Just the Rules: US Chess vs. FIDE

Sometimes change sneaks up on us. Ever so slowly FIDE (the world chess organization) rated tournaments are arriving on the U.S. tournament landscape more often. How big of a deal is that rules wise? All of the pieces still move the same way in both organizations. But there are some tournament procedures that are markedly different. Ken Ballou is an NTD (National Tournament Director), an IA (International Arbiter) and the current chair of the U.S. Chess Rules Committee. He has compiled a detailed summary of those differences. FIDE requires FIDE rated tournaments to follow FIDE laws. So, every player and arbiter (the FIDE term for TD) should be familiar with these FIDE tournament variations to US Chess tournaments. How different are some of these tournament procedures? Let us take a peek at the more common showdowns (click on the summary link for Ken’s complete detailed list of major and minor rules differences): The TD/Arbiter Job US Chess: Our Federation has a “hands off” policy when it comes to TDs interjecting themselves into a game. Only the players can make claims like “flag falls,” “draws,” etc. TDs may correct illegal moves up until the last five minutes of the game—then we are back to the “players only make claims” rule. FIDE: Arbiters have a lot more wiggle room when it comes to breaking into a game. They can call “flag falls,” “touch move violations,” “draws,” etc. at pretty much any point in the game, even during time pressure. Electronic Devices US Chess: Devices are allowed into the tournament room if they are completely shut off. Penalties are pretty much left up to the TD. FIDE: No devices are allowed in the tournament room. The player violating this rule can pretty much expect to lose their game. The wiggle room here is that at FIDE events the organizer may allow electronic devices if they are powered off and in the wood pusher’s bag throughout the contest. But I would not count on this wiggle room for an event that awards a FIDE title. Scoresheets US Chess: Make the move and then record it is the basic rule. There is a paper scoresheet variation that allows for writing the move and then completing it on the board. When either player has only five minutes left on their clock, both contestants can stop recording their moves. A complete scoresheet (minus only three move pairs) is required to prevail in a game winning claim. In non-sudden death time controls a wood pusher can even call his own flag to stop his opponent from filling in any missing moves on the claimant’s score. Only the claimant’s scoresheet can be used to determine if the claim is valid. FIDE: Without any variation at all players MUST make the move on the board and only then record it. Contestants can stop taking notation ONLY if their own clock displays five minutes or less. An incomplete scoresheet can win on time. There is no “calling your own flag” rule that stops either player from filling in any missing moves on their scoresheet. Both scoresheets can be used to determine if the claim is valid. Arbiters are allowed to take score for the players in time pressure and then “call the flag.” Odds and Ends US Chess: TDs can penalize a player for making illegal moves—as many times as necessary. There is no rule requiring the use of only one hand to make moves (except for Blitz). Touching the king first is the rulebook norm for castling. There is a variation that allows chess players to touch the rook first. Inverted rooks can be used as queens when a pawn promotes. FIDE: The first time a player makes an illegal move the opponent receives an additional two minutes of playing time. The next time the same player makes an illegal move, they lose the game. Using both hands to make a move is illegal. Castling requires that the player touch the king first. Touching the rook first is a rook move, not castling. Inverted rooks CANNOT be used as queens when a pawn promotes. The free, updated as of 1-1-20, US Chess Rules (Chapters 1+2+11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available on-line. Past “Just the Rules” columns can be viewed here. 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.