Just the Rules: Rulebook Reality - No TD Needed

just the Rules by Tim Just

Without TDs (tournament directors) chess events would be a mess. Someone has to process those entries—though organizers (often the TD) can also crank those out. Who is responsible for the pairings? The TD—now-a-days that would include some help from tournament pairings software. You can also count on the TD to manage recording all of those wins, losses, draws, forfeits, withdrawals, and byes PLUS report them all to US Chess. Paperwork is their bread and butter.

Small stuff like board numbers would go undone if not for the TD/organizer. Providing you with an enjoyable past time falls within their job description.

When TDs get together, they relate stories about their problem-solving skills to each other; i.e., unraveling those real-world rulebook puzzles that pop up in the tournament room. Helping players with games that need a referee is a source of pride and joy for tournament officials. They love to brag about their prowess as problem solvers. But most games don’t need any rulebook assistance at all. Why? In the real world, wood pushers typically resolve rules issues by themselves—no TD needed.


1. Your king is sitting on d1. Your opponent slides their rook to d8—check! Your monarch moves to a new home on e1. His rook slides to a brand-new attack square--e8. Your royal highness is in check again. Your king goes back to d1 to escape the check. His rook travels back to d8, delivering another check. This king-rook dance continues on and on and on. Your opponent claims a draw by perpetual check. You agree—no TD was needed.

Tim Just says: There are no perpetual check or repetition of moves rules. The correct claim would have been “Triple occurrence of position.” In this instance the players agreed to a draw without any TD involvement—despite the inaccurate rulebook wording claim. They understood the idea behind the rule. Besides, draw claims are also draw offers.


2. It is your move. There are only moments left on the game clock for both of you—time trouble indeed. A delay of 10 seconds is built into each move before the clock starts the playing time diet. Pieces get slammed down. A game of “bang the clock” continues—mostly during those 10 seconds of delay time. The small amount of unused playing time, for both combatants, appears to be almost frozen—unused. The air is filled with tension. Neither chess general seems to have an advantage. On your turn you offer up one word, instead of a move—“draw?” Your opponent agrees.

TJ says: No TD was needed. The exact language in the rule says that you should make your move before offering a draw. Your opponent could have asked you to do that. Instead, the two of you agreed to split the point on your own.

3. You have the only queen on the board. Your forces are descending on your opponent's position. Every calculation proves that the enemy king will succumb in the upcoming skirmish. Your adversary throws in the towel—he resigns. After he tips his monarch over, he offers to shake hands. The game is finished. No TD was required.

TJ says: This example is probably the one that needs a TD the least. It is the one that takes place most often at a tournament.

4. According to his clock your opponent’s thinking time disappears. You hear yourself speak the inevitable, “Flag,” as you stop the clocks. The game is over, and you both know it. There is no confusion or rule bending going on. The two of you exchange pleasantries and then head out to analyze the game—outside of the tournament room, of course. The match’s end is reported. No TD is needed.

TJ says: When would a TD get involved in a game ender like this? (1) Your opponent makes a claim that the flag has not fallen. (2) Or, that the clock was set wrong. (3) Or, that he checkmated you before the flag fell. (4) Or, that a stalemate position ended the game before time ran out.

Are there any other instances of non-TD involvement that you can think of?

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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.


Here's a real interesting one. Two players with established ratings that are within four hundred rating points of each other certify the results of their twenty game match by mailing the signed, notarized results to US Chess.

If Two qualified opponents did play a 20 game match and send in results to US Chess as specified above to US Chess directly, a. how could one truly know if the 20 game match was
played according to US Chess rules, and b. does not the software for submitting events require a TD to be listed? 
Rob Jones

Senior TD

Here's one from a few weeks ago. My opponent had a winning position, but only a few seconds left on her clock. It was her move. On the table next to ours, there was an argument raging between that game's two players regarding a situation on their board. The TD was already on the scene, asking questions and deciding how to rule.

My opponent's clock was running. I did not think it was fair to her to have to come up with a move in time trouble in that kind of atmosphere, so I paused our clock and said, "let's pause this until things calm down a bit". The look on her face said, "well, thank you, but you really didn't need to do that", and about 2 seconds later she re-started her own clock and said, "that's OK, I can deal with it". She then played her move, and soon won the game.

Not only was the TD not necessary (in our game), but his absence probably would have been preferred by both of us.

Bill Smythe

I think most situations can be solved without TDs, as long as the players are cooperative and the stakes are low enough. For example, Black may make an illegal move and White will slap his clock back and tells him to make a legal one. Unfortunately, all of Tim's examples fall into the same category. The players decide what a fair resolution without involving the TD, or without regard to the Rules.

For example, in #3 if "your opponent" reports the result as a draw and insists that he said "Draw" just before he shook your hand, then even the most simple of situations is not so simple.

Bottom line is that no TD is needed when everyone agrees on the rules and interpretations, regardless if they are correct or not. A TD is ALWAYS needed when there is not a meeting of the minds.

If your opponent does not make an action that ends the game when resigning, and merely puts their hand out, asking “you resign?” is a decent practice so that all is clear and your opponent can’t escape with an undeserved draw. In the article’s example, the player knocked over the King, which means resignation, so clarification wouldn’t be needed. If the opponent stops the clock or puts the pieces back and then tries to shake hands, that would also be resignation (unless the game already concluded by checkmate, stalemate, insufficient material, flag fall, or timeout vs, insufficient winning chances), and clarification probably wouldn’t be needed, although it might be helpful. For timeout vs. insufficient winning chances it might be a bit more complicated because defining “insufficient winning chances” might be unclear, so it’s important to agree on the result. Signing the scoresheets is one way of making sure both players agree on the result.

To that end, a TD would also be needed if one or both players is unsure of the rules, especially if the event is FIDE rated. Also, in FIDE rated events, I think arbiters can call flag falls, and when you claim a draw (at least by threefold repetition), it’s necessary to write the move leading to the draw on the scoresheet without playing it, and then show the move to your opponent and/or the arbiter, meaning an arbiter might be necessary to correctly apply the rule. Also, if an illegal move is made or a player’s cellphone rings, the TD might be the one who has to take time off the clock. (Side note: the article described the clock starting to go down as starting a “playing time diet” which is not strictly correct because a diet just means an eating regimen, not necessarily to cut down on calories or sugar or something else; you could change your diet to increase your fiber intake, for example.) So sometimes, even if both players agree on a rule, a TD might be needed.

Re three fold repetition under FIDE rules: two things, if the position already on the board has already appeared three times (before your move) then you should just stop the clock and claim a draw. If your move will cause the position to be repeated three times, yes. As soon as you so much as touch a piece you lose the right to claim a draw.

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