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Frequently Asked Questions About Chess Tournaments

What is a Swiss-System Tournament?

Most chess tournaments are known as "Swiss-System" events. This means that players are paired against others with similar scores. The pairing system is quite complicated and leaves the director almost no room for discretion. At at this tournament we use SwissSys, a computer program that does the pairings for us. The chief Tournament DIrector (TD) always reviews pairings for accuracy (even the best program may have a few glitches). The director may make changes but never arbitrarily changes the pairings the computer assigns.

The Swiss System operates by ordering the players by rating within score, splitting the the list in half of each pairing group and pairing the top half with the bottom half. Top player in the top half will play the highest rated player in the second half. The second player in the top half is then paired against the second player in the bottom half, and so forth.

Players earn one point for winning, a half point for drawing. In each round after the first round, the players compete with others who have the same number of points. If there is an odd number of players in a score group, the lowest ranked player in the group is paired against the top available player in the next lower group. Players never compete against the same opponent twice in a tournament, and efforts are made to alternate or equalize the color of the pieces the player uses each round.

Nobody is eliminated in a Swiss System tournament. All players are expected to compete all of the way through the tournament. It is bad to have players withdraw (quit) without telling the tournament director as not only would the player who leaves not play, also his opponent would be left without a playing partner.

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The Tournament Director

The Tournament Director (TD) makes the pairings each round and settles any sort of dispute that arises during a game. TDs rule on claims of time forfeiture and claims of draws. TDs have the authority to punish bad behavior or other rules violations by adding or subtracting time from a player, or by forfeiting a game. In a large tournament such as this one, duties are split among directors. The Chief TD makes the final decisions on any appeals and assures that everything is working as planned. Our Back Room TD is in charge of the computer pairings and results. The Chief TD reviews the pairings before they are posted. The chief TDs are supported by dozens of other TDs with defined duties on and off the playing floor.

Tournament Directors are certified by the USCF. TDs have studied the rules and passed difficult exams. Making decisions that are fair to all parties is not always easy. Please give them the respect for the difficult job they do. We couldn't hold chess tournaments without them.

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Tournament Etiquette

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Basic Chess Tournament Rules

Touch Move Rule

The touch move rule causes Tournament Directors more problems than almost all other claims combined. Most of this is due to ignorance of the actual rule and the rest due to the ultra legalistic mind of the chess player in trying to eek out every advantage possible.

The rule itself states “A player who is on the move and deliberately touches one or more pieces, in a manner that may reasonably be interpreted as the beginning of a move, must move or capture the first piece touched that can be moved or captured”.

The key here is “touched with the intent to move” - thus ruling out all accidental touches.

There is also a rule which allows a player to adjust a piece on the board by saying “I adjust” or “j'adoube” before touching the piece. Adjusting a piece is not the same as moving it – but the piece must be adjusted on the square that is sits on. Adjusting a piece onto another square that would be a legal move is touching with intent. We should also note that the rules say that omitting saying adjust deserves only a warning if the action is obviously adjusting and not moving the piece.

In cases where there is a dispute of facts, the input of others on adjacent boards may be sought if they observed the activity. If the director cannot determine the facts, the USCF rule book encourages the TD to strongly consider denying the claim, shutting the door to all false claims, as false claims usually cause more harm than good.

If the facts are unclear, it is our policy on first infraction to issue a warning to both players while explaining the rule, and then to keep a closer eye on the board involving the dispute. We also explain at this time, if there seems to be a need, that moves are to be made deliberately and quickly. Hovering a hand over piece or placing a finger on the top of the piece while the player looks around is discouraged as it only intensifies related touch move claims.

