Just the Rules: What Rule Would You Change?

Tim Just, Chief Editor of the 5th, 6th, and new 7th edition of the rule book.

In this month’s, “Just The Rules” column, I asked organizers, TDs and fans of this column which rule they would change if they could. Please add your own in the comments!

Matt Phelps: All US Chess rules should be replaced with: “See the FIDE Laws of Chess.”

TJ Comments: Actually David Kuhns—former long-time Rules Committee chair—did create a document based on US Chess rules from chapters 1 and 2 in the 6th edition of the rulebook mixed in with the FIDE Laws of Chess.

JJ Lang: I understand why the rule is that neither side has to take notation when either side is under five minutes. I wish the rule was that you can only stop taking notation when “you” are under five minutes. That way if you’re low on time but your opponent isn’t, you can still get the moves from them after the game.

Sam Copeland: Stalemate should be a win.

TJ Comments: There are those that would ask why the player with the better position should be rewarded with a win for not being able to checkmate their opponent.

Jarrod Tavares: Touch Move should always have to be called by the opponent. You should be allowed to touch your opponent’s pieces all you like if he isn’t seated at the board.

TJ Comments: Unless there is a capture involved I don’t understand why would you need to touch your opponent’s pieces at all? By the way, your idea needs a bit of wording work to avoid complications with the “Coffeehouse Rules Benders Association;” i.e., if my opponent stands up at the board, could I then touch his chess pieces? We all know what you mean, but be careful with that wording.

Greg Maness: I have a question, not a rules change. Has the mis-print in Rule 14F (The 50-Move Rule) been corrected? For those who do not know what I am talking about, Rule 14F1 states “The game is drawn when the player on (the) move claims a draw and demonstrates that the last 50 consecutive moves have been made by each side without any capture OR(!!) pawn move.” Meanwhile, the FIDE law states: “9.3 The game is drawn, upon a correct claim by a player having the move, if: 9.3.2 the last 50 moves by each player have been completed without the movement of any pawn AND(!!) without any capture.

TJ Comments: Yep the US Chess rules and the FIDE Laws are different sometimes. Nope that alleged misprint in the US Chess Rules has not been addressed yet by the Delegates.

Enrique Huerta: I would like the removal of the half-point bye requests.

Mark A Reyes: Parents and coaches should be out of the tournament room(s) at all times, even if it is a non-rated section of a rated event.

TJ Comments: I believe that at this year’s US Chess National Scholastics that rule will apply.

Adam Saul Rubinberg: I’d allow a TD to call a game a draw if the same position happens five times on the board, regardless of how it reached that position each time.

TJ Comments: Currently the TD can call a draw if the same position repeats five times in a row. Maybe the Delegates will consider your idea at their next meeting.

Scott Hunt: Get rid of Rules 14B2 Draw Offer With Opponent On Move, and 14B3 Draw Offer Before Moving and combining them as FIDE does. Rule 14B1 should simply state “Players must offer a draw by first determining a move, offer the draw, then press the clock completing the move. Draw offers offered in any other manner will result in either a warning or time penalty…” The TDCC and Rules Committee agreed with me that the wording of this US Chess rule is badly written, but they sadly did nothing to correct it.

TJ Comments: Once again US Chess and FIDE disagree on the wording of a rule(s). By the way, the TDCC and Rules committees can only suggest to the Delegates new wording for rules—perhaps if you remind those committees about your suggested new wording for this rule? Or get your Delegate to make a motion to change the wording of 14B1.

Aakaash Meduri: Give a time penalty if an illegal move is made but don’t force someone to move a piece just because it was touched.

TJ Comments: Not requiring a touched piece to be moved, if it is legally possible, would be the star dish at the “Coffeehouse Rules Benders Association” annual banquet. IMHO, allowing any wiggle room to the “touch move” rule is opening up the door for a lot of phony arguments.

Terry Winchester: That Variation 14H—Claim of insufficient losing chances in sudden death—is still applicable regardless of the clock being a delay or non-delay timer.

