Just The Rules: How Does That Happen?

An Unrated Wins the Upset Prize

Chess rules simply can’t be written to cover every possibility, especially for unintended results. Sometimes lengthy, wordy fixes take care of the problem. Often those fixes — by the powers that be — create their own unintended outcomes. Often it is just better to let individual organizers and TDs deal with those outcomes in their own way.

Here is one such scenario, explained in three simple steps. First, the tournament offers an upset prize. Then, the tournament assigns a rating of (0) to unrated players. Finally, an unrated player wins the upset prize ahead of “more deserving” upsets. Now, let’s explain how each step happens, and then discuss potential solutions.


First: The tournament offers an Upset Prize

Upset prizes are easy to calculate, as it is simple arithmetic. The ratings of the two wood-pushers in the contest are subtracted from each other. If the lower rated player wins the game, their score is that point difference. If the game is a draw, their score is half of that point difference. At the end of the tournament, the lower-rated player with the largest score takes home the Upset Prize gold. That math seems pretty simple, until the “unrated question” comes up. What numerical rating should be assigned to an unrated player when doing the math?


Second: A rating of zero (0) gets assigned to an unrated player when calculating the Upset Prize

Most unrated players are beginners playing in their first rated tournament. But some “unrateds” are actually very skilled and experienced. Remember that the “unrated” moniker is not typically replaced with a provisional rating until after their first event. Using a zero for unrateds in making the Upset Prize evaluations gives them a huge advantage over established and provisionally rated wood-pushers competing for the same prize.

For example, an unrated is assigned a zero when doing the arithmetic for this award. That zero does not get used for pairings or other prizes. Their opponent is rated 700. They beat their opponent. The unrated’s score towards this prize is 700. That is a big advantage overrated wood-pushers trying to claim the upset reward. A 1400 that beats a 1992 only collects 592 points?!


Third: The unrated player wins the upset prize with their 700-point score

The rulebook does not specifically address this calculation concern. Organizers and TDs alike each have their own brand of solutions. In my experience there are two common ways to deal with this Upset Prize quirk:

(1) Pre-event publicity, like: “Upset Prize for rated players only.”

(2) Don’t offer this prize at all.

If players are concerned about those calculations, ask before entering.


News: 2023 rules are now online

There are not enough changes to our rulebook to justify an updated print, or e-book, version for 2023. It is simple economics: the cost of production would far outweigh the income from sales.

If you already have a print copy of the seventh edition, a list of changes for 2023 can be downloaded here. Print it out, fold it in half, top-to-bottom, and place it in your rulebook. A free updated online seventh edition for 2023 is available by using the link below.

On another note, I made an adjustment to 28D1 that was so minor it was not mentioned in the change document online: "Changes are likely in the future and will be announced in US Chess rating supplements by US Chess." Now-a-days our supplements are simply ratings lists, not information vehicles as per the old days. And yes, years ago the Delegates gave the editor the ability to make small editorial changes like this without first running it by them.

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.