Just the Rules: Non-Rulebook Rules?!

Tim Just, CLO columnist


The situation: In a tournament hall near you, a tournament director denies a player’s claim, despite the regulation appearing in the US Chess rulebook. 

“Your claim is not upheld because our tournament rules don’t support such claims. Those rules are posted here at the site, and I mentioned those rulebook variations in my announcements at the start of the round. We also published our list of rulebook modifications online, and all our major rulebook differences were in the advanced publicity. When you entered the event, did you check those lists?”

A short and concise reply from the player: “No.” 

“That explains why I am not able to uphold your claim: We are using a variation of the rulebook here. Our language is different from the rulebook.”


Most players are unaware of local rulebook variations until they are impacted personally. 

Entering chess tournaments is a lot like those pop-up screens that bring our computers and smartphone activities to a screeching halt. Continuing blindly on our merry way, too many of us just point and click that “I agree” button, without ever considering the small print.

With your entry fee, you are agreeing to play the royal game in some standard fashion, and US Chess has a rulebook that tells us how to do that. And the first thing in that rulebook – Rule 1B, to be exact—is a section that addresses those rules that do not appear in the rulebook: we call them “non-rulebook rules,” or variations. At any individual tournament, those non-rulebook rules are the standard for that particular event.

But too many of us don’t read the small print.  

Organizers are supposed to let you know what non-rulebook variations they are applying; at the very least, variants need to be posted at the tournament site. Major rulebook variations get announced in the tournament publicity – though what is considered a major variant? One rule-of-thumb suggests that a major variant is any non-rulebook rule that might impact attendance. Examples are disallowing digital clocks, or all electronic-notation devices. Awarding prizes based on players’ highest rating in the last six months might sway some decisions to attend a tournament, as could forbidding draw agreements in the first 20 moves.

Today, all the major – and even minor – rulebook variations are easily posted on a tournament’s web page. A printed copy of that page is often available, posted somewhere at the site. Most organizers and TDs announce the big stuff at the start of the round – though how often does your average woodpusher actually listen?

In the end, every player has the responsibility to make sure that they have investigated those local, non-rulebook rules. Don’t wait until a major variation costs you a win or draw.


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. 

The free, updated US Chess Rules (Chapters 1+2 + 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.”  





At a tournament a couple of years ago, I had a player set his clock to only add the increment starting from move 40 instead of from move 1. His excuse was that he didn't realize my assistant TD making announcements was actually a TD so he paid no attention to the announcements (which were very clear on that point). He had made a very speculative sacrifice and was attempting to run his much lower-rated opponent out of time, After about a half hour of dispute, a crisis was averted when his opponent generously offered a draw.

The highlight of the article has to be this:

"Most organizers and TDs announce the big stuff at the start of the round – though how often does your average woodpusher actually listen?"

Funny because it's true! LOL

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