It is not my intent here to list every rule in the USCF Rule Book, but rather, in the interest of education, to provide reference points for some of the rules & procedures that give rise to the most common questions & controversies. The vast majority of chess games are played as friendly encounters in the spirit of good sportsmanship.
It should not be necessary for anyone, in particular new or inexperienced players, to learn a multitude of exact fine details of rules &/or exceptions to those rules in order to participate comfortably & effectively in such competition. However, since a large percentage of the disagreemnets that do occasionally occur are a direct result of one or both players' not knowing the actual rule in question, but rather having a "belief" in what the rule "should" be, it is good practice to develop an understanding of what the rules actually are.
I have selected these excerpts to provide some insight into the general overall flavor of the latest USCF Rules & because they address specific situations questions or disputes that have recently arisen in my own limited experience at local tournaments & clubs. For more extensive explanations & complete coverage of all USCF Rules, please consult your tournament director or purchase a copy of the USCF Rule Book linked in the picture above.
Special thanks to Arthur Barlas, who graciously lent me his copy of the "USCF's Official Rules Of Chess" to use as a reference for this page.
[My comments below are in brackets. -PG]
For a list of updates to the rulebook since the 6th edition was published, go to:
If you want to know how to make pairings for Round Robin Tournaments,
click here for a .PDF file of the Crenshaw-Berger Tables.
1C2: Director Discretion
"In areas in which the director has discretion, it is appropriate to be strictest with rules enforcement & penalties in events that are stronger or offer larer prizes. Being harshly penalized over a trivial rules violation can be sufficiently upsetting to deter a beginner from future chess participation."
1C2a: Standard Penalty
"Except where specifically noted in the rules, the standard penalty assessed by the director is to add two unused minutes to the remaining time of the opponent of the player not following the rules of chess."
1C2b: Non-Standard Penalties
"Except where specifically noted in the rules, the director may assess penalties either more or less severe than the standard penalty (1C2a). It is often more appropriale for a director to issue a warning(s) before applying 1C2a in cases involving young or inexperienced players. A director may assess a more severe penalty in cases involving players who repeatedly do not follow the rules of chess."
5I: Stopping the Clock
"A player who wishes to make a claim of any sort or see a director for any legitimate reason may stop both sides of the clock before claiming &/or finding a director. This book refers to such action as stopping the clock or stopping both clocks. If the opponent's clock is accidentally started when a player tries to stop both clocks, the director will determine whether the claim is still in order. See also 13C6, Claimant's Clock; 16Q, Interruption of Game; 21F, Player Requests For Rulings; & 21F1, Timing of Requests.
TD Tip: Players should be made aware of the fact that they should generally stop the clock on their time, not their opponent's."
10: The Touched Piece
TD Tip: "Without a neutral witness, Rule 10 depends on the reliability of both the claimant & the opponent. If they disagree, then the TD should strongly consider denying the claim. In most cases, by denying the claim, the TD shuts the door to all false claims. Upholding a false claim usually does more harm than denying a legitimate claim.", -so TD's generally deny sketchy claims particularly without witnesses.
[Multiple offenses are a gray area, but my sense is that claiming that someone did something multiple times would count as one claim. If it happens again, then it becomes a second offense. If a player admits to multiple infractions after a single claim, then we're back to the TD's discretion.]
10D: Piece Touched Cannot Move.
"If no piece touched has a legal move & no opponent's piece touched can be legally captured, the player is free to make any legal move."
10H: Piece Touched Off The Board.
"There is no penalty for touching a piece that is off the board. A player who advances a pawn to the last rank & then touches a piece that is off the board is not obliged to promote the pawn to the piece touched until that piece has been released on the promotion square. See also 8F6, Pawn Promotion & 9D, Pawn Promotion."
"For a description & further information of castling, see 8A2, 8A3, 8A4, 8C1, & 9C."
10I1: King Touched First, or King & Rook Simultaneously.
"If a player intending to castle touches the king first, or king & rook at the same time, & then realizes that castling is illegal, the player may choose either to move the king or to castle on the other side if legal. If the king has no legal move, the player may choose any move."
