Just the Rules: Forfeit Wins

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.

In addition, see Tim’s latest revision of 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.

It happens. There is an empty chair across from you where your opponent should be. Opponents sometimes don’t appear for their scheduled games. You sit there with their clock running and anxiously await their arrival, but they just don’t show up. The rules allow you to claim a forfeit win after an hour—don’t forget your equipment must be set up. You paid your entry fee and expected to play all of your games. You spent time and money on travel, food, and perhaps lodging. Your opponent’s no-show conduct is borderline disrespectful. And, you can put a stop to it for the rest of the tournament by reporting your forfeit win properly.

When your opponent is one hour late, a forfeit win is your fate.

To report a forfeit no-show, win you typically enter the results on the pairings sheet with a “1” followed by big “F” in the space for your score and a “0” followed by a big “F” in the space for your opponent’s score (see Illustration below). That way your opponent will usually not be paired for the next round—and not cause any other player to sit around waiting for a no-show opponent. There are no rating points involved, but you do get one point added to your total tournament score, which counts for cash prizes and for pairings. In a tie for non-cash prizes—typically trophies or titles— that forfeit win often has little or no mathematical value when tie-breaks are calculated.

What if you start your clock and wait for your opponent to arrive, and they appear with seconds left on their clock before that one-hour deadline? They sit down, make their move, and press their clock before their 60 minutes are up. They made it in time. The game continues with you having a huge time advantage.

You may also be tempted to allow your opponent to be more than one hour late for the game while not making a claim with the TD—you are being a good sport. If you opt for this, make sure that your opponent’s clock is running while your own clock is idle, or else you may end up delaying the start of the next round for everyone. If your foe does show up after an hour you still get to essay a rated game with a huge time advantage—remember, if you had claimed a forfeit win at the 60 minute mark your contest would not get rated. The downside is that your adversary may not show up at all. Or, if they do appear at the board past the forfeit time and you let them play, they may still beat you—even if they are way down on time.

When the time control is less than one hour—for example, G/45, delay 5 (each player gets 45 minutes for the entire game with a 5-second delay), check with the TD about how long you need to wait for your opponent to show up before claiming your one point.

Watch out for special situations. Sometimes the TD has publicized, posted, or announced a different policy regarding late opponent arrivals, or you were mistakenly paired against an opponent that requested a bye for that round (it happens?!). TDs typically have ways to deal with those circumstances.

When a tardy opponent shows up at the tournament site but not at your board and their flag falls at the 60 minute mark, stop the clock and get a TD to help you sort out this predicament. The question becomes: Did your opponent really “appear” in time for their game— as per the rulebook wording?

Note: If you win a game via a forfeit no-show, see if the TD can rustle up a rated side game for you.

Unfortunately, there is little anyone can do about those missing last round opponents. You still get your free point, but officially dealing with those last round drop outs has had little success in the past—and, yes, there are rules about this rude behavior but enforcing those rules on an absent player is problematical.

Locally, we had a fellow that continually did not withdraw properly and became a no-show. Since we knew this was a strong possibility when he entered an event, we started requiring a deposit from him before he played even one game. His deposit got returned only if he avoided becoming a no-show.

Next time we will take a peek at what happens when the clock says a player is out of time; i.e., flag falls.


  1. A no show should lose rating points for a forfeit loss. To penalize the player sitting in vain at his assigned board, anticipating a rated game, does not seem fair to him. The one point score award seems insufficient. The loss of rating points seems to be an appropriate penalty,for the no show.

    • The rating is meant to be an indication of playing strength, therefore any adjustments to ratings for a game that isn’t played is undesirable.

      Our club fines players who forfeit with a no-show. They can’t play again until they pay the fine. Of course, this approach is untenable for a last round no-show in a weekend tournament.

      • I agree with Matt and go one step further. The ratings floor should be thrown out for Forfeit Losses because the player should know better. That means a player with an 1800 floor gets a 1799 rating and a new floor of 1700 (or even 1600).

