Preparing for a Chess Tournament

By the chess tutor Jonathan Whitcomb of the Salt Lake Valley of Utah

Basic Preparation for a Chess Tournament

Let’s begin with what’s most important for you, if this is your first chess tournament. You’ll need to be proficient in two kinds of rules:

  1. Chess rules
  2. Chess-competition rules

The first is easy to learn, with countless sources of information available, including resources online; we’ll not go over basic chess rules here.

The second is little known, except to those who have already played in a chess tournament, so let’s consider some rules of chess competition. (If you have been taking chess lessons from a coach or tutor who specializes in the royal game, that instructor should be able to help you in preparing for a tournament.) This list does not include rules for chess clocks, and many chess tournaments do require the use of clocks.


Many children play in a chess tournament in India

A chess tournament for young competitors in India

Formal Competition Rules

The following is especially important if you’ll be playing in a chess tournament that is rated by the United States Chess Federation. This is not meant to be a complete listing of the formalities, but these are some of the most important to learn in the beginning.

Be aware that some tournaments may not strictly observe all of the following rules, but those competitions are exceptional. Be prepared to abide by the following.

1) When it is your turn to move, if you touch one of your chess pieces, you must move that piece, unless it would be illegal to do so. If you touch one of your opponent’s pieces, you must capture it, if that can be done legally.

An exception is when you would simply like to adjust a piece, nudging it to the center of the square on which it is already placed, but you must clearly say something like “I adjust” when you do so. If you neglect to say that to your opponent (clearly enough to be heard), you will be accountable for the “touch” rule of competition.

Notice that this first rule is in addition to the move-completion rule that is basic to most games of chess: When a player make a move and then takes his or her hand off that piece, the move is considered completed. This applies to both formal and informal chess games.


children play in a chess tournament in Europe

A chess tournament for children in Europe in 2009


2) When it’s your opponent’s turn to move, and his or her clock is running, do not touch any piece that is on the board.

Consider rule #2 as having no exception, not even if you say “I adjust.”


South Jordan Library chess tournament, October 29, 2016

A chess tournament for children in central Utah in late 2016


3) Do not distract your opponent. This is especially important when it’s your opponent’s turn to move. Formal chess games in competition usually involve very little talking, if any, during a game. This is no time for any conversation.

If your opponent makes a move that you believe is illegal, or does anything that you feel violates a competition rule, raise your hand for the attention of the tournament director, or get the director’s attention in whatever way is appropriate (not yelling out “help!” of course, for that would disturb many players). Do not argue with your opponent, regardless of what happened.


chess tournament in South Jordan, Utah

Concentrating on a move in a tournament in South Jordan, Utah


4) Do not have any conversation with any spectator or with any person playing in another game in the tournament.

Rule #4 helps to prevent cheating. With the exception of necessary communication with the tournament director, do not talk with anyone who is watching your chess game, and do not listen to any such person. Giving advice is forbidden in chess competition. This is why some tournaments for children have the parents kept in a separate room from the one in which the children are playing chess.

Brief Overview of Some Additional Rules of Competition

You may be required to bring your own chess clock or borrow one before arriving at the tournament location. If so, you’ll need to know how that clock operates.

You may be required to record all the moves of your chess games, so learn chess notation ahead of time. This is easier if you have a chess tutor to help you learn algebraic notation.

Listen to the instructions of the tournament director, which are often given right before the beginning of the first round. With that said, consider arriving at the tournament location well before the first round begins.



Chess Lessons in Utah

The chess coach Jonathan Whitcomb offers low-cost chess lessons in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah. He can drive to your home (or to a public library of your choosing) for your private chess lessons, and the first getting-acquainted session is FREE.

Call 801-590-9692 for any questions about chess instruction by this chess tutor.


Utah chess tournaments, late 2016

Children of many ages participated in a three-round free chess tournament at the South Jordan Library, and three chess instructors watched the competition. . . . low-cost chess lessons

Chess tutor in Salt Lake City area

I can speak for myself (Jonathan Whitcomb). My own philosophy for chess education includes the tutor giving the student opportunities to come up with his or her own ideas. With that said, when you have a chess lesson with me, you’ll most likely find that most of the ideas about how you can improve will come from me, at least in the early stages.

Chess Instruction in Utah

I’m a chess tutor in Murray, Utah, offering private and group lessons in many communities and cities in the Salt Lake Valley. (Lessons cost $25 per one-hour session but with a free [no obligation] preliminary getting-acquainted session). . . . Please feel free to call me at 801-590-9692 and ask me what you will about the game of chess or how I may help you progress in your skill in the royal game.

How to prepare for your first chess tournament

When students play in their first tournament, it can be quite intimidating. . . . Probably the most common trick that will be played on an inexperienced player at a first tournament is the scholar’s mate. [Be sure to be prepared to defend against it.]


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