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Five Chess Tournament Don’ts

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For the most part, playing in a chess tournament is easy. You find out where you're playing, you sit down, you play a game, and then you relax until the next round starts. It's a fairly straightforward process, and even if you've never been to a tournament before, chances are that you'll be able to figure out how things work pretty quickly without making any major mistakes.

Still, there are some areas of tournament play that aren't quite that self-explanatory. In this article, I'll talk about some common errors that new tournament players (and sometimes veterans who should know better) often make, and how to avoid them. If you're afraid that you might overlook something, have no fear: just read below, and you'll be able to go into your next tournament confident that you won't rub anyone the wrong way.

1. Don’t Discuss Games in Progress

This goes for both your own games and other games happening in the tournament. Of course, it's okay to talk about a game you're not involved in with another player who isn't participating in that game, as long as you're outside of the tournament area and neither player has a chance to overhear you. However, talking about your own game with anyone is a big no-no if the other person gives you any help whatsoever. It's fine to tell a friend that you think you're winning your game; it's cheating if they respond with advice, even if it's as generic as "trade into a winning endgame."

Of course, talking to someone else about their game while they're still playing is a much more problematic issue. Almost all adults realize this, and in tournaments with only experienced youngsters and adults, you'll rarely see this occur. But in scholastic events, it's far from rare for a player to look at the board next to them and start talking out loud about what they think the best moves are. If you're a parent or a coach for any children traveling to tournaments, the fact that this is not allowed is an important point of emphasis before their first event!

2. Don’t Leave if You Lose a Game

Rarely will a chess tournament be held in which a loss will eliminate you from competition. In the vast majority of cases, tournaments are held using the Swiss system: a pairing system that will match you up with someone with the same (or a very similar) record so far in the tournament. This means that every player can continue playing through the last round, even if they've lost every game so far in the event. In the case of an odd number of players, one player will get a bye; otherwise, every player is guaranteed a game in each round.

3. Don’t Withdraw Without Informing the Tournament Director

This is a big one, and failing to remember it can cause all kinds of headaches during a tournament. If you plan to leave a tournament, make sure that you tell the tournament director (or TD) that you'll be leaving early. It's something that simply takes a minute or two to do, but it will improve everyone else's tournament experience immensely. If you fail to take this step, you will be paired for the next round, meaning someone will be expecting to play against you. When you don't show up, it is true that this person will get a forfeit win - but it also means that you'll be depriving them of a game, and most players come to tournaments to play, not to be handed free points.

If you're having trouble finding the TD for some reason, do your best to make your intentions clear. At one tournament I directed, a player left a note at my desk informing me that they would be leaving and that they shouldn't be paired for the next round. That alone was enough to ensure the next round ran smoothly.

4. Don’t Make Noise in the Tournament Area

This is an obvious one, but at the same time, even experienced players often forget to follow it. Just because your game is over, that doesn't mean that the rest of the players aren't still working hard on their games. The tournament room is usually not the best place for postgame analysis, as you're likely to disturb other players who are still completing their own games.

Many players attempt to get around this by quietly discussing their games - but this rarely works. What feels quiet to a couple of players reviewing their game may not feel so "quiet" to the players trying to calculate a tough tactical battle a couple tables over. Stay on the safe side, and move the analysis to the skittles room.

5. Don’t Forget to Post Results

Speaking once again as a tournament director, there are few things more annoying to a TD than players failing to record their results. Make sure you write down the result of your game after each round, regardless of the result. It is the responsibility of both players to record the result after agreeing in it. Failing to do so will usually slow down the tournament (as the TD must try to track down players and figure out results), annoying organizers and players alike.

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