Just the Rules: More Tournament Hacks

It’s the small stuff that makes up the quality of a good tournament experience. You have some control over that.

Have a look at an earlier “Just the Rules” column where technical rulebook jargon was replaced with everyday language. Common language is easy to understand and remember for players and TDs alike. This month, it’s time for some more hacks with a slightly different bent.

Here we are going to look at how you can increase the odds of having a hassle-free tournament — at least rule-wise. Learn how to avoid tripping over the rules with these pro-active hacks. Some problems are preventative, and hacks like these stop major headaches before they become migraines.


1. Learn to Set Your Clock: Most wood pushers know how to set their own clocks, at least for the tournament time control. Not only do those devices come with instructions, but there are online videos that point owners in the right direction. Running around at the start of a round to get your clock set properly is iffy at best.

TDs don’t know how to set every clock ever manufactured. They might know how the major brands are set, but those new, just-off-the-assembly-line models? Not likely. Setting your own device avoids all the hassles of waiting for the TD.

You could try the book seller instead. But don’t expect the seller to interrupt a sale to help you!

Your fellow chess lovers might be able to help you out, but will they do it right? Will 90 minutes turn into 90 hours when they get the job done?

Are you willing to learn the opening lines of your favorite chess weapon? If you are, then taking a bit of time to learn to set your clock for the event’s time control is even easier. And if you get real ambitious learning to add two minutes of penalty time is a nice touch — in the rare event that happens in your contest.

2. Don’t Bother with Your Clock’s Move Counter: You can’t use the clock move counter to make any claim of any kind — even time forfeit claims. 

3. If You Have Special Needs, Alert the Staff Early: If you have special needs, alert the TD staff (or organizer) well ahead of time. They typically can meet your requirements if they are alerted early. Physical handicaps are one obvious entry into the special needs category. Another typical concern is religious; i.e., some players have restrictions regarding notation and clock pressing. Springing any kind of need on a TD at the last moment may not be met with much success.

4. You Can Ask the TD To Not Pair You with a Relative or Teammate: Do this well ahead of the pairings. There is really no downside to doing this ASAP — like at registration. The worst case is if the TD denies your request, which they are allowed to do. You have lost nothing if that happens. Talking to the TD before the event’s round one pairings are made is ideal. You might find that a TD is willing to allow the non-pairing in the early rounds only. And some will simply just honor your request.

5. Use the Bye Request Sheet: Ideally you should get this info to the TD before the tournament starts — like at registration. But things change. Sometimes you need to take a round off. Please don’t just tell the TD. They might forget. Ask where the bye request list is located and use it.

Do this well before the pairings are made. At some events there may be a time limit for signing up for half-point byes — find out what that time limit is. Some byes may be only worth a zero point after that cut-off time passes. This little gesture, using the bye sign-up sheet, means some other wood pusher will not be sitting there waiting for you to arrive when you get paired but don’t plan to show up.

6. Withdrawing? Sign the Withdrawal List: If you plan to not finish the tournament, find the withdrawal list and fill it out. If you decide to not play after you have left the site, get the withdrawal info to the TD.

In this day and age of electronic communication, notification of withdrawl is probably an easy task. Worst-case, one of your friends might be able to get your withdrawal notice to the TD before the pairings are made. You don’t want to leave someone sitting there waiting for a no-show opponent.

7. Check the Wallchart and the Results Sheet for Errors: Avoid errors. Check the accuracy of wallcharts and results sheets ASAP. Getting mis-paired as the result of an error does no one any good. Waiting for several rounds to report an error just diminishes your chances of getting a satisfactory fix.

8. Check on the Mask Rules: While you are used to the COVID-19 mask regulations in your neck of the woods, they are not the same everywhere. Rules can vary from town to town, county to county, etc. Find out ahead of time about the event’s COVID-19 rules. Then decide if those regulations meet your needs or not — and don’t fight with the organizer about how they runs their tournament.

9. Make Sure the TD Has Your Contact Info: If you want your jingle jangle, the organizer (often the same person as the TD) needs to know where to send your loot. Leaving your contact info allows you to disappear early at the end of the event when you are in contention for some prizes. It also gives the TD some method for contacting you if there are any questions about your game result.

10. Shut Down Your Electronic Equipment Completely: Do you want to avoid being accused of cheating? How about preventing the pain-in-the-neck complaints if your device makes unexpected noises?

Shut down completely ALL of your electronic gizmos. None of them should inadvertently: beep, flash, alert, automatically display messages, or do anything else for any reason. Tuck all of that turned -ff gear away if you are keeping them in the playing room. Or, leave ALL of your electronic equipment someplace safe outside of the playing room.

And for those of you using electronic medical devices — please bring some sort of verification in order the use that equipment. Contacting the TD early is advised.

The free, updated US Chess Rules (Chapters 1+2 + 9 + 10 +11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available online. Past “Just the Rules” columns can be viewed here. Plus listen to Tim when he was a guest on the US Chess podcast “One Move at a Time.”

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.


If there are two time controls and you don't use a move counter, the clock will not know when to add the extra time.

Most clocks allow the time to run out and then the second time control behind it without a move counter. For example, the Chronos, or the Blue DGT clocks. If at that point the second time control isnt there, then the players can call the TD over.

Having move counters on clocks causes players to mis-interpret if they have made the necessary # of moves or not, when they don't need time automatically added. The scoresheet makes the claim here, not the clock itself

If the move counter is off by a move or two then the time control switch will be off also. It is not unusual for player's to press their clocks at odd times for various reasons. That makes the move count wrong. Just having a player press their clock and tell their opponent to move again due to their still being in check after they move is one example of how that happens.

If the move counter is off, the clock will add the extra time when one player or each player (depending on clock model) runs out of time. That way, the players are responsible for determining if the requisite number of moves have been made.

Your "rulebook" does not help people pass the local or club T.D. tests. Answers to the tests are not going to be in there.

It is true the move counter can often be off, but it is up to the players to adjust it when it is wrong. In my experience 90% of the time it works perfectly when set correctly and I would rather have that then have no counter on. I know you can't claim a win based on the move counter if there is a time forfeit, the score sheet has to show the real situation, but in my humble opinion it is best to USE THE MOVE COUNTER during the game. Otherwise you are going to have to stop the clocks and reset them for the second time control, isn't it better to avoid that hassle?

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