Just the Rules: Mysterious Missing Move Pairs

FLAG! That is the word that moved your opponent’s brain right out of the time scramble zone. He had 90 minutes to make 40 moves (40/90,d5) in the game’s first time control, and your claim is that the general of the black pieces only made 39 moves before his time ran out. You have a scoresheet to prove it—or do you? Your adversary pauses the game timer and challenges your claim. He does not believe that your scoresheet is complete—reasonably complete scoresheets are a must for this claim to be valid (in general single time control games, quick chess, and blitz don’t count here).

“I can prove,” he exclaims to the TD, “that I made enough moves before time ran out. Give me a moment so that I can replace my check marks with accurate notation—I remember all of the missing moves.” The TD immediately points out that once the claim has been made neither player may fill in missing moves or correct any previous notational errors. Those missing or corrected moves need to be scribbled in by both players before the claim is made.

The TD finds your score is accurate up to: 37.Kd5 ___ 38.___ ___ 39.___ ___. Are those five missing moves or three missing move pairs? And does it matter?

The rule allows for no more than a total of three missing or inaccurate move pairs. Move 37 is missing one move for black; thus, creating one missing move and one missing move pair. The two missing individual moves, one for white and one for black, for move 38 count together as only one missing move pair (while 37.Kd5 ___ 38.___ ___ is three missing moves, it is only two missing move pairs)–ditto for move 39. The TD upholds your claim. Missing moves are not always the same as missing move pairs.

Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, studying scoresheets post mortem in the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, Photo Lennart Ootes

A scoresheet missing more than three moves is a scoresheet aiming to lose.

When your opponent runs out of time before making the right number of moves in the allotted time (you know, stuff like 45 moves in 90 minutes with a delay of 5 seconds, or 40/90, d5—sorry, in general single time control games, quick chess and blitz don’t count here)—you may claim a win aided with a complete scoresheet. The scoresheet has to be accurate. It can’t have more than three missing or inaccurate pairs of moves—three missing or inaccurate moves can be something entirely different.

Some slick players like to point out that when a score is off by one move for many moves in a row that all of those one-off notations count as multiple errors. Check this out.

Score 1: 1.e4 e5 2.Be2 g6 3.d4 d6 4.d5 c6 5.c4. …
Score 2: 1.e4 Be2 2.g6 d4 3.d6 d5 4.c6 c4.

Compare the two scores. Score 1 is how the scoresheet should look. Did you notice on Score 2 those bold faced notations? White forgot to write down black’s first move (1…e5) and instead just wrote down their own second move (2.Be2) in that empty space. This repetition went on move after move after move with that same one-off pattern. The rulebook only counts the first one-off notation (Score 2, 1…Be2) as a single error and nothing more. The three moves that follow the initial one-off error (2.g6 d4 3.d6 d5 4.c6 c4) are not considered as three additional errors—or errors of any kind.

And minor notation miscues typically don’t count as errors at all; i.e., when the scoresheet says 1.Nf6 and the move on the board is obviously 1.Nf3 that is a minor notational error. Of course the TD gets to give the thumbs up or down on defining minor scoresheet errors.

Checkmarks on a scoresheet can bear the blame for TDs’ rejecting many a claim.

It is a common practice to use checkmarks in place of notation during time trouble, but it is still not acceptable as notation. Those checkmarks are good for keeping track of the move count, but nothing else—and remember clock move counters don’t count at all and are worthless in making claims. If you have the time left on your clock before your flag falls, you might try fixing your scoresheet before making a claim.

Move on the board then write your score, this avoids the claim that you may find a bore.

The main rule is that you must make your move on the board first, and then notate it on your scoresheet. This rule has a variation that allows wood pushers to first notate their move before making it on the chessboard. This variance never applies to electronic scoresheets. Since this variation is allowed to be unannounced, you should check with the TD to find out if the main rule or the variation applies to the tournament you signed up for.

The concept in the main rule is that when a move is written, erased, written, erased, etc.it is considered note taking—and note taking is against the rules. So the line was drawn in the sand by the law-givers to not even allow the process to start when even one notation was written down before a move was played. The main rule caused a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth; thus, the variation.

Besides the header info, only actual game moves, draw offers and clock times are allowed to be written on a scoresheet.

Are you missing moves on your score? Use your rival’s to get more.

You may fill in your own scoresheet using your opponent’s scoresheet while your clock is running and both of you have at least five minutes left on your clock displays. If your opponent objects, get a TD. 

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. 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.


  1. “The main rule is that you must make your move on the board first, and then notate it on your scoresheet. This rule has a variation that allows wood pushers to first notate their move before making it on the chessboard.”

    i didn’t realise there is a “woodpusher” variant. which is what, precisely?

    • 15A. (Variation I) Paper scoresheet variation.
      The player using a paper scoresheet may first make the move, and then write it on the scoresheet, or vice versa. This variation does not need to be advertised in advance. The scoresheet shall be visible to the arbiter (tournament directors) and the opponent throughout the game.

