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Commonly Asked: Tournament Play

We often receive questions regarding the first steps in joining chess tournaments/competitions. While joining a tournament sounds like a serious endeavor, it's not! The fortunate thing about chess is that we have natural entry levels because of the ELO rating system. Players can feel confident about joining a tournament without feeling as though they must compete with the best players. Hopefully this blog post lays out the basics of becoming involved in tournament play.

What is a tournament?

An organized event which brings players of all levels together for formal competition.

Note: Tournaments are not only for experienced players, they are merely designed to bring players together in an organized way.

What types of tournaments are there?

  • Unrated Tournaments - organized events designed to encourage participation and teach players the basics of tournament play. These events do not necessarily follow strict, formal rules but rather tend to be more relaxed. In addition, membership to US Chess, the governing body for chess in the United States, is not required for unrated events.

  • Rated Tournaments - the most common, and a bit more formal. Players in rated tournaments are expected to follow the rules of formal tournament play. The results of the games from rated play are submitted to US Chess for "rating". US Chess keeps track of the results submitted to them and assigns each player a "rating" which reflects their general playing ability.

Note: Rated does not mean that players are inherently strong, it's just a bit more formal.

Are there any restrictions to who can play in a tournament?

It all depends on the tournament itself. Some events may be restricted to certain groups such as: children, seniors, girls, players from particular regions, etc. Having said that, if the tournament is listed as "open", that generally means that any player may play the event. The vast majority of events at the CCC are either K-12 or open events.

Are there categories in tournaments?

Yes. The vast majority of tournaments separate players into sections. In most scholastic (children only) tournaments students are separated by age, grade, or rating. In open tournaments, players are typically separated into sections based on their rating.

What is a rating?

A rating is a number designed to represent a player's chess ability. Ratings range from 100 - 3000. A general breakdown of US Chess ratings are as follows:

  • Ratings 100-999: Beginner Tournament Player

  • Ratings 1000-1499: Intermediate Tournament Player

  • Ratings 1500-1999: Strong Tournament Player

  • Ratings 2000-2199: Expert Level Player (top 3% of rated players)

  • Ratings 2200+: Master Level Player (top 1% of rated players)

How we use rating levels for CCC classes

  • Beginner: Unrated

  • Intermediate: Ratings 100-599

  • Advanced: Ratings 600-999

  • Master Class: Ratings 1000-1499

  • Elite Chess Team: Ratings 1500+

See more on CCC classes here

Are online ratings different than US Chess ratings?

Yes. Online ratings are typically much different than over-the-board (OTB) ratings. Generally, players who play online should expect to have a lower OTB rating. It's hard to say exactly how different they really are, a lot depends on what site, time control, etc.

How do I get an official US Chess rating?

It's easier than it seems! Take the following steps:

  1. Join US Chess

  2. The CCC buys membership vouchers in bulk so you pay less. Sign up here.

  3. Enroll in a US Chess rated tournament

  4. Tuesday Night Action recommended for adults playing their first rated game.

  5. Friday Action Quads and Rated Scholastic recommended for students.

After the tournament concludes, the organizers of the event submit the results to US Chess for rating. US Chess performs all of the rating calculations based on the player's performance in the event. Typically a player can find their updated rating within 24-48 hours of event.

If I am unrated, which section should I register for?

Typically unrated players enter the lowest section of an event. For example, if the sections of an event are Under 500, Under 1000, and Championship a new player should enroll for the Under 500 section.

If a player holds a high rating in a different country, or online, they should notify the tournament director upon entry for proper placement.

Tournament rules you should know:

  • Touch Move - If you touch a piece on purpose, you must move that piece.

  • Cheating - There may be no outside assistance during a game. That includes use of electronics, discussions with others during a game in progress, or any other form of outside assistance.

  • Disputes - Players should never argue with one another during a game. If there is a disagreement or lack of clarity on a rule, go to a tournament director (TD).

There are other rules but knowing these is a great start!

Tournament formalities and lingo:

  • Time Control: The amount of time each player receives to play the game.

  • Points: For a win a player receives 1 point, a draw 0.5, and a loss 0.

  • Marking Your Score: After your game concludes, you must mark your score at either a score table or on the pairing sheet. Mark a 1 next to your name for a win, 0.5 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. Players are responsible for reporting their results.

  • Notation Keeping: In rated events notation keeping, or logging the moves played in a game, is required for classical play. It's easy to learn and should be practiced before the event.

  • Elimination: The vast majority of tournaments are Swiss, or non-elimination, events. Players are expected to play all rounds of an event, win, loss or draw.

  • Tiebreaks: Computerized tiebreaks may be used for prize distribution. Typically computer tiebreaks are used for non-cash prizes, while in cash events the prizes are split between the tied players.

  • Requested Byes: If a player wants to play a tournament, but cannot make every scheduled game, they may request a "bye" which prevents enables them to skip a particular round without being removed from the event.Typically a player would receive a 0.5 point for a requested bye.

  • Forced Byes: Chess is a two player game. Occasionally there is an uneven amount of players in a section which poses a problem when pairing players since there is an odd man out. If there is an uneven amount of players in a section, the player with the lowest rating and the lowest score receives a forced bye. Because this was not the choice of the player, they receive 1 point for the inconvenience. A player may only receive 1 forced bye in a tournament.

  • Withdrawals: If a player cannot make the remainder of the event, for whatever reason, they must notify a tournament director of their intent to withdraw. When players do not show up for games, it makes the experience for the player they were intended to play undesirable. Players who do not properly withdraw from CCC events may receive a temporary ban from future events.

There are other minor things I could have included in this blog, but I will spare you the minor details. I hope this helps you understand the basics of tournament competition!

Peter Giannatos

FIDE Master (FM)

International Arbiter (IA)

Check out the Charlotte Chess Center's events schedule for upcoming opportunities to play!

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