From what I’ve gathered so far, it appears that the Delegates did not approve the 5th edition change to 41C from that of the 4th edition (“One convenient test is that the square formed by the bases of four pawns should be about the same size as any square on their board.”), and consequently, the new 41C has been added to the 6th edition as well—editor’s note: and to the 7th edition. I would like to see that rule revert back to what it was in the 4th edition. I really don’t know how the rules can be changed willy-nilly like that without Delegate approval. It has been my understanding that they are the ones who approve such things. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

TJ Comments: The Delegates approved an enormous amount of rules changes from the 4th edition to the 5th edition in mass, not individually—the editors and a rulebook committee made countless needed changes and updates. In between editions the Delegates typically do consider the rules one at a time. Any wording changes to 41C have not been considered since the publication of the 5th edition. While there are some hoops to jump through, individual US Chess members do have some options to get rules changed. Perhaps I will address that down the road in another column.

Lawrence Cohen: Add a rule to penalize a player $30 for withdrawing from a tournament without notification. $20 of that fine goes to the organizer and $10 to US Chess. There should be a 6 month ban from rated play until the fine is paid. The player should be able to appeal such a fine. There will be cases where being called away for an emergency and not being able to come back or call back to the TD can occur This act (withdrawal without notification) usually effects another player, and is a constant problem that TDs have to deal with. Currently US Chess allows an organizer to fine an individual up to the cost of the tournament entry fee for doing this, but that only affects that organizer’s events. And until the player pays the fine issued by the organizer; the individual can only be banned from that organizer’s events.

Hal Bogner: At the amateur level, and certainly at the scholastic level, allow writing down your move before playing it on the board. It adds some self-discipline for the impulsive, and helps reduce one-move blunders by bringing the player back to the “here and now” of the position on the board before playing the intended move.

TJ Comments: You’re in luck. Check out rule Rule 15A (Variation I) that allows writing the move first—and organizers can also announce that the variation is going to be used at their events.

Erik Czerwin: Prize distribution: I’m super familiar with everything else, but properly distributing cash prizes is daunting. So much that it prevents me from wading into cash tournaments without mentors

TJ Comments: Both SwisSys and WinTD (tournament management and pairings software) have procedures to split up cash prizes. And having a mentor is a great idea. Sometime in the next year I plan a column or two that will step into the big muddy of prize fund distributions—both the math and terminology.

The US Chess Rules (Chapters 1-2-11 from the 7th rulebook edition) are now downloadable and available online.

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.


    • Plus if someone has been at their rating floor (or close to it) for ten years, the USCF should lower their floor another 100 points. This makes people quit chess if they cannot win a class prize.

  1. how about banning for 1 year people who refuse to show their phone to the TD after they are caught in the bathroom or other area of the tournament looking at their phone while their game is in progress? right now there is no penalty except forfeiting their current game at the discretion of the TD. but no one knows their names and there is no further punishment. This is happening more and more at tournaments but nothing is really being done to prevent these thieves from playing at future tournaments. as chess players i hope we can all agree on this.

  2. Regarding the 50 move rule, without (A OR B) is logically equivalent to (without A AND without B), so the fact that one uses an OR construct and one an AND construct really doesn’t matter. That being said, expanding it out a la mode FIDE probably is clearer.

  3. Matt Phelps suggestion that FIDE rules should be universally applied to USCF tournaments is misguided. Some FIDE rules are only reasonably enforcable because there is usually an arbiter readily available in the immediate playing area. By contrast, USCF tournaments do not have the TD “coverage” that is seen in FIDE tournaments. This places the onus on making claims on the player, which can lead to unnecessary confusion and disruption in the playing hall. As an example, the FIDE rule that prohibits writing down one move before it is made, is unenforcable without player conflict and disruption. If a TD is not in the immediate playing area, the USCF variation you cite (Rule 15A/Variation 1) should be used.

    • “As an example, the FIDE rule that prohibits writing down one move before it is made, is unenforcable without player conflict and disruption.”

      So is touch move.

      “If a TD is not in the immediate playing area, the USCF variation you cite (Rule 15A/Variation 1) should be used.”

      Note taking is note taking, however de minimis, and regardless of what Kotov suggested.


      • There’s a huge difference between enforcing “touch move” and writing down one move. Using your scoresheet as a worksheet is one thing, and easy for a TD to examine, after the fact, but writing down one move before you make it is not enforceable, since, in order to make a claim, the player must leave the board, go find a TD and then, by the time he returns to the board, the move has been made, and his clock is ticking.

