Just the Rules: Flag Falls, Part 1

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. Tim is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee and his new column exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations. There is a crowd gathered around an exciting contest. The position looks double edged. Both players are desperately trying to gain an advantage. Both their clocks are approaching those goose eggs—that dreaded row of zeros that says they have no time left to play the game. But then it happens: One of the observers yells out, “Flag!” Now we have a mess.

Only players may make the call if there is a flag fall.

What happens when your opponent runs out of time? You get to claim a win if you still have time left on your own clock. But only you get to claim the win, no one else: not even a TD, parent, friend, relative, or coach gets to make that call. That’s right, no one but you!
Flag fall (0:00) on digital clock set for one time control
Spectators have no rights in a chess tournament. If a player’s friend or coach or family makes that call for them that gives them an unfair advantage over all the other players, including their opponent, at the tournament. In this example had the bystander not made that call then perhaps the flags of both players would have fallen, and the game would be a draw—in the last, or only, time control when both flags are down without a claim of a flag fall then the game is a draw. The “what ifs” are mind-boggling. Now the result of the game is up in the air, with the TD expected to make an equitable decision. Perhaps the TD will allow the flag claim to stand while ejecting the bystander from the tournament room—or the entire tournament. Perhaps the TD will call the game a draw. Perhaps the TD will forfeit the player who got help from the audience. Note that with two time controls and a digital clock it becomes problematic to tell if the flag fell or not. Typically a set number of moves must be made in a specified time in the first time control (40/90, d5 for example). To set digital clocks for this time control the user also typically sets the move counter. Sometimes, for a lot of reasons, the move counter gets off kilter. Some clocks add the time for the second time control after the correct number of moves have been made. Some clocks add the time for the second time control only after all of the time (not number of moves) from the first time control has been used up. Knowing how the clock on your game displays the first of two or more time controls helps you know when to make a legitimate game ending claim.

Clock move counters have no place when trying to claim a flag fall case.

The game clock says that 37 moves have been made in 60 minutes. The time control is 40 moves in 60 minutes with a 5 second delay (40/60 d5) for the first time control. During a time scramble, both you and your opponent stopped keeping score (as you are allowed to do in the last five minutes of any time control). Your opponent makes a flag fall claim based on the clock’s move counter. But, without an accurate scoresheet, that claim is denied by the TD. Clock move counters may not be used to make such claims, only scoresheets can be used for this claim. Sometimes clocks are set or reset wrong. Sometimes they are started incorrectly. Sometimes they are inaccurate due to players’ pressing the clock too many times or too few times. Move counters just can’t be relied on to be accurate. Next time in part 2 we will finish clearing up the fog surrounding flag falls. Find all of Tim Just's US Chess columns on his author page. 


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember, as a child, Robert Brieger (most famous for his endgame compositions), was in a heated game at the SW Open in San Antonio with the young, and heavily-favored GM Ron Henley. Henley's flag fell, and a spectator cried out "FLAG!" The other spectators were instantly in "uggg" mode because they seemed to know it would be a mess. I don't remember what the resolution was, but it reminds me that I need to announce it at every event I run - "No calling time forfeits by non-players!" On the subject of time forfeitures, I have a couple of questions that I'd like confirmed answers from the Grandmaster of Rules, but hopefully, Tim, you will address them in Part 2. Looking forward to it! Thanks!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"During a time scramble, both you and your opponent stopped keeping score (as you are allowed to do in the last five minutes of any time control)" Except when the time control has a 30 second or more delay or increment which would then require score keeping regardless of the remaining time. Correct?

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Great column!!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Decades ago at a large open tournament, I was watching a time scramble from 15 feet away. Standing next to me was an acquaintance from my club who was relatively new to tournament chess. Somehow, I just KNEW this guy was going to point out the flag fall if it happened. I couldn't very well whisper to him, "keep your mouth shut if anything happens", as the players might hear. Sure enough, at flag fall, my acquaintance raised his arm and pointed at the board. Fortunately, I was ready. I quickly pushed his arm back down with my hand before he could say anything. He got the message, and kept quiet. He was astounded. Later he asked me, "You mean I'm not supposed to call attention to this?" Fortunately, the opponent of the player whose flag fell hadn't noticed my acquaintance's arm go up. Either that, or he wisely pretended not to notice. Had he noticed, and had his noticing been noticed by others, it could have complicated any subsequent ruling that may have been necessary. "My opponent received outside help, forfeit him!", etc. Whew!

In reply to by Bill Smythe (not verified)

At one non-rated High School tournament I ejected a coach for pointing out an illegal move (the player was already in the process of pointing it out anyway). I later heard from another coach that the ejected coach ruefully said that he'd coached a lot of basketball, baseball and soccer and this was the only time he had EVER been ejected. He was a little nonplussed because I had simply walked up to him and quietly and expressionlessly said "please leave", and when he looked at me in confusion I followed up in the same tone of voice with "now".

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I dont know how good of a solution this is, but if a spectator calls a flag, the spectator gets ejected, the game, if even is a draw, if not add one minute to both tge flagged persons clock and the other player as no one gets unfairly benefited or punished

In reply to by William Bowman (not verified)

When a spectator calls the flag, there is no good solution. Invariably, the TD will have to make a ruling that is unfair to at least one of the players. Ejecting the spectator is of course correct, and is the easy part.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think the spectator should get ejected, the game shoild be ruled a draw, but what if the spectator who called flag was bias? Its a togh situation

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Apply the outdated (with time delay) insufficient losing chances rules depending on position on board? Thus if player whose flag has not fallen has insufficient losing chances call it a draw; if having advantage call it win: if even a draw ?