10I2: Rook Touched First.
"If a player intending to castle touches the rook first, there is no penalty except if castling is illegal, the player must move the rook if legal."
10J: When to Claim Touch-Move.
"To claim the opponent has violated 10B, Touch-Move Rule, or 10C, Touching Pieces of Both Colors, a player must do so before deliberately touching a piece."
14B1: Proper Timing of Draw Offer
"Except for a draw claim, which is an implicit draw offer (14), a player should make a proposal of a draw only after determining a move (9G) & before pressing the clock. The opponent may accept the proposal or may reject it either orally or by deliberately touching a piece (10B). In the interim, the player who made the offer cannot withdraw it. See also 9G3, Draw Offers."
14C: Triple Occurrence of Position
"The game is drawn upon a correct claim by the player on the move when the same position is about to occur for at least the third time or has just appeared for at least the third time, the same player being on move each time. In both cases, the position is considered the same if pieces of the same kind & color occupy the same squares & if the possible moves of all the pieces are the same, including the right to castle (8A2 8A3 8A4) or to capture a pawn en passant (8F5). see also 14C8, Sudden Death time pressure; 14C9, Claimant's Scoresheet; & 15H, Reporting of Results."
TD Tip: Remember a triple occurrence draw claim is a draw offer (Rule 14, The Drawn Game)."
14F: The 50-Move Rule
[There numerous detailed sections to the 50-Move rule extending over several pages in the "Official Rules of Chess" & I urge anyone wishing to become familiar with them to obtain a copy of the book & study it in depth. I do not intend to copy all this material here verbatim.]
"The game is drawn when the player on the move claims a draw & demonstrates that the last 50 consecutive moves have been made without any capture or pawn move. If the director wishes to allow more than 50 moves for certain positions, details must be posted at the tournament before the first round. See also 15H, Reporting of Results."
"If the claim is found to be correct, the game is drawn. If it is found to be incorrect, two minutes shall be added to the opponent's remaining time."
14F3: Winning Position Irrelevant
"If a valid claim exists,the game is drawn regardless of the position. Even if the opponent can show an immediate checkmate, the game is drawn."
15: The Recording of Games
15A: Manner of keeping score.
"In the course of play, each player is required to record the game (both player's & the opponent's moves), move after move, as clearly & legibly as possible, on the scoresheet prescribed for the competition. Algebraic notation is standard, but descriptive or computer notation is permitted. The player must first make the move, & then record it on the scoresheet. The scoresheet shall be visible to the arbiter (tournament directors) & the opponent throughout the game."
15A: (Variation I)
"The player using a paper scoresheet may first make the move & write it down on the scoresheet, or vice versa. This variation does not need to be advertised in advance."
TD Tip: "TD's may penalize a player that is in violation of 20C, 'Use of notes prohibited' if the palyer is first writing down the move & repeatedly altering that move on their scoresheet before completing a move on the board."
[Lots of people don't like this on both sides & strict adherence to the 'move then write' sequence will probably rarely be enforced.]
15B: Scorekeeping in time pressure, non-sudden death time control.
"If either player has fewer than five minutes remaining in a non-sudden death time control & does not have additional time (increment) of 30 sseconds or more added with each move, both players are excused from the obligation to keep score until the end of the time control period. Doing so, however, may make it impossible to claim a draw by triple occurance of position (14C) or the 50-move rule (14F) or a win on time forfeit (13C). Score keeping by both players must resume with the start of the next time control period, & missing moves shoould be filled in (15F)."
15C: Scorekeeping in time pressure, sudden death time control.
"If either player has fewer than five minutes remaining in a sudden death time control & does not have additional time (increment) of 30 sseconds or more added with each move, both players are excused from the obligation to keep score until the end of the time control period. A scoresheet is not required to win on time in a sudden death time control(13C)."
15D: Use of opponent's scoresheet for assistance.
"A player who has an incomplete scoresheet (13C7) & wishes to consult the opponent's scoresheet for assistance may ask to borrow it from the opponent under the following conditions:"
15D1: Clock times.
