consider the material of your playing surface.

A vinyl roll up board.

When I first began playing chess in the 1990s, vinyl was the material of choice. I suspect it is still the most popular type of board purchased: it’s easy to clean, easy to roll or fold, and provides a decently-thick playing surface.


A mousepad board, in purple.

Recently, rubberized surfaces akin to a computer mousepad have become an option. They lay very flat, don’t move easily during play, and don’t develop creases like vinyl boards sometimes do.

The main issue with mousepad boards is they stain easily and can’t be wiped off as easily as other boards. I primarily don’t like them because of their texture.


Tournament Chess Board

A silicone roll-up board.

Another alternative is silicone boards. They can be twisted or mashed into any shape, and wipe off easily, like vinyl. It seems to me that silicone boards grip the playing surface they’re laying on better than vinyl boards do, but not as well as mousepad material.

I haven’t converted to silicone because I don’t like the thinness of the surface, and I’m not a fan of the texture. Still, I do think they will only grow in popularity in the coming years.

A tournament chess board is a very personal thing! You’re going to be spending a lot of hours with it, and I think it’s important to use a product you like. What do you like to play on during a tournament game? Is there anything I have left out? Please comment!

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!

Online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar: How to Prepare

Is the pandemic good for the online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar?

The COVID-19 pandemic has actually increased the amount of scheduled FIDE Arbiters' Seminars; now they're exclusively online.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the frequency of the online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experience attending the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar organized in early May by the European Chess Union. The course and final exam are a real challenge, and FIDE certainly doesn’t give away seminar norms!

WIth the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all seminars are being organized online. This has led to more courses, since arbiters don’t need to worry about travel expenses and logistics. I hope this factor leads to increased attendance as well.

Readers’ Mailbag

After seeing my earlier post, a reader sent me a question yesterday:

Hi Andre, How are you? I am attending FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar this weekend and I was wondering how should I go about preparing for the seminar and exam? Is there any thing you suggest I can do in the next couple of days that will help me to get the most out of the seminar? Thanks for all your help.A Reader

They asked not to be identified since they don’t want FIDE to think I’m giving unfair assistance (I’m not; I don’t know this person).

A prospective arbiter reaching out for advice is a very good sign. This eagerness suggests to me that the candidate will be successful in the course. Anyway, here’s my response:

Hi [Name], My main advice would be to download the 2020 FIDE Arbiters Manual and study it well. Especially the Laws of Chess and Competition Rules. Also get into the mindset about being more proactive when running tournaments, which is different from how USCF TDs are expected to be.Andre

You must be fluent with the material to pass the exam with 80%. From my previous post:

The exam is open-book, but having access to everything is not helpful in only two hours without being well-versed in the subject matter!

For USA participants: the biggest adjustment for USCF TDs working FIDE-rated events is being confident and ready to intervene in games. You can’t be afraid of making mistakes. As we say in New York City: If you see something, say something!

Other Things to Know for an online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

  • How to make pairings under the FIDE Dutch System.
  • The tiebreaks to apply under each tournament type, and how to calculate them.
  • The meaning of the FIDE rating system, requirements for a player to receive an initial rating, and how to calculate the rating change of a player. For practice, go to the FIDE homepage, search for your favorite active player and study their recent tournament activity with rating changes.
  • Regulations for direct titles, title norms, and title applications for players and arbiters. To practice: visit the titles page, study current applications and the norms that comprise them. Pay special attention to the numbers of rated and titled players, and host country/foreign opponents in a player’s schedule.
  • Anti-cheating measures available to arbiters.
  • Rules about default time, recording of moves, how games can conclude in wins or draws, and claims of all kinds.

Whew! That’s a Lot!

It is. Better to over-prepare than spend several days taking the course only to not pass and have to do it again! Keep in mind also that much of your two hours will be spent typing short answer responses to questions. Usually, you need to explain actions you would take containing several steps. Attention to detail is very important.

Good luck!

74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

From May 3-7 I took part in an online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar organized by the European Chess Union, via Zoom. This was the 74th online FA seminar; I actually took part in the very first one in July 2010. That ground-breaking event was organized by the late Sevan Muradian, whose impact on FIDE chess in the United States cannot be overstated.

I believe I was the only attendee from the USA. This seminar was given in English, but others are given in different languages, e.g. Spanish, French, Russian, German, or Arabic.

FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar?

I recently attended the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters' Seminar.

I attended the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar.

Most fans are familiar with playing titles, e.g. International Master (IM) and Grandmaster (GM), but there is also FIDE Arbiter (FA) and the higher International Arbiter (IA).

Arbiters supervise FIDE-rated events. The USCF requires Tournament Directors to be a Senior TD or higher and pass a National Arbiter exam. I became a Senior TD way back in 2005, but only took and passed the National Arbiter exam in 2019!

After gaining the NA rank, becoming a FIDE Arbiter requires a seminar, passing another exam, and earning three “norms” for assisting in qualified tournaments. I have two norms from round robins in 2019 (here and here). My final norm must be from a Swiss or Team tournament. Contact me, Organizers…

A passing seminar result is only good for four years; my 2010 effort is old news. This time I will complete my FA title.

A FIDE Arbiter can be Chief of most international tournaments excluding World and Continental Championships. After gaining the FA title, four additional norms and you can promote to IA. No seminar is currently required for IA, but the lecturers hinted this might soon change.

Seminar Details

The FIDE Arbiters' Seminar began with ECU-related matters, which I found inspiring.

The FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar began with matters related to the ECU and its Arbiters Council, which I found inspiring.

Sessions ran 8 am to 12 noon, Eastern Time, Sunday through Thursday. The final two hours on Thursday were dedicated to the exam; I know from my prior experience this is barely enough time!