      • He was marveling at the idea that only “woodpushers” would use the variant — not the variant or its existence.

        • Writing down the move first was practiced by many top grandmasters (even young Fischer, who later objected to the practice). It was recommended by Kotov in Think Like a Grandmaster. The new FIDE rule banning write-first is relatively recent.

          I agree that forcing its implementation in US play seems too harsh.

  2. Does the last paragraph mean that I can’t use my opponent’s scoresheet to fix my scoresheet on my time if I have less than 5 minutes left?

    • Here is the complete rule (check out 15D1):

      15D. Use of opponent’s scoresheet for assistance.
      A player who has an incomplete scoresheet (13C7) and wishes to consult the opponent’s scoresheet for assistance may ask to borrow it from the opponent under the following conditions:
      15D1. Clock times.
      Both players have at least five minutes remaining in the current time control.
      15D2. Borrower’s clock runs.
      The clock of the player making such a request is running and shall continue to run until the scoresheet has been returned.
      15D3. Compliance.
      The opponent is urged to comply with such a request, but this is not mandatory. If the opponent denies the request, the player may stop both clocks and see a director. A director who agrees that the request is appropriate shall instruct the opponent to lend the player the scoresheet. The opponent may not refuse as all scoresheets belong to the organizers. See also 15G, Ownership of scoresheets.
      15D4. Excessive requests.
      Repeated requests of this type may be deemed by the director to be inappropriate, and the offender may be penalized under 20G, Annoying behavior prohibited.

  3. The column leaves out some things — including the idea that once the flag falls, it is generally a no-no to update your score. At least it is a no-no to update your score to make a claim — by all means, update your score on general grounds or to be ready for next time control.

    The principle is that the condition of your scoresheet …at the time the flag falls…is pretty much locked in stone. Writing move pairs in after flag fall will only jeopardize your claim — don’t do it.

    And I did not see mention of the tactic that opponents can use to pre-empt the practice of players trying to write in missing move pairs after flag fall…which is to call your own flag. If you know that your opponent has stopped keeping score at move 30…and thus has 10 missing move pairs…then you call your own flag at flag fall. The other player cannot write in the missing moves (it would jeopardize or void their claim) — so the game goes to next time control.

    This tactic has been used many times in the past to pre-empt players who try to write in missing move pairs before making a claim. I witnessed at least one live example of this tactic in action. I trust it is still part of our rulebook — though of course this only applies to USCF games and not FIDE games.

  4. The “call your own flag” rule is still in the rulebook but generally only works if there is more than one time control; i.e., those single Sudden Death time controls don’t depend on notation, but the clock.

  5. This is very interesting. I find it extremely surprising that a player with 3 missing move pairs is still able to claim a win on time. I assume they would be required to perfectly demonstrate the moves leading to move 40? How would the TD know that these were in fact the moves that were played? There must be something I’m not considering, because it seems crazy to me that a player can claim a win on time without a 100% complete scoresheet.

  6. I know some people are going to disagree with me be that as it may. I do not allow any missing move pairs for time forfeit claims. All players are advised verbally and it’s also posted before every round for players to keep their scoresheets up to date. Brand new and young inexperienced players take time to learn so that’s not an issue. Allowing 3 missing move pairs though is sloppy and unprofessional chess in my opinion. Rarely do I have problems any longer with scoresheets not being correctly notated.
    Last Friday night white claimed a time forfeit win as black did not complete his 40th move before flag fall. Going by white’s scoresheet white was correct. Replaying the game over it was white who did not properly notate his scoresheet forgetting to write down one of black’s earlier moves. I like Matan’s attitude and questions.

    • A number of years ago I published a weekly club newsletter for our one-game-per week club championship. I quickly discovered that most of the games I collected were not 100% accurate (notation wise). That is a tough standard to meet.

  7. I have never expected perfection as that is impossible. Pushing the envelope though helps the players to sharpen their skills and do better in other areas as well. I’d say my incorrect time forfeit claims are way down.

  8. Thanks for the follow up. What is the minimum level at whIch you think a complete score sheet, with absolutely no missing moves, is a reasonable expectation? Now that we have increment and delay, I have a hard time imagining a master producing a mess of a scoresheet and expecting it to justify a claim of a win on time. Same thing for anyone over 2000. Maybe there should be different expectations in different sections?

  9. I have kids at 7 years of age that write their moves clearly and concisely. I also agree that with delay or increment poor notated scoresheets are mostly due to laziness. TD’s or coaches need to prioritize proper notation immediately when teaching chess or starting a club. I had a grandmaster who wrote his moves so sloppy that all the notation looked like coiled springs. I refused his claim on the spot as that claim was based on a 3 fold repetition of position and I could not read a single move pair.

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