Tournament Rules

It’s important to be aware of special tournament rules. In general, these rules are for US Chess Federation Rated Tournaments. Other tournaments use some of these rules, but may have some special rules as well.


Register early because it is often less expensive and sometimes there are caps on the number of players allowed when space is limited. Usually, there are several sections, so make sure to find the correct one for you based on the tournament flyer or information sheet.

Make sure you have the correct memberships. All rated tournaments require a current USCF membership and some may also require a state or other local membership.

Round times are usually announced in advance. In case you need to be late or miss a round:

·       If you are not able to attend the first round of a tournament, it is your responsibility to give ample notice to the tournament director. In many tournaments, if you miss the first round, you will get a ½ point Bye. This same rule applies if you’re withdrawing or leaving early. Both of these rules are so that your opponent does not have to sit and wait for a ½ hour to an hour for a player who is not going to show up.

·       In most rated tournaments, you can show up late with only loss of time off your clock. For example, if you show up before the end of the time limit set for play, you begin play with only the time remaining on the clock. But, if you show up after the time control limit, you forfeit the game. Remember, if you leave the tournament early without notifying the Tournament Director, you could be fined. You also leave the player with whom you have been paired waiting.

If possible, arrange to stay the entire time of the tournament. In a USCF rated tournament, it is highly unlikely that players are eliminated for losing one or even more games. However, eliminations may occur in an afterschool or club tournament.



Make sure you have a scoresheet and pencil with an eraser. USCF Rule: If you’re 3rd grade or below, and playing in a section for players grade 3 and below of a local scholastic tournament, you are not required to notate your game. But, you learn from mistakes; so, even just writing 6 to 8 moves can help your coach review your game and prepare for the next.

When you show up, look for the Pairing Sheet that shows the list of players, the section they’re in, what color they play and the table number for their first game. Find your name and then go to your table and sit at your assigned color. For each additional game, you will usually alternate color, never play the same player twice, and be matched with players with similar scores.

If your opponent is already seated, shake hands and introduce yourself.



·       If either you or your opponent has brought a clock, you need to make sure it is set for the proper time control for the tournament. For most local scholastic tournaments, grades 12 and below, the usual time is G/30, d5 (30 minutes for each player, plus a 5 second delay for each move.) The fastest is G/25, d5. Any faster is Speed or Blitz Chess.

·       The player with the Black Pieces has the choice of which side of the board to put the clock on.

·       When the tournament director announces that you may start your clocks, the player with Black starts the clock for the player with White.

·       If your opponent is not there when the round starts, you may start your opponent’s clock.




During a USCF rated game, you are expected to record both your moves and your opponent’s moves until one of you has less than 5 minutes remaining on the clock.


At any time during the game, either you or your opponent may offer a draw. Offering a draw on every move is harassment and is not allowed.


You do not have to announce check, but it is a courtesy.


During tournament games, no notes or help of any kind may be used. Players may stand, walk around or go to the restroom. It is not a good plan to get close to someone else’s game because you may inadvertently say something or show a response that would give a clue to one of the players. For the same reason, it’s best not to pay attention to nearby games as you play your game. Under no circumstances may you talk to someone during your game other than the TD or your opponent. This may be cause for removal from the tournament.



Touch/Move Rule is really Touch/Move and Touch/Capture.

In general, if you touch one of your pieces, you must move it. If you touch an opponent’s piece, you must capture it. Of course, this applies only to legal moves. For example, making a move that puts your King in check would be an illegal move.


If either player has pieces that are not well-centered, you must announce “j’doube” (I adjust)  before adjusting the piece.


Illegal Move?

If during your game there is a question about whether a move is legal, you must immediately contact the Tournament Director. Usually, all you have to do is raise your hand and one will come to assist. In many beginning tournaments, there are players who question the legality of a move after the game is over. At this time, it’s too late; the game outcome cannot be changed.




Checkmate ends the game: For the beginner, when your opponent calls checkmate, make sure it is checkmate before you agree to end the game. At this point, you need to make the decision because the tournament director cannot help a player by saying it is or is not checkmate.


Other ways to end the game:

·       A player forfeits by not showing up

·       A player may resign, although it is not recommended for scholastic tournaments.

·       A player can win/lose on time. If a player runs out of time, it is the responsibility of the opponent to claim the win on time.

·       The game may end in a draw:

--  players agree to a draw;

--    board position repeats exactly three times (not necessarily in a row);

--   lack of mating material;

--    50 moves have been made without a Pawn move or capture; or,

--    stalemate.


When the game is over, after checkmate, a forfeit or a draw, players raise their hand to have the game recorded by a tournament director. Or, the players will go together to the tournament officials to have the result recorded or post it themselves at the tournament table.



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