New to Tournament Guide

Both unrated players and seasoned masters compete at tournaments held at the Hart House Chess Club

Playing in your first chess tournament, or need a refresher before you play? This is the comprehensive guide to playing in your first chess tournament at the Hart House Chess Club (HHCC) and in Canada in general. Most tournaments in Canada will follow these guidelines but check the tournament page for tournament-specific rules. Generally, tournaments will follow the International Chess Federation (FIDE) Laws of Chess. Most tournaments hosted by HHCC will be Chess Federation of Canada (CFC) rated and follow their Handbook.

Please remember that these guidelines are to prepare unrated and players requiring a refresher before tournaments. It should not be taken as the tournament’s official rules, simply as guidelines. Please reach out to the organizers before the tournament to confirm the rules of the respective tournament.


Time Controls: Most CFC-rated classical tournaments will follow a time control of 90 minutes plus 30 seconds increment – any game played with 60 minutes per side (including increment based on 60 moves) is considered classical. Players have 90 minutes at the start of the game, with 30 seconds added following each move. There may be slight adjustments to this time control based on tournaments. CFC active-rated tournaments will also follow different time controls. 

Touch Move: Most tournaments will have touch moves in force. Any touch of a piece requires you to move that piece unless you cannot move that piece (for instance, in check). You must say “I adjust” or “J’adoubé” (in French) to adjust your pieces during your turn. Players are not allowed to adjust during their opponent’s time.

Notation: Chess notation is required for all moves, even if low on time, when there is a 30-second increment per move. All HHCC classical rated tournaments will required notation of all moves. Paper scoresheets (to record moves) will be provided by organizers. Carbon-copy papers may be used to allow organizers/arbiters the ability to keep a record of games. Tournaments will indicate if this rule is not in effect. Generally, CFC-Active rated events do not require notation.

Ratings: Tournaments will either be rated or unrated. Rated tournaments will result in an “Elo rating.” Unrated tournaments do not require a CFC membership, while CFC-rated tournaments do. Some tournaments will also be FIDE rated. FIDE-rated events do not require membership for participants. CFC-Active ratings are often used for quicker-timed tournaments. 

Tournament Format: Most new-to-chess participants will play in a Swiss format in individual chess tournaments. A swiss format means that you are not eliminated after your first match. If you lose your first match, you will most likely be paired with someone else who also loses their first match. You will be paired based on your cumulative score after each round. There are very few chess tournaments worldwide that use a knockout format. The other format commonly seen in smaller, restricted, or team-based tournaments is the Round Robin format. This format means that everyone plays each other once, and most likely, your pairings will be known beforehand. 

Chess Variants: Most tournaments will be played in the standard chess set-up. Tournaments will state if it uses a variant, such as Fischer Random (Chess 960), Bughouse, or Duck Chess. 

Byes: Sometimes a conflicting event happens during a tournament. Instead of not playing entirely, you can request a “bye”. Byes should be requested before the tournament. This allows you to still compete in the tournament and still get points. You won’t be paired for that round but will be paired in subsequent rounds. At HHCC, 1/2 point byes are only given in Rounds 1-3 if requested by Round 1. If requested mid-tournament, they will be 0-point.


Playing in your first chess tournament will often be different in places around the world. In the above photo, HHCC teams play at the 2019 World Prestigious University Chess Invitational Championship

Eating: Food is not allowed in the playing hall of HHCC tournaments. Water stations/water bottles will usually be provided by organizers. 

Washrooms: When it is your opponent’s turn, you should not tell your opponent that you are leaving to use the washroom or fill your water bottle. This is considered a distraction and is not needed. You also do not need to tell the arbiter that you are leaving to use the washroom. It is expected that participants stay within the tournament halls, which will be defined by the tournament organizers before the tournament.

Phone use: Any electronic device that could be used to transmit or receive information related to chess or to calculate potential moves, such as smartphones, tablets, computers and Apple or Android watches, is not allowed in the tournament playing area (the tournament director and TD’s support staff are excluded). Further, no such devices can be in the immediate possession of a player, regardless of the player’s location, during a game in progress. Violating this rule by a player will result in the player’s immediate forfeit of a game in progress. 

Disputes: When there are disputes about a game, pause the clock and get the arbiter’s attention. There is not much that can be done when the match is over.

Illegal Moves: When a player makes an illegal move, it will be penalized with a 2 minute addition to the opponent’s clock. The second illegal move is a forfeit (loss).

Withdrawals: When unable to finish a tournament, you must tell the arbiter or organizers. A “forfeit” is awarded for no-shows, and may prevent you from playing in future tournaments. Participants should also consider “byes”, which allow players to skip rounds and return.

Communicating with others: During the game, participants are not allowed to communicate with others regarding their game, regardless of whether in-person or online. This is considered cheating.

Leaving the board: Players can only leave their board during their opponent’s turn. Players should not tell their opponent or the arbiter before doing so.

Dress: The North American amateur chess community has no dress code to follow. Higher levels of chess will require stricter dress requirements. 

Spectators: Generally, spectators are allowed at chess tournaments. Major chess events will provide seating and screens/demonstration boards to allow spectators to follow the top boards. Players playing a concurrent game are generally also allowed to spectate other ongoing matches. 

Grandmaster Andrew Tang (Princeton) at the Ivy League Challenge hosted by Hart House in 2019. It’s important to remember that Grandmasters were once unrated players!