I’ve talked in the past about becoming a USCF Tournament Director. At first you’ll be running small club or classroom tournaments, or assisting more experienced TDs at larger events.
If you decide to get into the TD game long-term, you’ll need the tools of the professional: laptop, laser printer, and SwissSys!
What Does SwissSys Do?
SwissSys is tournament management software created by Thad Suits that, as the name suggests, helps tournament directors run Swiss-System events smoothly. Often … very large events with multiple sections and hundreds of players! The computer TDs at the World Open, for example, use SwissSys.
Not only can it make pairings, it prints them neatly for posting as well as other items like standings, wallcharts, and so on.
[A brief rant: Experienced TDs hate the term “pairing software,” as it suggests we are not responsible for the pairings the computer spits out. On the contrary, we are responsible for understanding the pairings, being able to explain them, and overriding them if we think an error has been made.]
SwissSys can also handle round robins, such as quads, and team events.
Very small. The menus are intuitive and if you tinker with SwissSys for half an hour, you’ll get the hang of it. It’s very user-friendly and non-tech-savvy friendly.
The toughest part? Learning the process for downloading and installing new rating supplements. This is important in order to quickly enter players without having to go to the USCF website to look up every player individually.
It’s also possible to import tournament entries from an excel spreadsheet or other database.
You can use SwissSys for FIDE-rated events, too (remember to turn on FIDE pairings, and you cannot alter pairings once made in norm events!).
Don’t Go Without
In the past, way before I began TDing in 2002, directors paired by hand using pairing cards and needed to handwrite pairings, standings, and so on! I can only imagine how time-consuming this would be.
Merely having a laptop, printer, and SwissSys can earn you directing gigs. Many organizers run small, almost-informal events in schools and just need someone to pair and print the charts. These tournaments aren’t always USCF-rated, either.
If you’re efficient, friendly and, most of all, reliable … you’ll keep getting invited back. Also, a good reputation spreads quickly in the TD World.
A new version of SwissSys 10 is $99.00. Best money you’ll ever spend as a TD … but don’t forget that laser printer! I care for my old HP 1020 like a newborn baby, even though it’s now well into adolescence …
You’re not a professional TD until you have your own software. So what are you waiting for?
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.
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 IAsEduard Duchovny (USA) and Diana Tsypina (Canada), respectively.
At the end of the second event, I got to meet FIDE PresidentArkady 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.
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 ifone 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…
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.
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!
Yesterday, the US Chess Federation announced a huge $3,000,000 donation from John D. Rockefeller V. These funds will be used to perpetually endow many USCF Invitational Events, old and new.
One of the best parts to this story? Mr. Rockefeller is a Senior Tournament Director and has directed over 100 tournaments! That tells me more than anything else that he loves chess. We are very fortunate.
Congratulations to the USCF, and chess in the United States!
And from one Senior TD to another: thank you, Mr. Rockefeller, for your generosity.
Parents are concerned about sending their children back to school; teachers are nervous about returning as well. Not that I blame them.
Let’s imagine what effect all of this will have on chess over the next year or two.
I expect a lot of schools to seriously cut down or eliminate their chess programs for awhile, as they are not “core” subjects.
The elevation of chess to mainstream respectability has transformed this industry, especially the rise of chess in charter schools. I fear COVID-19 will cost us years of progress.
Huge, in-person Swiss tournaments with hundreds of children and parents will likely be on hold for a long time to come. I do think tournaments will return quicker than anticipated, however — albeit in a different form. To understand why, we have to look at “tournament economics.”
8-section, 200-player tournaments are more expensive to run than smaller events. Organizers have to spend more money in staffing and especially prizes (trophies and medals). They may also need to pay for more space, depending on the agreement they have with the host school.
I also expect more smaller events to emerge, especially quads.
An organizer can take a max of, say, 32 entries (8 sections of 4 players each). For this they might only need one tournament director to assist them. A group of quads is much easier to manage than a big Swiss, so a good TD could be persuaded to work for less than their “Swiss” rate.
It’s like comparing a stroll in the park to an uphill run!
Anyway, the organizer can charge an entry fee of $30 or $40 per player, and pay half of the fees collected in cash prizes to first and second place in each quad.
Alternatively, the organizer could charge $30 per player and award trophies to all players. This would be more appealing to primary (K-3) students.
These are examples, but very easy to make a reality if an organizer has the necessary space.
Post COVID-19 realignment?
It will be interesting to see what the scholatic chess landscape will look like post-pandemic … especially in major markets like New York City.
I predict smaller programs and tournaments for a few years. I also expect less students to take chess lessons in the near future.
How many chess professionals will leave our industry under these conditions, and who in, say, 3-5 years time, will step in to fill the void?
A re-entered player cannot play someone they faced “in their first life, ” unless that opponent has also re-entered. Then, the “re-incarnated” entities can play!
Most tournaments do not allow re-entries, and scholastic tournaments almost never do, but it is something to be aware of.
Are Re-Entries Fair?
I think just about any tournament policy is fair if it is announced in advance in all publicity. It is the responsibility of the player to understand the rules of a competition, and to ask questions of the Organizer or Tournament Director if they are unsure about something.
The Organizer is responsible for ensuring good playing conditions; the Tournament Director is responsible for applying the regulations of the competition correctly and fairly.
Sometimes a re-entered player will win a prize, and this can upset some players. Anecdotally, the re-entry doesn’t change the player’s fortunes and they just increase the prize fund for players in good form.
The question of every child receiving something for their participation in a competitive activity is a controversial issue. Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal — and the reason is simple.
Let the Market Decide
Some events give every child a ribbon/medal/trophy, and others do not. Often, this is a question of economics more than philosophy: buying enough prizes for each participant gets expensive quickly!
Parents who want to guarantee their child a participation prize can enter their child into competitions that award them. On the other hand, families that take issue with such a policy can avoid these events. To each their own.
There’s no need to debate whether these trends are good or bad for society in general.
What’s Really Important
As a coach, when I have a student ready to play a tournament, I never consider the prizes when suggesting which event to play. And I can’t remember a parent being concerned with the prizes on offer.
Their primary concern is that their child is prepared enough to give a good performance.
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.
When I first began playing chess in the late 1990s, most tournament chess boards were made of vinyl. I suspect it is still the most popular material of choice.
These boards are easy to clean, easy to roll or fold, and provide a decently-thick playing surface. I’ve considered other options, but I keep going back to ol’ reliable.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
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.
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
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
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 Masterssuper 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.
You can only offer a draw when it is your turn!
Decide on your move.
Play your move on the board.
Write down the move on your scoresheet, followed by =.
Offer your opponent the draw. “I offer a draw” is fine.
Press the clock, stopping your time and starting your opponent’s.
Now your opponent considers the offer. They may:
Agree to the draw.
Decline the draw verbally.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An identical position has occurred for the third time.
To claim a draw: Pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim.
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!