Just The Rules: Faulty Thinking or Something Else?

As long as there have been chess rules there have been thousands of different ways of bending them. Sometimes those bends are intentional, but most times they are not. It takes effort to see how far a rule will bend without breaking. Here are two examples.


Twisting The Words to Change Their Meaning.

You make a move without pressing your clock, an oversight. After a long think, and an even longer wait, your adversary replies to your move and places his piece on a new square. Yes, while your clock is still running. Now he notices that his brilliancy is really a first-class blunder.

You have yet to reply to this blunder. As fast as he can, he takes back his newly minted mistake. You claim, “You touched that piece, you have to move it. I claim the touch move rule.”

He points out, “It was still your turn to move. You can’t claim the touch move rule when it is still your turn to move. After you complete your move by pressing your clock, I can still make any move I want. Touch move does not apply here.” Those rules, he is trying to argue, all say “touch move” only applies to the player who is “on move;” i.e., it is their turn to move.

Faulty thinking or a dirty trick?


TJ Says: The intent of those “touch move” rules are to ensure that if a player touches his piece, it gets moved. The chess lawgivers approved the letter-of-the law that they believed made that idea clear. Those rulebook entries even have language to cover the accidental “touch” of a piece. But the chess law makers can’t realistically foresee, or cover, every possible situation. It is clear in this case that your opponent intended to essay that blunder, as he picked up that piece and released it on new real estate. The blunder stands.


It's the TD’s Fault?!

Your opponent is not notating in a G/45 + 30 contest (each side has 45 minutes to make all of their moves plus an additional, cumulative, 30 seconds per move). It was early in the game but he is not scribbling down his moves on his scoresheet. You make a claim. Your adversary chimed in to inform the TD, “I can remember all of the game moves, so there is no need to write them down.” After courteously explaining the rule, the TD instructed him to write down his moves — plus your moves — as they were completed. The TD also told him, politely, to catch up on the game score on his own time. He was warned that playing time would be added to your clock if he broke the notation rule in the future.

Half a dozen moves later he started, again, not jotting down the game score. You complain again. This time the TD penalized him and added two minutes to your playing time, as per her warning.

Yep, a few moves later your fellow wood pusher’s non-notating plan is once again in effect, and you make another claim. You gain another two more minutes of playing time. The TD notifies him that the next penalty will be to subtract playing time from his clock.

It only took a few more moves before your opponent once more failed at their score keeping duties. This time the TD, as promised, subtracted two minutes from your opponent’s thinking time. In this instance she warned him that if he failed to notate again, he risked being forfeited. He quickly made his next move — a major blunder — and instantly resigned. Sidebar: he also failed to register that move on his scoresheet.

While walking away, he mumbled, “The TD disrupted my concentration with all of those nonsense rulings.“ He added, “Those interruptions made me lose focus and caused me to make that game-losing move. I’m going to appeal.” Of course, you were interrupted just as much as he was, but you did not blunder!?


TJ Says: This case reminds me of a Morgan Freeman (?) quote: “Don’t allow your emotions to overpower your intelligence.”

If players want to appeal a TD’s ruling, then they should collect their evidence, not their hurt feelings. Feelings-based appeals, without verification, are just a waste of everyone’s time. The game is over. Simply appealing the TD’s decision up the chain of command at the time of the incident night have been a better reaction: at least inform the ruling TD that you are playing under protest. Trying to indict a TD for your own lack of emotional self-control is no proof at all. Looking up the rule to make sure you are on solid ground before walking the appeal path might save you a lot of heartache. In this case the TD was right, and very patient indeed.

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 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. US Chess awarded the 2022 Tournament Director Lifetime Achievement Award to Tim. He is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee plus the Tournament Director Certification Committee (TDCC). His new column, exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations.


Certainly not all TDs would rule the way Mr. Just suggests in the first situation. Would all special referees?

In the second situation, as far as I can understand, 21H (21I, 21J) makes no provision for a player to play under protest. If I have a player who is repeatedly refusing to follow the rules, I'm not going to react well when he starts making rules up.

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