WHAT DO i NEED TO KNOW FOR MY FIRST RATED TOURNAMENT?

First, don't be afraid to play! Remember that every tournament chess player was once a beginner.

We play according to US Chess's Official Rules of Chess. No, you don't need to buy the rulebook for your first event (although it's a good idea if you're planning to play in future events). The US rules are very close to the rules of FIDE (the World Chess Federation), with some minor differences.

In general, you will need to join US Chess for your first event. If you sign up in person, we pass along our affiliate discount to you.

Here's a quick overview of the major differences between casual and tournament play:

  • Moving the pieces
    • If a player touches a piece, she has to move it (unless that piece can't move legally).
    • If she touches an opponent's piece, she has to take it (again, if taking is legal).
    • Knocking a piece over without the intention of moving it is not "touching": there's clearly no intention of moving. (But if you absentmindedly pick up the wrong piece, that does count as a touched piece.)
    • When a piece is off-center and you wish to center it, say "j'adoube" or "I adjust" before touching it.
    • A pawn promotion is completed when the promoted pawn is replaced on the board by a queen, rook, bishop, or knight. It's OK (even recommended) to stop the clock & borrow an extra piece from another board if necessary.
  • Clock
    • In our Rated Beginners' Open, each player has 30 minutes for the entire game, plus an additional five-second delay before the main-time displayed on the clock starts running. So one could have only two seconds left on the main time and still be able to win a won game - when the opponent completes her move & presses the clock, the player still a total of seven seconds (the five "delay" seconds plus the two main time seconds) to complete the move.
    • If your clock runs out of time, your opponent calls it, and your opponent has mating material, you lose. If your opponent only has a bare king, the game is a draw.  (We call running out of time "flag fall" from the ancient days of my youth when the minute hand would cause a little red flag to start rising at "5:55 p.m." and then drop when the minute hand reached 12 "6:00 p.m.. Now a little flag icon appears on the digital timer.)
  • Keeping notation
    • Players are required to write down their moves. We recommend algebraic notation, which is the US and world standard. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algebraic_notation_(chess)
    • As a practical matter, we are lax on enforcement of this in Rated Beginners' Open events: it's the hardest adjustment for beginners to make.
    • But it's hard to improve at chess if one does not write down one's games and play through them afterwards! 
    • Also, writing down moves entitles one to make certain claims (triple occurrence of position allows a draw claim, for example). Without a scoresheet, it's hard or even impossible to enforce all players' rights. If you don't write down your moves and your opponent does, you are placing yourself at a disadvantage.
    • In all of our non-beginner events, we strictly enforce the notation rule.
    • When one has two seconds left, it's obviously impossible to write down all the moves without losing on time. When one player has less than five minutes left, both players may stop recording their moves if they wish. As a practical matter, I still write down my moves until I have about 30 seconds left :-)
  • General & etiquette
    • Chess is a game between two players.
    • Each player has the right to think in peace & not be disturbed by his opponent or spectators.
    • When the tournament director (TD) sees a rules infraction, the TD will generally not say anything unless one of the players asks for a ruling! (This is one of the biggest differences between US and international play.)
    • Whenever there's a rules question, it's best to hit the pause button on the clock, fetch the TD, and ask her to make a ruling.
    • Electronic devices should be on silent. In some of our events, these devices must be powered off. Consulting an electronic device during play can lead to forfeiture of the game. The chess programs on smart phones play at grandmaster level!

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