Just the Rules: Avoiding Conflict!

Be sure to say “check” in Ultimate Moves, Photo IM Eric Rosen

You don’t need to say check in the game, but say it all the same.

You grab your bishop and slide it along the long diagonal to silently put your rival in check. Your opponent grabs their queen and snatches up the free pawn your bishop left unguarded and immediately starts your clock. You quickly press your timer button to restart his clock—pointing out that their king is still in check. Since you did not say “check,” your rival insists they can make any move they want. The TD rules your opponent must now use their queen—the touched piece—to get out of check, if possible.

Just say “check” when you put your opponent’s king at risk, who can resist?

The rules don’t require saying “check,” but saying “check” avoids a lot of messy situations. The rule in blitz (speed) chess is that you lose the game when you make an illegal move if your opponent points out the infraction. There are no second chances in Blitz to take back the illegal move (in this case, not getting out of check) and replace it with a legal one.

Wrong results need tweaking ASAP so the right info’s there for all to see.

OK, you’ve won your game. You report the results. Between that moment and the moment the next round gets paired, the information gets mixed up and your win turns into a draw (or worse). The longer you wait to report any misinformation about your total tournament score, or individual game scores, the harder it is for the TD to sensibly correct it.

Your total score for the event is often printed on the paring sheet—check yours. Exchanging your current tournament score info with your rival before the game starts is also an easy way to check if your records match the TD’s for pairing purposes. If you notice your score is incorrect, tell a TD immediately. They may be able to perform some pairing magic to get you paired more correctly. If you notice any scoring glitches on the wall chart or pairings, then also inform the TD right away. Some TDs, if informed too late—like many rounds later— may count your correct score only for rating purposes but not for prizes. Why? Your incorrect score impacted the parings you got instead of the pairings you should have had—and that is important if it continues over many rounds.

You can stay looking your best: Don’t talk to others during your contest.

As your game progresses it wanders into familiar opening territory. When it is their turn, your opponent appears to be on their own in this opening and they often settle in for a long “think time.” So, you wander into the hall and socialize, make travel plans, schedule meals, etc. Those innocent conversations may be seen as inappropriate by your struggling opponent. Your opponent or the TD may get the wrong idea, no matter how innocent your communication turns out to be. Most casual conversations away from your game are just that, casual conversations between you and others; however, when your opponent claims otherwise, some very uncomfortable moments are going to follow.

Avoiding conflict is easier than dealing with conflict. Keep to yourself during your game.

And remember that cell phones and chess are not friends. While it is hard to stop, don’t keep going out in the hallway and talking on your cell phone or texting.

When leaving the event for another quest, signing the withdraw list is the best.

Having just finished game four in a five round event you decide to pack it in. Your results thus far don’t meet your expectations. The tournament has ceased to be enjoyable for you. It is time to move on and skip round five. Please officially withdraw from the tournament properly. Don’t just take off.

From time to time, you will need to stop playing in a tournament to attend to other thing in your life. You can do this by withdrawing from the event; please withdraw properly. By withdrawing properly, you will make sure that another player in the tournament will not be paired against you in the future when, in fact, you will not be showing up for the game. They came to play too.

Most tournaments have a withdrawal sheet for players to sign. At the very least, tell the TD you can’t play the rest of the tournament. Some players note on the paring sheet, when they report their game result, the fact that they are withdrawing.

A wood pusher typically essayed games on day one of most two day events. He chronically did not show up for day two of the tournament. He also chronically did not withdraw from the tournament. Finally after many tries the organizers came up with a solution that motivated him to withdraw properly. When he entered an event he was assessed a huge refundable fee—in addition to his entry fee—that was returned to him ONLY if he withdrew properly; i.e., he had to  sign out on the withdrawal list or contact the TD before the pairings were made for the round(s) he was going to miss.

Tim Just is a National Tournament Director, FIDE National Arbiter, and editor of the 5th & 6th edition 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.


  1. have to disagree on saying check. at most non-scholastic events it’s considered rude. even at higher level scholastic events like nationals it’s rude.

    • I could not disagree more with Tim. If a player doesn’t see they are in check, they deserve to lose the game

    • Chess is a violent game pitting one mind against another in a fight to destroy the other’s will. Saying check violates the rule of disturbing your opponent and goes against the very nature of the game. If someone doesn’t see they are in check, they deserve to lose.

  2. It’s not the saying of check that is rude, it’s the noise of players saying check,check,check that is the problem. They sound like chickens in the barnyard. When it’s nice and quiet like it’s supposed to be in a tournament room, and someone says check it sounds like they yelled it out like a foghorn distracting players from other games. I see it all the time. So I definitely discourage players from saying check. Besides players are supposed to notice they are in check regardless. Nice post Tim.

  3. I completely agree with Janice and Scott on saying check. It is annoying and distracting for everyone. It also can easily be insulting at all but the lowest levels: “What? You think I can’t see it’s check?” Besides, if your opponent doesn’t see it’s check and makes an illegal move, YOU benefit. You may receive a time boost as a penalty, or they may be forced to make a terrible move. Absolutely no reason to say check that I see, except in maybe a scholastic K-3 U600 section.

  4. Tim writes very nice columns — but this is an instance where the rules and the etiquette must be clear. The rules say you *can* say check. The etiquette is that one should *not* say check. Only beginners say check — one of the distinguishing factors between beginners and tournament players is that tournament players follow not just the rules … but the etiquette … of tournament play. One of the functions of clubs is to teach beginners these things — you don’t say check, you move with the same hand with which you press the clock, you keep score, etc. I understand that Tim thinks it is OK to say check…but given his status as rulebook editor, it is even more important to distinguish his POV vs. the rules vs. established tournament etiquette.

  5. At the master level I think it’s considered rude. At levels where you can’t take your opponent noticing a check for granted maybe it’s fine.

    I definitely agree with the commenter who indicated that constantly hearing it from other boards is annoying.

  6. I consider it rude and annoying when someone says check, and I have been playing rated tournament chess since 1961. I teach my young students not only not to say check, but that they should notice when their king is attacked! I am shocked that Mr. Just thinks it is “polite” to say check during a tournament game. It is not!

    Sincerely, NM Fred Wilson

  7. Each situation is different. If announcing check is intended to to be a courtesy an not an annoying psychological ploy it totally within the edeicut of a chess to say it. Chess first an foremost is a gentleman’s competition.

  8. I have been playing chess since 1962, I am almost 70. You don’t have to say check, it is one of the first things a person learns about chess rules. In addition to that and touching other topics you have to dress accordingly, some players give the impression that they went first to the gymnasium, did not take a bath and go with the total appearance of a homeless person to the tournament room, that is unethical and on top of that many of them wear a sweatshirt with a hood, covering their head (and you can think that they are cheaters, probably hiding an electronic device to communicate with a friend outside the tournament room. Unfortunately, nowadays the younger generation of chess players doesn’t know and doesn’t care about how to dress or how to behave in a tournament. tournament

  9. I do not understand how a TD in 2018 can not appreciate the crisis of chess cheating and how it is keeping people from joining tournaments. It’s articles like this that are disheartening. To advise ” While it is hard to stop, don’t keep going out in the hallway and talking on your cell phone or texting ” is understated. The uscf should have a policy of forfeiting anyone who does anything on a cell phone during the game. The first offense should be enough. A TD who doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation and gives a warning should not be a TD in mine and other’s opinions.

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