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Maybe if the flagged person is either obviously winning or in an even position a call it a draw, if the flagged person is obviously lost, he loses idk there isnt a single good solution

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If the spectator has a vested interest in favor of the player that benefited then the TD is able to be stricter towards the beneficiary of the comment. If the spectator does not have a vested interest then things get dicier. I can just see a somebody who benefits from a draw (rather than a decisive result) asking a friend to call the flag so that the TD calls it a draw. Instead of having a predetermined way of handling the situation I'd rather give the TD the option to consider everything that is involved "this time" to make a decision.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Depending on the circumstances some of the things I've seen done included: 1> left it as a flag 2> added time (the flagged player can do no better than a draw) 3> awarded a win to the flagged player 4> declared a draw 5> annulled the game and had a new one played 6> split the result

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I had a time-forfeit claim from one of two very strong players. White claimed and sure enough the flag had fallen. I asked white for his scoresheet and unfortunately he had at least 5 missing move pairs and check marks for other moves made since they were both in time pressure. I told him his claim was denied based on his incorrect scoresheet according to Rule 15A which I enforce. Even Rule 13C7 allows 3. He of course began his argument and wanted me to look at the opponents scoresheet as his opponent did keep correct notation. Not happening. Out of the blue another TD playing in my tournament started to explain why I was wrong. I summarily kicked him out of the tournament as he would not listen to me when I told him to get back to his game. I penalized White 2 minutes for an incorrect claim and the game was sent into sudden death with no more claims of time-forfeit. The TD came back who is a Master by the way and told White to appeal my decision. That TD has never graced my club since. White did appeal my decision to the USCF. It was denied of course and the money lost. He apologized which was not necessary and he continues playing. The club rule posted and stated before every round is that there are no missing move pairs allowed for time-forfeit claims. Amazing how many players now have complete accurate scoresheets.

In reply to by scott C hunt (not verified)

I wonder if that other TD did a lot of FIDE tournaments. Under FIDE rules TDs are required to call flags if the players don't do so, and can use any evidence (including the opponent's scoresheet) to determine whether or not a flag should be called. Considering the staffing levels of most US Chess tournaments, the time control crush could tie down every TD on staff determine whether or not a flag should be called and still have multiple boards with the clocks stopped waiting for a TD to be available to rule on a flag claim.

In reply to by scott C hunt (not verified)

I am confused about the decision you made, specifically the part where you say "no more claims of time forfeit". How did you then ensure that the game ended on time? Also, when you say that you "sent the game into sudden death", does this mean that you added some time to both their clocks, say, 30 minutes? If so, how did you decide that they had played 40 moves? If this is all in the rulebook, my apologies, but I don't have a copy!

In reply to by John Doe (not verified)

If a time forfeit claim cannot be upheld because of too many missing moves on the scoresheet, or because it cannot be determined how many moves have been played, then no further claims can be made in that portion of the time control (which is what Scot most likely meant). The game then continues into the next time control, which is usually sudden death for most tournaments that have more than one time control. If the next time control is not sudden death then it still goes to the normal move number that completes that time control. Example: time control of 40/90;d5, 25/60;d5, SD/60;d5. Flag called on move 32 with a woefully incomplete scoresheet. Time forfeit claims for move 40 are invalidated but a time forfeit claim for move 65 or for the sudden death portion are still allowed. If both players have lost track of their moves and you can't tell if the flag fell at move 30, move 35, move 40, move 45, or something else, then write down the current position and consider that you are in the second time control on move 41 (the first move of that control) with move 65 time control claims available and the scoresheet being considered automatically complete for the first 40 moves (going to the diagrammed position) with only moves after that counted for possible errors to determine if a claim is valid.

In reply to by Jeff Wiewel (not verified)

white could have used his move to request to look at his opponent's scoresheet and write down the correct moves coudlnt' he? as long as it's done on white's time. one he writes it down he could then claim a win on time.

In reply to by joihn doe (not verified)

Not necessarily. A player has the right to request his opponent's score sheet PROVIDED both players have at least five minutes remaining in the time control segment.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

No the other TD was a local TD without much knowledge of the rules and very few actual tournaments for experience. I knew him for 15 years or so. Yes having good floor TD's is a godsend especially when crunch time comes around.

In reply to by Scott C Hunt (not verified)

A local TD would not even qualify to be part of an appeals committee deciding a Sr TD's ruling (the people on the appeals committee need to be TD's of at least the level of the TD being appealed), so any on-site appeal would likely have had to go to a special arbiter on call. That rule about the make-up of an appeals committee has been in place since a Club TD and Local TD outvoted a Sr TD in an appeals committee of an NTD floor chief's ruling upheld by an ANTD chief TD (the rules committee sided unanimously with the NTD and ANTD and were "perturbed" that a CTD and LTD could erroneously override a SrTD, ANTD and NTD). Over the years I've found that even experts and masters that only play using US Chess rules have been surprised to learn they were incorrect about some of the rules.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How about this one. Last game of a long day, one player has been penalized for a phone ring and flags while the other has about 4 minutes left. A spectator sees the flag and reacts with a hand gesture nut no words, the non-flagged players doesn't see it but the flagged player asks, did I just run out of time? And draws nods.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Plain Text Comments

Share Your Feedback

We recently completed a website update. If you notice a formatting error on this page, please click here.