Tournament Guide

So you're going to be participating in your first chess tournament? This guide is meant to provide a brief overview of the standard procedures used in most scholastic chess events in the Pacific Northwest. Every tournament is different and may not be run the same, but this guide will help explain the basics of what to expect.

Part 1 - General Overview

A tournament day is a long one. Tournaments start in the morning and go through late afternoon, and sometimes into the early evening, depending on the size and format of the event (and if you're sticking around for the awards ceremony).

Child care is not provided at events, a parent or guardian must be there with the student throughout the entire event. When you arrive at the tournament location set up a home base. There's typically a cafeteria or common area for family. If there are enough students attending, your school may have reserved a team room or table with the tournament directors. Otherwise schools are encouraged to stake out a table or two in the common area. Only players are allowed in the tournament area during the rounds. Parents may escort their students to the assigned table, but must leave before play starts. There is a lot of down-time between games. Players are dismissed from the playing area as they complete their games. Make sure your student can find his/her way back to the waiting area after s/he's done with the round. You can also wait by the entrance to the playing area for your student to finish.

Usually there are 5 games (there's no elimination, so your student will play all 5 rounds). Depending on the tournament director, consecutive rounds will start either after the previous round is done (keeping in the time limit) + time to generate new pairings, OR the rounds will start at designated times. Most regional tournaments follow the former format. In between rounds players should stay close as the new pairings could be posted at any time. If there's a playground available, take advantage of it. Bring soccer balls, footballs, basketballs, frisbees etc. to keep yourselves moving. You can also bring books, games and electronic diversions to pass the time. Getting in some fresh air and physical activity really helps the kids focus when it's time to get back to the tournament.

There is usually no designated break for lunch. Players are expected to have meals in between games. There are usually concessions available to purchase for lunch (usually pizza) and snacks, but it's wise to bring plenty of provisions. Bringing a variety of healthy snacks and a well-stocked lunch to graze on during the breaks will ensure your player isn't starving while playing, or rushing to get in a meal while on a break.

Part 2 - Registration and Check in

Most chess tournaments use online registration. Some will allow on site entries the day of, but many don't, and often tournaments fill up quickly so if you wait until the last minute you may not be able to get in. If you are thinking about registering for a chess tournament, do it early! If a conflict comes up and you need to withdraw from the event most events offer at least a partial refund for cancellations (many payment processors such as PayPal charge a nominal fee that is non refundable).

Plan to arrive at the tournament early. Most tournaments require check in before the first round. Check in is typically located near the entrance to the tournament. Usually check in will close about 15 minutes before the first round is scheduled to start. Players who are late checking in will miss the first round, but can play in the later rounds. If you know that you will be late, contact the tournament directors ahead of time and make sure to come and find the pairings director as soon as you arrive. You may even be eligible for half point byes for up to 2 rounds if you notify the tournament staff in advance.

Larger events such as the State Elementary Chess Championship do not have day of check in. For those events, pairings will be posted the night before or first thing in morning. Players are expected to arrive and get to their board at least 15 minutes prior to the posted start time. Players arriving late for round 1 will need to go directly to the tournament director in order to be able to play the rest of the event.

Part 3a - Playing

Once check in is complete the pairings director will withdraw all players who have not checked in before generating pairings for the first round. Pairings will then be posted alphabetically for each section of the tournament. Standard tournaments last 5 rounds, and you play all 5 games no matter if you win or lose. If for any reason you need to leave an event early, make sure to speak with the pairings director before leaving so that they can properly withdraw you from the event.

Most scholastic events use the time control Game/25;d5, which means each player has 25 minutes to make all of their moves, with a 5 second delay each turn before their clock starts counting down. Clocks are not required for most events, but as the round progresses the Chief Judge may add clocks to any games that appear to be running long. This usually happens after 30 minutes, and when clocks are added at that point each player is given 10 minutes to complete the game.

