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How to Organize a Chess Tournament

Organizing a successful chess tournament requires a little time and organization.
Chess image by Sophiay from Fotolia.com

Chess tournaments are a fun group activity and there are a few entrepreneurs that organize chess tournaments full-time. You will want to organize your chess tournament using the Swiss system or round-robin tournament style. The key is how many players you will have participate and how long you allow each game to last. For example, 30-minutes per player is an hour for a game. So if there are 5 players, a round-robin tournament will take 4 hours. Each player plays the other, so 4 games each.

Swiss System Tournament Format

If you have a lot of players, choose a Swiss system format. For a Swiss system, you organize the chess tournament rounds -- the number of games per player -- to have an opportunity for a tournament champion to emerge. Players are paired by the number of points earned:

  • one point for winning a game,
  • a half a point for a draw
  • zero points for a loss

As each round progresses, players who win more are paired together and the games should become more interesting.

Because a chess game is 2 players, use log base 2 to figure the amount of rounds to determine a single winner. Here is a good list to gauge:

  • 32 players will need 5 rounds
  • 16 players will need 4 rounds
  • 8 players will need 3 rounds
  • 4 players will need 2 rounds

Most national chess tournaments are 7 to 9 rounds. Local chess tournaments are often 3 to 5 rounds. The premise is to sort the players by rating in the first round, so if there are 10 players, the highest rated player plays the sixth highest rated player in the first round. And you continue to split players by their accumulated points and rating in subsequent rounds. If it sounds complicated, it can be, but do not fret. Free software can do this for you.

Software to help organize a chess tournament

When I started playing tournaments years ago, people organized each round with paper cards. Avoid that misery and use modern software, it makes pairing players a breeze. Here a a few good choices:

Chessmanager.com is free. Swips.eu charges a nominal fee and cassiachess.net offers a free trial.

Need a venue?

Libraries, elementary schools or colleges are great places to host a tournament. Often, national tournaments are held at hotels and convention centers. Local chess tournaments are often held at hotels too. In New York City, you are blessed with physical chess clubs that hold tournaments and have a wonderful history. Elsewhere, there are local clubs you can find on Google. In Los Angeles for example, the chess club has a space inside the bridge club space.

Players are responsible for bringing their own chess sets, chess boards and clocks. You can come prepared with backups just in case, but some savvy tournament directors also sell chess boards and chess sets for such circumstances. Players should come prepared.

When you share the round pairings, the pairs are numbered and players refer to them as ​boards.​ You should mark the board numbers on the table. Some tournaments have paper placards, but I have played tournaments where the director took a marker and tape, it works just as well.

Things to bring

Bring a rulebook. It is inevitable some game will have a cause to refer to the playbook. It does not happen every tournament, but it happens. Be prepared. In the United States, https://uschess.org has the rules available for download. Often, it is more comforting to show both players the rule in a physical book.

Bring pens and chess scoresheets. People forget them. It is unfortunate. Players do want to record their game. It is the rules. If you are hosting a scholastic tournament, kids need to record the moves as well. You cannot be everywhere and you will need to use the recorded moves to replay what happened.

To record the results, consult the latest rule book, but you can have players come to the tournament director's table and record their result on a sheet of paper or directly tell you. At some tournaments, players need to submit their games for publication, and at others players need to sign the result. These are for sanctioned, rated chess tournaments. If you are organizing a chess tournament within your class, you can forgo the rigor and encourage the honor system -- this is how my fifth grade class chess tournament was organized.

At scholastic chess tournaments or events with beginners, provide some announcements at the beginning and be sure to include that it is touch-move. You touch a piece, you have to move that piece if possible. I was advised to sit on my hands for my first tournament to avoid touching a piece, then suddenly realizing it is a bad move, and moving another piece.

Chess tournaments provide many benefits. Players have the opportunity to test their playing ability against complete strangers and see how the best handle pressure and competition. Tournaments also provide a wonderful time to socialize and engage in a common interest. Organizing a successful chess tournament requires some preparation, but the benefits are on par with playing in the tournament. You learn the value of organization and delegation, and you have the satisfaction of providing players with a learning experience.

Consider organizing a chess tournament online

Chess was one of the first games to organize tournaments online and online chess is more popular than ever thanks to shows like The Queen's Gambit on Netflix. There are different formats like Arena Tournaments that take advantage of the Internet to match people and play games faster.

Good online chess communities to explore are:

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