Just the Rules: Rulebook Versus Sportsmanship, You Decide

Editor's note: In this month's column, Tim Just asks readers what judgment calls they would make when the letter of the rulebook departments from the spirit of sportsmanship. How would you respond in these situations? Sound off in the comments!


The Ira Lee Riddle Solution

You are paired against a blind chess warrior. The rulebook has all sorts of regulations for that kind of meeting. Your opponent can use special equipment and an assistant. You have the same opportunity when it comes to having an assistant. During the game you and your opponent, at the very least, have to announce your moves and wait for an echoed response from each other for verification. The opponent’s assistant can help with a variety of tasks (see rule 35 for more info). 

Then there is Ira Lee Riddle—a now deceased NTD. In one event, when he was a contestant (not the director), he was paired against a blind opponent without an assistant. He took on the task of helping his opponent: in other words, he became the assistant. He pressed their special clock (after a move was verified) kept score for him (in case they needed to make a claim), kept them informed about the clock times, yadda, yadda, yadda.

What path would you take? Would you follow the Ira Lee route or not?


Pressing The Clock

One of the most common happenings in chess is when your opponent does not complete their move via the clock press. Their time just keeps right-on ticking. If you wait long enough your sparring partner will run out of time, and you can claim a win. In some situations, your timely win may give you a prize. It might allow you to obtain a personal goal. Most of the time there is not anything at stake beyond winning your game.

Many chess warriors seem willing to remind their opponent that they forgot to complete their move with a clock press. Would you be a sportsman, no matter what? How many times would you be a good sport in that contest? Does it matter who your opponent is? Or, would you simply follow the rules and let their flag fall?


Waiting For an Opponent

The announcement to start your clock booms across the playing area. Your opponent is missing. Typically, their timers then count down the minutes until they appear. The rules give them some wiggle room on how long they have to appear at their board. If they don’t appear in a defined amount of time, they lose the game and are withdrawn from the event (see rules 13D, 22A and 28P). If your adversary shows up and makes a move within a few minutes — or even seconds — before the game’s defined forfeit time, they still get to push wood in that contest. Of course, they do lose all of the used clock time due to their tardiness.

Some players believe it is good sportsmanship to start their sparing partner’s timer only when their adversary arrives at the board — the TD’s announcement to start the game is irrelevant. It is a nice sporting gesture. If your opponent shows up within a few minutes of the official starting time there is generally not much concern about waiting to start their timer. But waiting too long to start your game may occasionally delay the start time for the next round, which impacts all the other event’s wood pushers. Will you be a good sportsman here or follow the rules? 

The free, updated US Chess Rules (Chapters 1+2 + 9 + 10 +11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available online.

Want more? Past columns can be found here or by searching the Chess Life Online archives.

Plus, listen to Tim when he was a guest on the US Chess podcast “One Move at a Time.”

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 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. US Chess awarded the 2022 Tournament Director Lifetime Achievement Award to Tim. He is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee plus the Tournament Director Certification Committee (TDCC). His new column, exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations.