Tournament Chess Rules

Here is a selection of rules which are often misunderstood, even by tournament players. The numbers to the section of the USCF Rulebook, 4th edition.


The player with black has the choice of equipment provided it meets official standards. For non-sudden death games the standard timer is an analog clock (5E). For sudden-death time controls the standard timer is a digital with the delay feature (5F). The delay time is 5 seconds for a standard game (14K).

Late Arrival

A player is forfeited who arrives more than one hour after the start of a round (13D). If both players arrive late the time before the first player arrives is split evenly between the two clocks (13D1). The forfeit time for the second player is then one hour after the first player arrives (13D).

A player failing to appear for a round is ejected from the tournament and may be fined a sum up to the entry fee.

The Move

A move is completed when the clock is hit (9A-D) with the exception that moves which result in checkmate or stalemate are completed when the piece is released.

When promoting a pawn if the desired piece is not available the clock may be stopped to find one. The opponent's clock can not be started until the promoted piece is in place (8F7).

Either the Rook or the King may be touched first in castling (10I2).

After releasing a piece but before punching his clock a player may claim a draw by repetition, the 50 move rule or by insufficient losing chance (9G1). This is also the proper time to offer a draw (9G3).

Illegal moves, improper starting position of the pieces or an improper board setup must be claimed within ten moves. After the correction the clocks are not adjusted (11A). Within five minutes of a sudden death time control this is limited to two moves.

If an illegal move is completed in sudden death then two minutes are added to the opponents time (11D).


Players are required to keep an accurate score at all times (15A1) except under certain conditions. A player is not required to keep score in a standard time control when he has less than five minutes (15B). Neither player is required to keep score in sudden death time controls if either player has less than five minutes (15C).

After completing a standard time control the players are required to fill in the missing moves on their score sheets (15D) before making their next move. To complete a scoresheet the player may, on his own time, request the use of his opponent's scoresheet (15F). If the opponent refuses then the clocks are stopped to summon the director who can compel compliance (15F3) as the scoresheet is the property of the tournament organizer (15L). If neither player has a correct scoresheet the clocks may be stopped to reconstruct the game using another board if needed (15I).

A reasonably complete scoresheet is required for all draw by repetition, draw by the 50 move rule or wins by time forfeit (13C7). A reasonably complete scoresheet has not more than three incorrect move pairs. If one of the two moves is wrong the move pair is incorrect.

Winning, Losing and Drawing

The game is lost by a player who seals an illegal move (13H).

A draw by threefold repetition must be claimed before the player moves. This claim is valid anytime the same position has been reached three times (14C) with all of the same moves possible. If the player could castle in the first position then he must be able to castle in the other two as well. As with almost all claims if it is found to be invalid two minutes are added to the opponents clock (14C6).

In sudden death the clock may be stopped to call a director to observe a repetition (14C8) or 50 move claim (14F).

If both flags are down in a sudden death time control the game is drawn (14G).

In a sudden death time control games using an allegro clock (delay) are drawn after 175 moves even if the clock is the only recording of the move number (14K).

The game is won by a claimant whose opponent's flag is down if he has a reasonably complete scoresheet or during sudden death time controls (13C). A scoresheet can not be used against the player to uphold the claim of an opponent (13C8). If a time forfeit is denied two minutes are added to the opponent's time and no further claims may be made in that time control (13C11).

A player may not fill in missing or incorrect moves after a time forfeit has begun (13C3). A player may call his own flag to prevent his opponent from completing his scoresheet (13C2).

If it is not clear whether a checkmate or stalemate occurred before the time forfeit claim then the stalemate or checkmate shall be declared valid (13A3).

In sudden death a player with less than 5 minutes may stop the clock and claim a draw due to insufficient losing chances. The claim is upheld if the director believes that a C-player would have little chance to lose to a master (14H1). The director may not consider the actual rating of the opponents (14H2) or the time remaining (14H3). If the director determines the claim is not valid he subtracts one minute from the claimant's clock (14H4). The director may also postpone the claim by watching the game or by using a clock with a time delay feature (14H4, 14H7)


A player may appeal a ruling of the director within one-half hour and before the player resumes play (21H1). The director may temporarily reserve a decision waiting for the outcome of the game (21H2) and the claimant continues the game "under protest".

If a frivolous appeal is submitted to the appeals committee they may impose a penalty on the claimant.


The director should attempt to equalize the number of whites and black each player gets. Equalization is more important than alternation (29E).

The higher ranked player always has priority in receiving due color (29I).


A winner will receive no more than one cash award (32B1).

Winners shall receive the highest award to which they are entitled. For prizes of equal cash value place prizes are considered higher than class prizes and class prizes are ranked by class (32B4).

A class prize winner who ties with place prize winners will split the sum of the prizes unless the class prize winner would receive more from the class prize alone (32B3).

In the event of a prize which can not be divided, prizes are awarded according to tie breakers. The primary system is the modified median which sums the scores of your opponents discarding the highest and lowest. The secondary method is the Solkoff which is identical except the high and low scores are not removed.