Just The Rules: No Claim, No Fame

Your opponent’s flag is about to fall in a US Chess sudden death time control. The TD comes over to the contest to observe. They see that your opponent has run out of time—their flag is down, but the TD says nothing and does nothing. You look up at them with a quizzical expression, and still there is no response from the TD. To get the TD to act, you must point out the flag fall and say something—like “Flag” or “Flag Fall” or “Time.” You and your opponent are locked in a position where your king gets checked over, and over, and over. The TD is watching this little dance contest; yet, says nothing. Why? There was no claim by a player. Note: the TD can declare a draw without a claim if the same position appears five times in a row. Your opponent touches their queen but moves their knight instead. They do this right in front of the TD; yet, the TD does nothing?! But if you make a claim, what do you think the TD will do? Rarely will a TD intervene in your game without an invitation by you or your opponent to do so. TDs rarely rule on a claim that you don’t make, even if they observe a violation of US Chess rules (FIDE rules are a bit different and there are some rare exceptions in US Chess.) So if you want to claim a flag fall, draw, illegal move, touched piece, etc., then you have to make that request—verbally. One notable time a claim does not need to be verbalized is when 75 moves have been made with no pawn move plus no piece has been captured—then the TD can simply declare the game drawn. If a TD sees an illegal move early in the game—the US Chess rules have some wiggle room here—a TD may, unannounced, step in and correct the miscue (even though US Chess advises against it). They positively cannot do a thing about an illegal move in the last five minutes of a time control unless you or your opponent makes an illegal move claim--aloud. Coaches, friends, relatives, spectators, teachers, and all others cannot make any claim in the game you are playing. Having someone summon a TD for you is not the same as making a claim. When the TD does show up, you have to state your claim yourself.

House players may get a free game by telling the TD their name.

If you can only play one round of a tournament, ask the TD if you can be paired as a house player. A house player offers the TD a way to find a game for a player who would otherwise receive a bye (because there are an odd number of contestants in the section). Since there are several good ways that a house player can be used in this situation, check with the TD to find out which method they prefer—and you get to play a rated game for free!

Equipment is not provided as a rule, so bring your own and be cool.

Most tournaments don’t provide sets, boards, clocks, or any kind of chess equipment. So to be safe, bring your own gear. If the equipment is provided by the organizer or TD, then you should expect to use their stuff. You can then use your standard set, board, and clock in the analysis (skittles) area. A FREE on-line downloadable version of the rules, chapters 1+2+11 only, digested from the upcoming 7th edition rulebook are available 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)

Ah yes I had this exact situation happen last Friday. Two players came to me to make a claim so I went to their board. I observe the player with the white pieces is going to get obliterated as his position is as bad as can be (queen vs knight). The clocks are saying both players are in the 2nd time control. The scoresheets do not agree as both eventually stopped notating. White stated he stopped notating when black was under 5 minutes, white did not stop notating until many moves later. The claim by black was that white stopped notating. I cleared that up and restarted the game. The problem was black did flag on move 34. White never made a claim of flag fall. After the game white claimed a win by forfeit. Too late and besides his scoresheet at the time that he should have claimed a time-forfeit win was missing more than 7 move pairs. The worst part was when the parents called me after midnight 5 times to complain about the loss of their son. I told them parents have no right to make any claim on behalf of their child (13 years old and a seasoned player) especially since the game ended 3 hours previously and they are at home trying to get me to change my ruling. What ruling??? There was no claim, ergo the game was lost by white.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This has never made sense to me. Once again the FIDE rules are better. If an official sees a violation, it gets called right away. Just like in every other sport. I contend that US chess is actually a chess *variant*. There can be different resuts with the exact same sequence of events depending on whether you use US or FIDE rules. Not good.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Some FIDE rules are definitely way better in my opinion as well. The TD or Arbiter ruling on everything all the time though takes away too much responsibility from the players to learn how to properly play chess and not just moving pieces on the board. If there are not enough TD's available the players must know how to make claims properly. I consistently post and teach the rules at every tournament so the players will learn. The more independence from the TD in a chess game the better.