After all games are completed, the next round's pairings will be posted. Each round lasts for approximately one hour and then there will be a 10-15 minute break while the results are entered and the pairings are generated. Many tournaments have a separate Kindergarten section in a room away from the main tournament area. This allows them to run that section separately and they will immediately pair the next round for Kindergarten even if there are still people playing in the other sections. This means the Kindergarten students are able to get finished sooner.

Before the start of the first round the Chief Judge will go over the basic rules for the tournament, such as touch move. At any point during tournament play, if players have a question or dispute about their game they should raise their hand and wait for a judge to come over. If a player does not agree with the judge or requires further explanation then they may ask to speak with the Chief Judge.

Part 3b - Scoring

When a game is complete, both players should raise their hands and wait for a judge to come and mark the results. A player's score is calculated as 1 point for a win, 1/2 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss. A running tally is kept throughout the tournament and standings will be posted after each round. Keep in mind that standings will not contain the results of the most current round. For example, say a player has just completed their 4th game and goes to look at the standings; they will only see the results of their first 3 games. Also, most tournaments do not calculate tie breaks until after the final round, so the standings are sorted by score, then player rating. Player ratings are only used for initial seeding; they have no effect on final tie breaks. If you look at the standings and believe that an error in scoring has occurred, please contact the Pairings Director immediately.

Part 3c - Clocks

In most events, clock use is governed by the following rules. Younger students (typically K-3) can use a clock only if both players agree to it. Older students (typically 4th grade and above) can use a clock if either of the players wishes to. Additionally, if a game is running long, the judges may elect to add a clock part way through the round, regardless of grade. This clock will be set for 10 minutes per side.

Part 3d - Notating

Notating isn't required in tournament play, but can be useful to you and your student. Reviewing a game will help you see where your strengths and weaknesses are. Having a record of the game will also be helpful if there's a dispute about the game. Notating can help settle an antsy player by encouraging him/her to take time, thinking about a move and writing it down prior to touching the pieces. Encourage your student to notate as long as s/he can without it becoming a distraction.

Part 3e - Tournament etiquette

Your student should introduce him/herself to his/her opponent. Tournaments observe the touch-move and touch-take rule. If you touch a piece you must move it during that turn. If you touch an opponent's piece you must capture that piece if possible. If a piece is jostled out of position during play, a player should announce that s/he is adjusting the piece before doing so. Also, if a student needs to use the restroom during a game, s/he can raise a hand and be excused for the restroom by a judge.

Part 4 - Awards and Tiebreakers

After the final round is complete, the trophies will be calculated. Trophies are determined by score and tie breaks. The 3 tiebreakers used for most events are Solkoff, Cumulative and Opponents Cumulative.

1) Solkoff is the combined sum of your opponents' adjusted scores. Typically it's the total of their final scores, unless forfeits or byes were involved. The idea is that the more points your opponents scored the stronger the competition.

2) Cumulative is the sum of a players scores after each round. A player who wins, loses, wins, wins then loses would have the following scores after each round: 1, 1, 2, 3, 3 for a cumulative tiebreak of 10. This system rewards winning in earlier rounds. A player who wins their first four games but loses the fifth would have continually been paired against some of the strongest players in the tournament where as a player who loses their first game but wins their next four would have been playing against easier opponents.

3) Opponents Cumulative is the sum of your opponents' cumulative tiebreak. This is strength of field indicator.

Normally there are overall awards given to the top players in each section, followed by grade level awards for the top scoring players in each grade (who did not receive overall awards). Many events also do team trophies; typically these are the sum of the scores and tiebreakers of the top 4 players from each school in each section.

Part 5 - Ratings

After the tournament is completed the results will be submitted for rating in the NWSRS database. Once the tournament has been rated the ratings report will be available at: - please note that this only shows who each person played and their starting and ending ratings. It does not show tie breaks and may not be in the same order as the final standings of the tournament.

Part 6 - Additional Info

Glossary of Chess Terms:

Current Ratings: