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Information for

New Players

How to read tournament formats

#-SS: Number of rounds, Swiss system. This is a common system used for pairing tournaments. Learn more about it here.

So 5-SS means five rounds, Swiss system.

RR: round robin. In this format, you'll have a game with very other player in the tournament (or in your section). Quads tournaments, in which players are divided into four-player round robin sections, are a popular alternative to Swiss events.


Double Swiss/double round robin = each round comprises two games (one as Black, one as White) against the same opponent. This is a commonly used format in blitz tournaments.

G/#: The "G" stands for "Game," and the number is the base time per player (expressed in minutes). Example: A G/90 game is one in which each player has 90 minutes to make all their moves.

+#: When the base time is followed by a plus sign, this means an increment has been added. Every time you press the clock, the indicated number of seconds will be added to your base time. 


d#: When the base time is followed by the letter d, this means a delay has been added. When a player presses the clock, it won't start up right away for the other player; rather, a given number of seconds will pass before it resumes counting down.

Diagram explaining how to read chess time control abbreviations with delay


G/45 d5 means Game in 45 minutes with a five-second delay. When your opponent presses the clock, you have five seconds before your clock starts counting down. This game could last as long as an hour and forty minutes. 

G/90 +30 means Game in 90 minutes with a thirty-second increment. Each time you make a move and press the clock, you get thirty seconds added to your base time. This game could last around four hours.

You might also play in a tournament with a time control that looks like this:

In the example above, the player must make 40 moves in 90 minutes. After that, the second time control ("Sudden death") kicks in. When there's a delay or increment added, it applies to the whole game (both time controls).

Want to learn more about how to read a chess tournament announcement? The St. Louis Chess Club has got you covered: Tournament Terms & Abbreviations

It's my first tournament. Do I really need a membership?

Yes. In US Chess-rated events like this one, a membership is required for every player. Whether you're an adult or a scholastic player, your membership will allow you to participate in rated events all over the country. 

If you're not sure you want to commit, you can buy a two-month membership for just $20. Most players purchase an annual membership; these cost $45 (for adults over age 24), with discounts for younger players and seniors. You can purchase these memberships online or wait until the tournament and let us process it for you (price is the same). 

It might not be. At a tournament, your board and pieces must meet US Chess equipment standards, which tend to be larger than many sets sold for personal use. Squares should be between 2 and 2.5  inches, with high contrast between dark and light. Pieces must be of a conventional design (like the Staunton pieces shown below), and kings must be at least 3.375" tall. Many regulation sets include numbered and lettered ranks and files, which can be helpful for players who are new to taking chess notation (a requirement at all regular-rated tournaments). Visit Wholesale Chess for inexpensive, durable sets that meet the standard.

Is my board the right size?
What's a bye?

A "bye" is a missed round. There are two kinds of byes: requested and forced. 


Requested byes
If a player needs to skip a round and lets the tournament director know in advance, it's common for tournament directors to assign the player a half point (equal to a draw) for one or more of these, depending on the number of rounds. The bye policy is usually posted with the rest of the tournament information. 

Forced byes

When there's an odd number of players in a section, somebody has to sit out each round. We give the forced bye to the lowest-rated player in the lowest score group for that round. The player is awarded a full point (equal to a win) for that round. No player can be given two forced byes in the same event.


Since a new player needs four games in order to be given a rating, unrated players aren't given forced byes if it means they would play fewer than four games.


When two players are tied for first place in a section with indivisible prizes (like trophies or titles), we use the following tiebreak methods, in this order:


  1. Head-to-head result. If the tied players have already faced each other in a round that day and the result was decisive (=not a draw), that result is used. If not, we proceed to a... 

  2. Blitz tiebreak match. The tied players face each other in a two-game blitz match (we use game in 5 minutes with no delay). If there is a decisive result, this decides the order of finish. But if the tied players finish with an even score, then it goes to...

  3. Armageddon. This is a special kind of blitz game that always produces a decisive result. The player with the white pieces gets six minutes; the player with the black pieces gets five but only needs a draw to win.  



Second- and third-place ties

For second and third place, ties between three or more players are common. An over-the-board tiebreak round for just three players can easily take an hour, and we see lots of second- and third-place ties with more players than that. For this reason, City Chess OK uses the mathematical tiebreaks* recommended by US Chess to determine indivisible prizes for all ties other than first. These tiebreak methods are described below. 


*Sometimes you'll hear these called "computer tiebreaks" because most pairings programs calculate them. But they're easy to calculate by hand.


From the US Chess Federation’s Official Rules of Chess, 7th Edition by Tim Just:


Unless a different method has been posted or announced before the start of the first round, players will expect the following sequence of tiebreak systems to be employed as the first four tiebreakers. Any variation to be used within the various systems should be posted also.

1. Modified Median

2. Solkoff

3. Cumulative

4. Cumulative of Opposition


Modified Median

The Median system, also known as the Harkness system for inventor Kenneth Harkness, evaluates the strength of a player’s opposition by summing the final scores of his or her opponents and then discarding the highest and lowest of these scores. In the Modified Median system, players who tie with even scores (an even score is equal to exactly one half of the maximum possible score), have the highest- and lowest-scoring opponents’ scores excluded. The system is modified for players with non-even scores to disregard only the least significant opponents’ scores: the lowest-scoring opponent’s score is discarded for tied players with plus scores and the highest-scoring for tied players with minus scores. For tournaments of nine or more rounds, the top two and bottom two scores are discarded for even-score ties, the bottom two scores for plus-score ties, and the top two scores for minus-score ties. These scores are adjusted for unplayed games, which count a half point each, regardless of whether they were byes, forfeits, or simply rounds not played after an opponent withdrew. So an opponent who won the first two games, lost the third, withdrew and did not play rounds four or five would have an adjusted score of 3 points (1+1+0+0.5+0.5 = 3). These adjusted scores are used only to calculate the opponent’s tiebreaks. The player’s own score is not changed.

If the player involved in the tie has any unplayed games, they count as opponents with adjusted scores of 0.


The Solkoff system is the same as the Median system except that no opponents’ scores are discarded.



To determine cumulative tiebreak score, simply add up the cumulative (running) score for each round. For example, if a player’s results were win, loss, win, draw, loss, the wall chart would show a cumulative score round by round as 1, 1, 2, 2.5, 2.5. The cumulative tiebreak total is 9 (1+1+2+2.5+2.5 = 9). If another player scored 2.5 with a sequence 1, 2, 2.5, 2.5, 2.5, the tiebreak points scored would be 10.5 (1+2+2.5+2.5+2.5 = 10.5). The latter player’s tiebreaks are higher because he or she scored earlier and presumably had tougher opposition for the remainder of the event. One point is subtracted from the sum for each unplayed win or full-point bye (22B); likewise, one-half point is subtracted from the sum for each unplayed draw or half-point bye.

Cumulative scores of opposition

The cumulative tiebreak points of each opponent are calculated and these are added together.

Any questions? Contact us at (405) 642-6136 or

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