National Chess Federation of the Philippines

"Make the Right Move, Play Chess"




6th Column - Chess
Arbiter's Guide
(Part 1)

5th Column - The New FIDE Laws of Chess
(Part 2 of a series)

4th Column - The New FIDE Laws of Chess
(First of a series)

3rd Column - The Responsibilities of Arbiters in Chess Games

2nd Column -
Arbiters who applied for FIDE License

1st Column -
About Arbiter's Corner



November 24, 2013


By: I.A. Gene J. Poliarco (CAUP Chairman)




I would like to re-activate this column by sharing the foregoing compilation of guidelines to all chess arbiters. This will certainly help them in the performance of their duties in all kinds of tournament.




The Laws of Chess identify the required characteristics of an arbiter as "necessary competence, sound judgement and absolute objectivity".

But the Preface also makes it clear that the Laws cannot cover every eventuality, that it is the arbiter's duty to applyy the Laws in a fair manner. There can be no doubt that inter-personal skills are required to achieve this aim.

The role of an arbiter involves various skills which can be considered under the following headings:


People Skills – A good arbiter must be able to get on with people. On occasion, skills are required to defusee situations or certain actions taken to ensure that a situation does not escalate..


Administration Skills – There is a considerable amount of "paperwork" involved with a successfully run event. It is imperative that administrative tasks are carried out with a high degree of efficiency. Increasingly, a level of computer competence is needed to deal with grading, web page materials, etc.


Knowledge of Laws – A thorough knowledge of the Laws is required. It is also important that Arbiters keep up to date with revisions to the Laws (currently carried out every four years).


Knowledge of Pairing Rules – Computers have still not replaced arbiters. Indeed, some arbiters claim they would give up if only computers calculated the opponents for players. However, even when computers are used, ite opponents for players. However, even when computers are used, ite opponents for players. However, even when computers are used, it is important that an arbiter knows the procedure being used so that any queries can be answered.

Each of these topics is dealt with in more details throughout this article. Comments from both experienced and trainee arbiters will be welcomed so that future revisions can be made.


People Skills
These cannot be taught in a handbook. However, certain principles can be outlined. The following section attempts to offer some general guidelines and some more specific advice. However, the arbiter's personality will often determine the approach adopted.


Players will only respect an arbiter if they have confidence in that person's ability. A bit of cliche, but respect must be earned. This confidence is gained by performing all tasks accurately and effectively so that the players have confidence in the operation of the tournament. For this reason, a good knowledge of the Laws and of Pairing Rules is required. The ability to get on with people is also a strong advantage.


The arbiter must be impartial in all actions towards the players and avoid being influenced by personalities.

When making pairings, experienced arbiters will often not be able to tell you the player's name because the only identification that is looked at is the pairing or seeding number.

The Laws must be applied as they actually are, not as the arbiter may wish them to be. This can be genuinely annoying at times, but is the only way to achieve impartiality.

In general, the Arbiter must always appear friendly and approachable. Any decision reached must be seen as being fair. Players will often attempt to argue. In the first instance, the arbiter should explain the reasoning for the decision made. However, if the player continues to argue, it is pointless for the arbiter to repeatedly explain. In these situations it may be necessary to get the support of another official. It may be necessary to tell the player that he must accept your decision or withdraw. An Appeals Committee can often save the Arbiter a considerable amount of anguish by having the matter referred to them.

Arbiters must always attempt to make the correct decision no matter how tempting it is to appease a troublesome player at the expense of a mild-mannered opponent. Similarly, when making decisions, your relationship with the players should not influence the outcome – in either direction. For example, you should not favor a club mate over his opponent, but neither should you disadvantage him simply because he is known to you.

You should also avoid being intimidated by a player's title. On one occasion a Grandmaster approached the arbiter demanding that a pairing be changed because a rival had an easier pairing than he did. Eventually it was necessary to simply state that the pairing followed the rules. It would not be altered and discussion on the matter was ended.


Normally, prompt and decisive action is needed from an arbiter. An obvious example would be time scrambles. Decisive action is needed in any situation where escalation into a complicated and hard to resolve situation is possible. However, there are times when it may be better to stand back, monitoring the situation but let the players resolve the situation themselves. Knowing what is the right approach comes with experience.