"Both players have at least five minutes remaining in the current time control."
15D2: Borrower's clock runs.
"The clock of the player making such a request is running & shall continue to run until the scoresheet is returned."
"The opponent is urged to comply with such a request, but this is not mandatory. If the opponent denies the request, the player may stop both clocks & see a director. A director who agrees that the request is appropriate shall instruct the opponent to lend the player the scoresheet. The opponent may not refuse as all scoresheets belong to the organizers. See also 15G, Ownership of scoresheets."
15D4 Excessive requests.
"Repeated requests of this type may be deemed by the director to be inappropriate, & the offender may be penalized under 20G, Annoying behavior."
15E: Borrowing Not needed.
"A player who is able to read the opponent's scoresheet without borrowing it is free to use the information gained for assistance in keeping score."
15F: Reconstruction after time control.
"At the end of a time control, if the next control is not sudden death, each player must make all efforts to fill in any missing moves on that player's scoresheet."
15F1: Reconstruction of scoresheet by one player.
"After the completion of a time control, a player who alone has to complete the scoresheet must do so before making another move & with that player's clock running if the opponent has made a move. An additional set & board may be used."
15F2: Reconstruction of scoresheets by both players.
"After the completion of a time control, if both players need to complete their scoresheets, the clocks should be stopped until they are completed. Additionl chess sets & boards may be used. This does not apply if the director rules that it is unnecessary. See also 15F4, Reconstruction when the next time control is sudden death."
15F3: Reconstruction impossible or unnecessary.
"If it is impossible or unnecessary to reconstruct the moves as prescribed above, the game shall continue. The players should make a clear diagram of the position reached & the next move played will be considered the first one of the following time control unless the players agree that a later move number has been reached."
15F4: Reconstruction when the next time control is sudden death.
"Upon making the time control, if the next control is sudden death, it is less important to fill in the missing moves. The director has the option of waiving the requirement of reconstructing."
15G: Ownership of Scoresheets.
"The scoresheets of all games in a tournament are the property of the sponsoring organization(s). If the organizer requires that a copy of each game be submitted by the players, duplicate scoresheets must be provided, & players who fail to submit scoresheets may be penalized."
[Most tournaments don't bother to provide duplicate scoresheets, probably for budgetary reasons. When duplicate scoresheets are provided, it's a good idea to check with the TD before assuming one way or the other as to whether submitting your game scores is required.]
20B: Use of Recorded Matter Proibited
"During play, players are forbidden to make use of handwritten, printed, or otherwise recorded matter. While the penalty is at the discretion of the director, a forfeit loss is usually ruled if the material is relevant to the game, while a lesser penalty or warninbg is common otherwise. For example, a player on move five of the King's Indian Defense would usually be forfeited for reading a book on the King's Indian but given a warning or time penalty for reading one on rook endings. See also 1c2, Director Discretion & 21K, Use of Director's Power."
"It is highly improper for any spectator to discuss a player's position or time management with that player, to point out that it is the player's move, or to talk in a loud enough voice to be heard by a player with a game in progress."
[Interestingly, if your opponent claims he didn't hear the advice, it's still an infraction as long as you heard his adviser talking.] [Where the Rule Book uses the phrase 'highly improper', that suggests that it should be more likely to result in a strict penalty than something less clear, such as an accidentally touched piece.]
20M6: Friends Relatives & Coaches
"To minimize claims of illegal assistance, if a relative, close friend, or coach of a player is permitted to stand near that player during play, that spectator should stand behind that player rather than in front, so the spectator is not visible to the player."
21F1: Timing of Requests
"A player with a valid claim or complaint of any type should immediately stop both clocks (See 5I) & see a director. In most cases, the player who defers such a claim waives the right to make the claim. However, a delayed claim may still be in order if it is based on evidence not previously available, such as the testimony of a witness, or if the situation causing the claim remains in existence. See also 13C6, Claimant's Clock, & 16Q, Interruption of Game."
"Prizes advertised as guaranteed must be paid promptly & in full."
