Just the Rules: The Same Thing, Only Different

Tim Just, CLO columnist


Did you ever notice that things tend to come around again in different disguises? The “same old, same old” all dressed up in different clothes. So-called “unfair advantages” in chess wear many costumes but, in the end, it is still a protest about those alleged advantages. Check this out:  

Two-Dimensional Boards in a Three-Dimensional World 

Those digital notation devices were game changers for OTB chess. No more illegible scribbles on paper scoresheets. Games could be broadcast live on the internet. Tournament game bulletins went from tediously entering moves to point-and-click data transfers. But like anything new, those devices came with some baggage.  

Many pragmatic wood pushers soon discovered a valuable and unintended notation device asset—they could preview the intended move on their two-dimensional gizmo, before they actually had to make their move on the three-dimensional game board. The outcry from the troops did not go unnoticed. The rule givers—the delegates—dictated that moves had to be made on the game board before they were entered into those note-taking gadgets. While the outcries died down somewhat, a new protest arose.   

The new argument claimed unfairness that device-users could analyze their exact three-dimensional positions on a two-dimensional screen. But the counter-argument to this pointed to the widespread use of top game “demonstration boards” that already allowed players to evaluate their own current games in 2D. Some devices featured the ability to project games onto large screens, which have become the replacement for those old-style demo boards. This improvement allowed the top contests in each section to be viewed by everyone—even the two players.  

There was no evidence that players analyzing their own games, be it on demo boards or two-dimensional screen projections, provided any advantage whatsoever. The law-givers passed no regulation governing this activity: Wood pushers analyzing their games on a two-dimensional replica of their current three-dimension contests were not banned. (An individual organizer might ban this activity, though, so checking that event’s special tournament rules was always a good idea).  

Three-Dimensional Boards in a Two-Dimensional World  

The pandemic replaced OTB chess with digital chess. Online platforms replaced onsite tournament halls. Three-dimensional chess boards were replaced by two-dimensional replicas. The rulebook updated Internet Chapter 10 with new regulations. Now the question from some contestants is: “Can I use my 3D set and board next to my 2D online board?”  

Ironically, these days I hear rumblings about the physical board next to its digital cousin as an alleged unfair advantage -- but the 2D equipment is the standard. It’s the same old, same old alleged unfairness in a change of clothes: the same thing, only different! 

There is no specific language that allows or disallows a 3D sideboard. The closest the US Chess rulebook comes to addressing this 3D question is in chapter 10, rule 6A, which points out that organizers in this new online era can create online event specific rules—just like they are able to do for OTB tournaments. FIDE recently published their own set of online rules that addresses the extra 3D board subject.

If having that extra third dimension set-up for US Chess events concerns you (one way or the other), check with the organizer before you sign up for their online tournaments. And, of course, be prepared to move your troops first on the 2D board before they do any marching on your 3D board—the camera will know!  


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 and 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. 

The free, updated US Chess Rules (Chapters 1+2 + 10 +11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available online. Past Just the Rules columns can be viewed here. Plus listen to Tim when he was a guest on the US Chess podcast One Move at a Time


If you are talking about becoming a FIDE Arbiter through US Chess then you first need to become a Senior Tournament Director (TD) and request the National Arbiter exam.


if you are talking about becoming a US Chess TD for the very first time then see this page:


You can readily become a Club level TD for three years.  Renewing that (or moving up to a higher level) requires passing a test (and moving up to a higher level also requires various levels of experience - see below).


Jeff Wiewel - Current chair of the US Chess Tournament Director Certification Committee.


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