Just the Rules: Remember When ...

Tim Just, CLO columnist


The Queens Gambit on Netflix has done a lot for promoting our beloved royal sport, and has also triggered a flood of nostalgia. You know the feeling: the emotion that grabs those filtered memories from a time in the past—a place different from the here and now. Do you remember when ..  

Analogue clocks were the gold standard? Now they appear to be going the way of the dodo bird. Almost any digital clock seems to be “more-preferred” for tournament wood pushing. Interestingly, many of our modern rules still refer to a “flag fall,” which is a term rooted in the way those old-style analogue clocks indicated a player’s playing time was up: a flag literally fell.   

Descriptive notation was the standard? Algebraic notation is easier to teach, easier to use, more accurate, and less confusing. Once chess games started being published in algebraic it was the beginning of the end.  

Long time controls of 40 moves in 2 hours, with 20 moves per hour after that—ad infinitum? Those time controls challenged the intestinal fortitude of both players and TDs. They were the main reason for the next item on the list. 

Adjournments were commonplace? Adjournments were common for those long time controls. Among other things they insured everyone got some sleep and some nourishment. Plus, they helped the next round start on time. Adjournments provided extra time for teams of analysts to come up with some sound strategy for posting a win when the woodpushing resumed. As time controls decreased, and the abilities of chess-playing software increased, adjournments became almost extinct. Realistically, in regards to overnight evaluation, the software replaced the team approach: suddenly class players could get GM-quality insight into a position without needing the actual GM. Nowadays, an adjournment’s only function seems to be getting the next round started on time—typically when a time increment allows a game to drag on and on.  

Tournament halls were cloud-filled dens of smoke? Local, state, and federal legislation did away with smoke-filled rooms in public for all kinds for various health reasons.  

Tournaments were one Open section only? The standard used to be one huge “open” section where every player of any rating participated -- sections were unheard of. You played in the Open, or you didn’t play at all. There were prizes for the various classes of woodpusher, though class players did not necessarily get paired against each other. Everyone was liable to be paired with anyone of any rating.  

There were no side events? You showed up, played, and then analyzed in the skittles room. Sometimes you had to wait hours and hours for your next contest to be posted.  

Wallcharts and pairing sheets were scribbled by hand? Often it was difficult to decipher them. NTD and IA Todd Barre used to color code players’ names on his pristine wallcharts by hand. That way, late entrants added at the end of a wallchart, whom also qualified for class prizes, were easily identified. Tournament management software has made handwritten wallcharts and pairings sheets almost obsolete—and much more readable.  

Rating supplements were published on paper every three months?  Along the way, the official paper supplement gave way to the now-standard digital supplements of official monthly ratings. A nice side effect of the digital age is the ability to look up our new ratings online (MSA) as soon as our event has finished. Those ratings are often unofficial but give us immediate feedback on our tournament performance. 

Chess Life and Review could be found on the newsstand? Somewhere along the way the cost outweighed the benefits, and our house magazine disappeared from the public view on newsstands. 

Your dues were $20 or less? The US Chess Forums suggest that some old-timers usually paid less than $15 for their first-time membership. The most-common starting payment was $10. Also popular for chess enthusiasts was doubling their future payments for ten years—a Sustaining Membership that converted into a Life Membership.  

The rulebook was less than 200 pages long? The 1st edition from Kenneth Harkness came in at 121 pages. Martin Morrison’s second edition tipped the scales at 122 pages. The 196-page 3rd edition, from Tim Redman, put a bit more heft into our rules. The 1994 publication, edited by Bill Goichberg, Carol Jarecki and Ira Lee Riddle, added chapters to make the 4th edition seem like a handbook. Their 370-page version became the standard length for the 5th (Just & Burg) and 6th (Just) editions. The 7th edition (Tim Just again) changed its book size to a 6” X 9” format—transforming those same revised 370 pages into 296 pages.  

Do you have anything to add to this list of nostalgia?  


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. 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 column “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.” 


Sudden death time controls don't work well with clocks without delay/increment. No one wants to see someone lose a (serious) game because he can't mate in time with a queen and there is a stray pawn somewhere. (It's all part of the fun in blitz.)

It's fortunate that the technology to drastically reduce adjournments came at about the same time as the technology to play like a super GM after the adjournment became possible.

Your article includes a lot of interesting nostalgia and early history. I have one small correction regarding edition numbers. Edition 1 (121 pages) was Morrison, not Harkness. Edition 2 (122 pages) was also Morrison, as you correctly stated. Before editions 1 and 2 there was Kenneth Harkness' Official Chess Handbook (304 pages). This opus included a lot of explanatory material between the rules -- rather like today's TD Tips -- and a chapter on ratings. One of my first reactions (in the Illinois Chess Bulletin) to the Morrison editions was that, although the rules may have been updated nicely, we had now lost the beautiful clarity of the Harkness style. By now, the tradition of thicker rulebooks has returned so that we no longer have the bare-bones Morrison approach.

It is not nostalgia, but I remember when a pre-teen at a tournament was remarkably rare and when scholastic tournaments anticipating a majority of the players not yet old enough for high school were seen as not being financially viable to run.

When I became a Life Member, it was a flat fee. The choices were an annual fee or the Life option. I don't remember a Sustaining option showing up until several years later. But all the rest -- ah, memories!

I remember when ratings were published in Chess Life; and also when the U.S. Open crosstable was published in Chess Life. I remember when a weekend tournament consisted of three 50/2 games on Saturday and two on Sunday; and I remember that I liked it that way, because I was young and didn't get tired, and wanted total immersion in chess. I remember adjournments, yes, but I also remember adjudications. Yes, I remember the cloud-filled dens of smoke. When I was a teenager, I would come home from the chess club smelling like an ash tray; it was a family joke!

I remember when the participants in the U.S. Championship weren't all GMs. I remember when the participants in the U.S. Junior weren't all titled. I remember when the participants in the U.S. Women's weren't all masters. I can't always comprehend just how different it was when I started out in chess.

I remember when ratings were published in Chess Life also. I even have some copies hanging around here. The 1985 cumulative ratings list did away with the need to keep those old Chess Life lists; however, there are times those old lists still come in handy...the 1985 edition had a few miscues.

Rating supplements were published 6 times a year.

It was far easier to track rule changes...
player suspensions.... and get policy news to organizers

I may have been the first one to use the initials AN and DN for notation in a Letter to the Editor in the April, 1968 issue of Chess Life. Having just read a German opening book, I was sold on it when a survey came out in late 1967 that asked about notation preferences.

Remember well the sounds of the tournament hall and the sounds of TICK TICK TICK TICK ticka ticka ticka ticak TICK TICk .. etc. as clocks went in out of phase.

I had to run a round robin for a team selection tournament and the RR tables in the back of the Blue Book (& Harkness?) would start for a ten player tournament with 1-5 having White against 10-6 respectively but player 1 started with two Whites (playing 2 in the 2nd round) while 6 would have a second Black against 10. The cure was worse than the disease as the new tables were far harder to understand.


Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Plain Text Comments


Share Your Feedback

We recently completed a website update. If you notice a formatting error on this page, please click here.