In reply to by Scott Hunt (not verified)

In what other sport/game is it the player's *responsibility* to call infractions on an opponent? None that I can think of. If a TD/arbiter spots an infraction of the rules, it should be called, immediately! This reliance on the players to make rulings on their opponents is just crazy to me. Yes, chess games should be decided by chess moves, but in tournament play the players have to follow the rules; if they don't they should be penalized appropriately.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I also think that this approach to the rules encourages dirty tricks in US rated chess. Players are emboldened to try illegal stuff hoping that the opponent won't see it, or claim it properly, knowing full well that the TD standing right next to them *can't* call them on it. That's really bad in my view.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The thing is in most other sports or games there is total coverage by a sufficient number of Directors, asisstants, and video. My premise for teaching the rules is so the players will not be disadvantaged when these "dirty tricks" are tried on the opponent when there is not sufficient TD coverage. It does make a huge difference. Most FIDE tournaments have great all around coverage and still infractions are a constant problem. I am all for the TD calling all infractions in the USCF tournaments that are higher end events with large prize funds and titles, not at the club level where there are a lot of beginners who need constant help in learning how to play. We don't want them quitting chess because a TD is overbearing.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember one event where I was watching a pair of second graders in a game with King versus King & Rook. The Rook kept chasing the other King around. As this was painful for me to watch I walked away from the game. A few minutes later I back in that direction and the two players are in from of me an event TD. They ask "Can we quit now?" My response was that at any time two players can agree to a draw. 5 minutes later the board was reset and they had left.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I like the US Chess rules because they encourage individual responsibility. Now that the bulk of them are online for free, players have little to no excuse for not knowing them.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Unless you have a TD for every board, I think it is better if the responsibility is on the players. Otherwise, I think there is too much of a risk of people claiming TDs are only watching certain people or picking who they are scrutinizing even though it is unlikely to be true. I do think TDs should be able to jump in on scholastic (or other) games where someone is repeatedly making illegal moves and it is likely that they don't fully know how to play or they are obviously cheating.

In reply to by Molly Coy (not verified)

I disagree with this argument. If an event is staffed somewhat reasonably there should be a TD available for the relatively small number of games that get into time trouble. Besides, there are many FIDE rated events, which must use FIDE rules remember, both in the US and abroad that are large swisses and don't have an arbiter for every board. This argument always comes up, but it is a false one in my view.

In reply to by Matt Phelps (not verified)

Of course, with FIDE rules as well as US Chess rules, a player can make a claim if there is no arbiter/TD watching. So FIDE rules do *not* require more staffing than US rules.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I directed a quick tournament where a master and an expert playing on the delay repeated positions for at least twenty moves. The master was up a couple pawns, but had no way to break through. The expert kept looking at me quizzically, but I didn’t feel that I could stop the game until he made a claim. Finally he said, “Is draw. No?” I decided that was good enough and called the draw. The master had no objection.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I disagree with any TD drawing a game as above unless it's a stalemate which immediately ends the game in any case. A player especially a high level player who "asks" if it's a draw is soliciting advice from the TD. The reason for delay is for this very reason. If it is a draw then the player should be able to hold the draw continually with the delay without TD interference. If I'm asked by a player as I have in the past "is this a draw?" I notify the opponent that the player just offered him/her a draw by asking the TD if it is indeed a draw. With new players playing new or relatively new players I'm much more careful so they do understand the rules.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"Rarely will a TD intervene in your game without an invitation by you or your opponent to do so. TDs rarely rule on a claim that you don’t make, even if they observe a violation of US Chess rules (FIDE rules are a bit different and there are some rare exceptions in US Chess.) ... If a TD sees an illegal move early in the game—the US Chess rules have some wiggle room here—a TD may, unannounced, step in and correct the miscue (even though US Chess advises against it)." Tim, Can you explain these sentences? They seem to directly conflict Rule 11H: "11H. Director corrects illegal move outside of time pressure. Except in a time pressure situation (11D1), a director who witnesses an illegal move being made ***shall*** require the player to replace that move with a legal one in accordance with 10B, Touch-move rule." (emphasis added) If there's an illegal (a) witnessed by the director and (b) outside of time pressure, the TD has no discretion and shall require a correction. ...so why "may"?

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