If you know a breach of the Laws has taken place but are not sure what action to take, then the advice of a more experienced arbiter should be sought.

There are a limited number of occasions when making the wrong decision is better than making no decision. In these cases, an apology would be offered to anyone who has suffered.


Sound Judgement
The Laws of Chess cannot cover every situation. It is there, up to the Arbiter to employ "common sense" when making a decision on a situation which is not defined in the Laws. The obvious first step is to look for any analogous situations which are covered by the Laws.

Where the Laws are not prescriptive, there will be a balance to be found between consistency and fairness. A good arbiter will avoid a heavy handed approach but at the same time promote good behavior. The nature of the tournament may determine the action taken. For example, a GM recording in descriptive in the National Championship would be issued a warning and made to use Algebraic, whereas an 80 year-old in the Minor Tournament of a weekend competition would probably be allowed to continue. Allowing a player to withdraw from a Swiss system event is unlikely to cause major hassle, but allowing withdrawal from a ten-player FIDE-rated all-play-all would create a major problem.


Different Approaches:
All arbiters are individuals, therefore, there will always be different styles of approaches to the task. Some may attempt to avoid all risks by employing extensive protective measures, others will allow some risk in the expectation that they can cope quickly if a situation arises. Some will adopt a much more strict interpretation of the Laws than others. Some will adopt a much higher profile than others. Each arbiter must find a style, but whatever it is, it is must be effective and should not depart too far from the norm. It is common for recently qualified arbiters to prefer more prescriptive methods and to "loosen up" with experience.


Arbiting with Adult Players:
A major difference between chess and most other "sports" is that the loser cannot usually deflect blame for the result elsewhere. A long game of chess has also probably left the player mentally tired. So it is no surprise that a player may react badly if penalized under these circumstances. A poor pitch, bad light, unlucky bounce or even a poor pass from a teammate cannot be used as an excuse. Human nature being what it is, the natural reaction is to blame the arbiter if possible. Being aware of the possibility (probability), the Arbiter would ensure that the player appreciates that the decision is not a reflection on the player's honesty or sportsmanship.

Another situation which often causes unhappiness is a claim of "touch-move" which is denied by the opponent. In this case, the player making the claim is often upset if, lacking independent evidence, you do not uphold his claim. You must try to make it clear that you do not doubt his honesty but that from the case presented, you can make no other decision.

Before making a decision, it may be necessary to hear both players' version of the incident. If this is like to be protracted or noisy, then remove the players from the tournament hall before continuing. In some cases the versions shoud be related separately though both players should have the option of refuting the other's case.


Arbiting with Children:
Working with young children in any area requires special skills. This is just as true in arbiting as it is in any other area. This part of the document is designed to help arbiters not used to dealing with the special problems of working with youngsters.

When running "junior" tournaments, it is advisable that the organizing team should consist of both male and female officials. Children tend to associate with women more readily than with men.