        Appeals should still be considered. There may be extenuating for the Forfeit Loss. But, the burden for showing justification should be on that player, not the TD or the opponent who showed up.

  2. The penalty for an opponent’s illegal move should be more than 2 minutes added to your clock. Also the penalty for a 2nd illegal move in the same game should be strengthened.

  3. Has there ever been discussion about having the forfeited player lose a small amount of rating points? This would help serve as a further deterrent from players not showing up or improperly withdrawing from tournaments.

    • You seem to be assuming that the player wants as high a rating as possible. But sometimes players want the exact opposite, so that they will be able to play in a section with a rating ceiling at their next tournament. So your proposed change could actually encourage no-shows.

  4. My one club brings in 100-125 players every Friday and this is a problem in the penultimate, and last rounds. I have extra rated games sections where these players get another rated game. My viewpoint is to simply give the player a real win who waited and got a no show just like in most sports. It does not really skew the ratings as some claim. I do not practice this but would like to. Consider byes, withdrawals during the tournament, players joining late, etc., all skew the pairings and therefore the ratings as well. It’s really nice to win a 1st Under prize simply because your opponent didn’t show up. I severely penalize forfeiters and the problem has become less of a problem as of late but unfortunately they will always be around. Very nice article.

  5. A player who forfeits by not arriving on time may have not done so deliberately or carelessly. Adding a rating reduction to a the penalty would help sandbaggers who want their ratings lowered. They wouldn’t have to even make an effort to lower their ratings. Some now show up and blatantly resign after very few moves or “forget” to push their clocks repeatedly. The rating system is supposed to reflect current playing strength. Perhaps, punctuality should not be rated.

  6. I think everything in chess has a positive and a negative attached to it unfortunately. I always check to see why a player did not show up 1st to clarify the situation. In my last tournament a player forfeited (which is regular for him to do)and the policy is if you purposely forfeit a game you forfeit your prize as well. That is always posted, the players love it, and it helps prevent cheating. In the beginning of my chess career I had forfeited a game one time not knowing the rules. When I found out my opponent had to sit out the night with nothing to do I never did it again. I like the idea above,that the fine should go to the player who received the forfeit win.

  7. The rules [it’s an old rule] allow an organizer to fine a player up to the cost of the tournament Entry Fee for failure to notify that they are withdrawing from a tournament. This is where you can fine/punish the last round no-show player. However, all that is allowed is that the organizer can ban that player from any future events until the fine is paid. I have never heard of a fine of more than $20 for such an incident. After all most players would just stop playing in specific events rather than pay a $100 or larger fine. There has never been a provision for that fine to go to the player that was stuck waiting for an opponent that never shows.

  8. I’m going to agree with Lonnie on this one because players could abuse the system that way and punctuality should not be rated instead a think a suspension of the players uscf membership should take place Instead

  9. The business about overturning a forfeit and letting late opponent play (with a time disadvantage) seems sketchy. It should not be up to the player to allow his late opponent to play. They forfeited and should not be given a chance to win the game. Otherwise, we are saying he did not forfeit and there is nothing in the records to show that he came late. I have seen this happen.

  10. Thanks Tim for addressing this from the practical side of what to do and how to report it. Here is a link to a post about this situation, and how it FINANCIALLY impacted one of our state’s players at the last US Open in Norfolk. It is frustrating, event in the current issue of Chess Life to read about the tied score between our player and another, who then split money, when the level of their competition, how they acquired their points was not even close to equitable. The Forfeit Win is a frustration, but caused by players simply doing the wrong, rude, thing. And sadly, it seems, most often, the offenders are higher rated players who really should no better, but seem to either not care, or not fully realize how their choice impacts fellow players. Read this post from the Arkansas Chess Association Facebook page for a perspective on this situation: https://www.facebook.com/ArkansasChess/posts/1320509044741314

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