[In the event that I didn't see the flyer or the prize distribution, they had better match when it comes time to distribute prizes, or there would be a violation. You can't change guaranteed prizes on a whim. Prizes based on entries are a different story.]
"All players have a right to expect:"
- That TD is reliable & knowledgeable...
[MACA tournaments consistently have reliable knowledgeable & experienced TD's. This is not always the case at the club level.]
- All prizes shall be awarded as advertised. [Save the flyer.]
- That TD has the USCF Rulebook on the premises & available... [Believe it or not, some do & some don't.]
- That any special rules be announced before the tournament... [I don't mind special rules, but you have to tell me before I register & ypu're not allowed to change them once the tournament starts!]
- That the pairing system used will be fair & administered fairly.
- That starting times of rounds will be posted & rounds will start reasonably on time.
- That conditions such as lighting, space, noise, etc. be acceptable & conducive to good competition.
- That TD be available at all times in the event of questions or problems... [Occasionally this may not be the case.]
- That round results will be posted in a timely fashion.
- That upon request, the Tournament Director will initiate the appeals process.
"All players are responsible:"
- To conduct themselves in an orderly fashion. [Seems obvious, but sometimes isn't.]
- To compete in a spirit of good sportsmanship. [This one seems to get lost far too often.]
- To be present at the starting time for each round if possible.
- To refrain from analysis of games or audible talking in the tournament room... [It's not only illegal but unethical.]
- To refrain from analysis of games in the tournament room or audible talking while others are playing.
- To notify the director well in advance of plans to withdraw from the tournament or miss a round.
- To read pertinent information posted for the players, usually near wall charts, including the lists of times that the rounds are scheduled to start.
- To obey the laws of chess.
- To conform to the USCF code of ethics...
USCF Code Of Ethics
Purpose & Scope:
2. The standards, procedures, & sanctions set forth in this code of ethics are not equivalent to criminal laws & procedures. Rather, they concern the rights & priviledges of USCF membership, including, but not limited to, priviledge of participating in tournaments, events, or other activities as a member of the USCF.
[What this means is that regardless of what you may have learned in law school, the USCF is not the same as a trial court, hence lots of things that apply to one don't necessarily apply to the other.]
Standards of conduct:
5. "The actions & behavior of individuals participating in USCF activities, or in events sponsored or sanctioned by the USCF, shall be lawful & in accordance with all USCF rules & regulations, & consistent with the principles of fair play, good sportsmanship, honesty, & respect for the rights of others. The following is a list of examples of actions & behavior that are considered unethical. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, & any action or behavior that is unlawful or violates USCF rules & regulations, or is inconsistent with the principles of fair play, good sportsmanship, honesty, & respect for the rights of others, may be considered to fall within the scope of this code of ethics."
- Intentional violations of tournament regulations, or of any other regulations pertaining to USCF activities & goals, particularly after being warned.
- Cheating in a game by illegally giving, receiving, offering, or soliciting advice; or by consulting written sources; or by tampering with clocks; or in any other manner.
[Note that asking for advice or saying it's available is as bad as giving or receiving advice.]
- Deliberately losing a game for payment, or to lower one's rating, or for any other reason; or attempting to induce another player to do so. Deliberately failing to play one's best game, in any manner inconsistent with the principles of good sportsmanship, honesty, or fair play.
- Deliberately misrepresenting one's playing ability in order to compete in a tournament or division of a tournament intended for players of lesser ability; players with foreign ratings are expected to disclose those ratings.
- Participating in a tournament under a false name or submitting a falsified rating report.
- Participating in a tournament while undeer suspension.
- Purposely giving false information in order to circumvent or violate any rule or regulation or goal recognized by the USCF.
- Attempting to interfere with the rights of any USCF member, such as by barring someone from entering a USCF-sanctioned event for personal reasons. Generally, no individual should be barred from a USCF-sanctioned event for which he or she meets the advertised qualifications, without appropriate due process, & for behavior inconsistent with the principles of this code &/or the rules of chess. If a ban on future participation is imposed, the individual should be notified of the ban prior to his attempting to appear at future events.
- Violating federal, state, or local laws while participating in activities that are associated with the USCF.