Just The Rules: 10 Rulebook Hacks You Can Use Right Now!

Simple rulebook concepts get bogged down in confusing language—language that is difficult to comprehend and remember. Here are ten rulebook hacks that are easy to use and easy to remember. Will they have exceptions? Yep, but on a practical level those exceptions will rarely ever be seen.

  1. No Notation: You have five minutes left in your Regular (or dual) rated game before your time runs out. Do you need to still notate? No.  Your opponent has five minutes of playing time left in that same contest. Do you still need to scribble down your moves? No. Neither player is required to notate if either player has five minutes—or less—of playing time on their clock for this time control. There is an exception to this hack—Increment. Some Increment time control games follow this rule, some do not. Without having to learn and remember the exceptions just keep right on notating throughout your game if there is an Increment time control of any length. Yes, even in the last five minutes of the time control. And don’t forget that Blitz and “Quick rated only” contests don’t require any notation at all; however I would suggest notating your Quick rated games using the same “last five minutes” hack that you just learned. That-a-way the hack is easier to use and remember. Besides, (1) you will then have a copy of your moves to analyze later and (2) you have a score sheet to help you make a claim or two.
  2.  Freezing Time: You may stop the chess clock to get a TD to come to your board and make a ruling. Let your opponent know why you stopped the clock. If all you have is a general question, not a claim, then the clock should keep right on ticking. Freezing the time prevents a lot of complications—like having a flag fall during the resolution of the claim.
  3.  No Pieces, No Time, No Victory: If your flag falls and your opponent does not have mating material (even a pawn is mating material!), the game is a draw. Player’s must have mating material to claim a win.
  4. Draw Offer: Make a move BEFORE offering a draw. Players have a right to see a move before deciding to accept that half-point or not. Besides, there is also the outside chance that the move you executed before offering a draw is the start of a mating combination. It is too late to take back a draw offer once it is made.  And remember the draw offer can be decline either verbally or by touching a piece without adjusting it.
  5. Perpetual Check?: You can claim a draw if any position repeats three times—EVEN IF THAT POSITION DID NOT OCCUR THREE TIMES IN A ROW. While a triple repetition of a position typically occurs three times in a row, there is no perpetual check rule, just a three position repetition rule. And those same positions don’t have to be three in a row!?
  6.  The Best Clock: The clock that trumps all others in your game is the one that supports the advertised tournament time control. Delay clocks are #1 for games with time delay. Increment clocks are the top choice for increment games. The classic analog clock (or a clock set that way) is always at the bottom of acceptable timers in delay or increment contests.
  7. Draw Claims = Draw Offers: Making a draw claim is the same as making a draw offer. If your opponent makes a draw claim you can instantly accept their draw offer—even before the TD makes a ruling. Or if you decide to wait and the TD rules against them, they still need to show you their move before you decide to accept or reject their draw offer.
  8. TD Invitation: In US Chess rarely will a TD intervene in your game without an invitation to do so by you or your opponent. If you need help, ask.
  9. Instant Endings: Stalemate and checkmate—well, legal stalemate and legal checkmate—instantly ends the game. Anything that happens after that, especially a “flag fall,” is meaningless; however, to prevent a lot of misunderstandings your best bet is to also stop the game timer.
  10. Flag Fall Tops Claims: If your opponent’s flag falls before any claim is settled—like your offer of a draw—you may claim a win on time (even if the draw offer was made first).

Do you have a favorite rulebook hack?

The US Chess Rules (Chapters 1-2+11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available on-line

You can also find the full print book on US Chess Sales for 21.99 and the ebook for 14.99 at amazon. 

Tim Just is a National Tournament Director, FIDE National Arbiter, and editor of the 5th, 6th, and 7th editions of the US Chess Rulebook. He is also the author of My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut & Just Law, which are both available from US Chess Sales and Amazon/Kindle. Additionally, Tim recently revised The Guide To Scholastic Chess, a guide created to help teachers and scholastic organizers who wish to begin, improve, or strengthen their school chess program. Tim is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee. His new column, exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations. Find out the latest update on the Official Rules of Chess here. 


  1. My favorite rulebook hack is calling your own flag to prevent the opponent from updating their notation sheet and claiming a win (does not work in a final time control) on time.