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Illegal Moves

An illegal move occurs when a player moves in a manner inconsistent with the rules of chess, such as when a player moves a pawn backwards, or moves into check. The most common illegal moves involve checks. For example, a player may not castle through check, and if a player is in check, he must either capture the checking piece, block the check or move out of check. Any other move is an illegal move. Touch move rules apply here as well; if there is a legal move to be made with the illegally moved piece, then it must be made. Castling is considered a king move. Thus, a player who commits an illegal move by attempting to castle through check must make a legal move with his king if possible. Similarly, if the player has made a move and removed his hand from the piece, he cannot change his mind and instead move another piece. The second move would be illegal. When an illegal move has been made, the opposing player should pause the clock and raise his hand to consult with a tournament official. If the player is new to the game, the TD will likely explain why the move is illegal. Sometimes a player making an illegal move will lose time off of his clock as a consequence of the illegal move. If a Tournament Director notices an illegal move being made it is his duty to interrupt the game and require that a legal move be made.

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Notation

All players above 4th Grade are required to take notation unless otherwise excused. Possible excuses range from physical disability to presence of a school IEP. The requirement is lifted once either player has 5 minutes or less remaining on their clock. If a player is excused from taking notation, 5 minutes should be deducted from his clock at the start of the game to compensate for the time his opponent uses writing down his moves. If a player is required to take notation and refuses, an additional 5 minutes can be deducted from his remaining time, as long as it does not leave less than 5 minutes on the clock. This rule is a liberal interpretation of the USCF rule which permits a tournament director to decide the time penalty for refusing to take notation as up to leaving only 5 minutes on the clock.

Many claims require an accurate score sheet for verification. Failure to take notation will mean that these claims are unavailable. In addition, keeping a good score will help you go over the game afterwards to help you improve for later games or tournaments.

Taking notation is easy. Pieces are designated by the capital letters R (Rook), N (Knight), B (Bishop), Q (Queen) and K (King). Omitting a piece's letter indicates a Pawn move. Squares are addressed by the file and rank of its location. Files are the vertical row of squares going from White's piece row to Blacks piece row. From the White side of the board they are designated by the letters a-h (left to right). From Black's side of the board they are designated by letters h-a (again left to right).

Ranks are the horizontal rows that separate White's side of the board from Black's side of the board. At the start of the game, White's pieces reside on the 1st rank and his pawns are on the 2nd rank. Black starts with his pieces on the 8th rank and his pawns on the 7th rank.

Moves are written with the symbol for the piece moved (R, N, B, Q, K and omitted for a pawn) followed by the name of the square it is moved to. For example, the first move of a game is often e4 (moving the pawn in front of the White King 2 spaces from e2 to e4). White's 2nd move is often Nf3 (moving the Knight on White's right to the f3 square in front of the Bishop and pawn to the White King's right).

Special moves:

This is a sample game: 1.d4 g6 2.e4 f5 3.exf5 gxf5 4.Qh5# 1-0

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Behavior

There should be no Talking or Distracting Behavior. Chess is a game of concentration, and all players deserve the opportunity to think quietly. Players may not discuss their game with their opponents or anyone else while the game is in progress. Players may not engage in annoying behaviors designed to distract their opponents, such as tapping their pencils or making noises. Badgering one’s opponent with comments such as “Hurry Up” or “Move” is not allowed. Any player who feels his opponent is badgering or distracting him should pause his clock and raise his hand to bring the behavior to the attention of a tournament official. The official will likely warn the player to cease the annoying behavior or comments. The official may also impose a time penalty or, in extreme cases, cause the perpetrator to forfeit the round.

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Disputes

If a question or problem arises during the game, players should pause the clock and raise their hands to consult a tournament official. Do not try to resolve disputes directly with your opponent. While TDs are not perfect, they will do their best to understand and fairly resolve disputes. Accurate notation sheets can greatly aid a TD in making a fair determination. Do not move the pieces from the disputed position or reset the board until the TD has ruled. Young players need lots of reminding not to argue with their opponent or – worse still – accept their opponent’s interpretation of the rules. Any player has the right to ask to speak to another TD or the chief TD if he does not understand or agree with the ruling of a TD.

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Losing on Time

A player loses on time if his clock shows no time remaining and the opposing player – and only the opposing player — notices and claims a win on time. The opponent must also have sufficient material remaining to create a checkmate. (If the opponent does not, the outcome is a draw.) If both players run out of time before either player has called it, the game is ruled a draw. If another player not involved in the game draws attention to the clock, he may be penalized.

