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.