Just the Rules: Making Rulebook Magic

Tim Just

“That rule is stupid. I’ve played chess for 50 years now and always done it that way,” exclaimed the player that was warned for touching his Rook first when castling. “That rule needs to be changed.”

“That rule is ridiculous,” was the reaction of the player that was penalized for notating his move on his electronic notation device before executing it on the board. “That rule needs to be changed.”

“Rating floors are silly,” exclaimed the player rated 2000—his ratings floor—that was not allowed to play in the “Under 2000” (U2000) section at the event he wanted to enter. “That rule needs to be changed.”

“I lost because I was one and a half hour late for the game due to someone else losing my car keys?” “That rule needs to be changed”.

Players get mad as—well, you know what—and they are not going to take it anymore. Some chess rule or another has finally really ticked them off. Rules can be changed, added, or deleted from the Rulebook—and Delegates Magic can do that.

Finding a Delegate.

The Delegates are in charge of the rules. They vote on what goes into, out of, and adjusted in the US Chess rulebook—you know, Chapters 1,2, and 11. Other people are in charge of all that extra additional stuff in the rest of the Rulebook. So, job numero uno is to get a rule’s idea in front of any Delegate.

Where are the Delegates? Each state has Delegates that attend the annual convention and vote on rules changes—the 2019 list of Delegates can found here. Get in touch with any of them regarding any rules changes—typically one’s own state Delegate is the best bet for gaining support. There are some hoops for a Delegate to jump through. The best hoop is to get a rule’s change motion published in the advanced Delegates Convention agenda.

Why? Typically those Advanced Delegate Motions (ADMs) get discussed on the Forums and at the committee level weeks before the meeting. Plus, plans to change a rule get vetted at the workshops held during the week before the Delegates meeting. Given the short time limit for debate at the meeting, advanced agenda ADMs get great sales exposure before word one is spoken at the convention. Be aware that motions added by a Delegate on the floor of the convention get no such long term sales pitch before a vote is cast.

No Delegate, No Problem.

There is a shortcut to all that early hoop jumping. Attend—or get someone to attend for you—the US Open annual membership meeting (held the day before the Delegates Convention). Present any intended rule change as a motion(s) at that gathering. If the motion passes there, then the next day that motion makes it to the top spot—ahead of the published ADMs—on the Delegates’ agenda. There will be no early sales opportunities using this shortcut.

Delegate Convention Magic

At their annual get together the Delegates debate rules motions and sometimes change them—and those changes could make one’s head spin. Next, they vote on it. If it passes then the rules motion must wait for one more year (a new procedural change beginning with the 2019 Delegate’s Convention) to be voted on and passed again—with no changes—before becoming chess law. There is a provision that if 85% of the Delegates pass any rule’s motion, then it is instantly effective on January 1 following their August meeting. And rather than vote yes or no on the motion the Delegates sometimes simply send it off to a committee for review. It gets re-evaluated there before being sent back to the Delegates, at their next meeting, where the two year voting cycle starts all over again.

Review the Magic:

(1) A motion for a rule’s change (or addition or deletion) needs to make it onto the Delegate’s agenda.

(2) The Delegates will debate the motion, and then vote on it or send it out for further review.

(3) If a rule’s motion passes then it will need to pass again at next year’s Delegate Convention, with no changes before it becomes chess law. But the motion can pass instantly—year number one—with an 85% Delegate approval rate.

Making Your Own Magic.

But of course if you don’t like how the Delegates make rulebook magic, then you can simply side step them altogether: How? By posting and announcing any rules changes you want to make at the events you organize (or direct). As a player you can encourage the powers that be, at the events you attend, to post, or announce, the rules changes that you desire at their tournaments. And that is how to make your own rulebook magic.

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

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.


  1. Is there some kind of test you have to take make sure your even qualified/competent chess wise to become a delegate?? I went thru the list of the delegates in my state and laughed and was shocked because I personally know some of these delegates. I know what they do and how they act in the chess world. They also don’t know a rule from a bean as I have helped run their tournaments for them. I wouldn’t let them rule on whether a king versus king was a draw or not. Some I know and have great respect for and would want them to vote on any rule changes. To me the others are a joke.

    • There is no test to be a delegate. Delegates do have to show up at the annual meeting if they want to actually vote. Multiple states names delegates based on how much they influence chess in their state, and may not consider whether or not they would actually show up at the US Open.

      When the rules motions are debated on the delegate floor there are generally a number of quite knowledgeable TDs and strong players that chime in to point out whether or not a change makes sense and what I’ve seen is that the delegates are heavily swayed by such comments.

  2. Rule change needed: “The player who on the move brings about a three time repetition of the position loses”.

    • Why? Isn’t that a bit stiff? Maybe there is no other reasonable move and a draw is the only recourse for the player on move and best play.

      • It would be very interesting to play No-Draw-Chess OTB unrated for fun but I have no desire to see the landscape of chess move in that direction. I’m thinking of how difficult it would be just to reeducate players to play no draw chess. US Chess would lose players hand over fist.

        • It would probably be easier (note, nowhere close to easy but still relatively easier) to reduce draws by using soccer scoring with three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero points for a loss. That would mean that a player with two wins and three losses would outscore a player with five draws (giving a whole new meaning to the term “Swiss Gambit”).

          One downside is that it would reward a lower-rated player for conceding a position that could be drawn against a higher-rated player because the following round a losing lower-rated player would be as likely to beat the next opponent (scoring three points over the two rounds) versus a drawing lower-rated player pulling out another draw while paired up against a strong opponent (scoring two points over the two rounds).

          • Yes I know it was just a game and enjoyed reading it, but maybe the guy who posted it was serious. There are a lot of strange TD’s who want even stranger rule changes.

    • The game you describe is not chess. Chess has draws. If draws shock your conscience, play go instead.

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