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Comings and Goings

Inform the tournament director – if possible, before the event—if the player is going to arrive late for a round or miss a round entirely. Many tournaments have forms or special requirements for such situations. Half point byes may be available if you must miss a round and can notify the Tournament Durector in time. If you must leave the board during a round, please raise your hand and inform the floor TD.

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Draws

A chess game can end in three possible outcomes: a win, a loss, or a draw. Players should understand the following types of draws so that they can recognize drawn positions when they arise on the board.

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Using Chess Clocks

Each tournament has a standard time control for use in that tournament - check tournament details on the schedule or with the Tournament Director (TD) if you have questions. All games should be played with a clock. In games started with no chess clock, one will be added by the TD if the game plays long and the end of the round is getting near.

In games started with clocks, the clock will be set with the proper time control at the beginning of the game and the clock may be started even if one of the players is missing. If white is at the board, he makes his move and starts the clock; if black is at the board, he just starts the clock.

On an analog clock (old style hands), time forfeiture is indicated by the falling of the "flag". On most digital clocks (numeric LCD/LED display), time is usually indicated by a light turning on or a beep sound. If a players time runs out, he loses the game. Only players themselves may call time forfeiture - TDs and other bystanders may not call attention to the time situation unless one of the players asks the TD a question regarding the clocks.

The game on the board takes precedence over the clock. If a checkmate or stalemate occurs on the board and the flag falls before the clock button can be pressed, the game result is still determined by the position on the board, a win or loss from the checkmate or a draw in case of a stalemate, as long as the move was completed on the board before time ran out. Remember, a move is not completed until the player takes his hand off the piece and stops his clock, but the game is immediately over if a checkmate or stalemate occurs on the board, the condition of the clock after the game has ended is irrelevant. If a player forgets to punch his clock after making his move, his opponent has no obligation to point that out.

A draw offer should be made after a player makes his move on the board and before he pushes the button on his clock. If a draw offer has been made, the offer is good only until the opponent plays his move. Since subsequent moves may change the balance of power on the board, a new offer must be made to renew the draw proposal. In any case, the offer must be accepted before the time runs out to take precedence over the clock. If time runs out while a player is considering the offer, it is a loss for the player who ran out of time.

A few simple points about using chess clocks:
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Byes

A player with a bye in a particular round does not play that round. There are two types of byes. When a tournament has an odd number of players, the lowest rated player does not play that round. Instead, that player is awarded a “full-point bye,” meaning that the player receives a point, as if he or she won a game. A player receiving a full-point bye will see “please wait” written across from his name on the pairing sheet. No player receives more than one bye per tournament. Sometimes, the player receiving the bye will be paired against someone else, who either is not enrolled in the tournament or is enrolled in a different section that also has an odd number of players. In a rated tournament the game will count for ratings, but the players both receive a point for the tournament.

In a rated tournament, a player competing in his or her first tournament will not receive a bye, except in very unusual circumstances. This is because a player will not earn a publishable rating until he or she has played four games.

Players unable to be at the tournament for a certain round may request a “half-point bye.” This second type of bye awards a player the same score as would a draw. In most tournaments, half-point byes must be requested before the player begins to play in the event and are not available for the final round. They are most often taken in the first round, when a player cannot get to the tournament by the time it begins.

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Withdrawing

We strongly discourage withdrawing from tournaments. Players who leave because they lose are missing some of the greatest benefits of the game. Learning to come back after a defeat is very important in much more than just chess. However, if an emergency arises and a player must leave, it is crucial to inform the Tournament Director that the player will not attend the next round. It is unfair to the others in the tournament to leave without telling the director, as it means that at least one other player will not get to play a game.

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Prize Distribution

The Bradley Winter Open offers prize money in both the Open and Reserve sections. Money is distributed in the form of checks that are mailed after the tournament is concluded. If you think you won a prize and would like to be paid before leaving the tournament, please understand that prizes cannot be awarded until the full results are known. If you would like to wait and receive your prize before leaving please let the TD know after your last round is completed and you are confident of which prize your might win. Please don't be upset if your leaving is delayed until complete results are known. Determining awards can be a hectic time for the organizers, especially if ties and money splits have to be calculated.