Did I have an advantage from taking a seminar before? Not really. It helped that I knew what I was up against, but so much has changed in ten years.

IA Tomasz Delega (Poland), Chairman of the ECU Arbiters Council, led much of the first day dedicated to ECU tournaments. Sadly, I can’t work ECU events since I don’t belong to an ECU federation, but the discussions were interesting. The ECU process is impressive — especially how it recruits, appoints, and evaluates arbiters.

The Lecturer of the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters' Seminar, IA Jiřina Prokopová (CZE)

Lecturer of the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar, IA Jiřina Prokopová (CZE)

The FA seminar began Monday, May 4. IA Jiřina Prokopová (Czechia) was the main “Lecturer” (as FIDE calls it) with highly-experienced IAs Geert Bailleul (Belgium) and Marco Biagioli (Italy) leading sessions as well.

Jiřina, Geert, and Marco exemplified the demeanor of a top Arbiter! They treated us as colleagues and embodied the team spirit Arbiters need while supervising competitions. All were patient in answering questions, engaged in the Zoom chat, and offered helpful feedback on homework. I hope to work with them in future events!

Tournament Directors (USCF) vs. Arbiters (FIDE)

At the beginning, Jiřina focused our attention on the Roles of Arbiters and Preface to the Laws of Chess. I found this extremely important, because it framed everything afterwards.

Arbiters in FIDE events are empowered to “act in the best interest of the competition.” This is intended to give arbiters considerable latitude to use sound judgment in taking decisions. As the link between organizer and player, we have definite responsibility for how an event is run.

USCF tournaments, by design, are much more hands-off than FIDE competitions. Here directors make pairings and serve as witnesses in case there are disputes.

The simplest example of this philosophical difference? Arbiters must call a flag fall (a player has run out of time), while this is never done in USCF events!

Topics Covered in a FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

The main topics we covered over four days were:

  • The FIDE Laws of Chess
  • Anti-Cheating Regulations
  • General Regulations for Competitions
  • Standards of Chess Equipment
  • System of Games
  • Tiebreaks
  • The Swiss system and pairing rules
  • Electronic clocks
  • Regulations for ratings and titles (for players)
  • Regulations for Arbiter titles
  • Final Exam

Everything is different! The Laws of Chess have been refined, pairing and tiebreak methods have changed, and we hardly discussed cheating in 2010!


36 attendees took the exam and 9 passed with the required 80% score. The max score was 100 points across 34 questions requiring short-answer responses, in a little over two hours.

The exam is open-book, but having access to everything is not helpful in only two hours without being well-versed in the subject matter! For good reason we were sent a link to the 2020 FIDE Arbiter’s Manual before the course and recommended to study it! I read the entire thing during the course and I’m happy I did.

I passed the exam with a score of 92.5, apparently second-highest (Jiřina informed us that two participants scored over 90 and one participant scored 95.5).

Taking a FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar is worthwhile and you will learn a lot, but it is intense. I’m glad mine is over!

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.

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.

USCF Tournament Director…Is It Worth It?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a USCF tournament director? Today I’m going to whet your appetite. Everything I discuss below relates to U.S. Chess Federation tournaments only. FIDE-rated events held in the USA must follow FIDE rules, too, so I won’t be discussing these events either.

Getting on the USCF Tournament Director wheel

I would encourage all players, parents, and coaches to gain a basic understanding of USCF tournament rules, whether they have an interest in directing tournaments or not.

If you want to run small rated tournaments in a school or chess club, the first step is to become a certified director. The first rung on the ladder is Club Tournament Director. Study the most up-to-date version of the USCF rules and apply to become a TD. There’s no fee to become a TD.

Your Club TD term lasts three years, and can be renewed by passing an open-book test with a 70% score. You can direct tournaments expected to draw up to 50 players — up to 60 players if you have an assistant TD and use pairing software. For most TDs, this is plenty.

Well, if I have to take a test anyway…

You may be interested in a promotion to Local Tournament Director.

To meet the experience requirements, you need to direct at least three tournaments with a total of 50 or more players, and be Chief TD of at least one of those events.

A simple way to do this is to run a rated quad and assist at as many tournaments as needed to reach the 50-player-total threshold. Email the USCF for the Local test and score 80%.

Local TDs can direct any tournament expected to draw up to 100 players. That increases to 120 players if they have an assistant and use a computer pairing program.

Promote If you have any desire to run or assist at larger tournaments. At Local, Organizers will be interested in giving you a chance; it’s hard to find good directors! The three levels after Local are Senior TDAssociate National TD (ANTD) and, at the top, National TD (NTD).

Pause! Let’s back up for a reality check.

There’s no harm in becoming a Club TD. If you never run an event, no big deal. Tournament directors don’t work for the USCF — they just need to abide by the rules and basic ethics if they run rated events. A small club or classroom tournament can be a nice experience.

It’s the bigger events you need to think carefully about.

Tournament Directors work long days. Often very long days.

Tournament Directors work long days. Often very long days.

Tournaments have long hours! A scholastic event doesn’t start with Round 1 at 10 am. On-site registration opened at 9 am. Setup (tables, chairs, chess sets, food, concessions, etc.) started at 7:45 am, or even the previous day. Prizes and cleanup run 1-2 hours after the last game ends.

Don’t worry; I just want you to see the big picture. If you help at a larger event, you would probably be asked to show up at 9:30 am and watch games on the tournament “floor,” answering questions and settling disputes. You may also help with setup and/or cleanup, and leave at 5pm.

All in all, it’s not a terribly stressful way to earn some extra cash, but it’s an acquired taste.

Will you join us as a USCF tournament director?

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.