Basic Rules of Tournament Chess

How to prep for playing chess in the big leagues

World Champion Plays At The London Chess Classic Competition
Carl Court / Getty Images

For the most part, tournament chess is played with the same rules as casual chess. If you’re not sure how the pieces move or what the object of the game is, start here and brush up on the basic rules of chess.

When you're ready to take your game up a notch, you may want to consider playing in a tournament. Before you dive in, however, be advised that tournament chess is governed by a myriad of rules and regulations. Official rulebooks contain hundreds of pages detailing regulations for every possible dispute or situation one might come across during a chess tournament.

Players aren’t expected to memorize the entire rule book. Simply understanding some of the most important rules is more than enough to confidently play in any tournament.

Here are some of the highlights.

  • 01 of 07

    Touching Chess Pieces

    Midsection Of Man Playing On Chess
    Nakhorn Yuangkratoke / EyeEm / Getty Images

    If you touch a piece on the chess board, you must move it. This is known as the touch-move rule and is often a source of difficulty for players new to tournaments. It also requires you to capture an opponent’s piece if you touch it. This rule only applies if you can make a legal move with the piece you touched.

    There are some exceptions. If you accidentally brush a piece, you are not required to move it. If a piece is awkwardly placed, you can adjust it; simply say “I adjust” before touching the piece to make it clear to your opponent that you don’t intend to move it.

  • 02 of 07

    Ask Tournament Directors for Clarifications

    Never hesitate to ask a tournament director (TD) to clarify any confusion you may have about the rules. If you and an opponent have a disagreement, stop the clocks, find a director, and ask them to make a ruling. It's important to settle any questions or disputes as soon as they occur.

  • 03 of 07

    Recording Chess Moves

    Most tournaments require players to record their moves.This helps provide evidence of what has occurred during the game in case of a dispute. In order to record your game, you will need to learn how to read and write chess notation.

  • 04 of 07

    Interrupting a Chess Game in Progress

    In a word: Don't. In most chess tournaments, you’ll be able to walk around the playing area and watch other games, provided you do so quietly. Observers are forbidden from telling players anything about their games, even if they notice a violation of the rules. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Cell Phone Use During Chess Games

    This is another faux pas to avoid when you're part of a chess tournament. In recent years, new rules have been written to deal with loud phones, which can break the concentration of chess players. If your phone rings in the playing area, you will likely be subject to a penalty, and may even have to forfeit your game.

  • 06 of 07

    Using a Chess Clock

    Tournament chess is played with time limits, which vary by event. Time is kept by using a chess clock. Using these clocks can be distracting at first, but will soon become second nature. Most importantly, remember to hit your clock after each move you make – this stops your clock and starts your opponent’s time. Also, be sure to use the same hand to move your pieces and touch the clock.

  • 07 of 07

    Recording the Final Results of a Chess Game

    Win, lose, or draw, both players are required to make sure the proper result is recorded. If you’re not sure where to mark down your result, ask a director for help.