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Tie-breaks

Tie Breaks are used for determining titles and trophies. Money prizes are split among the prize winners. Money will be split according to USCF rules. This means that money from tied players will be maximized for the higher finishing players before being split among lower finishers. This process is not easy to understand, refer to the USCF rule book for a full explanation.

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USCF Membership

This chess tournament and most tournaments elsewhere, are sanctioned by the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) and require membership in the USCF in order to participate. You cannot be paired if your USCF membership is not current.

Premium Adult Membership
Includes 12 issues per year of Chess Life and the right to earn a chess rating in the official national rating system. This membership is $49 per year.

Regular Adult Membership
Full membership includes on-line access to Chess Life and the right to earn a chess rating in the official national rating system. This membership is $40 per year.

Senior Adult Membership
Full membership, must be 65 or older. Includes 12 issues per year of Chess Life and the right to earn a chess rating in the official national rating system. $40 per year.

Premium Young Adult Membership
For ages 24 and under, includes 12 issues per year of Chess Life, the right to earn a chess rating in the official national rating system. Premium Young Adult members must be 25 years old or under at expiration, whether paying for one year or multiple years. This membership is $35/year.

Regular Young Adult Membership
For ages 24 and under, includes on-line access to Chess Life, the right to earn a chess rating in the official national rating system. Regular Young Adult members must be 25 years old or under at expiration, whether paying for one year or multiple years. This membership is $26/year.

Premium Youth Membership
For ages 15 and under, Includes 6 issues per year of Chess Life, the right to earn a chess rating in the official national rating system. Premium Youth members must be 16 years old or under at expiration, whether paying for one year or multiple years. This membership is $30/year.

Regular Youth Membership
For ages 15 and under, includes on-line access to Chess Life, the right to earn a chess rating in the official national rating system. Regular Youth members must be 16 years old or under at expiration, whether paying for one year or multiple years.This membership is $22/year.

Premium Scholastic Membership
For ages 12 and under, includes 6 issues per year of Chess Life for Kids, the right to earn a chess rating in the official national rating system. Premium Scholastic members must be 13 years old or under at expiration, whether paying for one year or multiple years. This membership is $25/year.

Regular Scholastic Membership
Also for ages 12 and under for $16/year. This membership gives the same rights as above but does not include any magazine subscription. This membership is $17/year.

Family Membership Plan #1
This is a membership plan for the entire family! It provides USCF memberships for both parents and all children under 25 in the family, providing they are are living at the same address. It also includes USCF memberships for any full-time college students up to age 24, even if living at a different address, such as a college dorm. This membership plan is $80/year for the whole family.

Family Membership Plan #2
All members under age 25. This is a plan just for the kids. It provides USCF memberships for all children under 25 in the family who are living at the same address. This membership plan is $50/year for just the kids.

Important note for all players:
It is very important that you know your USCF ID number. This number is necessary to enter all USCF-rated events. You should bring proof of membership with you to tournaments (membership card, latest mailing label, receipt, etc.)

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USCF Ratings

The USCF developed, and is constantly modifying, a sophisticated rating system for its members. By playing in tournaments,players earn a rating, which rises each time a player wins, and falls each time a player loses. The rating of the opponent is the major component of the formula.

Lookup USCF ID & Rating Information

Look up ID# by Name

Look up Info by ID#

Click Here to join/renew USCF membership.

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Registration

Please register early. Registrations completed by January 21st are only $30 while entry after that date will cost $35. Early registration helps make the tournament run smoother and gets us started on time as there is less to do in the morning before the first round. Once a player has paid an entry fee, the player need only show up at the time the first round is scheduled. Use the online Registration page to register or print the page to mail in with your entry fee payment.

The GPCF would like to thank the ICA and the Hult Chess Club for supplying the information for this FAQ.
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