Tournaments - How They Work

If you're new to chess tournaments, please read the following information.  It will give you a good idea of what to expect and help you through the first tournament jitters!

Before attending your first tournament you should learn the defense to "Scholars Mate".  To find out more, click here... The Dreadful Scholar's Mate!
Parents be sure to read How To Watch a Chess Match it will help a lot in deciding what to bring.


  • Notify the Tournament Director of your entry at least a week in advance.  Include all of the information requested.  Usually they need to know your name, age, grade, school/club, address, date of birth, phone number and rating if you have one. 


  • Bring a folding chair if you prefer something other than cafeteria style tables & chairs.  You'll also need snacks, lunch, a book or project to work on during the day and between-round diversions for your children.  Concessions are usually available, which will usually include a lunch-type item like pizza or sandwiches, juice, water, candy and assorted snacks.  
  • Tournaments generally last from 6-8 hours.  It's a long day, so be prepared!


  • Arrive at the tournament early enough to be checked in on time.  After check-in find your coach and let them know you are there.  If you know you're going to be late, call the Tournament Director and let them know.
  • Before the tournament begins, the Tournament Director usually holds a meeting explaining the rules and information about the tournament.


  • Most tournaments are paired by the Swiss system and last for five rounds.  This means that every player plays in all five rounds.  The Swiss system pairs players based on ability for each round.  If you win your first round, you will be paired with someone else who won their round.  This method of pairing is used worldwide.  Some tournaments are quads.  Players are grouped together in groups of four and each player is matched against the other three players.  These tournaments last for 3 rounds.
  • At tournaments, the chess boards are numbered and game pairings are usually posted on the wall near the playing area just before each round begins.  The pairing sheets will tell you where you will be sitting, what color you will play and who you will be playing.  If you need help finding your table ask a judge or your coach/parent for assistance.


  • When you sit down to play, check the board and make sure it is set up correctly.  Quite often, you will find the queens on the wrong colored squares. Remember, queens go on the D file.
  • Advanced players are expected to notate their games (record their moves) and use a clock.  Times will vary, but usually they are G30, which means that each player has 30 minutes to complete their moves.
  • If your game lasts longer than 40 minutes, clocks will be used.  Each player receives 10 minutes.  If your flag falls, you lose the game on time.  No checkmate is required.  So watch your clock carefully.  If your opponents flag falls before a checkmate, you can declare a win. If you've never used a clock before, tell the judge and they will help you.
  • Tournaments are played using touch move rules.  If a player touches a piece, they must move it, unless it would place them in check or if they are already in check.  If possible, they must move the piece they touched to get out of check.
  • Players are not required to say check.
  • Players are responsible for their own games and should be quite certain of the final result.  If they agree that they have lost the game, the judges will not point out otherwise. 
  • Read up on one rule that every player needs to understand... Dangerous Draw Offers


  • Chess is a game of honor and fair play.  You are expected to shake hands before and after each game.  At the beginning of the game, it is customary to say "Good Luck".  At the end of the game, it's customary to say "Good Game".  It is also considered good sportsmanship to compliment your opponent on the game.  You are expected to be gracious in victory or defeat. 
  • Players should not talk to anyone during their match, except if they disagree with their opponent's move.  If a player has a question or disagreement about a move, they should raise their hand and call a judge.  If they do not agree with the judges decision they can ask for a second opinion by asking to speak with the Tournament Director.  Even judges make mistakes.  It doesn't hurt to get a second opinion.
  • Players should never move a chess piece belonging to another player. 
  • Players must never discuss a game in progress. 
  • If a player is being distracting or causing problems, call a judge and ask for help.
  • If parents or spectators wish to talk, they should leave the playing area.  Parents should never make eye contact with their child during a match.
  • How can parents help their child?  If you'd like to help your child during the day, just give them a hug and encourage them to do their best before each round.  After the round is over, listen intently as your child describes every move of their game in great detail.  This is an important part of their chess experience and helps them to visualize the board.  If your child writes down their moves, their coach can analyze the game and give them advice for their next tournament.
  • Parents may watch the games but they are expressly forbidden from making any kind of noise, facial expression or helpful suggestion to any game in progress. Before the tournament, I'd encourage everyone to watch the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer".  Your kids will love it.  Parents especially should watch this movie because it shows how easy it is for you to get a little nutty when it comes to competition. 
  • Good sportsmanship is number one.  This means you don't brag about capturing a piece, dance around the room if you win, etc.  If you lose... consider it a learning experience and don't make your opponent feel bad about it.  Good sportsmanship means that you shake hands before and after the game, invite your opponent to go play again in the hallway and have fun. 
  • Never Give Up, Never Surrender!  I stole this from the movie Galaxy Quest.  It's just so perfect when it comes to chess.  Especially scholastic chess. In every tournament there are dozens of games that end in a stalemate (a tie) because someone with only a lonely king left, ends in a position where they are not in check and they can't move their king.  So encourage your child to stick it out.
  • Ask for help!  The games belong to the players.  Judges will not adjudicate or tell them how to play, at least not until the results have been recorded.  Once players agree to a result and report it... that's it!  This is the only fair way to handle all of the games because if we give help to one person, we need to help them all and there's not enough time to teach kids during a chess tournament.  But... we can answer questions if asked. This is key.  If someone says "it's checkmate, I win!"  tell your child to
    take their time and look at the board to first make sure they really are in check.  If not, it could be a stalemate and a tie.  If someone captures their king or tries to do a crazy move, kids absolutely have to ask for help from the judge. Explain to your child that this isn't tattling. Judges are there to answer questions.  If they don't ask, we can't help. And we really do want to help.
  • SCHOLAR'S MATE:  Learn the defense to scholar's mate.  There's nothing worse than losing so quickly in a chess tournament.  Clatskanie Chess Club members cannot use Scholar's Mate during a tournament and they all know the defense, including how to force a capture of the queen that came out too early!


  • Your games are yours.  Which means that it's up to you to decide if the game is over.  Carefully check the board and ask yourself these questions:  Am I in check?  If yes...  Can I move out of danger?  Can I capture the piece that's checking me?  Can I block the check?  If the answer is no... the game is over.  If you aren't in check and you can't move any of your pieces, then the game is a stalemate or draw.  This means that both players will receive 1/2 point. 
  • If you won the game, you will receive 1 point.  If you lost, you won't receive any points.  At the end of the tournament, all points are added up to see who won.  Computers generally compute tie breaks.  We use blitz tie breaks (speed chess) if someone is tied for first place awards.  If you're not sure what that is, just ask.
  • At the end of the game players raise their hands for the judge to come and record the results.
  • Tournament standings are posted between the later rounds so players can know how they are doing.  If you ever notice an error in the standings, notify the TD immediately.


  • When are awards?  That's the most common asked question at the end of the day.  The answer is... it depends.  When all games are finished in a section or the event, the TD will calculate awards (this usually take about 20 minutes). 
  • Awards are given out as soon as possible after the last round.
  • Wondering whether there's a shiny trophy in your future?  Read this excellent article about Tie Breaks.
  • It's always good to hang around for awards.  Not only is it good sportsmanship, but many tournaments send everyone home with a little something.  And... you never know... there might be a special award for something you did during the tournament.   


  • Leave the tournament area as clean or cleaner than you found it.  Always pick up your garbage and gear before leaving for the day. 
  • Helping to pick up is also good sportsmanship and a tired TD really appreciates the help.
  • It is customary to thank the TD before leaving the tournament.  Most tournament directors, judges, helpers, etc don't receive any compensation for their hard work.  A thank you is always very much appreciated.

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