  • The arbiter shoud, when speaking to a child, whenever possible, come down to the same physical level by kneeling down or even sitting. Children find looking up to an adult intimidating. Avoid leaning over a child – this can be felt to be threatening.
  • Try to give instructions in simple English, avoiding technical terms whenever possible. Children will usually have a shorter attention span than adults, so do not make long announcements. Remember KISS – Keep It Short & Simple.
  • Look for signs that your comments have been understood by examining the face of the child. If asked, many children will say they understand even when they don't. A blank expresiion usually conforms a lack of understanding.
  • Explanations of difficult concepts should be minimized, especially in any introductory remarks. For example, an explanation of 10.2 (claiming of draw in the last two minutes) is very complex. It is simpler to announce "if you have less than 2 minutes left and are worried about losing on time, stop your clock and get an arbiter". Very few games will reach this stage anyway. If a game does go this far, then you can make sure that BOTH players understand the process.
  • In junior games the arbiter may have to be more proactive than in adult tournaments. It is acceptable for an arbiter to halt a game to establish that a player is aware of the Laws. For example, an arbiter may halt a game when a player has 2 or 3 minutes left to ask if the player knows that he may claim a draw in the last two minutes or to ensure that a player knows that he does not have to laboriously record moves right to the end of a game. The arbiter must be careful that the opponent understands it is an eplanation of the Laws and not advice being given to claim a draw, stop reording, etc.
  • Beginner's tournaments will require more intervention than adult ones because of the high number of illegal moves likely to occur, confusion over the rules, etc. Youngsters can feel a greater sense of injustice than adults, so if turning down, for example, a touch move claim, it can be important to reassure the claimant that you are not doubting his word but that you need more evidence that is available before you can act.
  • At the beginner level it is not uncommon to declare the games drawn where the player with more time and material does not know how to get checkmate. Here, the moves of the opponent are very important. In king and queen or king and rook vs. lone king, the lone king could be considered to be defending accurately if it is kept in the center of the board but not if it goes to the edge, where it may stumble into a checkmate. The former may be declared drawn, the latter may require 50 moves to be counted before a draw is given. In either case, the arbiter may wish to keep a count of the number of moves played.
  • Youngsters often ask the arbiter to confirm checkmate. This should not be done, instead, the arbiter should state that he/she is not allowed to say and ask the opponent to look at the board and see if it is mate. Where it is not mate, saying this may give a considerable advantage to the opponent, it is up to the players to decide if the unprotected quuen next to the kind is in fact delivering "mate".
  • Parents and/or coaches can be a problem in junior events. Some tournaments ban parents from the playing hall for that reason.
  • Parents should be discouraged from standing in their child's direct line of sight. Some parents will pressurize their child by doing this (usually obvious by the child taking quick glances up at the parent or staring continuously), others will unwittingly or otherwise give advice through facial expressions, body language or worse. Parents should also be prevented from staring at their child's opponent. This is a form of intimidation and should be stamped on immediately. It may be necessary to remove the parent from the tournament hall if the behavior continues.
  • Parents are very protective of their offspring. Try to be patient even when what appears to be a ludicrous accusation is made. No matter how ludicrous, it may have some basis in fact.
  • If parents are allowed in the hall, it is worth emphasizing that they should approach an arbiter if they spot a problem and not to get involved themselves.
  • Conversations between schoolmates, etc. Should not be allowed near the board. Youthful enthusiasm often leads to audible discussion about a game in progress.
  • The more an arbiter patrols during a round, the less chance there is of a major problem arising – though there may be an increase in the number of minor problems discovered.
  • A child may get very emotional over an adverse decision. When this is the case, it is not unreasonable to give a few minutes break so that the youngster can compose him/herself before continuing the game.
  • The arbiter must be careful to avoid putting himself or herself to an awkward position. Whilst it is very tempting to try to console a player reduced to tears by a bad loss, care must be taken that your actions cannot be misconstrued. Unfortunately, in today's society, the arbiter has to be aware of actions being misinterpreted and of the potential for accusations to be made and may therefore have to curb nnaturl protective instincts.
  • With this in mind, arbiters should avoid situations, which would leave them alone with a single child. Ideally, when working with children, there should always be at least two adults together.

Special "Needs" of Disabled Persons:
The arbiter should always be aware of the needs of players with a disability. These needs should obvously be met not to the detriment of the tournament as a whole.

A player with a walking problem or in a wheelchair, should not be situated in an inaccessible part of the hall. Ensuring that that person's board is at the end of a row nearest to the passageway is often sufficient.

A blind or visually impaired player requires additional space at the board. Here a fixed board position may be the best option. Because the moves are announced, it is usually better to have this board at some distance from the others to minimize disturbance to adjacent boards. It is also advisable NOT to pair a visually impaired player with one who has a hearing problem unless there is someone available to act as a second.

Some disabled players resent special treatment preferring for example, to sit a board reflecting their score. Usually, this will present no problem but on occasion special treatment must be enforced to ensure the best conditions possible for the other players.

If a disabled player has to play in a different room then the accommodation used should be of similar standard.

Disabled players should not be penalized in any way other than permitted by the Laws (e.g. a player who is not recording due to a hand injury may have his time reduced by a few minutes).

It may be necessary to have someone willing to play the moves for a disable player, particularly against an inexperienced or easily disturbed opponent.

Ideally, the entry form should ask for players with special requirements to notify you of these with their entry so that appropriate arrangements can be made. It may be worth checking with the players as to their requirements.


(to be continued)


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