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The Touch-Move Rule

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The Touch-Move Rule is the bane of every young or new tournament player. It is also the cause of a number of arguments and disagreements among players -- sometimes even those who have been playing chess for decades! Here are a few things you need to know about this important tournament chess rule.

You Touch It, You Move It

At its most basic, touch-move is exactly what it sounds like: if you touch one of your pieces, you'll have to move it. This means that if you grab a piece, it's too late to change your mind, though you may still choose where you want to move that piece until you let it go.

In addition, the touch-move rule also applies to your opponent's pieces. If you touch an opponent's piece, and it is possible for you to capture that piece, you must do so -- though you retain the right to choose how you would like to capture it (provided you haven't touched any of your own pieces).

Touch-Move Tips

Even for a relatively simple rule, touch-move does have a few subtleties that are not immediately obvious to most players. Here are a few things to watch out for during your games:

  • If you accidentally touch a piece -- such as by brushing it with your hand or arm on the way to clearly grabbing another piece -- you are not required to move the piece you accidentally touched. Touch-move only applies to intentional touching of a piece.
  • If you'd like to adjust a piece to a more comfortable position on its square, be sure to say "I adjust" before doing so. This will make it clear to your opponent that you are not touching the piece with the intent of moving it.
  • Here's one that I've actually seen change the outcome of a game at a scholastic tournament. If your opponent makes an illegal move, they must take it back and make a different move. However, thanks to the touch-move rule, if that particular piece can move legally, your opponent still has to move it! For instance, should your opponent try to capture a piece with their queen, only to find out they are in check, they may still have a legal way of blocking the check with their queen.
  • If you find you've touched a piece and suddenly don't know where to move it, just place it back on its original square and take a moment to think. You will have to move that piece, but there's no need to rush the decision of where you're putting it.
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