Preparing for a Tournament Etiquette Clock Rules Spectators Ratings
will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player."
~Jose Raul Capablanca
Only a small percentage of the world's chess players compete in tournaments. To some folks the pleasure of the game is diminished under tournament constraints, while others find they thrive on the tensions of such an environment. At Chess Odyssey, students are not required to compete outside of the club if it is not their desire--after all, the lessons of the game are accessible whether one competes formally or not. However, we do encourage students to play at least a few tournaments in order to discover whether they enjoy chess in that form, and to intensify the benefits chess offers. Many students find the experience enriching, and some will discover that competing becomes a routine part of their lives. Chess Odyssey enthusiastically supports every student's interest in chess, no matter what degree of competition they are comfortable with.
Chess tournaments range in size from very large (over 2,000 players) to very small (10 players or less), and can be comprised of anything from a series of lengthy games spanning several days, to several short rounds in one day. Tournament entry fees vary, depending on who runs the event, how much it cost to organize, and whether cash prizes are awarded to winners. Some typical types of tournaments include "open" (any kind of player--including kids), "closed" or "invitational" (may require qualification), scholastic (school-aged kids), and various kinds of team competitions. Certain events are held annually to determine championships of a particular type or geographical region, or both. An event may be divided into sections grouped by players below a certain USCF rating (see our 'Ratings' page), with specific prizes in each category. Tournaments, or sections thereof, may also be restricted by such things as age, school grade, or USCF rating class (called "class" tournaments; see the rating classes on our 'USCF/FIDE' page). USCF membership is a requirement to participate in any USCF-rated event.
Pairings for each round of a tournament are usually organized by either round robin ("RR") or Swiss System ("SS"); knockout or elimination events are much rarer in chess than in other sports. A common form of round robin (a.k.a. "all play all") is the quad--players are divided into groups of four players who have similar ratings, with each person playing every other member of the group. In tournaments with a large number of participants, the round robin format requires a large number of rounds, and consequently an inordinate amount of time; thus, the Swiss System has become much more common.
In the Swiss format, popularized in the U.S. by the efforts of George Koltanowski, everyone plays a set number of rounds--typically five. Players are paired with opponents who have similar results, according to a formal procedure developed and refined by the U.S. Chess Federation. Most events are now computer-paired, though it is helpful to understand the fundamentals of accurate and fair pairing.
Here is a condensation of the USCF's pairing rules for a Swiss System tournament:
1. Arrange players within each score group by rating, highest to lowest, with unrated either at the bottom or by estimated rating.
2. For round one, divide player cards into two stacks. The top players in each stack play each other, the second players in each stack play each other, and so on. This results in the highest-rated player playing the middle-rated player.
3. After round one, divide up by score groups. In each round, players may earn:
Win = 1 point, Draw = 1/2 point, Loss = 0 points.
4. Pair up each score group again as in step #2. If there's an odd number, the bottom person in the higher point group plays the top person in the next score group. If there's an odd number in the lowest score group, the lowest-rated player skips the round and gets a full point (called a 'bye'--usually limited to one per player per tournament).
5. Where possible, players should alternate color, or at least equalize (by round four, players ideally should have played two games as white, and two as black). Players should never have the same color in three consecutive games.
6. Players never play the same opponent more than once. If necessary, pair players with someone in the next lower score group (treat as if an odd number).
7. To improve color allocation per step #5, if two players in the bottom half of a score group are rated within 100 points, they can be interchanged.
Click here for the FIDE (international) rules for Swiss tournaments.
Full and Half-point Byes/Forfeits:
A bye is an unplayed round. A "forced" bye may occur when a tournament section has an odd number of players, and the player given the bye sits out the round but receives a full point (as if they had played and won). A "requested" bye may be allowed by the tournament director to a player who needs to miss a certain round. These byes are arranged well ahead of time, and a half-point (as if the game had been a draw) may be granted. More than one bye in a tournament is generally not allowed. A forfeit is given when your player never shows up for the round and you receive a point (as if you had played and won). However, bye and forfeit points are not included in the calculation of your official rating.
A Word About Tie-Breaks:
Tournaments have a limited number of trophies available to be awarded at the end, and tied scores sometimes occur. To determine placings when two or more players have equally high scores, one way to break the tie is by having a Blitz (5-minute game) play-off. Other tie-break methods may consider the strength of a player's competition by counting how many points their opponents earned (ratings are not factored into tie-breaks). For information about specific tie-break systems, click here. Tie-breaks are a common, unavoidable test of good sportsmanship, when a player may end up going home with a smaller trophy than expected. Chess Odyssey strives to support and encourage all of our students through the various ups and downs that are part of competitive experience.
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