  2. Hack number 1 simplified: Before the tourney starts, ask the TD if you are required to keep score with less than 5 minutes left on either player’s clock in that tournament’s time control.

    Enough said.

  3. Is there a specific way to claim a three fold repetition? I believe there was some discussion at an Elite tournament about it. Are FIDE rules the same?

    • @Bill

      FIDE rules for claiming a draw for triple occurrence of the position or for 50 moves without a pawn move or capture vary from US Chess rules. The proper procedure for FIDE and US Chess is to only write the move that causes the triple occurrence or 50th move, pause the clock, summon the TD/arbiter, and make the claim. In FIDE rules, simply touching a piece will nullify the claim. In US Chess, if you touch the piece, or even determine a move, the claim can still be accepted. If you complete the move (by pressing the clock), however, the claim will be denied.

  4. Thank you Tim for highlighting some commonly misunderstood rules. Your hacks bring up a couple of questions for me:
    # 1. No Notation. I think you mentioned this in a previous article, but is it true that it is smart to claim your own time forfeit if your time expires in the first time control (i.e., 30/90, G30) before you hit the indicated move number (30 in this example) and your opponent is 3 moves behind on notation?
    # 2. Freezing Time. If you pause the clock with 30 seconds left and make a claim that the TD determines to be frivolous, could the TD penalize you a minute (for example) and cause you to lose on time immediately?
    # 3. No mating material. The players in my classes always like to mention that there are exceptions. Like when a king will be mated in a corner by a lone knight if he (the king) is blocked by his own rook-pawn.
    # 4. Draw Offer AFTER move. I know a funny story about a player who declined a draw offer, then her opponent found a mate on the move. I always advise my students “Make sure your opponent doesn’t have an immediate mate, THEN, let he/she know that you will wait to see the move that is played.
    # 7. Claim = Offer. I never thought about this idea that you can ask to see your opponent’s move after they make a claim that has been decline. Thank you for pointing that out!
    #8. TD Intervention. A TD can intervene (and declare a draw) if both players have run out of time. But how long does the TD wait? Until 5 minutes have passed with both clocks at zero? I remember with analog clocks, that we would say “After each player has eclipsed 5 minutes past expiration.”

    Perhaps my favorite “rulebook hacks” are:
    1. Take as much time as you like (without allowing your time to expire) to consider a draw offer. I have seen several times in which someone considered a draw offer until they only had 30 seconds remaining, then accepted. Two times, their opponent said “Oh, I don’t want a draw anymore.” Both times, the TD said “Sorry.”
    2. Book draws. You can claim a draw in Q v Q and R v R endgames, right? Can you also claim in K+ rook-pawn vs king on promoting square? (especially when there is no delay, but also if you need to go to the restroom!)

    Thanks Tim!

  5. Jay,

    TDs usually add time to the opponent’s clock as a penalty. Rarely do they subtract time from the player’s clock unless adding time has not worked with the same player for multiple infractions.

    TDs can intervene while the time is running for enforcement of the 5 time rep and the 75 no-pawn move rules. If both flags are down the game is over and the TD can instantly point this out to the players.

    Once one player hits the magic 5 minute mark then neither player needs to notate. The condition of their scoresheet up to that point has nothing to do with that rule.If your opponent has not been keeping score up to that point you should have been making a claim about that fact to the TD before the “no notation” rule kicks in.

    • One common reason for deducting time is failure to keep notation. Some TDs will give warnings and then forfeit the player for not following the rules. Other TDs prefer for the game result to be determined over the board, and will instead do a time deduction to make the notation failure legal (which happens when the player’s remaining time is reduced to five minutes – at which point both players can legally stop taking notation). Just remember that a 30-second or more increment still requires notation regardless of how much time you have left.

  6. As far as number 1 goes, if it is not the final (sudden death) time control then you still need reasonably complete notation to claim your opponent’s flag (under US Chess Rules). After the time control is reached both players are still obligated to get their scoresheets back up to date (or, if that is not possible, then note the position and restart from there).

    If you are playing FIDE rules then don’t try to claim a flag in a non-final time control even if the opponent stopped keeping notation.

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