Just the Rules: Is There A Lesson Here?

Tim Just, Chief Editor of the 5th, 6th, and brand new 7th edition of the rule book.
And what lessons can we learn from these real-life tales? Note: some details were changed to protect the guilty. Oops?! It was the two fingered top of the piece grip. He had performed this maneuver for decades. The bishop’s cap was squeezed between his thumb and forefinger. The player aimed his cleric for the other side of the board along the h1-a8 diagonal. The target—his opponent’s rook on a8. But fate, and slippery fingers, are funny things. The bishop wiggled out from his grip, and landed on d5—a legal square for the bishop to occupy. Not the dark squares e5 or d4, but a light-colored square on the bishop’s diagonal path. At the same instant that the bishop slipped from his grip, the wood pushers around him heard the proverbial, “Oops.” He grabbed the errant piece at almost the same moment that it touched d5. In fact, it was a close call determining if the piece even occupied that square. The bishop immediately continued his journey to capture the rook on a8. His opponent insisted that the bishop remain on d5. On d5 he could capture it and save his rook. Some TDs would rule that the bishop legally occupied d5 and must remain there. Other TDs would not—it is a roll of the dice. The lesson here: Slippery fingers sink games. Be Careful—Be Very Careful. He was completely disgusted by the TD’s ruling. He mumbled, “With a ruling like that I might as well resign.” Then it hit him. You know the moment. It’s that instant when an idea burns bright. He decided to appeal the decision of the floor TD. His appeal ran up the authority staircase, but was denied each step of the way. Why? He had resigned the game before he appealed. The lesson here: Timing is everything. Reward Gained; Reward Lost. The TD ruled in his favor. He was going to get an extra two minutes of playing time. He had a brand-new clock. It was the latest greatest newest model in the chess timer market. This clock had seen its fair share of practice settings at home before the event even began. The instructions, of course, were homebound. It was also a clock that no one knew how to adjust. Setting a new clock was one thing, adjusting it was something entirely different. The wood pusher did not get his two minutes. The lesson here: Clock instructions—don’t leave home without them. Get Real? Only the players and the tournament staff were lodged in the scholastic playing hall. It was a huge area—at least the size of a football field. There was a stage at one end of the tournament room where the top boards were battling it out. A board at about the half way point—between the entrance at one end and the stage at the other end—had a problem. One of the chess warriors was  unable to take notation. The TD found a volunteer in the hallway to fill that role, a chess parent. After some time, the father of one of the players on stage lodged a complaint. The parent taking notation in the middle of the room was cheating. He and his son on stage—a good 50 yards away--were signaling back and forth. That note taking volunteer’s son was the opponent of the dad filing the complaint. The complaint was denied. The TD could barely see the players on stage, let alone any of their gestures. The lesson here: No good deed goes unpunished. Arrested Development. The last round started. Championships were at stake. Prize money was at stake. Personal glory was at stake. It was a multi round and multi day Super Swiss at a luxurious hotel playing venue. The time controls guaranteed that each game could last for many hours. Then it happened. The police arrived. They came into the playing area and removed one of the players. He was ousted from the hotel. The player had been drinking adult beverages at the hotel bar. He had also become outraged that he was cut-off from purchasing any more alcohol. He expressed his frustration in a very rude, loud and threatening manner. The hotel called the police. After the player was removed from the hotel property his opponent wondered if they were now required to wait for the missing player’s flag to fall—after all moves were already made, the clock was running and his opponent was not late—just missing. Was his adversary coming back? The lonely opponent was instantly awarded the game point and sent on his way home—no waiting necessary. The lesson here: Sometimes common sense outweighs the rulebook. The free, updated as of 1-1-20, US Chess Rules (Chapters 1+2+11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available on-line. Past “Just the Rules” columns can be viewed here. 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.


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oops?? Isn't the correct target of the rook on a8 and not h8?

In reply to by David A. Cole (not verified)

It sure is, corrected, thanks!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Example 1 with the fumbled piece and "oops" moment is misleading...any sequence that does not show deliberate intent is not a good or sporting claim. Opponents can tell a piece drop from a deliberate moving motion. I do agree some opponents would claim...and some TDs would enforce...but that says more about them than the rules. Any teaching example should stress the right ruling -- and that touch move and completed moves need to be deliberate. Everyone loves the example of the player who has a seizure at the board, tosses a piece in the air and it lands on a legal square. Oh, but what if it lands and delivers checkmate? Get real...emphasize the outcome with good sportsmanship.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Rule 1A allows for director discretion "in situations not explicitly covered" by other rules. Rule 9A covers this exact situation. The ruling given for Example 1 is therefore exactly right. The lesson here: if you don't like enforcing the rules, don't be a TD.

In reply to by Bob (not verified)

10G is the guiding rule and yes a deliberately touched piece accidentally dropped on a legal square must remain there. But it is my sincere hope that 99 percent of players would recognize the situation for what it is....and would never make such a claim. I am proud to say I have seen players resign on the spot rather than have their opponent penalized in such a way.

In reply to by Chesspride (not verified)

There's a reason 9A doesn't allow exceptions. Every player is solely responsible for what they do on the board, including moving their pieces. There's an equally obvious reason 10G was composed after 9A. There is no reason to permit a gray area that would allow an unscrupulous sort to wiggle off the hook for his blun...uh..."accidentally dropped" piece. Anyone who's ever been to a major tournament has likely either seen or played against someone who has tried similar shenanigans using other, less clearly defined rules. Yes, that does mean the player in Example 1 has to live with his honest accident. But no one compelled him to put the piece on that square. It's no one's fault but his own. I'm proud to say I have seen players - even children - commit these errors, and refuse the opponent's offer of a takeback. They honored the rules and owned their mistakes, instead of complaining about an "unsportsmanlike" opponent who did no actual wrong.

In reply to by Chesspride (not verified)

Not to beat a dead horse, but the example does not give a ruling...it gives a warning about possible rulings. Plus...the "oops" in the example comes before the piece lands...if it lands at all. I would hope that someone making their move, dropping the piece, saying "oops" before it lands (possibly sideways(!) ) on the board would get a benevolent TD. This is different--perhaps on author's purpose--than someone blundering by directly releasing a piece on a bad square. Even the usual finger fehler does not involve a piece in midair. But yes... 10G supports letting it stay where it lands. We can now expect examples where someone sneezed so violently they dropped their piece in transit and their canny opponent called touch sneeze.

In reply to by Chesspride (not verified)

Mea culpa 10G it is.

In reply to by Chesspride (not verified)

In the age of COVID-19 a sneeze at the board presents a whole different problem! :)

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As far as the arrested player goes, the player left the property without receiving permission from the TD. That gives him at most 15 minutes before the opponent can request that the game be adjudicated in an emergency (adjudication is based on best play so that particular request should only be made if the arrested player had a losing position). Declaring the game lost otherwise would be based on the unethical actions that would have caused the opponent to simply sit there waiting for a flag. If you declare a loss, only use the emergency adjudication when that can be justified and use lack of ethics in abandonment otherwise.

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