        Twice in the past 3 years, I’ve had to put up with disruptive disputes over this nitpicking, while the TDs are down the hall chatting about how great FIDE rules are. If a tournament insists on having FIDE rules, then they must also provide FIDE Arbiter-coverage. Goichberg and Continental Chess has the correct pragmatic approach and uses the available USCF Rule variation.

      • Writing before moving (vs. moving before writing) is not note-taking. It was not considered note-taking for 40 years…and no amount of “yes it is, yes it is” will change that fact. The idea that writing first is a memory aid is absurd. Ask some social scientists who actually study memory — unless you are brain damaged or rated under 800, the half-ply of writing first is not a memory aid. Does it help maintain a more accurate score — yes. Does it avoid finger fehlers at the board — yes. Those are good things, not bad things. The variation of write first / move must be protected and kept at all costs. The idea that scratching out/erasing that half-ply is a memory aid is an idea that should die a slow painful death.

    • John W Martin said:

      “Matt Phelps suggestion that FIDE rules should be universally applied to USCF tournaments is misguided. Some FIDE rules are only reasonably enforcable because there is usually an arbiter readily available in the immediate playing area. By contrast, USCF tournaments do not have the TD “coverage” that is seen in FIDE tournaments.”

      This misconception keeps persisting and it is completely wrong. There are dozens of huge “U.S. style” swisses being run worldwide with similar staffing levels as typical US tournaments. E.g. Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Wijk Aan Zee, Aeroflot, etc. etc. Not to mention the Open (and often second highest) sections of big US tournaments that are FIDE rated (and thus, must use FIDE rules). People keep perpetuating this incorrect argument against using FIDE rules. I challenge anybody to cite a FIDE rule that is only enforceable if there are arbiters for every X games. It’s just not true.

      My main argument is we are wasting a ton of time and money maintaining our own rule set (some of which are incompatible with the international governing body of our sport), when we don’t have to. We should switch to FIDE rules and try to work with them to merge the best of US rules so the entire world is on the same set of rules.


  4. I think that if a player fails to show up for a game, or withdraws without notifying the TD and is paired for the next round, that game, while being recorded as a forfeit win for the opponent, should also be rated as if the game had been played. I have seen too many times over the last 30 to 40 years of higher rated players having a bad start to a tournament, so they just leave, knowing their rating won’t take any more dings by withdrawing without notifying the TD.

    • Do I ever agree with that wholeheartedly. The USCF claims they don’t want to skew the ratings by allowing forfeits to be rated yet I know a ton of chess players still on their original floors for decades and have rarely ever gotten off of them. In example one of my players has a 2000 floor and loses/draws continually to lower rated players and I mean all the way down to the 1300 level. Who knows how many rating points these players who can’t get off their floor have given away and skewed the rating system. Their performance ratings have to be checked in the boxes provided when rating the tournament online. A game is a game. If the Patriot’s had not shown up for the Superbowl the Rams would have gotten the win by forfeit, trohy, $$$, and all the perks allowed the winner.

    • I have great sympathy for this point of view, but there is one overarching reason why it will not work and should never be seriously considered: if I’m directing a tournament, what is to stop me from pairing myself against Caruana. He won’t show up, of course, but there isn’t a tournament in this country he would expect to pay an entry fee in, so a lack of an entry fee is no excuse. Hey, I just got a rated win against a GM!

  5. I’m sorry to have to disagree with my good friend Hal Bogner, but writing moves before making them is simply wrong, at any level. (I say this as someone who has directed numerous scholastic events.) While it’s fair to ask how enforceable that policy is, a scoresheet should be only a record of what has happened, not notes about what you are considering doing.

  6. If you are ask “important” questions on the Local or club TD test, then the answers should be in the USCF rulebook. This discourages a lot of potential TD’s.

  7. There are proposed rule changes in the article that simply should not be “one size fits all” and should be decided by the organizer or chess club running the tournament. Some examples:

    1) Enrique Huerta: “I would like the removal of the half-point bye requests.”

    You are free to run a tournament that way if you want to. But why should others be forced to do so too?

    2) Mark A Reyes: “Parents and coaches should be out of the tournament room(s) at all times, even if it is a non-rated section of a rated event.”

    You are free to run a tournament that way if you want to. But why should others be forced to do so too?

Leave a Comment

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Announcements

  • US Chess Press