Chess Tournament FAQ

Do I have to be really good to play in a chess tournament?  No.  Most tournaments are divided by age and by ability, and there are many beginning players that participate. 

Can I get knocked out of the tournment after one game?  In nearly all chess tournaments, there is no elimination.  You play however many rounds there are in a tournament (typically four or five) and who you get matched up with is based on how you did in the previous rounds.  So if you lose a match, don't quit the tournament, since the next round you will get paired up with someone easier.  If you keep winning, you keep moving your way up toward the top.

Are Sarasota Scholastic Chess tournaments official USCF tournaments?  Not at this time.  Since our tournaments are not official USCF (US Chess Federation) events, we have some flexibility.  You don't have be a current USCF member to play and so it costs less.  We are trying to encourage participation to all students and for many of our players it's their first tournament. 

Are the rules the same?  Almost all.  In our tournaments we currently use all USCF rules except that we were more lenient about the "touch rule."  In an official USCF tournament, if you touch one of your pieces, you have to move that piece (if there is a legal move available).  Currently in our tournaments, we waive that rule, but do maintain that if you move a piece and let go, your move is over (unless it was an illegal one such as putting your own king in check, in which case you would get to take it back).  One other difference is that we don't have the younger players using clocks.  This avoids the added distraction and pressure.  If a game is not completed in the alotted time for the round, we have a tournament judge determine a winner based on the position on the board.  Most games are fully complete by the end of the alotted time, so there are usually only a few games in each round that are decided by a judge.

What's a rating?  A rating is a number that is an estimate of a player's ability level.  Different organizations can assign ratings, such as our national organization USCF or the international chess organization FIDE.  Most elementary school students are rated between 100 and 600.  The top Grandmasters in the world have ratings around 2700.

How are ratings used?  When a tournament has a large number of participants, they are divided into smaller sections of similar ability levels.  For adults the sections are only based on rating.  For students the sections are based on grade level and rating, with a maximum set for each.  So the bottom section of a scholastic tournament may be K-3 U500, where participants must be in the third grade or younger and must have a rating under 500.  Our top scholastic section is usually K-12 U1200, which includes all K-12 students under 1200 rating.  Adult players and high level students (above 1200 rating) play in the Adult/Masters Open section.  In between there may be sections such as K-5 U700 and K-8 U900, aiming to place about 20-30 people per section for a typical five round tournament.  Limiting sections by ratings has the benefit of having players facing more evenly matched opponents.  A side benefit is that it gives more kids the opportunity to win a trophy, since those that have done well and won top trophies in the past are moved up to a higher section.

How do I get a rating?  You get a rating by playing in tournaments.  Each time you play in a tournament, the rating is automatically adjusted based on how you did against each of your opponents.  In your first official USCF tournament you will start as Unrated.  In your first Sarasota Scholastic Chess (SSC) tournament we will produce an estimated rating based on age and experience, or your USCF rating if you have an established one.  A blitz rating or a FIDE could also be used.  In future SSC tournaments, you will have a rating based on the previous tournament that will be used for placing you into the appropriate section, unless you've played a USCF tournament since the last SSC one, in which case we'll use that.  (We use USCF Regular ratings, not the Quick ratings.)

Do you apply rating adjustments?  We try to minimize this, but in order to try to keep SSC ratings approximately equal to USCF ratings, we may rarely apply a multiplier to adjust everyone's SSC ratings at the start of a new tournament.  Also, in certain instances we may assign a new estimated rating to a single player, such as when there is a significant discrepancy between the SSC or USCF rating and we have an idea which one is off.  This may happen if someone has not played in an SSC tournament in a long while but has a recent high USCF provisional rating.  To try to keep our SSC ratings more accurate, we do not use the USCF rating of a player at his rating floor [a rating floor is used in USCF for very experienced high rated players that are not playing as well as they used to -- it's mainly used in USCF to avoid people dropping their ratings on purpose, to get into easier sections]  We also do not use USCF Quick Ratings.

How are team prizes calculated?  Team competitions are performed differently in different tournaments.  Our method is to compare the total points of the top four player scores from each team.  Players that have been moved up a section based on rating get a bonus point toward their team score total.  [Changes in Oct 2017 -- we no longer are giving a bonus point for playing up a level.  We are looking at better ways of calculating team points for the fairest determinations.  One flaw is that schools that span multiple sections have an advantage over those such as middle schools which have players only in one section.  A player playing up a section has tougher opposition, but gives his school an advantage in spanning an additional section.]

Who can be on a team?  In past SSC tournaments, similar to tournaments we have seen over the years at the St Petersburg Chess Club, we have allowed any four or more players to join together as a team.  The biggest benefit of this was that kids that do not have many other players in their own school could get together with friends to participate on a team.  Another benefit was that it diminished the advantage that schools with large numbers of chess players had over ones with small numbers.  A downside is that it can split up a player's loyalties, to their school vs their friends.  Alternatively, limiting team competition to between schools has the upside of rewarding the efforts of schools to build their chess programs.  There is no one ideal solution.  For the November 2013 tournament, we are limiting team competition to between schools.

What is the difference between check, checkmate, and stalemate?  It's very important to know the difference between these, but you'll have to learn that elsewhere for now.  One place you can get free kid-friendly chess teaching is at

The en passant rule is tricky.  Do we have to know that one?  Yes.  That is an official rule that is in use in USCF tournaments and in ours.

What do I need to bring to a tournament?  At USCF tournaments you are supposed to bring your own board and pieces which fit the official requirements.  You can buy these cheaply (see our Chess Sets section for some suggestions) but if you don't have one you're probably ok since only one will be used for every two players participating.  In Sarasota Scholastic Chess tournaments we know that many kids don't have official sets, so we provide them for use in the tournament (thanks to our supporting school clubs).  Some USCF tournaments also require that you bring an official chess clock too.  If you choose to bring your chess set to one of our tournaments, please leave it in the car only as a reserve, so that it doesn't get mixed up with the sets we are providing for tournament use.